This is the final part of a series. This follows A Whole Alphabet of Plans, Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot, and Gather Your Strength and Rise Up.


Jack hopes maybe Sam will show up at his door. He's officially finished being Colonel O'Neill. Now it's Friday evening and his last act of the day on base was cleaning out his locker and his quarters.

He's been home for about two hours and she doesn't show up so he sucks it up and gets in the truck. He thinks about parking down the block, but her house is dark and he thinks, fuck it, and parks in the empty driveway. When he knocks, there's no answer. Why didn't he call first?

He has a key, of course, they've all had keys for years. He lets himself in and flips on the light just inside the door. He turns on the thermostat because it's still chilly and switches on a couple of lamps. He hangs his coat by the door, tosses his keys onto the counter. There's isn't beer so he pops open a can of Diet Coke.

He uses the bathroom, washes his hands, won't look at himself in the mirror.

She might kick his ass when she comes home to find him loitering. He wanders down the hall and sticks his head in Cassandra's room - it looks kind of depressing and empty so he shuts the door and moves on down to Carter's room. He feels for the light switch and when he flips it up, the lamp by her bed comes on. Her bed is made, the comforter pulled across the mattress tightly. There's a basket of clean, folded clothes on the floor by the closet and a couple of books on the nightstand. A hardback book on physics, that sci-fi novel they've all been passing around and laughing at, and another novel that looks girly, but not trashy. He flips through the physics text and sees that she's marked it all up in pencil, crossing out entire paragraphs and writing things in the margins like "this is extremely wrong." He chuckles and sets the book back down.

He's in the bathroom, looking at her shampoo and razor and puffy sponge thing when he thinks he hears something. He pauses and moves back into the bedroom to listen harder. Those are definitely keys in the door.

"Hello?" Sam sounds a little concerned so he moves silently down the hallway. "Jack?"

"Hey," he says. She spins to see him. She's holding grocery bags and her purse is over her shoulder.

"Is everything okay?" she asks. He takes one of the bags from her and sets it on the counter.

"Yeah," he says, taking the other bag. "I just came to talk but you weren't here."

"Have you been waiting long?" she asks, pushing her hair back and setting her purse down. She's dressed in civvies; jeans and a shirt with a little sweater over it and her coat over that. She looks tired - it's the end of what has turned out to be a very long week.

"Nah," he says. He starts pulling out the groceries - eggs, a carton of milk, coffee, bread.

"Jack," she says again, a little more impatiently.

"Okay," he says, pulling out a box of tampons and then dropping them right back in. "I just thought maybe we'd skip the weird part where you don't know what to wear and I don't know where my nose goes when I kiss you and we can't decide if we want to sleep at my house or yours... I thought maybe we could just already be good at this."

"I'm not sure that's how it works," she says, putting her hands on her hips. "I mean, we could try it but what if you go to kiss me and our noses bump? What then, flyboy?"

"Oh, I get it," he says. "I'm trying to do a sweet thing and you're going to mock me."

"No," she says, taking her coat off and pushing up the sleeves of her sweater to reveal her long forearms. She glances at the thermostat and he can see her processing just how at home he's made him self. "I'm just trying to catch up to where you are."

He puts the milk in the refrigerator.

"I'm Jack O'Neill," he says, letting the fridge door shut. "Currently unemployed."

"Well," she says quirking her lips into what might turn into a smile if he's lucky. "I was going to make some dinner. Want to stay?"

"I would," he says.

The dinner is not good. It's not terrible but the chicken comes out dry and the salad soggy and she burns the bread just a little and when they sit down, she's chewing on her bottom lip like she's terrified he's going to notice that the spread between them is looking rough. She watches him with her huge eyes and her eyebrows all scrunched up.

"Looks great," he says clapping his hands once and rubbing them together.

Sara had been a decent cook and had only improved with time. He'd been away a lot those first years of marriage but whenever he came home from assignment, she'd always make him steak and potatoes. It was their little tradition. He misses it, actually, Sara's cooking. He's gotten pretty good at feeding himself over the last decade or so and he thinks that if this sticks, this thing with him and Sam, that maybe they could take a cooking class or something.

He won't mention that now. He just eats the food and makes little noises to show her that he really does like it. She knows he's lying because she has a mouth, too, but she just looks so grateful.

"There's so much that I'm good at," Sam says, when they've finally slowed to a halt. She pokes at the thigh bone on her plate with her fork. "I mean, it sounds kind of smug but I'm naturally good at almost everything I try but this is like... round peg, square hole. It's not that I can't read a recipe, it's that I have no earthly idea where it is that I go wrong."

"Cooking is all about timing," he says. "Knowing when to start each thing so it all comes out at once."

"Well I tried," she says. "And you were very nice about it."

"It was good!" he says but then she smiles and he laughs and shrugs and they've made it through this, their first dinner together where he isn't her boss.

"What now?" she asks. "What do we do now?"

"I could leave," he says. "You've had a long week."

"You could stay," she says. "There's nothing on TV but I have movies."

"Dinner and a movie on a Friday night?" he asks. "That's almost normal."

"There's ice cream too," she offers.

"Flavor?"

"Peppermint."

"Sold," he says.

She puts in a disc - he couldn't possibly care what - and they settle on the couch next to each other. He looks at her as the movie starts.

"This is nice," he says.

"Yeah," she says. "It is. Thanks for coming over."

He makes it about fifteen minutes before he can't stand it anymore. She's just scraping the last bit of ice cream from her bowl. He watches her, out of the corner of his eye, tongue the spoon clean and something inside him feels like it's about to completely break down. His bowl is already on the coffee table and he all but snatches hers from her hand and she looks surprised, the spoon still hanging out of her mouth. He takes that too, drops it in the bowl and sets the bowl on the table and then angles his body to face her.

"I was done, actually, thanks," she says dryly.

"Yeah, I'm gonna kiss you, okay?" he asks. Her eyebrows shoot up and she purses her lips a bit.

"So much for skipping the weird part, I guess," she says.

"It's just, I've been sitting here thinking about kissing you and about how your mouth is going to taste all cool and minty and I don't think I can be smooth about it, Carter. The best I can do is give you a heads up."

He puts his hands on her shoulders and presses his mouth to hers and she leans in to meet him. Their noses don't bump and her lips are sweet and he waits for it to get awkward but it never does. Instead her mouth moves under his and her hands creep up to his face, anchoring him in place.

He pulls away first.

"I didn't really want to watch a movie," he whispers.

"It seemed important to pretend," she agrees before kissing him again and this time, licking along his bottom lip with her tongue. He opens his mouth and then yes, this he remembers, kissing Carter makes him feel dizzy and hot and totally out of control. He honestly doesn't know how they made it out of that rest area alive all those months ago.

Somehow she gets her hands under his shirt and he feels them slide up his back and he pulls away again.

"Wait," he says. "Maybe we should stop and think."

"Jack," she says looking at him like maybe he's just ever so slightly stupid. "We're not doing anything wrong."

"Oh," he says. "Yeah. That was habit."

"Well, kick it," she orders and then stands up. "Take me to bed?"

He nods. "Okay."

oooo

"I can't take anymore, I really can't," Daniel says. It's the first nice day they've had in a while and even with the sun going down, the breeze is almost warm. Jack leans against the door frame and crosses his arms. Daniel looks a little frantic.

"Anymore of what?" Jack asks. He doesn't invite Daniel in just yet. Sam is supposed to be coming over soon and Jack wants this all to go down on the front porch in hopes that she'll catch at least some of it.

"Of the pennies, Jack! Of the goddamn pennies! I can't open a drawer or, or, or put on a coat or get in my car without finding little piles of pennies and it's making me crazy, it really is," Daniel says, his voice getting higher and higher.

"Pennies, you say?" It's hard not to smile.

"Don't play dumb with me," Daniel says. "They're just... everywhere. I picked up my phone the other day and I thought it felt strange. Heavy. I pried the plastic casing off and it was filled with pennies! MY PHONE, JACK!"

Jack chuckles. That had been Carter's idea. She isn't big on pranks but now that he's gotten her on board, she's the most creative of them all. Filling Daniel's coat pockets in his locker had been her idea too. Daniel's car had been all Jack though. He'd gone by the base to pick up Carter and Daniel's car had been parked right there, the window cracked open. It had been all too easy to unlock the door. And he'd just happened to have a roll of pennies in his pocket.

"Now who would put pennies in your phone, Daniel, that doesn't even make sense."

"I found one glued to the bottom of my coffee cup," Daniel whines. "I had been drinking a penny."

"Sounds unsanitary."

"EXTREMELY," he shouts.

Jack sees Sam walking up the driveway. She must have parked on the street. While Daniel rubs his forehead, he winks at her. Daniel looks up when he hears her step onto the porch.

"Sam," he says.

"Hey guys," she greets and then gives Daniel a huge grin. "Penny for your thoughts?"

Jack laughs. He can't help it.

"Oh," Daniel says. "The two of you can just kiss my entire ass."

"He figured out the phone," Jack explains.

"Ah," she says. "What about the-?"

"Shh, shh," Jack says, swiping his hand across his throat to stop her. Daniel groans and actually stomps his foot.

"You guys suck."

"No we don't," Sam says, leaning into him. "You love us almost as much as you love currency."

"You know what? I do love currency," Daniel says. "It is a cornerstone of any advanced and functioning society, commerce is what keeps a people growing and striving for a better kind of life and you can learn a great deal by looking at a culture's money so if you two want an apology for inviting you ONCE to a very interesting museum SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, then I'm sorry, because you're not going to get it!"

"Jesus, we broke him," Jack says.

"Nah, he's fine," Sam says. "You staying for dinner?"

"With the two of you assfaces?" Daniel says.

"Hey!" says Jack.

"So I can watch the two of you make eyes? No. Good day." He turns and stomps down the stairs to the driveway.

"Daniel!" Sam calls. "Come back!"

"I said good day!" he yells and gets into his car. They watch him drive away.

"I should probably send a donor check to that museum," Jack says tucking his hands into his pockets. "It has given me hours of entertainment."

"Well, you are retired now. We could actually go to the money museum," she says. He slowly turns to look at her, eyes narrowing. "Or not," she says, elbowing past him and into the house.

oooo

Jack picks Cassandra up at the airport. Spring has sprung and he rides with the window down and his elbow hanging out. Sam is off-world but spring break waits for no intergalactic space hero. Jack was surprised when Cassandra called and asked to come home but he'd happily purchased her ticket.

When he pulls up to the terminal, she isn't there. He has to circle three times before he finally sees her standing with her backpack and a small rolling suitcase - not the black luggage that he and his team all have, but something floral and mauve and easily spotted.

"Nice bag," he says when he parks. She hugs him, her arms tight around his middle and says something into his sternum. He can't make it out. "Huh?"

"I said I borrowed it because it's hideous and easy to find," she says looking up at him. He kisses her forehead and she lets go.

"You look stunning," Jack says and puts her luggage into the bed of the truck before opening her door.

"I look like butt," she says. She's wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt and those silly boots all the girls have just started wearing - the fuzzy ones that aren't remotely waterproof and offer no arch support. He'll never understand fashion.

"You look like good butt, though. You know, firm," he says and then winces.

"Well," she says. He gets in the truck and starts the engine. "Where's Sam?"

"Toronto," he says, touching his nose and winking.

"Ah, the distant civilization of Toronto," Cassie says. "My homeland. When will she be back from this epic... Canadian excursion?"

"Tomorrow, if all goes well," he says, pulling into the traffic.

"Hopefully Canada won't try to destroy Earth again," she says.

"It's nice to see your sarcasm has remained intact," Jack says.

"Oh, Jonathan," she says gravely. "They may take my freedom, but they will never take my sarcasm."

"My mother didn't even call me Jonathan," he says. "Be careful, princess."

"Wait, why aren't you in Canada?" Cassie asks, looking him over. "Sam said you finished all your rehabilitation stuff and you don't look broken. What gives?"

"Well," Jack says. He thought it would take longer for her to ask, frankly. Just put it off, Sam had said. We'll explain it together. But Cassandra is no idiot and she's looking at Jack expectantly. "I retired."

"You what?" she explodes. "I can't believe... but what happens when Canada attacks us?"

"Okay, maybe we can drop the Canada thing," Jack says.

"Who is looking after this planet?" she demands.

"Uh, Carter, Daniel, and Teal'c, not to mention the other 21 SG teams," he says. "General Hammond, Walter, Siler, Roberta the lunch lady..."

"Okay," Cassie says, holding up her hand. "But you're Jack O'Neill!"

"Are you angling for a new car or something, kiddo?" he asks, but it's still pleasant to hear her say his name like he's Superman or something.

"Is that on the table?" she asks. She's quick, this kid.

"No," he says.

"Oh." She puzzles things for a moment, quietly. "I guess people can't be expected to be in the field forever."

"No," he says. "Eventually body parts start giving out at really inopportune times."

"Like Sam's back."

"Carter has years to go yet. My knees, however..." He trails off. "Anyway, it's not like I'm sitting around eating bonbons. I'm thinking of getting a dog."

She snorts. "And you don't go off-world?"

"Nope," he says.

"Do you miss it?" she asks.

"Parts of it," he says. "I don't miss sleeping on the ground or eating dehydrated food."

"Who has a more comfortable bed, you or Sam?" she asks.

He looks at her.

"You think you're going to trick me into saying something dumb?" he asks. She grins.

"I was going to try," she says.

"What am I, Daniel? I'm not falling for that," he says. "But nice try."

"I'm not wrong, though," she says defiantly.

"Are you hungry? We could stop somewhere," he offers changing the subject as best he can.

"I could eat," she says, allowing it. "But I can wait until we hit the Springs. No rush."

She talks about school, which she likes and California, which she likes. They talk a little bit about Janet, about the aching, gnawing emptiness her death has left behind. Jack isn't great at the whole sharing thing, but he'll dig in for Cassandra. Cassandra asks him if it'll ever go away, missing her mother.

"Does this feeling ever stop?" she asks. Maybe she's asking because she knows about Charlie or maybe she asks because he seems like a man who has lost a lot in his life, but he'll answer her honestly either way.

"It gets different," he says. "You don't find things that take their place but you find new things that matter."

"Like Sam," she says.

"Yeah," Jack says, giving in. He drapes his arm across the back of her seat. "Like Sam."

She smiles at him and he grins back.

"We can pretend for her if you want," Cassandra offers.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Jack says. "Drive-through or sit down?"

oooo

Sam comes home surprised to find Cassandra and Jack sprawled across her living room couch watching a movie. Jack eyes the empty pizza box and greasy bags from the burger place and winces.

"Have you two even moved in the last 24 hours?" she asks.

"Sam!" Cassandra says, hefting herself off the couch and into Sam's hug.

"Kind of a mess," Jack says, standing but not moving toward her.

"Spring break!" Cassandra says. "It means we don't have to pick up after ourselves."

"Oh does it now?" Sam asks.

Jack looks her over. She seems fine and if something had gone wrong, Hammond would have called him, but still, she's got a faint bruise high on her left cheek bone and when Cassie lets go and allows her to walk into the room, she seems to be holding herself a little carefully.

"Ribs?" he asks.

"Later," she responds. "Is there any food in my house left for me?"

"There's Chinese food on the way," Cassandra says proudly. Sam sighs dramatically and points at Jack.

"How come I get lectures about take-out but once she gets here, all bets are off?" she demands.

"I'm a softie?" he asks.

"I'll clean it up," Cassandra promises. "We can cook tomorrow. Aren't you happy to see me?"

"Of course, honey," Sam says, her features softening.

"And are you happy to see Colonel O'Neill?" Cassie says. "Your commanding officer and completely platonic male acquaintance?"

Sam crosses her arms and turns to Jack.

"What can I say," he says. "I'm a terrible liar."

"You're black ops!" she says. "You couldn't convince a 19-year-old girl?"

"Hey!" says Cassie. "I'll have you know I'm savvy as hell."

"Having Jack wrapped around your finger isn't the same as being savvy," Sam says.

"Well you would know," Cassie shoots back.

"Ladies!" Jack says. "Okay, Cass, please clean up this mess and set the table. Sam, why don't you go shower and change?"

She doesn't have to take his orders anymore, probably shouldn't for the sake of their relationship, but she just picks up her duffel rather than arguing. There's a tense second where it seems like she might really be upset but then she sticks her tongue out at both of them and heads down the hall.

Jack follows her, watches her drop the duffel and start methodically removing her clothing. He shuts the bedroom door and leans against it.

"She asked. I didn't want to lie," he says.

"It's fine," she tells him. When she goes to lift her shirt, she winces so he rushes over to help her, navigating the cotton over her face carefully. He gets a flash of Charlie, of bath time, of his son lifting his arms obediently. Sara used to say, "Skin the bunny!" to prompt him to raise his arms and now Jack realizes how morbid that is even if Charlie never did. Never will.

Sam's side is bruised and up close, he can see scrapes on her face she's tried to hide with make-up.

"What happened?" he whispers.

"Uneven terrain," she says. "We were walking down this steep incline and the terrain shifted and we all took a spill."

"Everyone okay?" he asks. She nods and then turns around so he can unclasp her bra for her. He touches her shoulder blades, the soft skin at the nape of her neck. He misses her when she's gone. He can see she showered on base because she's not filthy, but her neck still looks a little grimy. He undoes the clasp easily and helps her ease the bra off. She sighs and leans into him.

The doorbell and then, "Jack! They're here!"

Sam steps back and crosses her arms. "I'll be quick," she promises.

"Okay," he says. "I'm glad you're safe."

They wait for Sam to start eating. Cassandra turns the oven on low and puts the food in there so it stays warm and Jack thinks that's pretty smart.

"So, I declared a major," Cassie says when they are just leaning against the breakfast bar not saying anything, listening for signs of life from the back bedroom.

"Did you?" he asks. "Pray tell."

"Political Science," she says. "Like maybe I could be a diplomat or help people talk to each other. Not just people on Earth, but you know... with the Stargate."

When Sam appears, Jack still has Cassie in his arms, his chin resting on the top of her head.

"Everything okay?" she asks.

"I just think this kid is so great," Jack says and he knows he sounds like an emotional sap.

"We've been hugging for like two minutes, please save me," says Cassie. Jack lets go, but not before getting in one last squeeze.

"Did you tell him you were going to join a convent?" Sam asks.

"I told him I declared Poli Sci," she says. Sam grins.

"Honey, that's great news!" Sam says.

"I know it's not astrophysics but..."

"It's perfect," Sam assures her. "It's just... come here and hug me."

Cassie rolls her eyes and groans but gives in.

oooo

It takes Cassie longer to ask about the ring, but that's because Sam only wears it when she's on world but not on base because she doesn't want anything bad to happen to it. When she goes to work, she leaves it in a little dish on her dresser and if they're at his house, she puts it back in the little velvet box that still sits on his nightstand.

"Maybe when we get married we can get you an off-world ring... one that doesn't matter as much if you lose it. Like a place holder," Jack suggests. They're at his house. It's Sunday afternoon and Jack's throwing a barbecue so everyone can see Cassie while she's in town. Sam is wearing a sundress that is printed with pink roses and the sun keeps catching the light on the diamond on her hand and Jack keeps expect to wake up in a prison somewhere, or maybe in a sarcophagus because this life is too perfect to really be his.

"I'm not supposed to have jewelry on at all in the field and you know that," she says.

"You could wear it on your tags," he says. She smiles, stepping a little closer to him and away from the grill he is manning. He sees Cassie across the way, watching them with a wistful expression. "Why does she look like that all the time?"

"She asked about my ring," Sam says. "I told her how you proposed."

"I haven't actually," Jack says. "You just kind of appropriated it as your own."

"You told me it was my ring!"

"I said someday..."

"It is someday, Jack, and if you really want to get down on your bum knee in front of God and everybody here and ask me, I'll say yes but I'm not taking it off unless there's a Stargate directly in my path." She huffs and crosses her arms. He grins at her, winks at Cassie, and then leans in and pecks her cheek. "What?"

"You're right," he says. "It is someday."

Behind them came the sound of someone trying to vomit.

"Daniel," Sam whines. "Gross."

"Yes," Daniel says. "You two are extremely gross."

"I find them to be well-suited," Teal'c says. Jack turns around, draping his arm over Sam's shoulder.

"Don't you two have anything better to do?" Jack asks.

"We are making sure you do not burn the meat," Teal'c says. "At the suggestion of General Hammond."

"I'm offended," Jack says, prodding a burger with his spatula.

"It is not an accusation," Teal'c says. "But a fact that you pay more attention to Major Carter than to the task at hand."

Sam snorts back laughter and then turns her face away from his so he can't quite see her expression.

"Traitor," he says. She steps away from him, glances at General Hammond who just shakes his head and smiles.

"You know what Daniel?" Jack says.

"Here we go," Daniel says.

"One day some woman is going to catch your eye and I'm going to be there on that day to give you hell," Jack says. "The hell you so richly deserve."

Sam tenses - Jack can feel it and he realizes too late that he has made a misstep and that Daniel might not take this teasing lightly. It's been a long time since Daniel's wife died, but time is relative and Jack knows some things you just don't get over ever.

But Daniel just narrows his eyes and points the long neck of his beer at Jack.

"Shut up and give me a burger," Daniel says. Sam breathes out and smiles and looks him at him.

"I'm going to go get the stuff out of the refrigerator," she says. She steps past him and into the house.

"I will help her," Teal'c says, excusing himself.

Jack looks at Daniel. Daniel looks at Jack.

"Barfing noises?" Jack asks.

"Well, you know," Daniel says. "PDA alert. It's a service I provide."

"Just... don't make her feel like she's doing something wrong because you're pissed at me, okay?" Jack says.

"I didn't..."

"A little," Jack says. "A little you did."

"I'm not pissed," Daniel says, but it's unconvincing.

"I'd be," Jack says. "We broke up the team for the sake of our personal happiness."

"You broke up the team because you got shot and failed your physical," Daniel says. "And retired."

"Okay," Jack says. "Fine. Either way, don't make Sam feel like shit on my deck."

"I don't think I did," Daniel says.

Jack just motions at the window to the kitchen. Inside, they can see Sam standing close to Teal'c in the kitchen. Teal'c lifts his hand and sets it gently on her shoulder and she looks up at him with her big eyes.

Daniel looks down at his feet for a moment.

"Everything is changing," he says.

"Yeah," Jack acknowledges.

"I mean... I knew it would happen one day but I just thought it would be because Sam got her own team or Teal'c went back to live with the Jaffa or I died again. I just never thought it would be you."

Jack drinks his beer and starts taking the burgers off the grill.

"I didn't either," Jack says. Daniel looks back into the kitchen. "You know, Danny, there are always guys like me."

"Huh?"

"Soldiers," he says. "Sam is one of a kind - that brain in that body and you are pretty rare too and Teal'c has literally revolutionized his entire culture single-handedly but there are always more where I came from. Guys willing to go on one way missions. SG-1 doesn't need me but it needs you and Sam and Teal'c."

"Maybe," Daniel says. "But we need you."

"Well you have me," Jack says. "I just keep the light on now."

Sam opens the sliding glass door and she and Teal'c come out with their arms full.

"Jack?" she calls. "Time to eat?"

"Yeah," he calls back. He hands the platters of burgers to Daniel. "Are we okay?"

"Sure," Daniel says and walks away.

oooo

Jack finds Sam and Cassandra curled up in his bed together. The kitchen is clean, the deck cleared of any debris that might blow away in the night. Teal'c and Daniel had been the last to leave but they've been gone for over two hours now. Sam and Cassandra had disappeared upstairs to have girl talk and it had effectively barricaded Jack away from them. He has little to no interest in girl talk.

But he hasn't heard any thumps or giggles for a while now, so he wipes his hands on the damp dish towel and then again on his pants and climbs the stairs. When he pushes open the bedroom door, Sam and Cassie are both asleep in his bed. Sam is wearing a pair of his boxer shorts and one of his old, dingy white t-shirts and Cassandra is in her hooded sweatshirt and a pair of little purple shorts and they're curled together like kittens. Cassandra is tucked into Sam's arms and Sam has one leg thrown across Cassandra's hip and really, even he and Sam don't sleep so close all the time.

It's kind of hot in a really unsettling way. He doesn't think about Cassandra like that but there are two full grown women in his bed and it's a lot of long, bare leg and he thinks maybe his brain has a short circuit somewhere.

He turns off the lamp on the nightstand and closes the door behind him.

It's nearly two am when Sam comes down to find him. He's in the recliner with the TV on, but muted. He's dozing but he wakes up when he hears her on the stairs. He knows it's Sam, not Cassie, because he'll always recognize her footsteps no matter the time or place. She walks around the chair to face him and sees that he's awake.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," he says, his voice coming out rough and soft. "You?"

She nods, wrapping her arms around herself. "You didn't come to bed."

"Three's a crowd," he says with a small smile. "You two looked pretty cozy."

"Oh," she says. She stands there for a minute and finally he sits up a little.

"Come here, Carter," he says and she looks relieved. The chair squeaks ominously as she settles onto his lap but it doesn't break. She lets her legs dangle over one of the armrests and curls so her head is on his shoulder. He puts one warm hand on her knee. She is sleepy and boneless and tilts her head to kiss his jaw. It's not the most comfortable he's ever been - Carter is a tall woman built mostly of muscle but if she tries to get up, he'll hold her in place all the same.

"Daniel..." she says and then stops.

"I know," he sighs. "I'm working on it."

She kisses his jaw again in the same spot and then his chin and then his earlobe.

"I had fun today," she whispers. He moves his hand up to her thigh and then back again, rubbing softly.

"It was nice," he agrees. "How's the girl?"

"Okay," Sam says. "I mean... considering."

"Considering Janet?" Jack asks. Sam flinches at the name.

"She told me that she lost her virginity," Sam says.

"What?" Jack asks, sitting up and displacing Carter enough that her arms snake around him so she can hang on. The chair rocks for a minute, squeaking.

"She's 19," Sam says. "It's fine."

"Who is the little bastard? I'm gonna cut off his balls," Jack says, but he doesn't move anymore.

"You are not and you're not going to tell her that I told you, either," Sam says in that scary voice that he's learned over the years to pay attention and listen to.

"19 is young," he grumbles.

"How old were you?" she asks.

"How old were you?" he shoots back.

"Sixteen," she answers and then smirks. "Michael Seymour. He was my science fair partner."

"Sixteen?" Jack asks. "Sixteen!"

"That's average," she says.

"Damn, Carter," he says. "Dad had his hands full."

"I was smart," she says, settling back into his chest. "And careful. And we won first place."

"Of course you did," he says. "God, I bet you were hot at sixteen."

"I was gangly," she says. "At best."

"Little cheerleader outfit, I can see it," he says. She snorts.

"How old were you?" she presses.

"40," he says. She jabs him in the ribs hard. "18."

"Really?" she asks. "That seems..."

He glares.

"Perfectly acceptable," she finishes. "Don't worry about Cass, she's fine."

"If she turns up pregnant..."

"She won't," Sam says. "She said it was nice."

"Can we talk about something else?" he asks.

"What did you think girl talk meant?" she says, sounding amused.

"I tried not to think about it at all," he admits. "You gonna be around to take her to the airport with me?"

"I can try," she says. "Hammond wants to lend me to Area 51 for a couple days next week."

"For what?" he asks.

"I'm not sure," she says. "Alien tech probably." If Jack were still there, Hammond would have never tried it. Jack would have pitched a fit at the very notion of lending out a member of his team.

Jack hitches her up a little, repositioning her on his lap more comfortably and she sighs and sags against him. It is late and she is tired and it isn't long until she falls asleep. He presses his nose into her hair and closes his eyes.

Cassie comes downstairs fairly early and puts on a pot of coffee. He can hear her in the kitchen - the sink, the water trickling into the back of the coffee maker, the churning and chugging of the appliance springing to life one more time. That thing gets a work out. Soon the smell wafts into the living room and Sam starts to move a little. Coffee is usually a pretty good indicator of morning, especially when they're off-world and smelling it triggers something inside her. He feels the moment she wakes up.

"Ugh," she says and sits up a little, her spine cracking audibly. "Sleeping here was a terrible idea."

"Maybe," he says. He hasn't felt his legs in hours but Sam on his lap is pretty worth it.

"Honey?" Sam calls. There's a scuffle and then footsteps.

"Do you mean me?" Cassie asks.

"Yeah," Sam says. "Are you bringing us coffee?"

"I could," Cassie says. "Are you finished canoodling?"

"Are you finished stealing my bed?" Jack asks gruffly.

"Hey, I was having some fantastic cuddling with Sam and she abandoned me for you so I'm pretty sure I'm the injured party here," Cassie says, her voice floating back into the kitchen.

"Fair point," Jack concedes.

"I have to pee," Sam says and then gets up, leaving him cold and alone. He rubs his face and then tries to get up too, but his hip starts to throb and he falls back into the chair. Maybe a few moments of blood actually circulating and then he'll try again. Cassie appears with coffee in his Colorado Avalanche mug. He peers into it.

"Cream?" he asks.

"Don't pretend like you're mister tough man," she says. He sips it. She'd put a little sugar in there and it is really good.

"Thanks," he says. "You want pancakes?"

"I do," she says, tilting her head. "And jam."

"What? Pancakes go with syrup," Jack says.

"On Hanka we ate them with jam," she says. Jack feels a little twist in his gut and nods.

"I can find you jam, princess," he says.

She looks at him a moment, squinting, and in that moment she looks enough like Janet that it's disconcerting. Not her face, so much, but the way that she arranges her features.

"I like to cuddle with Sam," Cassie says.

"You and me both, kid," Jack says.

"It's the naquadah," Cassie says. "It makes everything hum."

Down the hall, the toilet flushes and then Sam comes out of the bathroom. She veers back into the living room to drop a kiss on Cassandra's shoulder and then disappears into the kitchen to make some coffee for herself.

Cassie doesn't say anything else about naquadah or the planet she'd lost for the rest of the day, but she carries this look on her face like she's some place else.

oooo

Jack goes on base sometimes, thought not often. Thor still prefers to deal with him directly and Jack has the time, so when Hammond calls on him for that, he's more than happy to oblige. He picks Sam up from work a lot too, especially lately. Her car is classic and cool but unreliable and it's been in and out of the shop often enough that she's made comments about getting something a little more dependable. When he picks her up, half the time he makes the journey down into the base simply because seeing his face is the only thing that tends to snap her back into the moment.

Today he's on base because it's movie night with Teal'c. Teal'c's television is small and angled toward his bed which is why they usually go to Jack's house, but SG-1 has just returned from a grueling mission and everyone needs to stick around. So down he goes.

He hopes it's not Star Wars again, but he's prepared to be disappointed.

Teal'c's door is cracked and when he pushes the door open, it's not videos and popcorn that greets him, but candle light and Carter curled up on the bed, her head in Teal'c's lap, fast asleep.

Teal'c looks up and nods his greeting. His fingers are in Carter's hair, dragging lightly from her temple down to her nape and back up again. It's hard not to get the wrong impression and Jack has to stamp down the urge to say the wrong thing. This is Teal'c and more than that, this is Carter but he forgets, sometimes, how she can be close to someone without him being involved. How that's allowed.

"You guys okay?" Jack asks, instead. Teal'c nods, but when Jack steps in, closing the door behind him, he can see that Carter's wrist is wrapped tightly and the anger pulses a little harder. She'd called and said that she was fine.

Carter's uninjured hand is curled up next to her face, high on Teal'c's thigh and even though he tries not to show it on his face, Teal'c sees it anyway.

"I am no sexual threat to you, O'Neill," Teal'c says. Jack has to be impressed with the way he doesn't come at the subject from the side but still, the words are jarring, even spoken softly as they were. Carter sleeps on, her lips parted slightly.

"Well, yeah, thanks for that mental image," Jack says, rubbing his face. He puts himself into the only chair in the room and plants his elbows on his legs. "A little validation that I'm an understanding guy might go a long way, though."

"Major Carter is..." But Teal'c hesitates here and simply stares at O'Neill.

"What?" Jack has to ask because it isn't like Teal'c to start a sentence he doesn't know how to finish.

"On Chulak, men and women are not friends. The only woman I truly interacted with was Drey'auc because she was my wife," Teal'c says. "Major Carter has taught me a great deal about Tau'ri friendship."

"Oh," says Jack.

"Major Carter has different needs," Teal'c says. "When she could not have you, O'Neill, she turned to me for comfort. Only recently have I realized that while I was helping her cope with her heartache, she was fulfilling some of my needs as well."

Jack rubs his hands on his pants and feels like more of a jerk. "You miss her."

"It is not weakness to love her too much," Teal'c says after a moment of silence. "For if it were, we would all be lost."

Carter finally stirs, lulled back by Teal'c's deep voice and when she opens her eyes, she smiles up at him, face soft and inviting, totally unaware for this brief moment that Jack is even in the room.

oooo

It's one of those rare mornings where they don't have to go anywhere. Jack wakes up early - ingrained in a way that can't be helped - but they're in Sam's bed and she still sleeps heavily beside him and he thinks maybe he can play his cards right. That maybe he can figure out a way to make this morning about lingering instead of about getting something accomplished.

He slips out of her bed and hits the bathroom before heading to the kitchen to put on coffee. While it brews, he gets back into bed, pleased to note that she hasn't moved. She's still asleep on her back, the comforter pushed down away from her shoulders so he can see the straps of her flimsy little tank top, all edged in pale lace and the slight swell of her breasts.

He can see when she starts to come around. Maybe she feels his eyes on her, maybe she smells the coffee brewing, but she takes a deep breath and her head moves a little, and somewhere near his calf, he feels her toes start to twitch.

He moves his hand under the blanket and across her warm stomach. The tank top has ridden up a little and he encounters more skin than he expected and that's just fine with him. She breathes in again and her stomach moves and her lips move a little in what could be the beginning of a smile. He lets his hand move up a little and he touches her breast with the palm of his hand, cupping it, taking the weight. She sighs and rolls into him and then he's got a whole armful of Carter.

Sweet.

But then his carefully laid plans all seem to unravel because she presses a kiss to his cheek and then rolls out of the bed before he can stop her.

"Hey," he protests.

"Gotta pee," she says and closes the bathroom door behind her. When she comes back out, her toothbrush is hanging out of her mouth and she is holding his watch, the one he left by the sink, and she says, around her toothbrush, "We slept late."

It isn't late, not really. It's just after seven, but it's late for them and he sighs and gets back out of bed to get the paper from the walk and drink some of that carefully brewed coffee. When she comes into the kitchen, she's still in the tank top and her little shorts and he watches her wistfully. She pours herself a mug and then spends a couple minutes rummaging through the refrigerator. When she emerges, her arms are full of breakfast ingredients.

"So," he says. She sets everything down, picks up her coffee, and faces him, her hip against the counter. He wants to kiss the little bit of skin he can see between her shorts and shirt. So pale and perfect.

"So," she says.

"Lieutenant Colonel, huh?" he says and her face breaks into an easy grin.

"Leave me alone," she says, though she doesn't really want him to. She hadn't really been surprised - SG-1 was always going to be hers, but the bump up is good for her all the same. "Be nice."

"I'm always nice," he says. She rolls her eyes. "I'm nice."

"Are you going to tease me all day?" she asks.

"I'm proud of you," he says. She smiles at him, tries to hide it behind her cup, and turns around. He watches her pull a bowl from the cupboard, lifting onto the balls of her feet and exposing a good portion of her lower back to him.

He actually salivates.

"Well, we should celebrate," Jack says. When she turns around, she catches him staring at her ass, but he doesn't try to hide it and she raises an eyebrow at him.

"What did you have in mind?"

Saucy thing.

"A nice dinner," he says. "Or a party, maybe?"

"The last thing I want is a party," she says. "Please, Jack, not that."

"A private party?" he asks. "Just you and me?"

She just shakes her head and turns on the stove. He lets her go through the motions - bacon in the skillet, butter in the pan. She's about to crack an egg on the side of the bowl when he says, "We could go fishing."

The egg hits the bowl so hard that the entire thing comes apart in her hand.

She turns around, flinging egg debris across the counter. He can't read her face which is unusual, but he thinks he may have said something wrong because she's just letting her hand hang in the air, dripping egg and shell onto her kitchen floor. She swallows and locks those big eyes on him.

"Fishing," she says finally.

He hasn't considered that she might not want to go fishing, that she might not like it and all those years of turning him down hadn't had anything to do with rank and regulation. He'll have to figure out how to handle the disappointment. Sara had endured the cabin but had never really liked it but he had really thought with Sam, things would be different.

"Or not," he says, looking down at the paper.

"Ask me again," she says. He looks up. She's flushed a little, red creeping up her neck and across her chest. She has little pink circles high on her cheeks.

"Really?"

"Yeah," she says. He sees it, just a hint of a smile.

"Hey Carter, you wanna go fishing?" he asks.

"Yes, sir," she says, the smile breaking - blooming into a grin. "I would."

He grins back, relieved.

"I've never been able to say yes to that before," she says. "I never thought I could."

"You always could have said yes," Jack argues. She seems to realize the mess she's making now, because she hurries to the sink and rinses her hands.

"Jack," she says, slipping into the chair across from him, dishtowel still in her grip. "Can you honestly say that if I would have gone with you, we wouldn't have slipped up?"

"Yes," he says, sounding not at all sure. "We got pretty good at being good."

"Really," she says, dryly. "You and me. Alone. In the middle of nowhere."

Jack clears his throat. "I know how to behave."

"All warm on the dock during the day. You asked me to go once in the summer, remember? I could have brought that little two piece you like."

Jack tightens his hand on the newspaper and it crinkles loudly. Sam leans in a bit.

"But at night, it gets cool right? So maybe you make a fire. There's a fireplace?"

"Yeah," he manages.

"So maybe we sit on the couch together. Maybe I scoot a little closer to you, maybe put my head on your shoulder." He risks a glance up at her and she grins, rather evilly he thinks. "What would you have done then?"

"I would have... God, Sam, I don't know. I would have tried."

The smile slides off her face. Her teasing has reminded them both of something painful and she reaches her hand across the table. Their fingers lock.

"I never worried about you. I trusted you completely. It was me. I would have broken first. I did break first, remember?" she says.

Oh, he remembers. He'll never be able to stop at a rest stop ever again without remembering.

"Nah," he says. "You wouldn't have."

"Well now I don't have to try so hard," she says, flashes him a quick smile, and rises to start breakfast one more time.

oooo

They go for Daniel's birthday.

"That's your gift to me," Daniel says, a crease of confusion between his eyes. "Going to the cabin without me."

"Yep," says Jack. "Happy Birthday, buddy." He claps him hard on the shoulder.

"Thanks?" Daniel says.

"We're going for the week and it just happens to be the holiday week," Carter says apologetically. "Jack says the 4th of July fireworks over the lake are pretty cool."

"It's a whole thing," Jack says.

"Uh huh," Daniel says.

"Maybe you and Teal'c should come up just for the holiday and..."

"Carter!" Jack whines.

"Explain one more time how this is all for me," Daniel says.

"It's a week you won't find pennies hidden some place," Carter says finally.

"Oh," Daniel says. "That's actually a really good... you guys have fun!" He smiles brightly at them and turns back to the book on his desk.

"It's not that I don't want you guys to come," Jack relents. "It's just I'm going to have sex with Carter in every room at least once whether or not we have an audience so..."

"Jack!" In unison, even.

"I'll send you a postcard," Jack promises. He'd bought one with coins on it and has been saving it for a special occasion.

Daniel seems to know exactly what that means and sighs loudly.

They leave at the crack of dawn, the truck mostly loaded the night before. Sam lugs their suitcases out in the dawn light, in denim shorts and one of his flannel shirts because there's still a little chill in the air at this hour. Once everything is packed, they climb in and hit the road. They don't talk much and work as easily as if they were packing up a campsite off-world. She knows just how he likes the gear loaded, knows the way he takes his coffee, knows how to guide him with little more than a look and the twitch of her fingers.

They stop just outside town to gas up. Jack gets out to pump the gas and she gets out too, he thinks to stretch her long legs one last time. She leans against the truck with one leg bent, her foot resting on the tire. He almost can't resist the picture she makes - all that bare thigh and the sleeves of his shirt covering her hands.

"Hot," he says, looking at her through his glasses.

"Yeah, it's gonna be warm today," she says. He finds this unbearably hot too, the fact that she has no idea that she's ridiculously beautiful or that he might be commenting on her and not the weather.

"That too," he says. She looks confused for the briefest moment before smiling and pushing off the tire with her foot and into his arms. He's not really the type for public displays but it's early enough that the only other person around is the clerk in the station so he dips his head to kiss her, slow and sweet. She tastes like coffee when her mouth opens beneath his, but something under that is pure Carter. He's thinking about pushing her back against the truck so he can press a thigh between her legs when the gas pump pops.

She pulls away, kisses his chin, and climbs back into the truck.

It's a long drive and Sam dozes through the morning. She wakes up with the sun on her lap, burning her pale skin through the window. She rolls the window down and struggles to take off the flannel shirt without removing her seat belt. Under the flannel is one of her sleeveless black tanks. Something that was at one time a work shirt, but has been washed so many times it has faded and been retired. She slides down in her seat and puts one bare foot up on the dashboard so the air blowing in through the window can dry the sweat behind her knee and on the underside of her thigh.

Jack puts his hand on her other thigh and her skin is hot to the touch. She rolls her head against the seat to look at him and gives him a sleepy, hazy smile. She's awake but not yet alert, feeling safe enough to wake up slowly. He starts to move his hand up but she bats it away, wrinkling her nose at him. He hadn't thought he'd get away with that anyway.

They stop for lunch at his regular place, a diner on the Nebraska-Iowa border. Sam orders coffee and he knows this means she's going to make him let her drive for a while. She's not the caffeine junkie that he and Daniel are so when she orders coffee after 9:00am, it's because she has a goal in mind. They exchange a look and he tries to tell her, silently, that he's on to her and she returns, silently, that she doesn't care if he knows it or not.

She orders a turkey sandwich and Jack hands their menus to the waitress and says, "Sure, me too."

Sam smiles at him, the little corners of her mouth climbing.

"I can't wait to get there," she says.

He knows she's really excited, too, because Sam isn't the type to say something simply to appease him.

"What if you get there and you don't like it?" he asks, clearing his throat so it will come out sounding more like teasing than doubt. She still purses her lips at him. He feels her feet move next to his under the table.

"Why wouldn't I like it?" she asks seriously.

"I don't know," he says, dragging the small collection of sweeteners towards him so he has something to do with his hands. White, pink, yellow, blue. He starts to mix them up. "Some people don't like that kind of thing."

"Vacation?" she prompts, watching him destroy the order of the packets with a small frown.

"Rustic locations," he says.

"Well," she says. "I mean. I hang out at ruins for a living and camp three nights out of seven, usually, so I guess if I don't like rustic, I might be in the wrong line of work, wouldn't you say?"

"I just don't want you to feel like you have to pretend to like something if you don't."

"I don't feel that," she promises.

"Good."

She takes the sweeteners from him and starts rearranging them once more by color. Her coffee comes with a little bowl of creamers, so he starts to stack them into a pyramid like Charlie used to do.

"Jack?" she says.

"Carter."

"Who doesn't like your cabin?"

"Forget it." He glances at her and she certainly didn't have a forgetting it face so he sighs. "Teal'c."

"Teal'c doesn't like fishing," she corrects. He's silent. "Jack, is this about..."

"Don't..."

"Sara?" she finishes before she realizes that she's said the name over his plea and then she sighs and drags the coffee mug toward her. "I'm not her."

"I know that," he says, his voice hard because he's never even wanted Sam to be anything like Sara and Sam doesn't try to fill that role for him and the fact that Sam is totally separate from that time in his life is one of the things that makes all of this feel so easy. Most days. "I know."

"I'm gonna like it," she says. "I like rustic. I like nature. I like you."

"You calling me rustic?" he asks. She drinks her coffee and smirks behind the mug.

Sam takes his keys right out of his pocket while he's standing at the counter waiting to pay and she's already behind the wheel when he climbs in. She's peering intently down at the map, her brow furrowed in intense concentration. He's seen that look countless times before but this is not a complex piece of alien machinery, this is a map of a route he's driven countless times before. He pries the map gently from her hands.

"Just drive," he says. "We won't get lost."

"I'm not afraid of getting lost," she says, affronted. "I just want to make sure your route is the most efficient one."

This, if they were off-world, is where Daniel would have stepped in to mediate the conversation. To explain how Sam was just taking a scientific approach and how it had nothing to do with Jack's tactical strategy and how Sam shouldn't take Jack's issues of control too personally.

But there is no Daniel here.

"I've done this a hundred times. You think I wouldn't notice in a hundred times if I was doing it wrong?" he asks.

Sam twists the key hard in the ignition and the engine roars. She pulls onto the road and gets back on the highway before she says, "You used to trust my opinion."

"That's not... that has nothing to do with anything!" he says.

"You think I can't read a map."

"That's not true. I just think I know what I'm doing in this instance," Jack says.

Her jaw clenches, he can see it on the side of her face. He gets that hallowed out feeling, that one that settled over him like wet wool when he opened his eyes and found himself, once more, in the bright glow of a sarcophagus. That scraped clean feeling that this happiness is not real, could never be real, and whatever time they've stolen together is coming to an abrupt and messy end.

He opens his mouth to beg for a little more time when her shoulders relax slightly and she exhales.

"I'm sorry," she says. "You're right."

"Okay," is all he can manage as his vision starts to clear. And then when she looks at him he manages, "Me too."

"I'm getting better," she offers. "About the whole boss to boyfriend transition."

And now he is once again on solid ground. The landscape that they're passing seems dense and real and above them is only sky - the perils space too far to reach down and grab him at the moment. He is safe. He is with Sam and he is safe.

He clears his throat. "I thought we talked about that word."

"Fiancé," she corrects automatically. It's only a little better. There are things he misses about married life. He doesn't miss Sara anymore but he misses aspects of the life that they shared. Steak and potatoes, the way she was so good with Charlie, holiday traditions, stuff like that. And he misses being someone's husband. Misses coming home to the same, familiar face and not having to show up to parties alone and meeting someone for the first time and saying, "This is my wife."

Maybe it makes him a sap, but he wants all those things back and he wants them with Carter.

Carter takes them through Iowa and they switch back. She keeps her nose buried in a book until they lose the light and then she dozes off again. She's a good sleeper, can sleep anywhere if need be. He's seen her sleep off-world in worse conditions than the cab of a truck. She sleeps through him slowing down as they hit town, sleeps through him making the turn off the main road, and sleeps through the last bumpy mile of gravel until he pulls up in front of the dark cabin.

It's cooler here, especially at night and he drapes the flannel shirt over her legs before he opens the door. No need to wake her before the lights are on. He unlocks the door and gives it a hard shove with his shoulder so it will open. The lights come on without any fuss. When he looks back over his shoulder, he can see Carter waking up, lifting her head away from the window.

He opens her door and helps her out of the truck and she allows it, even though it's not necessary. Her feet hit the ground and she swerves past him, headed for the open door, her eyes wide and searching. She wants to take everything in at once.

"Look at this place," she says, when he finally follows her in holding both of their suitcases. "Jack, look at this place!"

"I've actually been here before," he says, setting the bags down and reaching his hand under the lampshade closest to him to give her a little more light. She runs her hand along the mantle over the fireplace, walks a circle around the kitchen table, and weaves her way through furniture before stopping in front of him.

"This is so great," she says. "Can we retire here?"

"Oh Jesus," he groans.

"What?" she asks, concern bright on her face.

"I've just never been so turned on so fast before," he says. She smiles, relieved, and leans up to kiss him.

oooo

It's not often he gets to see Carter totally blissed out - well, more often now, but it's still rare. In bed it usually lasts only a few moments, but today, she's been at it over an hour now and he likes to think that he's savored every minute. She's got his ball cap pulled over her eyes and is sitting in the lawn chair at an angle so her spine is tucked into the corner between the backrest and the arm of the chair and her legs are stretched out long, toes pointed toward the end of the dock.

She holds her fishing pole in a loose hand and if a fish were to bite, she'd lose it for sure, but that's not really a concern.

So much bare leg. He'd spent years watching Carter in the field, had seen her in sleeveless shirts, scrubs, all sorts of crazy local get ups but the legs are a relatively new indulgence. When he gets warm enough, he gets up out of his chair and moves to the edge of the dock. It's easy to slide her chair forward and she allows it. He sits on the edge of the dock, his feet in the water, his back against Carter's chair. She nestles him between her knees, wrapping one leg around his chest.

He reaches up and runs his hand along her shin.

She makes a little noise in the back of her throat like a hum. "I need to shave."

She's a little stubbly but Carter never really gets hairy. He's spent weeks with her before off-world where things like regular grooming slowly fall away and even then, she just got fuzzy - the hair on her legs so golden it was hard to see unless you were right there next to it. Daniel had once teased her about the little disposable razor she carried in her pack for longer missions until she'd used it once to save his life. She'd taken the blades out and used them to dig a burrowing insect out of his calf and then he'd never teased her again.

"There's a tub," he says. "But it's little."

"I saw," she says. She reaches down to the cooler between their chairs - a bit of a stretch now that he'd moved her, but she manages - and grabs a beer. She pops it, slurps the foam off the top, and then hands it to him.

He kisses the inside of her knee in thanks.

"Sometimes I get worried I'm going to wake up and none of this will be real," she says.

"Me too," he says. "Constantly."

He feels her fingers drag through his hair. He's sweaty and the top of his head is hot enough that she plucks the hat off of her own head and puts it on him. She has a hat inside, the floppy kind she and Daniel like to wear in the field sometimes and Jack knows for certain there is a straw one hanging inside the closet that had belonged to his mother.

He kisses her knee again, letting his tongue dart out to taste the sweat and sunscreen on her skin. She shifts in her seat and he pulls away slightly but she's only moving to spread her legs apart and give him more access. She may as well have handed him an engraved invitation, because he pulls his feet out of the water and spins, letting his fishing pole drop. The wood of the dock is warm under his wet feet and he presses his face into her lap, dragging his chin along the pale, soft skin of the inside of her thigh. He needs a shave, too.

She's wearing the black bottoms to her bathing suit and one of his work shirts so her shoulders don't burn. The first day, she'd been sort of skittish about walking around with so much skin exposed, but he'd reassured her that the closest neighbor was five miles out and the closest town was twenty, so she'd relaxed a little. Still, when he presses his nose into her, she tenses a little. She spins the ball cap around so the bills stops prodding her in the stomach. Her fingers clench into the material of his t-shirt and the skin beneath.

He breathes out and catches a layer of nylon between his teeth. He can feel her heat and she squirms enough that the chair squeaks.

"Inside," she murmurs. He peers up at her, squinting in the sun.

"No one around," he says.

"I don't want to tip the chair," she argues and he just dips his head back down, but her fingers squeeze tightly enough to hurt. "Concussions mean no sex."

"Inside," he agrees. She helps him to his feet, her own fishing pole finally dropping to the dock. She navigates carefully over uneven terrain but he just steps on the sharp rocks and pine needles without much concern. His focus is on one thing only right now, and that's getting Carter as naked as possible.

He blinks against the cool darkness of the house but knows his cabin well enough to navigate while his vision is still clearing. He can hear Sam breathing behind him, her hand clenched in the back of his shirt - always leading her somewhere. Somehow, miraculously, he still has the can of beer in his hand.

He sets it down on the dresser as they make it into the bedroom and Sam passes him, pulling the shirt up over her head and tossing it into the hamper. For a moment, she's facing away from him in nothing but the bikini bottoms. Her back is lean and damp and he groans loudly enough that she looks back at him over her shoulder. Her flicker of concern turns into a coy smile and she pushes the bottoms off with a little shimmy of her hips. They fall to the floor and he watches her slide onto the rumpled bed and sit with her back against the pillows and headboard, her knees apart.

"As you were, Colonel," she says.

Holy shit.

He nearly goes head over heels in his rush to get to her, but he manages to get between those thighs without injury. Her hand finds his head to offer a little direction. She nudges him into where she wants him and from then out, he can gauge his success rate by how hard she pulls his hair. He's a little worried about having a bald spot when she comes, but that's a small price to pay to be able to glance up and see her whole body taunt and arched, her face twisted in pleasure.

He eases her back down. He licks her clean, kisses her flushed and swollen skin, the bones of her hips, the soft patch of skin under her belly button, the sweaty underneath of each breast, the pink peak of each nipple, the hollow base of her neck between her collarbones.

She seems to come back to herself when he kisses her lips. Her arms slip around him and she opens her mouth, moans as tongue slides against tongue. All he can taste is Sam and it makes him squirm, makes him remember every single agonizing morning he woke up in a sleeping bag beside her and could do nothing but pack his gear and go.

He kisses her neck while she pushes his shorts down and tugs his shirt off and then there is just skin against skin. He thinks about spending the whole day here dragging it out, but she shifts so that he settles between her hips and then he can't resist it, can't fight nature, doesn't even want to try.

At home, it would be too hot to stay in bed, but here the air in the bedroom is cool and they get a little breeze through the open window and Jack feels it across his back as he lies on his stomach, his head between Carter's breasts. His eyes open every once in a while to gaze at the smattering of freckles across her chest but finally she swats at him.

"Your eyelashes tickle when you blink," she whispers. He blinks a few times rapidly and she squirms and he manages to move them all about until he's on his back and she's sprawled over him and it's better, the feeling of her soft curves pressed against him. She makes a happy little noise, the same one she makes when she figures out how to fix something broken or when Teal'c brings her chocolate in her lab.

If he listens hard, he can hear the water lapping at the shore.

"Do you love me?" she asks. She still sounds drowsy and sated and not at all worried, so he doesn't over analyze his answer.

"I do," he says.

"Good," she says. "What about Daniel and Teal'c?"

"What about them?"

"Do you love them too?" she asks. He frowns down at her.

"I don't really want to see them naked, if that's what you mean."

"It's not," she says.

"Well then, yeah. Of course. They're my guys." Jack feels confident in this terminology. "My guys." He says it once more for good measure.

He feels her smile against his chest.

"You want them to come up here, don't you?" he asks.

"Yes, please," she says. "Just for the weekend."

He makes a big show of sighing loudly.

"It's Daniel's birthday," she says.

"Fine," he says. "But they might say no."

"They won't," she says happily.

She's right. They probably won't.

oooo

Jack leaves Sam to tinker with the generator and drives to the airport to pick up the guys. It's hard to miss Teal'c standing at the curb of the terminal, a cowboy hat pulled down over his First Prime symbol. Daniel is next to him, head bowed over a book, his duffel bag by his feet. Jack honks, rather obnoxiously because the noise echos and startles several people (though neither Daniel nor Teal'c even flinch), and pulls up to the curb. Teal'c places their luggage in the bed of the truck and opens the door.

"O'Neill," he says, dipping his head. "You seem well."

"Hiya Teal'c!" he says. "Danny."

"Jack," Daniel says and gets into the narrow back seat without complaint.

"Glad to be here?" Jack asks, pulling the truck back onto the road and heading back for the highway.

"Oh yeah," Daniel says. "Right Teal'c?"

"Indeed." Teal'c sighs, sounding less that excited.

"You didn't have any trouble finding flights, I take it," Jack says. "That's lucky this time of year."

"Well," Daniel says.

"Well what?" Jack asks.

"Nothing," Daniel says. "It was no trouble."

"Did you have to pay an arm and a leg for 'em?" Jack asks, glancing at Teal'c who is looking more stoic than usual. "I told Carter it probably would be outrageous but she didn't seem to think that you'd mind."

"In fact, you paid for the flights, O'Neill," Teal'c says. Jack stares at him a moment and then glances in the rear view mirror only to see Daniel offer him a disgustingly fake grin.

"Oh did I?" Jack asks.

"Well, I mean..." Daniel says, reaching forward and touching Jack's shoulder lightly in a pretty misguided attempt at comfort. "You've left me over eight hundred dollars in pennies."

"Really?" Jack asks, shrugging the hand off. "That seems... that much? Really?"

"Really," Teal'c says. "I accompanied Daniel Jackson to the bank to deposit them. It took a considerable amount of time to count them."

"Huh," he says. Sam had pointed out time and time again that his little hobby was an expensive one, but he hasn't really thought about how Daniel's delightful Oh-God-not-more-pennies expression translated into actual money. "Well, it was..."

"Please don't."

"...worth every penny!" Jack finishes smugly.

Teal'c shakes his head and looks out the window.

"Still," Jack says, after a moment of consideration. "Two last minute flights for under a grand is still a really good deal."

No one says anything. Teal'c keeps looking out the window and Daniel seems to suddenly find the denim of his jeans extremely fascinating.

"Daniel?"

Nothing.

"Daniel!" he says.

"Well, I mean," Daniel shrugs helplessly. "Sam asked us to come up for the weekend and we came up for the weekend and I'm not sure how mapping a timeline of events is going to change the final outcome, so why even bother hashing out such insignificant details?"

Teal'c looks like he might make an expression but seems to contain it.

"So what you're saying is I got had?" Jack says.

"No one is saying anything of the sort," Teal'c says. "Implying, perhaps."

"No one lied," Daniel says now, his irritating hand back on Jack's shoulder. "Sam just assured us that you'd want us here."

"Well I did but that was before I was in on your little plan to manipulate me."

"Sam's plan," Daniel points out. "And anyway, you've been trying to get us all up to your cabin for years!"

Jack sighs.

"And it's my birthday, Jack," Daniel says, laying it on a little thick now.

"Yes, O'Neill," Teal'c says. "It is the anniversary of Daniel Jackson's birth. Do the Tau'ri not think that an important date to acknowledge?"

He just grumbles.

"She was always going to be smarter than you, Jack," Daniel offers like some sort of peace offering. Some half-hearted, rude, kinda burnt peace offering.

"She's smarter than everyone in this truck combined," Jack says and Daniel looks like he might argue for a minute, but then no, he doesn't, and he leans back in his seat.

When they get back, the generator is abandoned and every door and window appears to be open.

If he had to guess, he'd say she'd fixed the horrible grinding noise the generator was making and moved on to some other piece of ancient technology. Ancient meaning, old, of course, and not extra-terrestrial. Weird, that he has to make that distinction now, especially in his own head.

"Carter?" he calls.

"Sir," she says, because she knows that Teal'c and Daniel are with him. He can't see her, but her voice comes from the little room off the kitchen. "Did you know your dryer was broken?"

"Was being the operative word there, no doubt," Daniel says.

"The guys are here," Jack calls, ignoring Daniel.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," she says.

"Hi Sam," Daniel calls. "Jack knows about how we tricked him into - oh... hello." Daniel says trailing off as Sam appears. She's still in those little cutoffs and this time it's paired with the top half of her bathing suit and one of her threadbare white tank tops. She's tan from all the time they've spent outside and she has spots of grease on her bare legs, her elbow, and one on her chin where she sets her face on her hand to think. Daniel is staring at her with his mouth a little open. Apparently he's not used to seeing this much skin either.

"Hey." Jack pairs this with a hard elbow into Daniel's side.

"Hi guys," Sam says, wiping her hands on a dirty rag. "You made good time."

Teal'c steps forward to hug her and Sam pushes up on her toes to wrap her arms around his neck.

"Stop ogling her, for cryin' out loud," Jack says to Daniel.

"It's just weird that she's hot," Daniel says.

"I can hear you," Sam says, letting Teal'c go. "We're in the same room."

"Well," Daniel says. "You're hot and I'm sorry and it's weird."

She dips and tilts her head and gives him a look like she can't decide if she wants to kiss his mouth or punch it.

"Is that a compliment?" she asks.

"You're like a sister to me," Daniel says. "Put on some clothes." But it doesn't sound very convincing.

"Yes, well," Jack says loudly, clearing his throat. "Beer and steaks?"

"No," Sam says, tossing the soiled rag onto the counter. "I made a picnic!"

She grins. It doesn't occur to any of them to tell her no.

oooo

Hiking through the woods is a fairly normal occurrence for SG-1, but generally they don't do it on Earth and it's pretty strange to see Teal'c carrying a picnic basket instead of a staff weapon.

Carter has already scouted the perfect picnic location. It's scary how much she can accomplish in just a few hours if left to her own devices. Daniel and Carter both have packs but Jack just has himself. He ambles along quietly and if the others notice how he keeps reaching for his gun reflexively only to find it isn't there, no one says a thing. They walk for a little over a mile before Sam stops, raises a hand and they all halt too, well trained. And then Daniel laughs at himself because they're in Minnesota on Earth and nowhere near a Stargate. Sam spins around and grins at him. She pulls a blanket out of her pack with a flourish and spreads it out over a patch of even ground.

"What now?" Teal'c asks.

"Now we eat," Sam says, taking the basket from him and setting it in the center of the blanket.

"On the ground?" Teal'c asks.

"What did you think a picnic was, T?" O'Neill asks. Teal'c just raises an eyebrow and sits down on the blanket with a long suffering sigh.

oooo

Sam is asleep, pressed against his side. Teal'c is beside her, keeping her warm and Daniel is on the small strip of blanket at their heads. He's stretched out so he and Jack are crown to crown and they only have to murmur to hear one another. At first, Jack hadn't been sure why Sam had picked this spot over any other, but as the sun set and the stars began to emerge, the clearing offered a spectacular, unobstructed view of the night sky. Daniel had carried Jack's small telescope in his backpack and he and Jack keep passing it back and forth while Sam sleeps.

"Which is your favorite?" Daniel asks.

"Constellation?" Jack says. "Or star?"

"Either or, I guess," Daniel says, sounding pretty drowsy himself.

"My favorite star is the one Carter blew up that one time," Jack says. Sam twitches at the sound of her name, but Teal'c slides his big hand over her hip and she stills and settles back down.

"Yeah, that was a good one," Daniel says. "Classic Sam."

Sam shifts again, her knee sliding over Jack's leg. It's cold and her legs are still bare.

"We should head back," Jack says, sliding a warm hand across her skin as he pulls her leg more tightly against him. "It's late."

"A little longer," Teal'c says.

"Yeah," Daniel says.

"Sam's cold," Jack says, wavering.

"I'm fine," Sam murmurs into him. "Let's stay."

"You sure?" Jack asks, kissing her head.

"Mmmhmm," she says and rolls away from him into Teal'c. Jack should probably feel jealous but Teal'c is warmer; his body temperature is naturally several degrees higher, even on the tretonin. Teal'c tucks Sam easily against him and she stills again. Daniel taps Jack with the telescope and passes it back to him, their fingers brushing in the exchange. When Jack takes the telescope, Daniel moves his fingers to Sam's head and he runs his fingers through her hair.

"Hey guys?" Jack says.

"Yeah?" Daniel says.

"I'm really glad you came up," Jack says.

"Me too," Daniel says.

"I am glad as well," Teal'c replies.

Jack turns his sights back to the night sky and lets his vision relax, the sharp points of light blurring into a soft glow. Maybe he knows too much about the universe to enjoy the starry sky as he once did. The Goa'uld haven't been defeated, their strongest allies are slowly bending to the replicators, and every time SG-1 goes through the gate, there's a very real chance he's never going to see them again.

His whole body clenches at the thought.

"S'okay," Sam says, turning her head to look at him. She must have felt him against her back. "We're right here."

There's not any use in dwelling on what might go wrong, not when everything is just right. He's here with his team, safe on their own planet, in the place he loves most in the world.

"I have to pee," Daniel announces suddenly.

"Yeah, I'm freezing," Sam says, sitting up and rubbing her legs briefly.

"I, too, would prefer to retire to a softer surface," Teal'c says.

"All right, campers, let's pack it up and go home," Jack says. He sits up, lets Daniel heft him to his feet. They pack up quickly and efficiently and no one bothers with flashlights because they move just as efficiently together in the dark. When they get back to the cabin, Daniel and Teal'c disappear into the guest room and Sam collapses into his bed and falls asleep immediately.

He walks around the cabin and shuts all the windows. He doesn't bother locking the door. For the first time in a long time, he feels perfectly safe.

oooo

Jack rises with the sun and drives to the general store to pick up a couple copies of the newspaper and a fresh rasher of bacon - some cream for coffee and a spiffy new hat for Teal'c with a picture of a trout on it. When he gets back to the cabin, Sam and Daniel are waiting on the porch looking tired and cold and not quite awake. They're both in their pajamas and Daniel is leaning into her shoulder looking sleepy in the early morning. Jack is barely on the steps before they descend.

"You get me cream?" Daniel mumbles, snatching the carton out of the paper sack. Sam's hand reaches in too and pulls out one of the newspapers, slipping the rubber band off and sliding it onto her wrist and unfolding the paper greedily. Then she frowns.

"The Star Tribune, Jack?" she says, a slight whine of disappointment.

"They don't carry the Times at the general store, sorry," he says. "We'll just have to make do."

By the time Jack makes it into the kitchen, Daniel is already standing with a mug of coffee to his mouth, sighing happily and Sam is spreading the paper out across the old wooden table. She thumbs through the pages and then crows delightedly, pulling the section out and pushing the rest of the paper to the floor. She opens it and reaches for the pen tucked behind her ear.

"Hey, hey, hey, you little cheater," Jack says, sitting the rest of the groceries down. "You know the rules."

"But-"

"No starting before me," he says.

"You never win, what does it matter?" Daniel says.

"Maybe because she always cheats," Jack grumbles, snatching the pen out of her hand.

"Being smarter than you isn't cheating," Daniel says.

"Whose side are you on?" Jack asks.

"Hers," he says.

Sam reaches in the grocery bag and pulls out the other paper and hands it to Jack. He takes it and gives it to Daniel.

"Sam and me against you," Jack says.

"I don't even like crossword puzzles," Daniel says, but he takes the paper anyway. Jack sits in a chair and slides the puzzle in front of him.

"Hey," Sam says. "You have to share."

When she settles onto his lap and takes her pen back, he doesn't mind at all.

Teal'c appears before too long.

"Breakfast?" he asks.

"Bacon," Jack says, his chin resting on Sam's shoulder as she fills the puzzle with her neat writing. Jack likes to jump around from clue to clue but Sam starts with one-across and fills it in methodically. Jack points to the bottom of the puzzle.

"That one is Bobby Orr," he says.

"Shh, we're not there yet," she says.

"Well when we get there, it's Bobby Orr," he says and pats her hip so she'll stand and let him up out of the chair. "Let's make breakfast, T."

"You cook the chicken ovaries, I will fry the bacon," Teal'c says.

Daniel clearly isn't listening because he doesn't even wince at Teal's colorful description of the eggs. But he does chew on the back of his pen as he squints at the puzzle.

"Aaaand done," Sam says, tossing her pen down.

"Already?" Daniel asks.

"Yeah," she says. "But I had help."

"Bobby Orr," Jack says.

"Yep, Bobby Orr," she says, grinning at him. "You won it for us."

"Ugh," Daniel says. "Well, what's the bet?"

Sam looks down at the table.

"When you two play, I mean, what are the stakes? What do I have to do?" he says.

"Uh," says Sam. Jack grins. He loves it when she blushes. "We get the joy of victory?"

"And a blow job," Jack says. "If I win, I get a blow job. And guess what, Danny? I intend to collect."

"Whoa, whoa," Daniel says. "And if Sam wins, what does she get?"

"Same thing," Jack says. "More or less."

Sam sinks down into her seat and drops her head into her arms, her ears a nice cherry red.

"So if I blow you, I also get to do Sam?" Daniel says, leaning back in his chair. "There's something to consider."

Sam mumbles something.

"What was that?" Jack asks. She lifts her head.

"I said maybe he can just do the dishes or something!" she says, her voice a little higher than normal.

"This time," Jack says. He turns back to Teal'c who has watched this entire exchange impassively.

"On Chulak, it is not uncommon for warriors to give one another oral pleasure while away at battle and away from their women for long periods of time," he says.

"Really?" Jack asks. Daniel's mouth has fallen open.

"No," Teal'c says, turning back to the bacon. "These eggs will not cook themselves, O'Neill."

Sam gets up from the table and walks right up to Teal'c and kisses his cheek. He smiles down at her.

"I'm going to take a shower," she announces. "And then breakfast."

"And then what?" Jack says.

"And then? I'd like to do some fishing," she says.

"That," Jack says. "Sounds like a plan."