Holy! Matrimony
by Suz suzvoy@tesco.net

Disclaimer - MGM/Gekko/Double Secret own them.

Spoilers for 'Emancipation', 'Solitudes', 'In The Line of Duty', 'Tangent', 'Entity', 'Redemption, Part 1', and any of the fishing invitation and Black Widow episodes. Set in season six.

*

So, once again it had come to this. Once again he had to save her butt.

Once again he had to 'buy' Sam Carter.

He'd been pissed, naturally. The society they'd been visiting had shown no signs of treating the women any differently than the men; it was only after she'd wandered away by herself for less than a minute that she was taken.

When he'd realised she was missing and caused what even Teal'c classified as a ruckus, her 'owner' Rateef had gladly stepped forward. Apparently quite unaware of the fate that awaited him at the hands of the man who didn't like anyone touching his team - especially *that* member of his team - he eagerly described his latest acquisition.

The thing was, the guy was almost...likeable. Jack didn't forget for a single second that this was the guy who for all intents and purposes had kidnapped Carter, but he wasn't abusive, and actually seemed quite honoured to be the one who'd captured her (which proved he had good taste).

Okay, so that didn't exactly make him likeable, but he was definitely better than the first guy he'd had to buy her from had been.

He argued, negotiated and threatened physical violence along with the rest of his team, but Rateef held firm. They were on his planet so they had to abide by his rules; it didn't matter that they were strangers who hadn't known anything about their practices. She'd be put up for auction the next day, and whoever bid the highest amount could have her.

Disgusted, Jack had stomped back to the gate, reported to Hammond via the MALP, and been told that sorry Jack, but they were gonna have to go with diplomacy on this one. The planet was rich with naquadah that they were eager to get their hands on - that was why Carter had gone off by herself in the first place: to try and obtain more samples.

Finally returning to Rateef, he asked if he could at least see her Ė with Jonasí help. His request was granted, which only confused Jack all the more. They were effectively holding her hostage, but they seemed very laid back and incredibly lax about allowing her visitors.

Still, he wasn't about to complain, ignoring the two guards standing outside the cabin who were doing an equally good job of ignoring him - it was as if he didn't exist.

Opening the wooden door he stepped inside, to see Carter immediately turn towards him. No doubt she'd been pacing back and forth.

"Sir," She said, looking relieved and obviously wanting to say more but knowing not to.

The cabin didn't seem half-bad. There was a comfy looking bed, a chair, a table, and even a light built into the wall. "Carter," He greeted, keeping it casual until the door was shut. The moment it was, he stalked towards her. "How you doing?"

"How do you think?" She rebutted, unfolding her arms from across her chest and letting loose now that they were alone. Closing her eyes, she started again. "Sorry. I'm just...why does this always happen to me?"

He spoke before he had time to think better of it. "Apparently it's your eyes."

"My *eyes*?"

"Yeah. I mean, any woman by herself is up for grabs, but no one on this planet has quite the same colour eyes you do." He'd noticed people staring at her earlier, but they were strangers - they'd been staring at all of them.

And hell, no one in the entire galaxy had quite the same colour eyes she did.

Throwing her hands up in the air, she began pacing again. "I don't get it! They seem reasonably technologically advanced. How can they still do things like this?"

"Technology has nothing to do with reason, Carter. You should know that. And anyway," He paused, managing a smile. "You should just be grateful they didn't shoehorn you into another ridiculous blue dress."

Stopping as she turned towards him, she chuckled and glanced down at her clothes. "I guess." She was still wearing her reassuringly familiar BDU's. "So are you getting me out of here, or not?"

And there was the question. His hesitation was probably all the answer she needed. "Uh, look...Hammond wants us to-"

"Play nice so we can get the naquadah?"

She'd literally taken the words out of his mouth. "Yeah. Look I know it sucks, and I'm all for breaking you out of here," He had no doubt they could take anyone who got in their way. "But if we do it Hammond's way, we'll still be able to negotiate for the naquadah later."

"I understand." She didn't look happy, but she understood. "He's in a difficult position."

That was the truth. Even now, the pen pushers upstairs still wanted tangible benefits from the Stargate program. Apparently even the various X-3 whatever's weren't enough. Some people were never satisfied. "We'll get you out of here," He promised. "Whatever it takes."

Frowning, she moved until she was sitting on the edge of the bed. "How did you convince them to let you come in and see me?"

Like he was gonna answer that one. "I asked."

"That's it?" She seemed surprised, and he couldn't blame her.

"That's it," He responded, making his way over to the chair and lowering his body onto it. "I simply asked if I could make sure you were okay."

Doubt creased her forehead. "That's not actually what you said, is it?"

Damn. "That was the...gist of what I said."

"Yes, but what did you actually *say*?"

He really had to work on his poker face. "It was Jonas' idea," He volunteered, eager to shove the blame onto someone else.

"What did you say?"

"I asked..." Dammit. "I asked if I could inspect the merchandise." He barely gave her time to blink before he was talking again, waving his hands around as he made his points. "Look, you know I don't really think you 'belong' to anyone, or that you're some possession that someone can own. Frankly the idea of you belonging to *anyone* but yourself is ridicu..."

She was smiling.

His hands stilled. "...and you were teasing me, weren't you?"

The smile remained. "I may have been."

"Oh that's nice," Jack mocked, actually kinda relieved. "I'm trying to make you feel better, and *you* make fun of *me*. But it's good to see you've still got your sense of humour."

"I have to in this job," She replied dryly, causing him to nod before causing him to freeze when she spoke again. "You were trying to make me feel better?"

Um, uh, no reason to deny it, was there? "Sure! Realising you're being put up for sale has *got* to result in a crappy day for anyone. I'm sure we'd both do the same for any member of the team."

"Of course," She replied, softly tapping her feet on the floor once and glancing away. "Any other news?"

He shrugged. "Not really. Jonas is trying to learn if there are any other 'practices' we need to know about-"

Someone knocked on the door. Jack stared, then pointed at it. "Bet you any money that's-"

"Colonel!" Jonas' winded voice burst into the room as he flung the door open, though he didn't enter, remember the rules. Guests were fine, but no more than one in the cabin at any time.

"What the hell is it?" Jack demanded, springing to his feet.

"Oh it's..." His words faded as he looked at Jack, then to Carter, then back to Jack again. "...it's something that I really think we should discuss outside. Really."

Confused, but realising it was nothing serious, he shrugged at Carter before heading towards the exit. "Be right back."

"I'll be waiting," She replied, resigned, and he understood. Where else would she go?

Once outside and the door was shut, he turned to his newest team member. "What is it?"

"Not here," Jonas insisted, casting wary glances towards the two guards.

"Jonas..." He growled.

"Trust me," Was the reply, as he walked until he was sure they couldn't be overheard.

Trust him? Ha. Not likely. Still, if it was somehow connected to Carter... "Okay, tell me," He instructed when they finally drew to a stop.

Jonas lifted his hands ready to make his speech, when he paused. His hand wavered; his lips wavered, as if he was unsure how to say what it was he had to say. Finally, he just spat it out. "Someone has to spend the night in there with her."

Jack was actually temporarily blinded, as his brain briefly off-lined when several different responses vied for attention, but just one broke free. "What exactly do you mean by 'spend the night'?"

"You know," Jonas answered, frowning. "Spend the night."

Damn those alien linguistic differences. "No Jonas, I *don't* know. Specifically, what do you mean by 'spend the night'? Set up a tent inside and roast marshmallows over an open fire? Turn up in pyjamas ready to paint toenails and plait hair? What do you *mean*?"

"Uh," A very confused Kelownan replied. "Someone has to fall asleep in the cabin with her."

Ah, relief. "Okay. Why? Is this another of their practices?"

"No. I was talking to one of the men in the town, trying to learn more about the auction process and everything that leads up to it, so we won't be unprepared. The night before the auction, it's normal procedure for those interested in bidding to pay whoever's up for sale a visit at any time of the night."

Some guy(s) they didn't know, sneaking into her cabin? He really didn't like that. "She can take care of herself," He felt compelled to point out, despite himself.

"I'm not questioning that even for a second," Jonas insisted. "But having someone already in there with her...wouldn't that act as a preventative measure?"

They were both dancing around the subject neither one of them wanted to mention aloud. God only knew what one of the potential bidders might try to do to her...and though she'd no doubt kick any of their butts, wasn't it better that they not even attempt it in the first place? "Is it allowed? Have you asked Rat Boy?"

"There seemed to be no problem with it, but I thought you'd want to speak to him yourself."

He was right about that. New boy was learning. "Take me to him."

A five-minute walk through a partially industrialised town later, they approached a very familiar building: Rateef's company. When he wasn't kidnapping and selling women, he ran some kind of manufacturing firm.

Teal'c was standing outside the entrance when he noticed their approach. "You have returned."

"You noticed," Jack replied.

Teal'c didn't seem impressed, turning his attention to Jonas. "Have you informed him of the developments?"

Jonas very carefully didn't look at anyone. "I told him that someone should sleep in the cabin with Major Carter."

"Hello, I'm right here!" Jack announced. "Do you know how rude it is talking about me as if I'm not?" *Man* that bugged the heck out of him.

"My apologies O'Neill," Teal'c nodded once. "We should proceed inside. Rateef is awaiting your arrival."

"*My* arrival?" He had the distinct feeling that he was missing something, but his teammates simply turned away and stepped into the building so Jack followed. It was his second time in there today so he didn't need to familiarise himself with the surroundings - he knew from memory that it was mostly wood with some metal shoved in for good measure. It didn't look particularly appealing, but then he didn't much care how it looked.

One of Rat Boy's heavies showed them into his office and there he was, sitting behind his desk with his short dark hair and features that Jack thought were looking more and more like the animal he was naming him after with each passing second.

He was beginning to revise his opinion: maybe Turd-in had been better.

"Colonel!" Rat Boy greeted warmly, standing up to walk to their side of the desk. "It's so good to see you again. How is your Major Carter fairing?"

"Apart from not appreciating being kidnapped, just fine thank you. But that's not why I'm here."

"No, I suspected not," He agreed, the smile not disappearing even for a second.

"Apparently someone can stay in the cabin with her overnight. Is that right?"

"Of course!" Rat Boy explained. "I will do everything I can to protect a woman's honour until the auction. Her protection is paramount."

How touching. And he couldn't help but notice he wasn't bothered about anyone coming in to get a good look at his merchandise, even if they didn't do anything else. "And what about *after* the auction?"

Seeming genuinely perplexed, he frowned. "Well then she is no longer my property."

Wonderful. Good to know he was such a humanitarian. Resisting the urge to snap the guyís head off, Jack kept talking. "In that case, I'd like permission for someone to sleep in Major Carter's cabin with her tonight."

"That may pose a problem, Colonel."

Oh he should have just *seen* this coming. "Oh? Do tell."

"There have been instances in the past where those claiming to be the woman's protector have actually wanted to take advantage of her. It was subsequently decided that only the woman's life mate or lover should be allowed to stay in the cabin with her, to maintain her honour." He looked at all three of them. "Do any of you fit that criteria?"

Ohhhhh.

Well, they had a choice here. Either they could...wait a minute. Wait a God damned minute! Jonas was getting ready to speak! Realistically he knew that they needed someone to say they were Carter's significant other, but...that son of a bitch was gonna claim it was *him*.

That was it. After this mission, Jonas was-

A distinctly Jaffa-like hand pressed firmly against his back, making Jack stumble forward a few paces even as Jonas finally spoke.

"Yes, Rateef. Colonel O'Neill does."

Oh, crap.

"You, Colonel?"

Rat Boy sounded surprised, though obviously, not quite as surprised as Jack felt at that particular moment. Still, Teal'c and Jonas had evidently decided he was man for the job...the *protecting* job...so it was probably best to go with the flow. "Uh...sure."

"I'm surprised you didn't mention it before, especially when you first thought she was missing."

"Uh..."

Teal'c intervened. "His behaviour is dictated by Earth protocol. It is recommended that, while on a mission, members of the same team who are involved with each other should behave as if they were nothing more than colleagues, to help build discipline."

Jack found himself nodding. "Yep, that's right." Carter was *so* gonna kick his ass.

"It is believed they will function as a more cohesive unit if they do not allow their personal feelings to interfere."

"That too." Or maybe she wouldn't. After all, she'd understood that Hammond was in a tough position - surely she'd understand that he was, too.

"I suppose that makes sense," Rateef nodded slowly. "And it also explains your earlier behaviour."

She was a sensible woman after... "Behaviour?" Huh?

"You were quite upset when you couldn't find her."

Oh...oh...he was? "I was?" Knowing that Teal'c and Jonas were probably rolling their eyes, he quickly continued. "I mean I *was*. Of course I was. After all, she is my..." Life mate? Lover? Decisions, decisions...which would look worse from Carter's point of view, and Hammond's should he ever find out?

As it was, his soon-to-have-their-butts-kicked teammates spared him the decision, speaking together: "Life mate."

It was official: there was an alien conspiracy taking place within his very own team.

Rateef lifted his little ratty eyebrows, no doubt confused that it wasn't Jack who'd finished the sentence.

"Sorry," Jack offered by way of apology, knowing it didn't look particularly good if he really *was* supposed to be that close to Carter. "Though we obviously share much of the same language," See? He could be diplomatic. "Not all of your terms are the same. We don't really use 'life mate' on Earth to describe that kind of relationship."

"Really?" He seemed almost obscenely intrigued. "What do you use instead?"

Erm... "Oh, you know, partner..."

Teal'c spoke. "Spouse."

Then Jonas. "Husband."

"Significant other."

"Companion."

"Soul mate."

That was it. "Okay - *thank* you boys. That's enough of the talking thesaurus." Half turning towards them, he glared. They didn't seem particularly threatened. He swore, next time he was alone with *either* of them...but thoughts of punishment could wait. Right now, he needed to convince Rat Boy.

Turning back to him, he cleared his throat. "As you can see, there are lots of different terms. But it's true. I really am. You can even ask her yourself if you want."

*

Him and his big mouth.

Rat Boy had gladly taken him up on his offer, eager - in his own words - to ensure Carter's honour.

So Jack glared at the ground all the way back to the cabin, trying to look like he wasn't glaring, hoping he'd get just a moment alone with someone on his team so he could ask them what the hell they were playing at - and to try and plan for the auction tomorrow.

Apparently it wasn't to be. Rateef was by their side all the way to the cabin and, remembering the rules, Teal'c and Jonas didn't even go near as he and Rat Boy approached the door.

Okay. Fine. He knocked on the door once, glanced up at the darkening sky, waited for her consent, and then pushed it open when it was received.

She was standing up in front of the bed, obviously expecting him to have returned a long time ago. "Sir?"

He paused in the doorway, his feet feeling as if they'd been cemented into the floor. Okay. "Don't worry..." He could do this without hesitating. "Rateef just wants to confirm that we're life mates so I can stay in here and protect you," He knew she'd hate that part and her eyes were already huge, growing even more so when he added the final touch: "Sweetheart."

It was the movement behind him that eventually prompted Jack to actually step inside the cabin, and silently plead that she play along with this.

Carter being Carter, she'd already figured it out, her shock disappearing to be replaced by a calm bemusement. "Why would he think we weren't...life mates?"

"Ya got me," Jack shrugged, walking until he was standing just a few feet from her, knowing Rat Boy was just behind. "Apparently we're good at sticking to the regs." When she frowned, he continued. "But it was Teal'c and Jonas who told him that we're supposed to act professionally off-world."

"Teal'c and Jonas told him?"

"They sure did."

"About us too?"

"Oh yeah." He recognised that glint in her eye. Someone else was going to be dishing out punishment soon.

"That's so *nice* of them."

This was almost...fun. "Isn't it? You know how happy they were when we got together."

"Well, Teal'c always was the romantic of the team."

Impressed with how well she was dealing with this, he turned and stepped back until he was standing next to her. And then oh so casually, he slipped his right hand into her left, not making it obvious, in an attempt to subconsciously fool Rateef into thinking they could conceivably be together.

Rat Boy didn't say anything for a while, and Jack was starting to sweat - psychologically, anyway. Did he want to see more 'proof'? He did *not* want to think about what they might have to do to-

"Was there something else?" Carter asked. Wonderful, *wonderful* Carter.

"No," Rateef shook his head; as if unaware he'd just been staring at them for so long. "My apologies. It's just...pleasant to see a couple together who are very obviously life mates." While Jack's skin started to lose pigment - biologically impossible, but it was happening all the same - Rat Boy took a step forward to address just him, though Carter could hear everything. "I certainly hope you triumph at the auction tomorrow."

Then abruptly he turned away to leave, advising them that according to tradition, they shouldn't leave the cabin until the next morning.

When the door shut, Jack glared at it and muttered. "Well if you hadn't kidnapped my wife, I wouldn't *need* to triumph at the auction." What a weird guy. He was kidnapping and selling Carter, but he hoped that Jack would win simply because he thought they were life mates (they must have been doing a really good acting job). "Sorry about that," He murmured, relaxing now that they were alone and rubbing his left hand over his face.

"It's okay."

"The interested bidders can drop in and visit you, anytime you want. Seems that on occasion one of them tries to take advantage of...the situation."

"It's okay."

"And while *I* know you can kick any of their butts, for a start you shouldn't even be put in the situation where you have to, and it'll also come as a surprise if you *do* have to kick someone's butt at some-"

"I'm okay," She interrupted, turning towards him and forcing him to look at her.

"You are?" When they'd first met, she never would have stood for this.

"I am," She responded warmly. "Besides, it makes tactical sense. I wouldn't leave any one of us one our own at the moment."

Tactical sense. Yes, that was the whole point of this, wasn't it? Dammit, why hadn't he used that as an excuse? Maybe he still could... "Just what I was thinking," He announced, glancing away again so he wouldn't be able to tell if she bought it or not. "Soooo..." He studied the chair; no doubt where he'd be spending some of the night. "I guess we should get settled in."

"I guess," Carter replied. "But, uh, sir..."

"Yeah?" How the hell did they turn that light off?

She moved her arm and suddenly he realised: they were still holding hands.

"Ah."

*

There'd been some argument over the bed. She seemed to think it wasn't fair that she get the bed while he had the chair, but as he willingly pointed out they'd *both* be taking a watch. He'd sleep when she took hers.

Occasional small talk filled the cabin as they slipped off their jackets (and Jack, while taking them off, made sure all of his weapons were in easily retrievably places Ė hers had been taken when she was, but promptly hadnít back to the rest of the team); a general agreement that no matter where they were sleeping that night, Teal'c and Jonas were probably having a better time; a definite agreement that Rat Boy was a complete nutcase; a wonderment if they'd be allowed out should either of them need to use the facilities.

Eventually she slipped into the bed - still dressed in her BDU pants and top - and he sighed gratefully onto the chair. After checking in via radio with the other half of the team, they'd managed to decipher the remarkably complex controls to the light source, and had turned it down to just a faint glow. It was almost as if everything wasnít quite real.

Him and Carter...finally in a cabin.

Definitely not real. The chair was facing the door, away from her. "'Night Carter."

"Goodnight sir."

It was some thirty minutes later of thinking, pondering and moping that he heard a heavy sigh, and the sound of her turning in bed.

"I'm never going to get to sleep," She declared.

"Why's that?"

"Just the thought that they can come and 'inspect the merchandise' while I'm sleeping. Do they really think I wouldn't notice them staring at me, even if I did have my eyes closed?"

"You've never noticed befo..." Ohhhh. Just as well he was facing away from her really. How was it he always managed to shove his foot in his mouth around her?

Silence returned, the difference being that it was conscious - Jack wasn't going to say anything even if his life depended on it.

And then she spoke.

"I did." She whispered. "Always."

'Damn' didn't even begin to cover it.

*

He was startled out of his less-than-exciting watch by someone thumping on the door. Someone who, if their knocking was anything to go by, was extremely enthusiastic about getting a response.

Carter snapped out of the snooze she'd eventually fallen into, and called out groggily. "Who is it?"

A male voice responded, as enthusiastic as the knocking had been. "I am Careen! Rateef has brought me to view the merchandise."

Well, at least the guy was knocking - which turned out to be to their advantage.

And specifically his.

Kind of.

Because when he stood and turned towards Carter, she was lifting the blanket up in obvious invitation.

His brain was pondering three different things: the rationalisation that if Rateef was bringing this guy to see her and Jack was supposed to be her life mate, he was going to expect to see them in bed together; the fact that he wanted to run away screaming; the fact that he also wanted to dive in, say to hell with the people who were knocking on the door, and do all *kinds* of regulation-breaking things.

In the end he quietly tugged his boots off, climbed into the bed, and snuggled up next to her. There wasn't a lot of room.

Shame.

"Come in," She called, as they attempted to look like they'd been there with each other for a while. She rested her head and a hand on his chest; he wrapped an arm around her and tried to look as if he were faintly aroused.

Something that took a surprising amount of acting. Or maybe not, given the situation.

What must have been Careen swept into the room. Not, as Jack might have expected, an aging, overweight guy: he actually seemed quite physically fit and - not that Jack was a good judge of these things - not especially unattractive.

"Oh my Goodness!" He cooed, moving until he was bending down next to them, staring at Carter's face. "You were certainly right about the eyes. They're *stunning*!"

Something told Jack they didn't have to worry about this Careen taking advantage of her, even though Carter instinctively backed away from him and - damn it - further into his arms.

"How could you ever doubt me?" Rateef asked, smiling proudly from the doorway before departing, leaving Careen behind.

Who was still gasping over her eyes.

It was beginning to freak Jack out. "Do you *mind*?"

Dragging his gaze away, he finally acknowledged Jack's presence for the first time. "My apologies. You are her life mate?"

"Yeah. Sure."

Nodding, he smiled and waggled a finger less than an inch from his nose. "Rateef warned me about you. I know you will be a formidable adversary tomorrow. You should be warned that I intend to win."

Uh huh. Sure. "You should be warned," He paused purely for the effect (and maybe because Carter's hand was moving about on his chest), "That you won't."

Finding it amusing - in fact, seeming to find everything amusing - Careen wished them both a good night (once again, staring maniacally at Carterís eyes) before leaving the room as dramatically as heíd entered.

A good thirty seconds after the door slammed shut behind him, they finally blinked.

"That was..." He searched for the right word. "...interesting. He really likes your eyes."

She hadnít moved, her head still on his chest. "I noticed."

He wasnít complaining. "No I mean really, *really* likes Ďem." But he was finding it awkward. "Maybe he wants to put them in a jar or something."

"Maybe he wants to transplant them into his own eye sockets."

Ewwww. "Is that possible?"

"No," Chuckling, she rolled her face further into his chest as she failed to contain her mirth.

Okay. Now it wasnít awkward in the least. Now he was enjoying himself far too much. "Look, I should probably-"

"Uh..."

Uh? Carter saying Ďuhí? Carter never said uh. Uh was without a doubt, one of *his* words. "Uh?"

"We were lucky this time," She told him, very carefully staring at...oh, his chest. "But theyíre probably not always gonna knock."

"Probably." It was the truth. He could acknowledge that.

"So if they burst in here and one of us is sitting in the chair, itís probably not gonna look good."

"Probably."

"So we should probably...sleep together."

Suddenly that arousal thing was *so* not a problem.

*

It only took him another five hours to get to sleep. In his defence it wasn't just because he was sleeping - as in *falling* *asleep* - with her; Careen's arrival seemed to have opened the floodgates. One potential bidder after another poured into the cabin; and unsurprisingly Carter had been right - most of them didn't knock.

But hell - he'd slept through much worse, so in the end he closed his eyes and all but forced his body to sleep, even if they were going to have a continual audience.

It was his body that woke him up again, several hours later. It seemed that, when she wasn't at risk from hypothermia or sleeping on the ground (as often happened in their missions), Carter moved around a lot in her sleep.

Specifically, her leg.

Specifically her right leg which was bending at the knee, lifting up, and rubbing against his.

Her head was still on his chest, his right arm had long since lost any feeling, and she kept...rubbing her leg against him.

Lifting his head the little that he could, he watched her for a while. Or at least, what he could see of her he watched for a while. It was mostly her hair, her forehead, sometimes her nose...

Someone knocked.

Damn.

Blinking as much sleep out of his eyes as he could, and very reluctant to wake her up, he spoke as quietly as he could while still hoping his voice would travel to the door. "Yeah?"

Rat Boy heard him. "Happy morning!" He exclaimed as he banged the door open, causing Carter to yelp as she woke up, her hand pressing against his chest for support.

"Happy...morning." She tried - and failed - to hold back a yawn.

Completely forgetting Rateef, Jack observed as she hid the yawn behind her free hand. "Morning, sleepyhead."

"Shut up," She complained, before her eyes widened. Apparently realising what she was saying, who she was saying it do, and exactly what her hand and leg were doing, she readjusted her body and pulled away as much as she could in the confined space. She didn't look at him. "Uh, sorry."

Suddenly remembering they had an audience, Jack strived to look relaxed. "For what?"

She quickly wore her 'oh yeah' expression, realising the same thing he had. "Oh..." She slid her head back onto his chest. "Telling you to shut up."

His left hand moved until it was rubbing her back. "Ah, we both know I have a tendency to go on."

"True," Carter conceded.

"If I may interrupt?" Rateef's voice did just that, causing both to turn their heads towards him. He wasn't far inside the cabin, smiling broadly - as ever. "The auction will begin shortly. You should prepare yourself, Major Carter."

"Of course," She replied tightly, saying nothing more until he'd left again. When he was gone, she continued. "'Prepare' myself?"

Jack was *so* not making any suggestions. "It's a shame you *did* snooze." "Why's that?"

"Well we don't really want you getting any beauty sleep, do we?"

Chuckling, she finally began to pull away from him again...only to pause. Sitting up and away from him, her back resting against the wall the bed was next to; she roughly ran her hands over and through her hair. When she was done, she pulled them away. "There. Messy?"

He understood the point. He did. She was trying to make herself look unattractive, hoping that would make the others less likely to bid for her.

So yes, it was messy. But other words sprung to mind. Dishevelled. Tousled. Sexy... "Uh," There was that word again. "Do you mind...if...?" Ignoring all common sense, he sat up as his hands reached for her head.

Amazingly (stupidly?) she didn't object. In fact she didn't say anything at all.

It shouldn't have been particularly sensuous. She looked pretty stupid as it was, and his fingers kept getting caught on the tangles she'd already created, but still...

His hands slid slowly through her short (yet longer than it used to be) hair. He'd wondered for a long time, of course, what it would feel like. And it *was* soft, and there *may* have a lot of tangles, but he *was* still enjoying himself far too much...

Jack pulled away, swallowing heavily, suddenly comprehending why everyone wanted those eyes. "Shame we don't have any gel to-"

THUMP!

"It is time!"

*

The auction was well underway. After Jack had complained about the severe lack of any actual preparation time ("That was *it*?"), Carter pulled on her jacket and boots, and barely had time to clean her teeth (some cleanliness she wasnít abandoning) before she was led out of the room, surrounded by guards.

Jack, somewhat bereft *and* somewhat aroused, was left to this own devices. After quickly locating Teal'c - his Jaffa friend was never far, and even if he had been they had the radios - they'd headed off to where the auction would take place.

According to Teal'c, Jonas was back at the Stargate. He'd been doing his research; they'd be bidding in the weight of some kind of mineral that was highly prized on their planet, a mineral that Jack had never heard of (different names for things and all that), but fortunately bore a remarkable similarity to a mineral that existed in abundance on Earth.

A large amount had already been prepared at the SGC, and as soon as the auction was done Teal'c would radio Jonas, and Jonas would tell them exactly how much to send through.

So Jack and Teal'c had mixed in with the crowd, staring up as Carter was paraded about on the 'stage'. It was roughly four feet high, made mostly out of wood, though there were several red and purple sheets that seemed to be draped about purely for aesthetic reasons.

The bidding started immediately, but Jack held back at first, concentrating on her instead. Unsurprisingly, she looked increasingly pissed. Her hair was sticking out in all kinds of God-awful directions, but that didn't seem to slow anyone down. It was a shame they couldn't do anything about the colour of... "I should have poked her in the eye."

"O'Neill?" Teal'c queried, his confusion obvious.

"I should have poked her in the eye," He repeated, then lifted up his hand and imitated the movement. "With a finger. They're all gaga over her eyes, right?"

Understanding, Teal'c looked back towards the stage. "It would have been most painful."

"She's tough," Jack shrugged. "And it's gotta be better than being sold." "With that I cannot argue."

Ha. That was about all the pleasure he was going to get out of this whole Carter-being-sold-like-property thing. Until...

The bidding had slowed considerably. In fact, it seemed as if it was about to stop. Now was his time.

"Seventy eight..." Damn, what was the name of their weight measurement? Oh! "...flurons!" What a stupid word.

Some were surprised at the new bidder; others had been surprised by his earlier silence. Most of them glared at him.

He waved. "Hi guys."

"Seventy nine!" Careen challenged.

Not in the least bit surprised, Jack rolled his eyes. "Eighty!" And on it went; each man bidding higher and higher, soon going up in fives, then tens, then fifties, then hundreds.

The gasps and murmurs had started around the two hundred mark, and by the time they reached five hundred Rateef looked in danger of having a heart attack.

Carter simply looked bemused.

Eventually, just shy of eight hundred, Careen was forced to stop - apparently with no more mineral left to bid with.

So, with a bid of seven hundred and ninety three flurons (which Rateef graciously took as seven hundred and ninety flurons - frankly, the man was ecstatic, the bid being the highest in their history), Jack O'Neill was the proud 'owner' of a certain Sam Carter.

"Please, please," Rateef encouraged, shepherding him towards the stage. "It's so pleasant you won, that two life mates can remain together. Go and see her."

There didn't seem to be many hard feelings. Though obviously some were disappointed, many of them congratulated him as they passed; some even rubbed his head (he decided to take that as a compliment).

But soon enough, he was propelled up onto the stage, grinning a little awkwardly at the Major. "Carter," He greeted softly over the din.

"Sir," She nodded, smiling. "All I can say is: thank God we have so much of that mineral on Earth."

"Ah," He shrugged, deliberately playing it off. "Even if we hadn't, I...we would have found it somewhere else."

"Hi guys!" Rateef yelled behind him, mimicking the greeting and finding it particularly amusing.

The sudden noise at close proximity caused Jack to spin round, barely holding back a bark of surprise. "Uh, hi Rat Bo...eef." Oops. "What can I do for you?"

"Nothing. I need to do something for *you*."

That didn't bode well. "And that would be?"

A hand that had been hiding behind his back all the time suddenly appeared, dragging a piece of paper with it. Holding the paper at either end with both hands, he presented it to him. "This is your receipt."

"Receipt?"

"Proving that you are now the legal owner of Major Carter," Rateef explained, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

"Oh." He didn't know why, but he could have sworn he was turning red. "Uh, thank you. Very much." His first instinct was to shove the paper into Carter's scary, butt-kicking hands, but that wouldn't exactly look good in front of this crowd. Instead he quickly rolled it up and shoved it into his jacket pocket.

"Please," Rateef continued. "Kiss for us."

"WHAT?" Uh...Jack cleared his throat. "I mean 'excuse me'?" Was Carter sniggering?

"Please, kiss for us."

Clearly the guy saw nothing wrong with it. "Sorry to disappoint you Rateef, but uh, we're really not, uh-"

"Supposed to," Carter finally interjected. "Regulations and...you remember?"

"But surely your commanders would understand?" Rateef argued. "This is a special occasion."

A familiar voice yelled up from the crowd. "I am sure they would, O'Neill!"

"Hey!" Jack turned to glare at him. Teal'c was toast. "I'm just trying to do what's *right* here!" He spun back towards Rateef, very, very carefully ignoring Carter. "And why the hell do you want us to kiss in the first place?"

"The kiss of life mates..." His voice trailed of, almost wistful. "It is a rare thing, Colonel O'Neill. Though we understand and accept the placement of our lives, we still long for what doesn't exist."

And suddenly Jack understood: they didn't 'marry' for love here. It was all about the money - or the mineral. Whichever was most valuable.

Still, he wasn't about to kiss Carter just to make this guy feel better. He was the guy who'd kidnapped her in the first place and-

"I can make it very hard for you to get this 'naquadah' you want so badly."

Ohhhh. Why that little...well. Fine. Hammond had literally told him to do whatever it took. It'd been a while since they'd encountered a planet so rich in the substance, and they wanted to get as much as they could.

He was performing his duty.

Nothing more.

Muttering, growling, mumbling, he anxiously turned until he faced her, pulling his cap from his head. "Uh look, Cart..." Remembering who was watching, "Sam. This is entirely your call. I'll respect whatever decision you make. Do you think we should break the regs, just this-?"

Um, wow.

She was kissing him.

Um, wow.

She was *really* kissing him.

His arms, which had frozen in surprise - along with a large majority of his body - finally moved, dropping the cap and wrapping around her. Pulling her closer, tilting his head, touching the back of her head just because he could...

He pulled away; stunned that she'd done that, stunned that he'd done that, the noise in his ears having nothing to do with the cheers coming from the crowd below.

When the sound eventually died down a lonely, plaintive, Kelownan voice broke the silence.

"I, uh, have the payment."

Everything seemed to happen then. Rateef happily took his payment (which looked suspiciously as if it had been loaded onto one of the food trolleys from the commissary), he and Carter stopped gawking at each other long enough to climb down from the stage, make their goodbyes - with the promise of SG-9 returning soon to negotiate - then rejoin the rest of their team and start the journey back to the gate.

Everything seemed to happen.

Including the fact that he and Carter were steadfastly ignoring each other.

Though a few stragglers lingered with them for a while, eventually it was just SG-1.

And Careen.

"Please, Colonel!" He cried after them. "Surely there's something I can give you of equal value to Major Carter!"

Though he still wasn't looking at her, he knew Carter well enough to know that her hand tightened around her newly reacquired P-90. His was doing the same. "Sorry. Car..." Damn. "Sam's not for sale."

"But I have great resources!" His voice was heavy as he tried to keep up. "Perhaps it's not what Rateef wanted, but I must have something you want!"

Now *that* was funny. The only thing *he* wanted was the one thing he *couldn't* have. He was so not in the mood for this. He was pissed, he was horny, and the guy was irritating the hell out of him. "Look, you wouldn't want her anyway."

"How can you *say* that?" He'd all but caught up with him now, running alongside Jack as he kept up his determined march towards escape.

"She works too hard for a start."

"This is a fault?"

"Yes!"

"Diligence should be commende-"

Jack cut him off. "She doesn't get enough sleep. She can never just...chill out."

Careen was obviously confused. "Chill out."

"Chill out. Relax. Take it easy. And she doesn't smile enough." He was just making stuff up now, eager to scare Careen off - and choosing to ignore the increasingly worried looks Teal'c and Jonas were sending him. "She takes her work way too seriously. And *boring*. Did I mention boring? She has a vocabulary that'd make a dictionary jealous." As he continued talking, he increased his pace. "She hates fishing - who could *possibly* hate fishing?"

"Colonel O'Neill?"

Shut up, Jonas. "She's way too inquisitive and helpful for her own good, always getting infected by some kind of alien life form and causing ten kinds of hell." Especially for him. "And that's only when she's *not* causing every alien guy we come across to fall madly in love with her."

"Then why did you want her back?"

"Because I-!"

Stop.

Right.

There.

He stopped walking, his team pausing with him. He didn't look at her.

"Because I...she's...she's my life mate."

Jack started jogging, freaked by the truth in the words, still remembering them on the stage-

Head.

Pain.

Carter, falling.

Pain.

Jack, reaching.

Black.

Pain.

*

They'd drugged him with something, that much was certain. If he waved his hands in front of his face, Jack was pretty darn sure he'd see trails of pretty colours left behind by his fingers.

Except he couldn't wave his hands in front of his face, because they were currently tied behind his back.

He'd woken about an hour and a half ago...or maybe it was five minutes. Time seemed to be doing very strange things indeed. In any case, he'd woken ninety or five minutes ago, with a pounding headache evidence of the shiny new lump on his head that - although he couldn't see it - he just *had* to have.

He was lying on the floor of a room not entirely dissimilar from the cabin he'd spent the night in, his hands tied behind his back, his ankles tied together.

There was no one else there.

He wasn't stupid enough to think Careen was stupid enough to leave him unguarded. Obviously, there had to be someone waiting just outside the door.

That still gave him room to manoeuvre.

Problem was, he was finding it increasingly difficult *to* manoeuvre. Either the bang on the head or the drugs they'd given him (he hated it when bad guys did that) was completely messing with his equilibrium; the slightest movement and he'd be assailed by dizziness.

And that wasn't the only effect. He was also feeling kinda...happy. He knew he should have been pissed, and he was. Sort of. Maybe 'slightly bothered' was a better description, though he still had his sense of right and wrong and he knew Careen was wrong and he and his team were right...

His team.

*That* motivated him.

Happy or not, he had to make sure they were okay.

Doing his best to fight the dizziness, he forced his body to move until he was resting on his knees. It wasn't easy; his head swam, his knees objected to the pressure, but he made it. Feeling ridiculously good despite the fact he had to close his eyes in an attempt to stop his stomach from forcing its contents up, he continued the journey. Counting to three, he let rip with one big jump, and he somehow managed to land on his feet without falling on his ass.

Standing still for at least a minute, he chuckled at his own uselessness. All that effort, just to stand up. Some foe *he* was.

Okay. First course of action was to...

Kiss Carter again.

No, wait, that wasn't right.

It had to be the drugs; they were making his mind wander.

Okay. First course of action was to...

Run his hands through her hair again.

Sigh.

Okay. First course of action was to...

Find something to cut/burn/undo the rope tying his hands together.

Finally!

He began pulling against it, but it was knotted together far too tightly - it wasn't gonna budge. Spying various alien implements on a table at the other side of the room, he slowly and carefully began hopping towards it, hoping to find something of use.

Of course, he really *was* slow. Each hop produced a new and enjoyable form of dizziness, and given the fact that his legs were tied together his balance wasn't exactly at its best either.

Still, he made progress, but it was on his fifth jump that suddenly something yanked on his ankle and - completely unable to stop it from happening - he toppled over onto the ground, head pounding, body bruised, groaning.

Now *that* was dizziness.

He started giggling, except that wasn't manly, so he classified it as chuckling, instead. The only saving grace was that at least he'd managed to turn slightly, so his head or his face hadn't whacked against the-

Zat fire.

That sounded suspiciously like zat fire, and the traditional 'thump' that always followed.

His currently dubious audio senses were backed up by his equally dubious visual senses, as Carter burst through the door.

She was okay! Woo hoo!

"Sir!" She yelled, rushing towards him, and somehow managing to leave a large cloud of dust behind her. Maybe that was the drugs...or maybe she was just dusty.

That was fast, he thought. "That was fast," he said. He'd expected either his breakout or somebody else's rescue of him to take a lot longer. Then again, with the weird crap time was doing at the moment, maybe he'd actually fallen over six hours ago.

He giggl...chuckled again.

Carter frowned as she fell to her knees next to him. "Are you okay, sir?" She gave him a quick visual inspection; standard behaviour when it looked as if a fellow soldier may have been injured.

Jack decided to believe she was checking him out. "Fine. Fine and dandy. Fine and absolutely candy dandy. What happened?"

Her frown was bigger, as she examined the bump on his head. "You were right,"

"I was? Cool!" Made a nice change, especially as there were *always* two geniuses on his team, and he was never either one of them. "What about?"

Sitting back on her legs, she smiled. "They got careless. They weren't expecting me to-"

"Kick their ass?"

Carter nodded, obviously pleased. "Something like that."

Ha. Knew it! "The others?"

"Outside, just in case Careen has any other guys we don't know about - although Jonas is feeling a little woozy."

No doubt he'd been given the same drugs Jack had. Junior probably protected Teal'c against the effects, and Carter...he doubted they'd even bothered with Carter. Fatal mistake. "Wanna untie me?" He kinda shoved his hands towards her, or as much as he could given his position.

Her faint grin disappeared, replaced with an arched eyebrow. "I work too hard? I don't know how to relax?"

Ah...

"I don't smile enough? I'm *boring*?"

Crap.

The teasing, sarcastic expression fled. "And I never said *anything* about not enjoying fishing."

He was going to say he hadn't meant any of it. He really was.

"I meant it."

Damn.

"You *meant* it?"

Was it some kind of truth drug? "Well...some of it. You do work too hard. You don't relax - you've admitted as much yourself. And, though it ranks as one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, you don't smile nearly often enough." It was coming out, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. "Although I'm probably biased, because it's one of the reasons I bother to get up every morning."

For the first time since he'd met her, Sam Carter apparently had nothing to say.

So he kept talking. "For the record; it's not you that's boring, it's your work. You *do* know a lot of big words, and," He wasn't even going to pause here. "Every guy we come across does goes mad over you. Even *here*!" Had his hands not been tied together, he probably would have been gesturing with them.

Sitting back even further, her gaze dropped.

Him and his big mouth. Again. "I-"

"Why did you stop asking?" She was quiet, tired, exhausted.

Knowing what she was referring to, he didn't feel quite so happy anymore Ė but that didn't stop him saying things he wouldn't normally dare admit. "I can only take so much, Carter. I know, on the outside, you're the hopeless optimist and I'm the cynic, but deep down...I think we're just the opposite." It was true for him, at least. Where she was concerned, he was far too vulnerable.

Carter, not having been drugged, wasn't about to admit anything that big. "I don't know if I should feel offended or not."

"I'll make it up to you." And he would. Something, anything, everything, if it would make her feel better.

"How?"

Hmm...something creative, something she'd appreciate, something... "Free jello supply for an entire year."

Her head finally lifted, a faint grin pulling at her lips. "Not good enough."

"It's not?"

"I want a free jello supply for *two* people for an entire year."

Pleased as hell that she'd said that, Jack grinned. "Deal."

Nodding, instead of moving to the other side of his body where his hands were, she leant over him. And it was hardly his fault that where she placed herself gave him a direct line of sight to a particular portion of her anatomy. "Carter?"

The ropes were starting to loosen beneath her ministrations. "Yeah?"

"You've got a great butt, do you know that?"

One embarrassed major and six dizzy spells later, they were out of the cabin.

*

Rateef was horrified. He immediately contacted their security services (which seemed to comprise of some guy called 'Roab' who had a halitosis problem) who immediately took Careen and his guys into custody. They didn't have a trial system quite like they did on Earth, but Roab assured them - no doubt wondering why they were all keeping their distance - that a non-fatal punishment would be exacted.

Careen's plan had been embarrassingly unsophisticated. He'd apparently already decided that Jack wasn't going to give in on the issue of trading Carter, so all his pleading on the way to the gate had been an act - he already had men hiding ahead, ready to pounce.

Probably carrying large rocks, if the pounding in Jack's head was anything to go by. Although that could have been the after effects of the drugs...though they were definitely wearing off, he still felt a little...not himself.

So once again SG-1 made their (distinctly bleary) farewells and headed off to the gate, although this time he and Carter werenít really ignoring each other.

More like...grinning stupidly.

Was she sure she hadnít been given any of that drug?

She dialled up, the IDC was sent, Tealíc and Jonas stepped through (deliberately going first?), and Jack decided, that as long as he had the excuse of the drug, he could say one more thing.

"Carter," He said, making her pause just short of stepping into the wormhole.

"Sir?"

"I just wanted to say..." He strived to look uncomfortable, though for once that wasnít how he felt at all. "...about the kiss..." That *had* been the biggest transgression, after all. That actually had witnesses.

"Donít worry sir," She assured him, no doubt thinking he didnít want it mentioned Ė as he planned. "It was only to ensure thereíd be no trouble with getting the naquadah, and I donít see that itís necessary to mention it to General Hammond."

Good. She was being sensible. One of them really should be, and it wasnít going to be him. He knew he could trust Tealíc not to say a word, and Jonas...much as he didnít want to admit it, was learning. So that just left... "Actually, I was going to say that I enjoyed the hell out of you kissing me Carter, and Iím looking forward to when you can do it again."

Ha. There was that speechless look again.

But not for long. "As your subordinate sir, Iím afraid I canít comment on that. But...you remember what you said to me when I was untying you?"

Oh yeah. "Vividly."

"Well as your life mate for the duration of our stay on this planet I just have to say..." That wicked, rare, astounding grin showed up. "...I wholeheartedly return the compliment."

And then she was gone.

Alone in front of the gate, his body still hurting, Jack shoved his hands into his jacket pockets...where he made contact with a piece of paper.

And smiled.

~FINIS

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