All relevant disclaimers apply.
Spoilers for Season 10

The Big Question

"Sam?" Jackson walked over to his where his team-mate was sitting and frowned, "Sam, are you okay?"

"What?" She looked up, here eyes wide in shock as if she had only just noticed him.

"What's up Cater?" Mitchell asked, appearing over the archaeologists shoulder, "You've been spaced out for days now."

"I'm just a little, distracted." Carter rubbed her eyes, "I've not been sleeping well; guess it just all caught up with me."

"Burning the candle at both ends?" Mitchell smirked as he sat down, "Bound to catch up with you in the end; I was exactly the same at the Academy."

Jackson took another seat next to Carter, and continued the conversation that had been having when they arrived, neither of them realising that it was going right over their team mates head as she continued to look down at the now very cold cup of coffee in her hands.

"I had a phone-call from Jack yesterday." Jackson announced after a while, "He seemed a little distracted, but he's in-town and invited us all out for a meal, if Teal'c can get back from Dakara in time."

"Even Vala?" Mitchell asked, one eyebrow raised sceptically.

"Well, they've not actually met yet," Jackson smiled coyly, "and given how much Jack hates reading mission reports..."

"Oh boy, is this going to be interesting." The other man laughed and turned to Carter, "So, you up for this little shindig? Or are we going to have to drag you kicking and screaming from your lab like last time?"

"Jack asked me to marry him." Carter didn't even look up, "I haven't given him an answer, yet."

"Holly Hannah Montana!" Mitchell almost fell out of his chair, while the spoon full of blue Jell-O that was just about to enter Jackson's mouth hung in the air, forgotten.

"When did that happen?" He managed to croak, trying to work out why his best friend and former commanding officer hadn't mentioned it when they had spoken the night before.

"Late Sunday afternoon: he was waiting for me when I got home from my run." Carter swirled her coffee around, "We've been sort of, 'seeing' each other, ever since he took over Homeworld Security when General Hammond retired. Not very often; just when I'm in DC, or when he had to visit Area-51. In fact, we hadn't seen each other since I came back to the SGC."

"And nothing about this has made it too the grapevine?" Mitchell's brow furrowed, "I wonder if there's still time to get my money back?"

"I doubt it; Cassie was there when he proposed." Carter put the mug down, giving up on any pretext that she was ever going to drink it, "It'll probably be all over the base by tonight."

"My God." Jackson sat all but dumbfounded, "What are you going to say?"

"I don't know!" Carter almost sobbed, "I mean, all these years we've had to keep our feelings secret, and I kind of got used to that. But now he's no longer my commanding officer, and we were starting to take things slowly..."

"Sam, you guys have been 'taking things slowly' for almost a decade." Mitchell's smile returned, "I think half the galaxy knows by now that the two of you were made for each other. Hell, even Thor's taken a piece of the action and put a bet on the two of you getting together!"

"What exactly happened?" Jackson leaned a little closer.

"Well, like I said, I was out on my run, and when I got back he was standing in the driveway, leaning against a rental car, talking to Cassie." Carter looked round, trying to keep herself from crying, "I asked him what he was doing there, and he just got down on one knee, pulled out and ring and said, 'Samantha Carter, I love you: will you marry me?'"

"And you didn't say yes?" Mitchell sat back in his seat, shacking his head in disbelief, "And here I was under the illusion that you were the brains of this outfit."

"It's, complicated." Carter regained her composure, "I'll see you later."

Her team mates watched her leave the mess hall.

"She'll say yes." Mitchell smiled as he stole Jackson's abandoned Jell-O, "Only a matter of time."

"You're a closet romantic at heart, aren't you?" The archaeologist asked, swiping back the coveted dessert and guarding it closely as he recovered his spoon, "I guess it always is the ones you least expect..."

"And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Carter managed to reach her lab without braking down in tears and closed the door, locking it securely and hitting the hidden override switch she'd installed that fed the security cameras a pre-recorded loop. It had first proven effective when she wanted to work one something they'd recovered off-world that she hadn't received official permission to examine, but it had proven to have other, unforeseen uses. Leaning back against the door, she let the carefully maintained mask fall as her legs gave way and she sank to the floor, hugging her knees as the sobs shook her entire body.

How dare he? How dare he ask her that so soon? Years of keeping secrets and not acting on their feelings had made her more than a little paranoid about their developing relationship, but she had finally been getting use to the idea of seeing him as a man rather than her commanding officer. True, he was a man she had been deeply in love with longer than she cared to admit, but it was still a massive change in their personal relationship. And now he had gone and risked it all by asking her to marry him. A large part of her had wanted to say yes then and there, but an icy cold stab of fear had gripped her, and she had mumbled something about needing time to think about it and walked into her house, leaving him there on the driveway, still down on one knee.

Okay, maybe that hadn't been the best idea: he'd deserved at least something better than a door slammed in his face, be he had shaken her badly.

O'Neill sat at the bar, nursing his first beer of the evening, trying to ignore the two special-forces soldiers assigned to be his bodyguards. He had at least convinced them that they were less likely to course a disturbance if they dressed in civilian cloths, and they were sitting at a table by the door, watching the door for any sign of trouble. Under normal circumstances, he'd have considered trying to ditch them for the evening as he had done many times before, but he just didn't have it in him to try.

Had he moved to fast? Had he scared Carter off? Was he the biggest idiot in three Galaxies? There were the questions that were running round his head when Jackson and Mitchell arrived, chaperoning Vala while Teal'c watched with a slight hint of bemusement viable on his face. As ever, he wore a hat to hide the golden tattoo on his forehead, and had selected a classic Stetson for the evening.

"Hi Jack." Jackson was the first to reach the bar, "How's it going?"

"Oh, you know, it's going." O'Neill shrugged philosophically, "Little bit worried that I'm starting to prefer Family Guy to The Simpson's, but, you know."

"Jack O'Neill." Teal'c bowed his head in greeting, "I do not believe you have met Vala Mal Doran." He introduced the team's newest member.

"General." Vala smiled coyly, offering her hand, "Well, I'm pleased to see that your reputation does you justice: I had almost lost my faith in rumour."

"A pleasure, I'm sure." O'Neill tentatively shook the offered hand, and relaxed visible when Jackson led the former con-artist away. He looked at Mitchell and Teal'c, "Have you guys seen Carter?"

"I am afraid that I have not seen Samantha Carter since I left for..." Teal'c stopped mid sentence, remembering where they were, "...home."

"I've not seen her since lunch time." Mitchell winked, "She told us what happened."

"Oh she did, did she?" O'Neill looked more than a little surprised, "I expected her to keep that to herself."

"Yeah, well, I'm rooting for you." Mitchell slapped the other man on the shoulder playfully, "Even if I do end up out of pocket."

"Indeed." Teal'c nodded his agreement, "I wish the two of you every happiness."

"Yeah, well, she's not turned up yet." O'Neill looked glum for a moment, then forced himself not to dwell on something he couldn't change, "Come on, let's go rescue Danny from Vala."

Carter sat in her car, hands still gripping the steering wheel as she looked at the warm and inviting lights of O'Malley's, the teams long-standing hang-out when off-duty. The small bar and grill held many fond memories for the entire team, and that was no doubt why Jackson had picked it. She was sure that her friend was trying to subtly hint that she should accept O'Neill's proposal, but a lifetime spent studying dead cultures meant that he could be as subtle as the General.

Cassie sat silently next to her, her planed return to collage postponed for the duration. She hadn't spoken about what had happened the Sunday before, but it was obvious that she felt Carter was a fool for not accepting then and there. Their friendship wasn't as close as it had been when Cassie was younger; she was blossoming into a young woman, and was starting to assert her independence. But to those who had known her the longest, she was still the frightened little girl they'd rescued from Hanka a decade before. She still winced whenever the team visited her, especially if O'Neill or Teal'c ever cornered a prospective boyfriend and made it clear that if anything happened that they didn't like, no one would ever find the body.

Given that they had access to the Stargate, and thus a practically limitless number of planets to hide a body one, it was far from an empty threat. More than one relationship had ended before it had begone because of 'Uncle Jack' and 'Uncle Murray'.

"Are we going to sit out here all night?" Cassie asked, breaking the silence, "Because I don't know about you, but I'm getting hungry, and I want to try out my new fake-ID."

"Don't even joke about it!" Carter managed a weak smile, "He's going to be in there..."

"And?" Her companion asked, "Sam, you're going to have to face him eventually, one way or another."

"I know, it's just... complicated." Carter sighed, resting her forehead against the steering wheel, "You go in; I'll join you in a second."

Cassie said nothing as she got out the car and walked into the bar, ignoring the way a couple of local bikers were looking at her, and if any member of SG-1 had heard what they called her, they would have found themselves on the ground, looking for their teeth.

Carter closed her eyes and tried to clear her head: she knew she had a tendency to over-analyse things, especially when it came to matters of the heart. But still, this was perhaps the most complex situation she had ever found herself in, outside of work. She loved O'Neill, of that she was sure: she'd been in love with him for a very, very long time. But marriage? That was a big, big step.

"Sam." O'Neill nodded as he slipped into the car, having exited the bar and walked across the parking lot without being seen, "Cassie said you were out here."

"She did, did she?" Carter looked round, "Did it ever cross your mind that I might be avoiding you?"

"After the first hundred times I got your voice-mail, yes." He looked her in the eye, "It was sudden, I get that, but after so long of having to keep my distance, the thought of having to spend even one more moment away from you is eating me up inside! I started day dreaming about you the other day..."

"What's new there?"

"In the Oval Office?"

"Ouch! How did the President take it?"

"He saw the funny side of it, thankfully. I think he knows what's going on between us."

"Cam and Daniel didn't know until I told them."

"They said. Teal'c know, but then he's always been more observant than people give him credit for."

They sat in silence, just looking at the flashing neon light above the bar, the minutes ticking by.

"It's not that I don't love you, it's just that it's a big step to take, especially so soon." Carter said after finally working up the courage, "It's still all so new to me..."

"Sam, I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you." O'Neill interrupted, "Okay, so maybe it's too soon to talk about marriage, but I want you to know just how much you mean to me. I've loved two women in my life; I lost the first because I couldn't forgive myself long enough o talk to her and see the pain she was going through, and I'll be damned if I'm going to lose because either of us are too scared to at least take a chance..."


The word struck O'Neill with an almost physical force, rocking him back in his seat. He blinked a few times, not sure if he'd heard her correctly, or if his over-active imagination was telling him what he wanted to hear.

"Excuse me?" He croaked, his throat suddenly very dry.

"Yes." Carter smiled, tears running freely down the side of her face, "I will marry you."

O'Neill looked at her for a second, his face blank with shock, before he lunged over and enveloped her in a tight hug, holding on to her like a drowning man clutching a life-preserver. He drank down the warmth of her body pressed against his own, the soft scent of the shampoo she used mingling with something that was simply Samantha Carter. She berried her face in his neck as she returned the hug, holding him as tight as she could, almost afraid that some cruel twist of cosmic fate would snatch him away now that they had finally found happiness. She closed her eyes, a sence of peace and security enveloping her, all doubts faded to nothingness in his embrace.

"It's a Kodak moment." Jackson stood leaning against the door frame of the bar, a huge grin on his face, as he held out his hand, "Pay up."

"I want you to know that I'm doing this under protest." Mitchell reluctantly handed over a $20 note, "I still say you had an unfair advantage."

"I've just known them longer." The archaeologist took the note and slipped it into his back pocket, "You know, this means we've got a Bucks night to organise..."

"Oh yeah!" Mitchell's face lit up, all thought of the lost bet gone, "That's going to be interesting."

"Indeed." Teal'c nodded, "Although I am still surprised that it has taken them so long to reach this point."

"The course of true love never did run smooth." Cassie smiled, hugging herself.

"All I know is, if there's going to be a wedding, there's going to be a party." Vala thought for a moment, then smiled, a mischievous glint in her eye, "Daniel, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there some ancient tradition about catching the bouquet?"

There was a moment of silence, before Mitchell and Cassie burst out laughing, patting the suddenly terrified archaeologist on the back.

"Indeed." Teal'c shook his head, still unable to come to terms with much of Earth culture.

The End