She stormed into the General's makeshift office, a million checklists, itineraries and timetables whizzing through her mind and more than a little annoyed at being summoned there now.

"You wanted to see me?"she asked, barely a step in the door, hoping that whatever this was could be handled quickly. Taking in the whole space with a quick glance, she noticed the Major standing a bit sheepishly a few feet to the left of her. If her mind hadn't been on everything else, she might have realized how odd their mutual presence at that very moment was. Right now, getting out of there as swiftly as possible was just another item on just another one of those checklists.

"Yes," General O'Neill said, rubbing his brow in obvious discomfort, "could you please come in and close the door?"

"Is this going to take long?" she inquired, taking note of the somewhat unbecoming impatience in her voice. Sure, she had been his boss before he became hers and no one had more contempt for unnecessary formality than the General, but right now the Major was also here and she wasn't about to weaken Jack's authority in front of his subordinates. So she shut the door behind her without turning around and went on to explain, hoping that this would soften the impact of her initial attacking manner, "It's just that the scheduled take-off is in less than an hour and I've still got to check…"

"Believe me, I know," O'Neill sighed again. "If there was any way we could avoid… The point is, this can't…," he was clearly having difficulties addressing whatever it was that was so important that she (and the Major also, she realized, turning to him and nodding, acknowledging his presence; he returned the nod, for some reason accompanying it with a slightly embarrassed scowl) had to be dragged out of last minute preparations. "Correct me if I am wrong," he finally gathered himself, "but I distinctly remember both of you telling me that you had never met each other before?"

The two people addressed threw a confused look at each other before mumbling their affirmation.

"Yeah, well, I've got a little piece of something here that begs to differ," the General frowned, picking up a Xerox of what looked like some sort of a diploma. At a complete loss of ideas both Elizabeth and the Major leaned in to get a better look at it. And jumped back almost instantaneously, now avoiding all possible eye contact with each other.

"License of Marriage" read in large italicized print on top of the copy. "Clark County, Nevada" was printed under it, in somewhat smaller letters.

"Well, obviously, that's not real," Elizabeth quickly scoffed once she got her voice back. "Somebody is clearly trying to sabotage the expedition. I mean, obviously, Jack, it's impossible…"

"Khmm," the Major coughed from somewhere to her left. She still wasn't feeling composed enough to look. "I mean, Sir," and she could hear that embarrassed scowl in his voice again, "it's very unlikely, yes, but…" he sighed, trying to find the words, "as far as I am concerned, at least, Sir, it's, strictly speaking, not impossible…"

That shocked her enough to make her forget her own composure issues. She snapped around, looking at him incredulously. Who was this man?!

"It's just that, at that particular weekend, I was in Las Vegas…" he reached his hand to his nape and did a pretty good job at making an even bigger mess of his hair than it already was.

"You remember what you did on a random weekend, what…," she glanced back at the offending paper to catch the date on it, "ten years ago?"

"I remember what I did on that weekend, yes," he nodded. "Or at least, what I did most of that weekend. That's the week my divorce came through." He shrugged, as if to apologize for allowing this ludicrous misconception any ground.

"You celebrated your divorce by getting married, Major?" the General piped in, seemingly forgetting for a moment his role in all this and how difficult these two potential morons in front of him were making his life. If this ended up postponing the Atlantis expedition or, God forbid, getting it canceled… Well, it was safe to say heads were going to roll…

"It's starting to look that way, Sir, isn't it?" John let out a bitter laugh. Leave it to him to screw up the biggest thing in his life. It was all getting to be too good anyway… Oh, well, back to the igloos for him…

The General just shook his head, still desperately searching for a way to disprove this whole mess. "Doctor?" he yanked his head impatiently. "Care to pitch in here?"

Elizabeth's eyes were transfixed on the date printed on the license. This had to be some sort of a cruel joke. After all, what could she have possibly been doing in Vegas? And how could she have been married for the last ten years without even knowing it? Or remembering the wedding? Or the man she was married to, for that matter? Impossible. Completely unlike her. I mean, I would remember not remembering, right? the incoherent thought made its way to her mind. This would have meant that she'd be missing at least a whole night, maybe more, of her life… Of all the unsuitable times for something this preposterous to pop up…

"Elizabeth?" O'Neill addressed her again. "Anything? I mean, does the signature look like yours? What?"

She slid her glance down the paper. Whoever had put this hoax together had done a really good job at forging her signature. It looked exactly like hers. But it couldn't have been hers. Ten years ago she was…

"Oh, God…," she suddenly let out a completely unguarded moan. That managed to instantaneously gain her the full attention of both men in the room. She hung her head and slowly wiped her palm across her face. Ten years ago. "The Application of Game Theory by Third Party Mediators in Civil Conflicts." Her first Doctorate.

"I defended my PhD thesis that week," she said in resignation, as if that might explain everything, and looked up, first at John, instinctually, then, realizing her tactical mistake, quickly at the General. He just raised his eyebrows, indicating for her to elaborate. "I had been pretty much a wound up paranoid nervous wreck for the six months leading up to that, coming out of the library only to talk to my 

instructor and take an occasional shower. So after I passed, my friends all but bound and gagged me and dragged me off to Vegas. Where, after I got over the initial distaste, the semester of chaste life and fresh air deprivation kind of got the best of me…," she trailed off.

"In other words, what you are saying is that this," O'Neill waved the sheet of paper furiously in the air, "might very well be the real thing?"

"I suppose," she sighed. "There was that one morning when I woke up in my own hotel bed with no recollection of how I got there and a monster of a headache…"

"Yup," John mumbled. "Sounds familiar…"

The silence that took over the office was so tense that all three practically jumped when it was penetrated by the sound of something heavy being dragged towards the gate room along the hallway behind the door.

"Damn, Elizabeth," the General contended. "That's a story even I have trouble topping. Not to mention a hell of a bureaucratic nightmare. I mean, if the good Major here is married to the expedition leader, how am I supposed to let the two of you step across that event horizon?"

Elizabeth glanced quickly at her watch. T minus 40 minutes. An impressive list of profanities streaked across her mind while she tried to will herself into a state of cool reason.

"I don't really think this is going to be a problem, General," she said, noting that she sounded a lot more certain than she felt. "I mean, if this really is true. And, based on a few facts correlating and this poor photocopy, we can't really definitively say it is. I am still quite confident that, even if I was somewhat inebriated that evening, I wouldn't completely forget marrying someone…"

"Yes, but it is starting to look more and more like this is true, wouldn't you say?" the General's voice was dripping with bitter sarcasm. "And, if that is the case, I don't really see how this isn't going to be a problem, Doctor."

"Okay, so it might become a bit of a problem," she admitted, in what the diplomat in her considered a tactical retreat. "But seeing that Major Sheppard is not under my direct command but Colonel Sumner's and seeing the nature of this operation… I mean, provided that we do get to take off in 38 minutes, it might just mean that in two hours we are all dead," and she did realize that the triumphant grin that she wasn't able to contain, brought about by such successful thinking on her feet, was somewhat at odds with the grimness of what she was implying, "might I just suggest that we postpone resolving this issue till the next time? Should there even be a next time, of course."

"The Major here," the General replied, and John was slightly perturbed by the fact that the two of them were talking about him as if he wasn't even there, "is the second in the line of command on Atlantis, so should Sumner somehow become incapacitated and the big shots somehow find out that I knew about your… situation," he winced, "and let you skip off to Atlantis anyway, it's my head on the plate, you do realize that?"

"What could possibly happen to Sumner?" Elizabeth tried a desperate line of discourse. Even John couldn't help but snort, earning himself a death glare from his potentially former future boss. "You're really not helping," was what her eyes seemed to yell at him. But the General wasn't that thick either.

"Excuse me, but wasn't it you that just a minute ago was merrily introducing me the possible positive outcome of all of you being dead in two hours?" he asked, almost laughing at the preposterousness of the whole argument.

"Sir?" John felt that this was the moment to make his last-ditch effort to try and dig them out of this predicament. The way he saw it, it was he who had the most to lose here.

"Major?" the General nodded at him.

"Well, Sir, in the event that the Colonel won't keel over the moment we hit the Pegasus galaxy," he knew that with his choice of vocabulary he was betting heavily on the camaraderie that the two Air Force officers would have shared as opposed to their feelings about the Colonel, a Marine, "and the issue of powering the intergalactic wormhole will remain the way it is…" he was referring to the fact that all things were pointing towards this being a one-way trip for the members of the expedition, "I don't really see what practical problems might arise from this. For any of us," he added, for good measure.

"So you want me to bet my ass on the happy chance that you might never establish contact with Earth again?" O'Neill asked, clearly getting more amused by the absurdity. "Sheesh, with all these hopeless optimists on the expedition team, I can't see how it could possibly fail…"

"Sir, what I am saying is that whatever might or might not have happened took place ten years ago, we have not had any contact since and have now worked pretty close together for quite some time without even an ounce of recognition. I think it's safe to say that this is all just a mishap that we can clear up the next chance we get. But as long as no one on Atlantis knows about this – and if there is no contact with Earth, I don't see how they would find out – in practical terms it would make no difference."

"In practical terms, Major, the easiest solution would be to just drop you from the expedition and commandeer your ass back to McMurdo," the General scoffed. In anticipation of Elizabeth's next argument, he continued, "Yes, I know, Doctor, he has the magical touch with the Ancient doohickeys, you need him, yadayada…"

He looked sternly from one to the other, trying hard to consolidate his conscience with his survival instincts. "And, considering that this kind of a completely irresponsible… what did you call it?... mishap has already taken place once with you Major, who's to say that it won't happen again? How can I be sure that you are not some sort of a serial…? What's the word?" he turned to Elizabeth for help.

"Deuterogamist," she absentmindedly said, not even noticing the impressed, yet slightly worried look possessing that kind of knowledge earned her from both men.

"I have only been married once, Sir," John replied to the General's question, being forced to add, "maybe twice…," as an afterthought.

"That you know of, Major," the General pointed out. Taking another look at the two people sweating it out in front of him, he let out a resigned sigh. This was his call, after all, and he really thought that both of them deserved to go. But they were clearly only kidding themselves if they thought this would be easy. "Look, guys," he finally said, switching to a more informal tone, "there was obviously something that got the two of you together that time. And if that something is still there then it would be really naïve to hope that the whole chain of command thing will somehow keep it at bay. Take it from someone who knows."

"General," Elizabeth quipped, clearly noticing the change in her superior's demeanor, "I have seen drunk people who thought that the lamp post was their soul mate. I wouldn't really read anything into that one colossal drunken mistake of a night." John glanced at her from the corner of his eye, trying to determine if he should be hurt at being considered as lovable as a lamp post, but decided to let it go for the time being.

"Yes, yes," now an almost fatherly smile was playing on the General's lips, "but don't say I didn't warn you." For the first time during this whole conversation John was allowing a ray of hope reach him again.

"Fine," O'Neill finally relented, "I'm letting you can both retain your jobs and I will do my best to keep this juvenile mess of yours under wraps until you get back here and solve it." He took the photocopy of the marriage license and fed it into the paper wolf. "I'm not promising anything, mind you."

"Thank you, Jack," Elizabeth muttered, while John simply accompanied his sharp nod with a "Sir!"

"Oh, go on then," he impatiently dismissed them. "I'm sure you still have last minute things to take care of. I will see you at the gate room in fifteen."

Making their way down the hallway, John stole a quick glance at Elizabeth, mentally restraining himself from fully forming in his head the thought that it was his wife he was looking at.

"This is…," he started, not quite knowing how to acknowledge the situation.

"Later, Major," she quickly put him in place. "Provided that there is one." They took another few steps in tense silence. Then a tiny smirk fought its way to the corners of his lips.

"Do you suppose we...?" he started to ask, but was deterred by Elizabeth snapping her head up to throw him a razor-sharp stare.

"I would be really careful with what I was going to say if I were you, Major," she hissed.

"Sorry," he shrugged somewhat sheepishly, but then had to turn his face to the wall to hide his smirk. Oh, how was this not going to be easy…

She had to admit the same when, a little while later, she found herself fighting a blush that was completely unbecomingly making its way up her face. The huge bottle of champagne that quietly rolled through the gate after them, bearing the best wishes from the General, was just the kind of underhanded sneaky juvenile stab that she should have learned to expect from Jack by now…

TBC