Title: A Maneuvering Busi
Author: Christi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rating: Err…uh…we’ll call it 13+. Because occasionally, in their starched shirts and high-waisted dresses, they have very veiled and polite references to sex and naked ankles.
Category: Insanity in fic format. (Otherwise known as very, very AU/romance.)
Summary: “Marriage is indeed a maneuvering busi
Author’s Note: This fic is the highly crack!ified result of an extended conversation with control_freak80, too much sugar, and my 50th viewing of the Colin Firth edition of Pride & Prejudice. Suddenly, there was a whole mess of people prodding me to actually write the insanity. (You know who you are. I curse you all.) As I obviously have no willpower at all, I caved, thus producing the crack!fic before you. Of course, somewhere along the line, it sort of…spiraled completely out of control, taking on a life of its own. The end result is a very long AU fic that utilizes pretty much every cliché known to man, rips off a part of almost all of Jane Austen’s plots, and is probably insufferably OOC. But I tend to think it’s rather lovable despite all that. As always, thank to my betas: control_freak80, caroly_214, and kate98.
Dedication: I don’t normally bother with dedications, as I tend to think it’s a bit pretentious for fanfic, but this had to be dedicated to control_freak80, who’s been there listening to me ramble and obsess over this fic daily since the crazy night of LJ posting that spawned it. I feel like it’s nearly as much her baby as it is mine.
“Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”
Small towns are worlds of their own, predictable in their tedium and
intrigues alike. The
Perhaps it was not the most exciting way of life, but most residents of Gateshire found it acceptable enough. There was always something to do, someplace to go, and someone to gossip about. And if these events all seemed important at the time, but were later reflected upon as rather insignificant, well then, there were worse things than living a harmless (if somewhat inconsequential) life.
Of course, nothing stays the same forever, not even places like
Gateshire. People come, people go, and society adapts as it sees fit. One event
that precipitated such a shift in society was the news that the long-abandoned
While not quite the largest of the local estates, Cheyenne Manor came in as a close second. Anyone who had the means to simply buy such a property, sight unseen, was worthy of plenty of speculation. It wasn’t long before the rumors began to circulate about the new landlord and his background.
It seemed to be a truth universally agreed upon that he was a war hero of some kind—well respected in the army and regretfully retired before his time. That singular fact was the only detail that could be agreed upon by the general population, the rest of the reports being so dissimilar and some so ludicrous that no one knew quite what to expect with his approaching arrival.
Some insisted that he had married a foreign savage and had spent time
living among them in
Perhaps the most disturbing to some was his supposed Irish heritage, but it was easily dismissed because no one knew of any Irishman rich enough to afford luxuries like the grand Cheyenne Manor.
In actuality, Colonel Jack O’Neill was Irish, but the connection was such a distant one that all he had retained from the oft-cursed island was his surname and his somewhat questionable sense of humor.
As for the other reports, well, there was a strange mixture of truth and falsehood in them that only the man himself could clarify—and he was certainly in no hurry to do so. When he finally did arrive just after spring planting, the rumors were left by the wayside as people became fascinated by the oddity that was the actual man.
He had brought with him scant few belongings, two general servants and a notoriously efficient Man of Affairs named Walter Harriman. Perhaps most scandalous of all was his last traveling companion—a tall, large, and completely foreign fellow who rode in robes of unknown fabrics and had skin the color of freshly-plowed earth. As if that wasn’t enough, tattoos in an alien tongue glistened on his skin in black and gold and his name was unlike any Christian name the residents of Gateshire had ever heard—Teal’c.
The town at large may have been able to digest these particular oddities easily enough, especially for a high-ranking military man of wealth (and conveniently, handsome appearance) such as Colonel O’Neill. But before the town had a chance to adjust, the newcomer’s questionable behavior only increased. He refused to visit anyone, even his closest neighbors the Langfords, who were widely known and respected. When people went to visit him, as decorum demanded of new neighbors, he was in turn either moderately civil or downright abrupt. He rejected invitations to parties and balls, and generally holed up in his newly acquired house without much regard to the opinions of those who surrounded him, which is, as everyone is well aware, the worst sin of all in a small town.
In truth, it was his intention to offend no one; Colonel O’Neill had the
sole desire to be left to his own devices and mind his own busi
A fortnight after his arrival, the general consensus was that Gateshire was wholly unimpressed with Colonel O’Neill. Behind closed doors, however, no one person had been the object of so much discussion since the Earl of Langford’s niece, Vala Maldoran, had run off with a traveling band of gypsies while she had been visiting her great uncle for the summer. Men thought he was rude and brilliant in turn, women believed him to be mysterious and romantic, and children began to dare each other to sneak onto Cheyenne Manor’s land as a test of bravery.
Jack O’Neill was predictably oblivious to it all.
~Sense and Sensibility
This all might have remained the state of affairs for quite some time had a random but fortuitous series of events not occurred. The first was that Colonel O’Neill had taken to going on morning walks, exploring the acres of woods and fields now under his purview. The second was that the fencing that separated his property from that of his neighbor’s was in a rather piteous state of disrepair, and sheep from both estates had been wandering back and forth across the border for some time. The third was that the Carters, long-time residents of Vorash Hall and the aforementioned neighbors, were perhaps even more infamous than the Colonel himself for their oddity.
Separately, none of the facts would have amounted to anything particularly notable, but when combined, they led to Colonel O’Neill wandering rather aimlessly through the woods on his far property line when a rather muddy shoe fell from a tree above and landed with a solid thump squarely atop his head.
Understandably bewildered, he bent over to pick up the offending piece of footwear. “What in heaven’s name…?”
“I did not throw it at you,” an undeniably female voice said from the tree above him. “It just slipped off.”
He looked from the shoe to the tree and back again. “I am not certain I believe you.”
“Have you ever tried to climb a tree in shoes like that? Not practical at all. No grip.”
“Well, why didn’t you wear more appropriate footwear then?” he asked, not bothering to ask why his mystery conversation companion was in the tree in the first place—that, he assumed, would be revealed in due time.
“I didn’t know I was going to be climbing trees today, now did I?” she pointed out rationally. “But this tree has the best view of the fence, and I needed to see where it’s broken through.” She was silent a moment before adding, “Now that I think of it, I should have thrown that shoe at you.”
Feeling more than a little disconcerted by this statement from a mysterious tree-dwelling stranger, the Colonel stared up into the branches of the tree above him. “Have I done something to incur your wrath?”
“The fence is on your property, and therefore, your responsibility. Yet, when you neglect it, it’s my sheep that go missing. So, other than leaving it in its current pathetic state of disrepair, no, you have done nothing to provoke me. But I am certain you will eventually. Consider the shoe an advance against future wrongs.”
Not really knowing the correct response, as Jack O’Neill wasn’t exactly the most refined in everyday situations, let alone scenarios involving renegade slippers, he merely said what was on his mind. “In that case, shouldn’t I get both shoes? Best to get a head start on these things, you know.”
Something that sounded suspiciously like an indelicate snort reached his ears right before a second shoe sailed straight at him. This one he managed to catch before it hit anything vital. “Well, you certainly are a singularly unique sort of man.”
“Coming from the young lady in the tree, I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Ah, but I shall soon be in a tree no longer. I’m coming down,” she corrected before a flash of a muddy petticoat and white ankles entered his line of sight. He turned because it was the gentlemanly thing to do, or so he supposed—not that he was feeling particularly like a gentleman at the current moment.
Or that he ever did, really. Still, it seemed best to at least try.
A gentle thud sounded as a body hit the ground behind him, and when he turned around he finally caught glimpse of his mystery woman. Not nearly as young as she sounded, he decided as he studied her flushed face. But beautiful in an uncommon kind of way—wide blue eyes and coils of golden hair and a smile unlike anything he had ever seen—and Colonel O’Neill had seen a lot in his time. “May I have a name to put to the face of my attacker?” he asked, trying to be charming.
“Samantha Carter. My father owns Vorash Hall, just south of here. And you’re Colonel O’Neill.”
“How did you…?”
She took one shoe from him, then the other, using his shoulder to balance herself while slipping them back on, as though such a casual display of intimacy was an everyday occurrence. “News travels quickly in Gateshire—gossip even faster. You’re rather infamous these days.”
Not quite certain how to feel about that, the Colonel decided to circumvent the issue entirely. “Well, I am pleased to meet you, flying footwear and all. And I will be sure to send someone out to look at the fence as soon as I get back to the house.”
She had the grace to look a bit embarrassed by the whole incident now that she had two feet firmly planted on the ground, both literally and figuratively speaking. “Thank you, on both accounts.”
Perhaps it was Teal’c’s influence, but he found himself bowing ever so slightly in response. “Of course.”
Seemingly flustered, Miss Carter flushed. “Yes, well. I should return. Mr. Siler, my Man of Affairs, wanted to discuss tenant rates this afternoon.”
Surprised in spite of himself, O’Neill spoke before he had a chance to think about what he was saying. “Is that really a matter with which you need concern yourself?”
Stiffening, Miss Carter glared rather indecorously in his direction. “Why? Because I’m a woman?”
He was fairly certain that there was no safe response to such a query. “Well, it is certainly not usual for a lady of your position to attend to such matters.” He may have forgotten a lot about British gentility in his years of travel, but that much was very clear.
“Perhaps. I, however, am not very ‘usual.’”
With that, she flounced off through the trees, leaving a somewhat bewildered Colonel staring after her. He wondered how long it would take Walter to discover what he could about his new neighbor—for once, he had a bit of an interest in the matter.
Walter would have little trouble in uncovering information about the Carter family, or even Samantha Carter in particular—she was a favorite subject of discussion in town. It seemed that her entire existence was a string of social gaffes, each more shocking and unseemly than the last. They began in her childhood and continued into a timeframe as recent as last week—though if the gossipmongers had known of the incident in the woods that afternoon, that estimate would have been revised once again.
The Carter family was respected and ridiculed in almost equal measure. They came from a long history of money and good breeding, and General Carter was widely known as a hero in the Royal Army. However, his near constant absence since the death of his wife almost two decades ago had endeared him to no one in Gateshire, and the fact that he let his daughter run his estate rather than hire some kind of manager was considered by some to be downright offensive. Luckily, he was rarely around for anyone to tell him so, and when he was present, no one would have dared mention it.
Samantha herself was the
real cause for concern in the minds of many citizens. The disgrace of being
raised without any female role models to speak of was bad enough, and her
behavior only highlighted the indelicacies such neglect had given rise to. Naturally
headstrong, obstinate, and outspoken, the general opinion was that she knew
entirely too much about busi
Unfortunately, despite her many faults, it was a bit difficult to actively dislike Samantha Carter. She had a brilliance that shone, even through her sometimes considerable temper, as well as the gift of charming people without any particular effort that had served her well on more than one occasion. It had also led to what was perhaps the largest blemish on her reputation as a respectable young woman—the string of jilted fiancés she could boast to. Most had lost count of the exact number of men that had flitted in and out of Samantha’s life, but the fact was that they were both very numerous and very dismissed.
But none of that mattered where she was headed this particular morning—on a visit to one of her tenants and closest friends, Janet Fraiser.
Her continued camaraderie with the town’s midwife was yet another strike on young Samantha’s record of public opinion. Besides being more than a degree or two lower than Samantha on the social ladder, Janet Fraiser was generally considered a public menace—until someone found themselves in the midst of a particularly difficult labor, that is.
Mrs. Fraiser had married young, and though the marriage had been a good one for someone of her family and wealth, the middle-aged son of a relatively prosperous local farmer, it was apparently fraught with marital discord. After three years, she had left her husband, taking it upon herself to move into a small cottage on the Carter estate, paid for with the profits of her midwifery and the various other small medicinal services she offered to passersby. When the man she had married died unexpectedly in a farming accident several years later, she seemed genuinely undisturbed by the news—she hadn’t even donned the traditional black of a mourning widow.
To make matters worse, several years ago she had aided a young servant girl who had found herself in a family way out of wedlock. It had been a difficult delivery and while she had managed to save the baby, the young mother had died. Instead of doing the expected and sending the child away to an orphanage in the city, Janet had chosen to take the baby under her own wing, raising it alone. As Miss Carter was the only person in three provinces who had supported her decision, she had become the child’s godmother. So a friendship was forged that lasted to this day, much to the disdain of the general public.
Of course, Samantha Carter had long ago given up caring about the opinion of the general public, which is why she gave no thought to strolling down the lane to see her friend on this or any other morning.
“Good morning, Cassie,” she called to the girl hanging laundry on a line in the yard.
Taking the excuse to abandon her chores, the eleven-year-old girl ran to her enthusiastically, wrapping her in a hug so tight that Samantha struggled to breathe. Ruefully, Samantha thought that if everyone showed affection so easily, the world might be a much friendlier place. “Sam! Did we know you were coming?”
“No, I was just on my way home and thought I’d stop by. Where’s your mother?”
“In the kitchen. She was mashing something when I checked last.”
Besides being a midwife, Janet had a considerable talent for making poultices and teas. Everyone in the town used them, although no one admitted to it. Janet didn’t particularly care one way or the other, as long as she was paid.
After one last hug, Samantha head inside, ducking through the low threshold and smiling at the sight of her friend elbow-deep in herbs. “There you are.”
Janet smiled, wiping her hands on her apron to go and greet her friend. “Yes, as usual. What a pleasant surprise! Can you stay long? I could make some tea.”
“Regretfully, no. There
are some busi
A cupboard wedged into the far corner was laden heavy with mysterious jars and bottles; Janet picked out one easily and handed it to her. “Don’t be ridiculous, just take it. What did Mr. Siler manage to do to himself this time?”
Mr. Siler was known throughout this county as being one of the best men around—and also one of the most prone towards incident. “To be honest, I’m not certain. I know a plow was involved. One moment, he was fine, and the next he’s got another gash.”
The slightly older woman nodded serenely. “Men are like children in that respect—and many others.” Quickly exasperated with the subject of the opposite sex, Janet turned her eye to Samantha’s somewhat haphazard appearance, which really wasn’t that unusual. “You really should just try wearing those old trousers of your father’s if you’re going to prance around the countryside like you do. Much more practical.”
Ruefully studying her muddied petticoats, part of Samantha silently agreed. “Yes, well, one scandal at a time. I’ve been unseemly enough for one day, and it isn’t past yet.”
Delighted (but, to her credit, trying not appear as if she was), Janet smiled. “Do tell.”
Waving her hands as if
to brush the whole matter into nothing
“So he does exist,” Janet remarked dryly. “And? How did you find him?”
Hesitant of her feelings on the matter, Samantha fretted over the matter. “Vexing. And diverting. And…I’m not quite certain, really.”
Janet knew that for Samantha, such uncertainty was an altogether uncommon occurrence. “I was in a tree and he—well, I accosted him.”
Her friend blinked in surprise. “Samantha, I know I’ve been pressing you to expand the limitations of your role in society, but even I think that’s going a bit too far.”
“Oh, no! It was an accident. My shoe fell off.” The delicate skin of her pale cheeks flushed a bit as she admitted, “I think he may have seen my ankle.”
At that, Janet merely rolled her eyes. “Heaven forbid.”
“One man's ways may be as good as another's, but we all like our own best.”
Walter Harriman, Esq., had been watching for the return of his employer all morning, and so when the man finally approached the house from the east, he was so relieved that he didn’t at first notice the decided difference in Colonel O’Neill’s manner. “Sir,” he said, falling in step with the Colonel, “I have several forms for you sign. Also, the post has come this morning. There were three invitations to dinner and one to a ball of some sort that you’ll need to take into consideration. And finally, the housekeeper has brought a rather troublesome matter to my attention…”
O’Neill barely glanced at him, an event that was too-oft repeated for Walter’s preference. “Yes, yes, Walter, but I’m sure you can handle all that. Have you seen Teal’c?”
In point of fact, Walter made it a point to know where the exotic man was at all times, in part because O’Neill invariably would ask and in part because Walter had a slight fear of the man. “Last I saw him, he was in the study. Sir, I really need you to look at some of these…”
For a blessed moment, Walter though he might be making progress, because O’Neill actually took some of the items that Walter had been waving in his general direction. However, as they headed into the house, he gave them little more than a passing glance, instead calling out, “Teal’c! Oh, Teeeaaaaal’c…”
Appearing silently and without warning, the large black man emerged. “I am here, O’Neill.”
Walter jumped about a foot at the sound of his voice and then spent the five minutes after that pretending as if he hadn’t. O’Neill, of course, didn’t even flinch.
“Teal’c, good! Listen, there’s a fence that needs mending. Care to lend a hand?”
At this, Walter felt a pressing need to chime in. “Sir, really, we can send someone out to…”
Teal’c bowed slightly. “I would be pleased to aid you in your task, O’Neill.”
Walter sighed. Of course he would.
“Excellent!” Looking around the formal room vaguely, O’Neill continued, “We’ll need tools…”
Knowing that it was now a lost cause, Walter supplied, “In the stables, sir. I’ll have someone bring out the necessary equipment.”
For this, he received an enthusiastic slap on the back. “Thank you, Walter!”
Walter just nodded and walked back towards the exit, wondering yet again why he had taken this position.
Having finished most of her busi
Luckily, her good friend Daniel Jackson had visited the prior afternoon, and being the wonderful friend that he was, had provided her with several of the most recent scientific journals. There was not a day that passed by that Samantha was not glad for Daniel Jackson’s friendship, and thus, for the turn of events that had precipitated his somewhat unique position in life. The best that could be said for his true blood lines was that they were unobjectionable, which wasn’t saying very much at all. However, as a young man, he had found himself the victim of tragic circumstances when both of parents perished in a boating accident.
Having no other relations willing or able to take him in, life would likely have been very unkind to poor Daniel had fate not intervened in the form of Lord Langford, the Earl of Abydos. He resided in Abydos Abbey on the south side of Gateshire and was one of Gateshire’s most esteemed citizens. Lord Langford’s only child, a daughter named Catherine, had determined not to wed, having lost her fiancé decades ago in a mysterious disappearance at sea. At the loss of any promise for heirs, Lord Langford had taken in Daniel, who had already proved himself to be a particularly bright child.
All of this was little consequence to Samantha except that it meant Daniel had access to several of the newest publications in the areas of scientific discovery, a subject upon which Samantha could dwell for endless hours. Ever obliging and willing to encourage his friend’s somewhat unique interests, Daniel normally brought over whatever he could find when he came to call, and yesterday had been no exception.
Happily locating one of the aforementioned pamphlets, Samantha set out across the hills, preferring to do her reading in the solitude of the countryside rather than in the house that always seemed too stuffy and over-crowded with servants and the like. While she traveled in no conscious direction, it was perhaps not only by chance that she wandered to the far boundary of her family’s extensive property.
To be fair, Samantha was so engrossed in her reading that she took note of very little around her, including the sounds of conversation and hammering floating over the breeze towards her. She was only pulled violently out of her science-induced reverie when a very loud and really, very rude curse was yelled in the air by a definitively masculine voice, one she already recognized: Colonel O’Neill.
Looking up, she was startled to find herself nearly upon the Colonel and his companion, both of whom were focused on her, though the Colonel was shaking his hand where he seemed to have just hit it squarely with a hammer. But more startling than his expression of shock and pain or his companion’s alien appearance was the fact that both men (who had assumedly been working outside for some time) had completely divested themselves of their shirts, leaving only an expanse of muscled, sweaty, and tan skin visible in the sunshine.
“Oh. Oh! Oh, I...I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude. I was just…well, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, you see, and….” She began to back away, flustered. “I do apologize.”
Before she could flee completely, O’Neill called out to her. “Miss Carter! Please, it’s all right. As I was informed just this morning, the land on the east side of this fence belongs to you and you alone—you have intruded nowhere.”
Turning back and wondering if she’d ever recover from this mortifying experience, Samantha tried to make amends while doing her best to look everywhere but at the two men before her. “Yes, well…all the same…”
O’Neill simply shrugged it off. “Do not let it worry you further.” A moment of awkward silence descended upon them and Samantha shifted silently, wondering if there was some social etiquette lesson she had missed that allowed for situations such as these. “Oh! Miss Carter, this is my comrade and good friend, Teal’c. Teal’c, this is Miss Carter.”
Embarrassment lost against curiosity and Samantha performed a pretty curtsy in the big man’s direction. “A pleasure to meet you, sir.”
His bow was more of a tilt of the head, regal and strangely flattering. “And you, Miss Carter.”
Finding his quiet demeanor soothing to her somewhat frazzled nerves, Samantha studied the markings that adorned his body. When she realized that he was watching her, she blushed a bit. “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude; I was just admiring them. Are you of Egyptian descent, then? They seem very similar to the markings my father would on occasion copy down in letters to me.”
Her interest, rather than being offensive, seemed to please Teal’c and
surprise O’Neill. “Indeed, Miss Carter, I originated in
“I would say so,” she replied with a bit of a laugh in her voice. Though he did not laugh in return, she thought he saw the spark of humor in his deep eyes and it eased her mind further.
After the short moment of silence that was so common among new acquaintances, O’Neill started a new subject, while trying to subtly reach for his discarded clothing. “What were you reading? You were so enthralled…”
Looking down at her surprisingly forgotten pamphlet, she fingered it a moment. “Oh. An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Source of the Heat which is Excited by Friction.”
O’Neill paused in the fluid movement of buttoning his shirt, seemingly a bit bewildered. “Pardon me?”
“An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Source of the Heat which is Excited by Friction,” she recited once again. “It’s a new theory from Benjamin Thompson on the validy of thermodynamics as seen through the old caloric model. Very controversial, because he challenges the old belief that…” Seeing that his eyes had taken on a strange sort of glazed look to them, she stopped. “It’s just a bit of light reading,” she finally offered a bit sheepishly.
For a moment there was no reaction at all, but then the corner of his mouth turned up in a strange sort of half-smile that Samantha found strangely attractive. It even distracted her from the fact that he was tying his tie completely incorrectly. “Right. And here we thought we were being highly intellectual in our meager attempts to fix a fence.”
She glanced down at the fence, then back at him. “Definitely not. You’re doing it wrong.”
Studying the fence, Jack could not find any significant fault with it, so he wasn’t entirely certain what Miss Carter was talking about. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. I fashioned this joint after the rest of the fences surrounding my property.”
“Yes, to the woe of all your neighbors,” she replied, crouching next to him and running a strangely capable hand down the wood of a crossbeam. “The previous owner of your home cared more for his pocketbook than he did for the welfare of his neighbors or even his animals. As such, all of your fences were built quickly and cheaply. But if you take more time and cross-support the beams here and here, it will last you twice as long. Perhaps longer still if the winters aren’t too harsh.”
Now that she explained it and had pointed out the precise location of the flaws, they seemed glaringly obvious, explaining the general tilt to the fence that had been perplexing him. Even Teal’c seemed impressed by the quiet confidence reflected in Miss Carter’s explanation, because even in his country, finding such knowledge in a woman was rare indeed.
Searching for something to say that wouldn’t offend the woman who he had already gathered could be prickly with regards to issues of her sex, Colonel O’Neill finally cleared his throat. “Well, it seems that I have a problem then, doesn’t it?” She shot him a confused look, so he further clarified, “I do not wish to be the source of any inconvenience for my neighbors. They do not know me well as of yet and I doubt that keeping my fences in such a questionable state would endear me to them at all.”
Not that he was worried about that sort of thing—he honestly had little care for the opinions of others. Still, there was a problem and he had been presented with a solution for it—it seemed only natural, in this situation, to act. “We will begin remedying this tomorrow. It may be slow going, but we should be able to have most of the fences repaired before the end of the season.”
At least now he had something to occupy his time. He was getting tired of trying to find spots to fish in the lake where Walter could not easily discover him.
Miss Carter remained kneeling next to him, eyes trained on his features, studying him. “If you like…” she began hesitantly. “That is, if you would care for—well. I know the perimeters of your property almost as well as my own, and by extrapolating geographic elements as well as sheep grazing patterns, well, I think I could show you what areas need tending to the most. If you wish.”
O’Neill really hadn’t caught much of that, but he did understand that her offer meant spending a considerable length of time with the unusual lady, which was something that he found appealing. “You wouldn’t mind? I do not wish to take you away from your considerable duties at home for too long.”
Another peculiar look crossed her face, as though she had expected to be reprimanded for such an offer. “No. I wouldn’t mind.”
“Very well then. Teal’c and I shall meet you here…tomorrow ?”
She smiled then and in the face of such an expression, it was impossible not to smile even a little in return. “Yes, that shall be fine.” She turned to Teal’c and curtsied a little, then took her leave.
The two men watched her make her way down the hill until she was out of sight. “Teal’c?”
“I…she’s not…she’s very…different, isn’t she?”
“It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy--it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.”
~Sense and Sensibility
The next morning dawned a bit rainy with a touch of grey fog, which was not at all uncommon for a seaside town like Gateshire. Still, Samantha set out a little early to the meeting place in order to avoid a late arrival. After all, being prompt was one of the first lessons you learned as a General’s daughter.
Her mare was pleased to be out of the corral, trotting through the mud with little to no protest. The fog thinned out as she made her way up the hill, and she was momentarily surprised to see Colonel O’Neill and Teal’c already waiting, sitting astride two geldings patiently.
She had spent most of her evening the previous day preoccupied with thoughts of them. They were oddities in Gateshire, and as a long-established oddity, it was something she could appreciate. More than that, however, she wondered about their backgrounds—what motivated a man who by all accounts had been on the path for General to retire and move to the country abruptly? What kind of man did it take to inspire a foreigner to follow him across the sea and do the same? Was there a sordid history there, as some suspected, or was it just their respective wishes to cease the soldiering life—Lord knew that her father had often considered doing the same, despite his dedication to the job.
None of it really mattered, she supposed, but it weighed on her nonetheless. Still, she could be determined to think only of the present—for now, her world consisted of fences and sheep and being pleasing company.
Pulling up next to the fence easily, she nodded at her companions. “Good morning. You haven’t been waiting long, I hope?”
“No, we just got here,” O’Neill assured her. “So tell us, Miss Carter—which direction?”
She pointed north, where the fence stretched down the hill and into the mist. “Most of the damage is on the north side—this area was repaired not too long ago.”
They set off in a companionable silence, and would have continued in that manner for some time had Teal’c not surprised her by breaking it. “You have a fine animal, Samantha Carter.”
A bit taken aback by the stoic man’s compliment, she replied without thinking too thoroughly. “Oh, yes. Jolinar was a gift from my fiancé.”
“Fiancé?” O’Neill parroted before she had realized her slip.
“Oh. Ex-fiancé. Martin Tokra. Nice man—a barrister. Dead now, I believe.” It was interesting, from a scientific perspective—she could hear herself rambling inanely, and yet, she couldn’t seem to stop it.
“…Ah. Jolinar? That’s an interesting name, especially for a horse,” O’Neill commented, having the grace to ignore the rest of it.
Samantha couldn’t help but smile, running her fingers through the thick mane. “Yes. As our courtship progressed, it became increasingly clear that Martin was in fact, still taken with his first love—a fine lady by the name of Jolinar. In the end, she married the man and I kept the horse.”
The corner of his mouth tilted up ever so slightly, perhaps with a bit of bewilderment. “And yet you name your animal after her?”
For lack of any better response, Samantha shrugged. “A gesture of thanks, you might say.”
If either man were the type to laugh, she thought they might have just then. As it was, she drew half-smiles from both of them, which she considered to be a fine beginning.
After arriving at the first place in the fencing that really needed repair, they dismounted so that Miss Carter could show them all the faults in its current construction one more time—preferably with an explanation consisting of much shorter words, because he really hadn’t gotten much out of the last one: something about levers and pivots and the gravitational forces on a slope compared to a horizontal plane and after that, Jack had stopped trying to follow along.
Luckily, it seemed as though Samantha had caught on, for this time, she merely pointed to one end of a board and said, “This needs to go up here.”
Now those were instructions he could follow. He looked at her and smiled. “Why didn’t you say that the first time?”
Jack was pretty sure she hadn’t, but it didn’t matter. If Miss Carter said the fence needed to be fixed, then he’d take her at her word—after all, she certainly had more experience with such matters than he or Teal’c did. The specifics of the situation weren’t really a requirement. “As you like,” he teased lightly, and was rewarded with a wide smile in response.
“Forgive me. I’ll try to remember to speak more plainly for your benefit from here on,” she said lightly.
“Such a gesture would certainly be appreciated. I’m not sure my constitution could handle being exposed to such serious matters on a regular basis.”
In response, she rolled her eyes, a delightfully unreserved reaction that he reveled in. “Somehow, I think you would manage just fine.”
“You give me too much credit,” he assured her, noticing that her eyes kept trailing from his face to his throat. It wasn’t much of a movement, but it was slightly distracting. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
To his surprise, the lady that had just been jesting with him so freely flushed. “Oh. It’s nothing. Well…” she stepped a bit towards him, arms raising a bit. “Do you mind if I…?”
Truthfully, he hadn’t the slightest clue what she was about to do, but he figured that any excuse to touch the ever increasingly attractive Miss Carter was allowable. At his nod, she stepped even closer and her hands came to rest on his…tie?
Nimble fingers picked at the knot, quickly loosening it and beginning the process of refastening it before he realized that it must have been put on incorrectly. He wasn’t sure if her attention to detail was flattering or embarrassing, but at least she was kind enough not to tease him about it.
In fact, when she noticed what must have been a rather chagrined look cross his features, she merely smiled kindly. “It was a small error—I might not have noticed it all except that you did the same thing yesterday when putting it back on.”
“I did?” he asked, startled at that information.
“Yes. My father has similar problems—he’s so accustomed to his regimentals that he often finds pedestrian clothing more foreign to him than even Mr. Teal’c’s garb might be. I can’t tell you how frequently I have had to reorder some piece of his attire.” A final pull and she pulled away, studying him. “There. Much better.”
He touched it and found that it pinched significantly less now. Interesting. “My hero.”
Delight filled him when another roll of her eyes and an exasperated sigh
were her only reply.
"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."
A week later, Walter Harriman was at the end of his rope. He had known when taking this job that his employer had a history of being difficult to deal with, but the true extent of the man’s obtuse nature could never have been anticipated. Instead of tending to matters that legitimately needed tending to, like dealing with the demands of tenants or the repair and restoration of the East Wing and its subsequent decoration, the man had spent the last seven days tending to that fence, a task even the lowliest farm hand could have easily completed.
What’s more, O’Neill had yet to accept any invitations from the local society. Not one tea attended or card game played or ball danced at—in fact, Walter himself was more widely known in Gateshire society than the man he worked for, a state of affairs that could not be allowed to continue if Colonel Jack O’Neill was to have any kind of positive reputation in his new neighborhood.
Desperate to change the status quo, Walter was forced to resort to extreme measures. After careful consideration, he decided that the best course of action would be to simply prevent the Colonel from continuing his work on the fence. Having decided on this course of action, he was prepared when O’Neill came to him one Thursday morning, looking predictably puzzled.
“Walter,” he started, bewilderment in his voice, “do you know where all of the nails might be?”
“Nails, sir?” Walter parroted.
“Yes, for the fence. We had a whole…I didn’t think Teal’c and I had gone through that many, but today they’re not….” He trailed off, glancing back at the stable as though it would suddenly provide him with a suitable answer.
“Perhaps you have gone through all the nails on hand. I can have someone run down to town and fetch some, if you like.”
“I…no, no, don’t worry about it. Teal’c and I can go ourselves this afternoon.”
“Very well, sir.”
O’Neill wandered off, still looking a bit bewildered, and Walter sighed with relief. A trip to town was a beginning, albeit a small one. At least this way people could see him, and he’d be forced to exchange words with at least a small handful of people. Now he simply had to figure out what to do with the thirteen boxes of nails currently residing under his bed.
Samantha Carter gritted her teeth and tried to walk a little faster without actually giving in to the urge to pass out. For once she was dressed up in full visiting gear. Certainly, that was reason enough to be uncomfortable, but on top of the unfamiliarly formal attire, the only corset she had been able to find that morning was at least one size too small. She had been putting off obtaining another new one and now was suffering for her procrastination, barely able to draw breath in the horridly tight undergarment, let alone gasp in enough air to properly hasten her way to the afternoon tea to which she was perilously close to being late for.
Her monthly tea with Lady Travell was what Samantha thought of as a necessary evil—evil because the woman was everything that people thought Samantha should be and nothing she actually wanted to be, but necessary because keeping the appointment meant staying on the narrow edge of good opinion that was so dearly held both by Gateshire citizens and, more importantly, General Carter himself. In one of her few allowances to these opinions, Samantha continued to don her most staid outfit, tightest corset, and horrifyingly prim boots in order to spend a miserable afternoon once a month discussing whatever small talk Lady Travell threw in her direction while in the company of all the other ladies of “good” society.
Of course, things never seemed to go quite smoothly. Today, for instance, Samantha had merely been running an experiment on the pH of soil with regards to the growth rates of various plants and before she knew it, it was past and she hadn’t even begun to dress. But was it really her fault that acidic and alkaline solutions were more interesting than the perfect recipe for a lemon pound cake?
All of this contributed to her current rush, trying to make her way through the main part of town without getting any of the abundant mud in the streets permanently mashed into her petticoats, a feat she had never quite mastered. (In fact, she quite suspected that the secret to walking through all sorts of muck and coming through unscathed was one of those skills passed down from mother to daughter, and as such, she had been doomed to failure by circumstance.) Still, she was making a fair amount of progress—more than two thirds of the way there and still no major stain marring her voluminous skirts.
That is, until she looked down for a good place to cross a particularly muddy section of street and was nearly run over by a solid wall of muscle and man coming from the opposite direction. The impact registered, and for a few seconds time seemed to slow while her balance wavered, then failed her. With what she would be a bit disturbed to know came out as a squeal, Samantha went reeling back into the mud, pulling her assailant down with her.
A few horrified seconds later, she opened her eyes to see Colonel O’Neill staring back at her. “You know,” she said thoughtfully, inching her way out from under him and standing up to take stock of the damage, “forget throwing shoes. I should have shot you.”
Strangely, this seemed to please him, if the smirk on his face was any indication. “Oh, come now. You hardly seem the type to be perturbed by a bit of dirt.”
Uncertain as to whether or not he meant that as a compliment, she just let it pass for now. “Any other day, you might be right. But today, I am supposed to spend an afternoon politely discussing embroidery techniques and proper menu planning over lukewarm cups of tea.”
O’Neill’s expression of distaste was an almost perfect personification of her own feelings on the prospect. “Good heavens. Why? That sounds dreadful.”
“It is, rather,” she admitted, giving up on her clothing as a lost cause. “Well, at least now they’ll have something interesting to talk about when I leave,” she said dryly.
“There are worse things than providing amusement for others,” O’Neill allowed.
Blinking at him, she smiled. “You should know. Your tie is on wrong again.”
“I’m standing here, covered in nearly as much mud as you are and probably looking twice as ridiculous, and yet you choose to criticize my tie?”
She shrugged. “I enjoy it.”
“Ah. Well then, by all means….”
Wondering why in the world a man as supposedly capable as he couldn’t seem to manage it, she stepped forward and adjusted the wayward accessory for him. Once corrected, she stepped back and met his eyes only to find them strangely expressive with an emotion she could just label as fond curiosity, and even then, it lost something in translation. “I think,” he began slowly, “that if you must attend boring teas that last for hours, you’d best come to Cheyenne Manor for them. I’m sure Walter can dredge up some suitably awful tea, and while Teal’c and I know little of weighty things like sewing techniques, I am certain that we could manage to entertain you if we put our minds to it. If all else fails, we could go fishing.”
“Fishing?” she repeated.
“Yes. The fish in my lake are quite something, you know, and Teal’c doesn’t appreciate the art of fishing quite as much as I’d like.”
Somehow, she didn’t find that entirely surprising. But neither did she find it surprising that O’Neill himself was a fan of the sport. “Well, I accept the offer of tea, but we’d best put off the fishing for another time. I’ve given the town quite enough to gossip about this week, I think.”
Looking down at the mayhem of her stain-covered dress, O’Neill smirked again. “You can always tell them that it was my handiwork.”
She laughed, shaking her head. “Yes, because that would lessen the scandal,” was her sarcastic reply before continuing on her way.
“How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!”
To Jack’s surprise, Miss Carter not only took him up on his offer, she arrived early the next afternoon. Even more surprising than her prompt visit was her choice of chaperones—Janet Fraiser, the local midwife, and….
“Daniel!” Jack exclaimed, more than a little confused at seeing the man from his past standing unexpectedly on his doorstep.
The younger man blinked, equally taken aback. “Jack.”
Miss Carter wrinkled her nose, looking between the two of them. “You two are previously acquainted, I take it?”
“Obviously,” Mrs. Fraiser pointed out, looking amused at the men’s discomfort. “The question is how?”
The story was long and rather sordid and not really one Jack was fond of recollecting. After all, there were very few polite ways to explain his state of mind four years ago after the death of his son and subsequently, his wife. Luckily, Daniel took the lead and answered the question.
“Jack…sorry, Colonel O’Neill…was the commanding officer of the platoon
of soldiers I journeyed with to
As a young man, Daniel had gone through a short period of rebellion
where he had utilized his skills in languages to travel and employ himself as
an interpreter for wayward citizens of the Crown. The last, and certainly the
most notable, of these journeys had been to northern
“Ah. When you met…?” Samantha began, understanding dawning in her eyes.
“Right!” O’Neill chimed in, remembering the unlikely, but fervent attachment that had developed between Daniel and the young tribal princess. He had left Daniel there and naturally assumed that he would still be there.
Obviously, that assumption was incorrect.
“What happened with…all that?” Jack finished a bit stiltedly.
A flash of pain lit up Daniel’s features and Samantha put her hand on his arm briefly in a comforting gesture that Jack was surprised to find himself envying. “She died.”
“Oh. I…I’m very sorry.” He really was, if that made any difference—Daniel’s happiness with Sha’re had been a rare and strangely beautiful thing.
“So am I.”
Silence descended on them all and Jack shifted his weight from one foot
to the other, acutely conscious of the awkward air that hung over the group.
“Oh! I forgot to introduce Teal’c. Teal’c, this is Daniel Jackson.” Teal’c
nodded in greeting. “Daniel, Teal’c is from an area not too far from Sha’re’s village, just further down the
This information seemed welcome to Mr. Jackson. “Really?”
“Indeed, Daniel Jackson.”
The affirmation sent Daniel into a detailed discussion of locations and tribes and cultural practices that filled the air as the group made their way into the garden, where Walter had decided the tea should be served. O’Neill seized this opportunity to insinuate himself next to Miss Carter once again, and because he could immediately see that Mrs. Fraiser was both clever and tolerant, he knew that if he dallied a little behind the group, she would be moderately neglectful of her chaperone duties and allow them to tarry awhile. “There’s more to that story, isn’t there?” he couldn’t help but ask.
The expression that crossed Miss Carter’s face was profoundly empathetic. “Yes, although I am afraid I am not informed in every particular of the situation. As you may now realize, Daniel wrote to me quite often on his travels. When he wrote of his marriage I steeled myself against the reality of never seeing my friend again—only to get word nearly a year later that his wife had died and he had not the wherewithal to return home again. I made arrangements as quickly as I could from this distance, and back he came. He told me there was a massacre and more than that he has not said, nor have I asked him. He does not speak of the whole affair often.”
O’Neill found himself in the rather unique position of once again admiring this young woman with whom he was only barely acquainted. “You did him a great service with neither explanation nor reason. I fear not many would have done the same.”
Her eyes met his own, wide and guileless. “Daniel is as near to a brother as I have, and he was in pain. What else was to be done but assist him in his time of trial?”
A smile played along the edges of his mouth at her sincerity. “What deeds must be accomplished to earn such devotion from you, I wonder?”
At that, she merely laughed. “Perhaps one day, you shall find out.”
Strangely, he found himself looking forward to it.
An hour later, Samantha Carter found herself as surprised as anyone to realize that they were actually having a nice time. The unlikely company of five had relaxed enough to engage in some real conversation—conversation where nothing like table place settings was even mentioned. And while the tea was as lukewarm as it would have been had she drank any at Lady Travell’s house, it was because the tea had been sitting neglected for some time rather than simply being served that way.
While Daniel and Janet quizzed Teal’c on the cultural practices of his native peoples, Samantha took a moment to let the air of Cheyenne Manor seep into her. She had always loved this estate, and visits to it were always looked forward to with great delight because of its spacious layout and welcoming feel. Somehow, the effect seemed enhanced under the purview of its new owner, though admittedly, there seemed to be a bit of an echo now that the house only sheltered two men.
Turning to her host, she was a bit taken aback to find him watching her silently, his intense scrutiny making her feel more than a little awkward. Nevertheless, she pressed on, refusing to let it throw her off her train of thought. “Do you find that country life is everything you thought it would be, Colonel O’Neill?”
Mulling over his response for awhile, the Colonel finally replied, “Yes and no. It’s a pleasant change from city life or even life in the military, but not as remote as I initially thought it would be. Walter constantly has to remind me that there is a society to be dealt with, even here. And the house is bigger than I expected—I fear it’s a bit extravagant to house just Teal’c and myself.”
“I don’t know, I think it suits you. But then, I’m probably biased, as I’ve always loved this house and longed to have a better acquaintance with its occupants.”
Abruptly, she realized how forward that must have sounded, but there was no polite way to retract such a statement. Once again feeling a little off kilter, Samantha reached for the sugar as a distraction—only to accidentally knock her arm into the teapot, spilling the remains across the table in a large, sweeping stain that seeped into the cloth below. Without being consciously aware of it, a profanity escaped her lips as she tried to mop up the mess. When she did finally realize her error, she could only be absurdly grateful that the offending word had come out in Russian—only Daniel would know her ill manners.
Then again, considering the mixture of shock and amusement present on Colonel O’Neill’s face, maybe not. “I suppose you speak Russian?” she asked, already resigned to her fate as an unseemly wretch of a woman.
“Only words like that,” he replied. “I can’t believe staid and proper Daniel would teach you such a thing.”
“I most certainly did not,” Daniel was predictably quick to protest.
“No, he didn’t. I picked up that charming little habit from Mr. Narim, I’m afraid.”
To Daniel and Janet, this, of course, made perfect sense. However, it certainly did not shed any light on the subject at hand for the Colonel. “Mr. Narim?” O’Neill inquired.
“Yes, Mr. Simon Narim, my ex-fiancé.”
“Your…” Bewilderment clouded his features as he puzzled over this new piece of information. “I thought you said his name was Martin?”
“Oh. Different fiancé,” Samantha clarified.
“Simon Narim…he was the diplomat, right? The one with political aspirations,” Janet asked, trying to remember the man more precisely.
“Yes. Unfortunately, he turned out to be the sort of man who looks lovely in theory and was rather ugly in practice. Had something of a nasty temper, I’m afraid.”
“Toward you?” O’Neill clarified.
“Mmm, yes, if I was readily available. He struck me once and would probably have attempted to do so on other occasions, as well.”
Yet again, Samantha found herself in the odd position of knowing that she was saying much more than was proper and yet, not really being able to stop herself. Luckily, O’Neill seemed to be the one man in history who was intrigued rather than offended. “Why didn’t he?”
Here came the even more sordid part of the tale. “Ah. Well. I…well, you see….”
Janet’s face lit up. “Oh, I remember him now! He’s the one you chased off with your father’s hunting rifle!”
Face aflame, Sam looked down at the table. “Yes. That would be the man.”
Again, instead of seeming repulsed, O’Neill appeared to be intrigued. “You can shoot?”
The suggestion that she couldn’t was something she found mildly affronting. “Of course I can shoot.”
A teasing light filled the brown eyes that watched her. “Let me guess—yet another ex-fiancé taught you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m a General’s daughter—my father had me shooting a rifle before I could read a full sentence.”
“Is it not unusual for a woman to be taught such a thing in this country?” Teal’c asked diplomatically.
Serenely, Sam nodded. “Quite unusual, I would guess. But then, my father had wanted a boy.”
Across the table, Daniel buttered a muffin and bit into it. “She really is a fabulous shot, too. Much better than I am.”
“Daniel, that’s not exactly difficult,” the Colonel pointed out. She had to laugh then, because it was so impolite to say such a thing—but so very true nonetheless.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
~Pride and Prejudice
When word spread across town that the previously reclusive Colonel O’Neill was throwing a dinner party for May Day, the fallout in Gateshire was really quite remarkable. There was worry because the guest list was one of the most varied in the town’s long memory, including both the well-respected General Hammond (who, as it turned out, was one of O’Neill’s former commanding officers) as well as the disreputable Janet Fraiser. The idea of mixing with that many undesirables had many of the town’s stodgier folk offended for weeks before the actual event. Moreover, there was the ever present concern about what to wear and how formal exactly this event was going to be, but for answers to those questions, one just went to Walter Harriman, who assured everyone to dress their best—in recognition of his oversight in neglecting his new neighbors for so long, O’Neill was now pulling out all the stops.
But more rampant than any of the serious considerations that arose when
such an event was announced was the not-so-serious speculation over what could
have possibly motivated O’Neill to suddenly take an interest in his
surroundings. Some thought that maybe he was just a man who needed more time to
acclimate to new surroundings than most. Some believed that he was about to
announce some adventurous busi
Of course, the most popular theory was that he had secretly been courting some young maiden of the village and was merely looking for an excuse to see her in a public setting.
Strangely enough, these last reports, while not entirely accurate, were certainly the closest to the truth. After six weeks of acquaintance with Samantha Carter, Jack O’Neill had discovered himself to be quite taken with his young neighbor. While certainly not anywhere near considering marriage or even, as some rumors detailed, a formal courtship, he found himself for the first time wanting to socialize because it meant that she would be present.
Plus, he desperately needed to do something to get Walter to stop pestering him. A party seemed like the lesser of many evils—after all, at least a party involved food.
Though really, he had to credit Teal’c with the idea for the party in the first place. His friend had come to him expressing a desire to expand his social set—as well as simultaneously improving his acquaintance with a certain notorious midwife. Seeing as Jack was an obliging friend, the least he could do was tell Walter to set things in order—and if he himself happened to benefit from the venture as well, then so much the better.
All this was how he found himself dressed up and waiting in the parlor (a room he was uncertain that he had ever entered before this evening) for his guests to arrive. As they streamed in one by one with their platitudes and niceties, the novelty of the entire escapade quickly began to wear thin. Lady Travell was ensconced in one corner glaring at everyone in a reproving manner. The local vicar’s daughter, Carolyn Lam Landry, kept looking at him with a distinctively speculative eye. Daniel had stationed himself in the center of the room and was arguing about the hierarchy of Egyptian Gods with Teal’c at an ever-increasing volume. For his part, Jack was beginning to seriously consider just throwing everyone out and sealing his fate as a social recluse.
Then Samantha Carter walked through the door, shining in a long dress of blue satin and all thoughts the Colonel may have had about making everyone leave vanished entirely. Greeting her with as stately of a bow as he could manage, he couldn’t help but smirk at the face she made before curtsying in reply.
“I hope you know that I hate dressing up like this,” she said softly as he offered his arm and escorted her further into the room. “I always feel so out of sorts in outfits like this one.”
“Well, do not trouble yourself, Miss Carter. I assure you, it’s…you.”
The food was fairly good (though, admittedly, a bit burnt on the edges) and the company was certainly more interesting than these dry dinner parties normally entertained. Somehow, Samantha had found herself with the seat next to the host himself, conveniently surrounded by all of her friends. This seating arrangement created a lovely buffer between her and all of the other guests, so that for the first time in memory, she was actually free to relax a little in the company of others.
Taking a sip of her wine, she looked at Colonel O’Neill and suddenly realized that other than greetings at the beginning of the evening, he had yet to converse with anyone outside of the small group that surrounded the head of the table. “You did this on purpose, didn’t you?” she exclaimed, wondering why it hadn’t occurred to her before.
Wide brown eyes looked back at her guilelessly. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Laughter escaped her before she could even think about curbing it, and his eyes narrowed. “Stop giggling—you’ll tip everyone else off!”
Sobering, she took another bite of the as of yet unidentified meat on her plate. “Somehow, I think they’ve already figured it out.”
He waved his hand vaguely. “Nonsense. It is a brilliant strategic maneuver and is now being flawlessly executed.”
“…You haven’t said a word to anyone but the four of us.”
“Exactly. It’s working out perfectly. They are free to entertain themselves while we enjoy ourselves. Everyone can be happy.”
“Then why is Lady Travell glaring in this direction?” she pointed out.
“After careful consideration, I’ve decided that she’s simply physically incapable of smiling.”
“Mmm. Or she’s caught on to your not-so-subtle ‘brilliant strategic maneuver’.”
Colonel O’Neill scoffed. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“Maybe it’s the company I’m keeping, sir,” she suggested lightly.
At that, he actually laughed. “I never doubted it for a moment.” He hesitated then, his demeanor changing from easy to slightly uncertain. “Now that we’ve settled that particular issue, I have a somewhat personal question to ask you, but I’ll refrain if you would rather not discuss it.”
Intrigued by the sudden change of subject, Samantha nodded her head so that he might feel free to continue his inquiry. Strangely, he still seemed a bit cautious. “This may be an awkward subject, so you’ll have to forgive me for that. But several times now, you’ve made mention of a few former fiancés, and something Mrs. Fraiser said the other day indicated…well, I was forced to wonder…what I mean is—exactly how many engagements have you previously been involved in?”
A heavy feeling settled in the pit of her stomach and a wan sort of smile was the only response she could manage at first. “I should have guessed that this would become an issue eventually.”
“It’s not…you don’t have to answer, I was just…”
She interrupted his stuttering. “No, it’s fine. I suppose if we are to be…friends…then you have a right to know exactly what kind of a wanton woman you’re acquainting yourself with.”
His hand discreetly settled over hers and squeezed it briefly. “You’re being ridiculous again.”
Warmth at his defense of her character spread through her being. “Wait to say that until you know the whole sordid story.”
At his nod, she took one last fortifying sip of wine before launching into her tale. “You are right in thinking there were more than the two you’ve already heard about. In fact, since coming out into society, I’ve had five fiancés.”
Seeing no reaction on his part at this new piece of information, she
gathered the courage to continue. “The first was when I was barely seventeen.
Jonas Hansen was a young corporal who was in training one summer while I
visited my father. We quarreled and he was eventually sent to
Of course, looking back, Samantha had to admit that she wasn’t sure how
much mind Jonas Hansen had to begin with. But that was more information than
the Colonel needed, so she continued without mentioning it. “Next was Simon Narim, followed by Martin Tokra,
both stories with which you are already acquainted. Fourth was a lovely, if
somewhat intense man named Orlin Ascended. As it
turned out, the only thing he loved more than me was God—he was secretly a
Papist and as such, felt a call to join the priesthood. I felt it only right to
release him from our engagement so that he might move to
She did not at this time divulge the relief she had felt when Orlin had come to her, torn and conflicted. He had been a perfectly lovely man, but in the long term he would have made an exhausting husband in his zeal for their relationship.
This brought her to the most recent escapade in her somewhat woeful love life, and she hesitated because her behavior in this last situation was perhaps what she regretted the most. “Last, and most recent, was Pete Shanahan. He was a constable.”
“And? What sort of surreal situation prevented that particular union?”
“There wasn’t one. Mr. Shanahan was a perfectly nice man, and would have made a fine husband.”
She sighed. “But nothing—except for the fact that I believe he really did love me. It was appealing and easy to be with him. I thought…I don’t know. I thought that would be enough, I suppose.”
Confusion colored O’Neill’s face. “It wasn’t?”
“Well, successful marriages have certainly been built on less. I just…it felt wrong, marrying him.”
There was no way she could possibly explain that she had simply woken up one morning and realized that while Mr. Shanahan’s feelings about her were certainly sincere and true, the most she had ever been able to muster for him was a warm sort of affection. Perhaps love would have grown from that—but looking back, she doubted it. Even now, she regretted letting the situation continue on so long when, as it turned out, she was a person who was incapable of entertaining the thought of marriage without a certain shared regard from both parties.
Shaking off her melancholy, she pasted a smile across her face. “So now you know. I’ve since come to the conclusion that I’m just not meant to marry—and by this point I’m nearly qualified for old maid status anyway. I am quite content to run my father’s estate in his absence and keep to myself.”
Well, mostly, her mind qualified silently.
For his part, O’Neill treated her with what she suspected was a rare sympathetic smile. “You never know—someone could arrive tomorrow to sweep you off your feet.”
Looking at him there in the candlelight, she wondered for a moment if—but no. That was ridiculous. They would be friends, nothing more.
She liked him too well for anything else.
Though he had yet to figure out why, after dinner, people had adjourned to yet another room he hadn’t realized he had and begun singing and playing an instrument he hadn’t realized he owned. While Jack by no means objected to this turn of events because it kept everyone quiet and out of his hair, he was more than a little unclear on how it had happened in the first place.
Miss Carolyn Lam Landry finished a rather strident sounding solo and took a curtsy, and there was a moment of hesitation before Daniel led a reluctant looking Miss Carter to the pianoforte.
Though it quickly became evident that she had absolutely no intention of singing, the piece she set about playing was more complex and intricate than anything played previously that evening. Her fingers flew over the keys and Jack watched with interest as she focused all of her considerable energy on the notes, making them sound right and fall correctly and evoke the perfect emotion. He wondered if she was always as single-minded in her pursuits as she was in playing that one piece of music.
When it was over, the crowd applauded her enthusiastically and she accepted the praise with a surprising amount of grace considering her usual relations with some of the people present. When she returned to her previous seat and the next performer took her place, he sidled next to her unnoticed. After studying her for a moment, he surprised himself by saying, “Miss Carter…would you do me the honor of joining me in a hunt?”
Her wide-eyed look of surprise satisfied his somewhat perverse sense of humor. “A hunt? Me?”
“Yes. And Teal’c—he’s been expressing the desire to engage in some more physical activities now that our repair of the fence has been completed.” Teal’c seemed to be his excuse for everything lately—he would have to thank his good friend for that.
Her thoughts were almost visible in her eyes, turning around the invitation over and over again to make sense of it. But there was no hidden motivation—he knew that she liked to shoot and so did he and this was something that could be enjoyed together as well as it could separately. Granted, he had no idea if it was exactly traditional for a woman to participate in events like this, but that wasn’t really a problem for Jack O’Neill. All together, he had spent more years of his life in foreign countries than he had spent on his native soil—what was traditional really had little meaning for a man such as him. Wanting her to say yes, he clarified his invitation. “There’s no hidden agenda here—it’s not that complex. Just three friends, enjoying a hunt.”
When she smiled and nodded, he felt distinctly relieved. With her assured participation taken care of, there was only one more issue that needed clarification. “Good! Now…what exactly does one hunt on a hunt?”
"We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be."
After considerable debate, it was decided that they would hunt fox. Whether or not this was actually socially acceptable was as of yet uncertain, as Samantha had never been invited to participate in a hunt before and both Colonel O’Neill and Teal’c had only been hunting in much different circumstances. Regardless of this, they had decided to proceed with their plan—after all, what their neighbors didn’t know about their recreational activities wouldn’t hurt them.
So they agreed to meet early one Wednesday morning with their horses and rifles ready. The rest, they assumed, would sort itself out given enough time and effort. (Plus, Samantha had agreed to ask Daniel more specifics on the practice before the actual event was to take place.)
She made it a point to arrive even earlier than she had last time, tying Jolinar to a tree and dismounting so that she could more comfortably situate herself for the wait.
Although she was hesitant to admit to it, she had been looking forward to this outing since Colonel O’Neill had suggested it last week. In fact, she had been planning for it carefully, and had even brought something she had long anticipated giving to the Colonel.
When he and Teal’c finally arrived, she could actually tell that they were surprised at her presence. Wondering if it was really that shocking or if she was just learning to read them better, she grinned and greeted them. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” O’Neill replied. “So…where’s the fox?”
“I’m sure I haven’t the slightest idea. But come down here a moment. I’ve brought you a gift.”
Obediently, he dismounted, looking torn between being curious and awkward. “A gift? You needn’t have done that.”
“I know. But he was quite insistent.”
“He…what..? I…” he trailed off as he came closer and saw the small bundle of gray fur sitting quietly next to her. “…You got me a dog?”
“Well, I didn’t get him so much as my dog had puppies and they’re just now old enough to be given away. I went to pick one up this morning and Thor was just waiting there by the barn door, as though he knew.”
Crouching down, O’Neill ran his hand down the puppy’s back in one smooth motion, that peculiarly appealing expression lingering around his mouth that she interpreted as an almost-smile. “He was…wait, did you just call him Thor?”
Frankly, she had been hoping that he wouldn’t catch that. “Um…yes. Daniel came over a few days ago and named them all. Unfortunately, he’s been a bit preoccupied with researching ancient deities since the dinner party, and last week was the Norse.”
He looked from her to the skinny little greyhound with his round black eyes and too-big paws and then looked back at her. “He doesn’t exactly look like a Thor.”
“Oh, I have faith that he’ll live up to his name eventually,” Samantha assured him while scratching behind Thor’s left ear. “Just be glad that Heimdall wasn’t waiting for me this morning.”
“Heim-what?” O’Neill stuttered, looking at the puppy again. Thor just tilted his head slightly, and, if she wasn’t mistaken, blinked at him. “Right then. Thor it is.”
In one fluid movement, the puppy was scooped into the Colonel’s arms and the two continued to study each other almost solemnly. Finally, Thor licked O’Neill’s nose and Jack grinned, looking positively delighted at this new development.
That was the moment Samantha Carter realized that she had finally managed to fall in love.
For his part, Jack O’Neill had already come to the conclusion that his feelings for Samantha Carter had run out of his control. Somewhere between her shoe falling on his head and finding her sitting next to a strangely solemn greyhound, his admiration for her had increased to such a point that he could no longer imagine what this new life would be without her nearby.
Of course, this revelation wasn’t exactly a welcome one in the world of Jack O’Neill. He usually kept to himself for good reasons, and those reasons weren’t exactly subjects that were suitable for public consumption. He had not anticipated meeting someone like Miss Carter—in fact, he had not anticipated meeting much of anyone at all. The idea of entering into another romantic entanglement, or even more seriously, another marriage, was a bit daunting.
Of course, the idea of not tying himself to Miss Carter in whatever way he could was steadily becoming increasingly unattractive as well.
So he was left with what seemed like an impossible situation—did he ignore his ever-growing feelings for the amazing young woman now presented to him or did he actually try to act on the feelings that so unexpectedly seized him? Would it even matter if he did, considering Miss Carter’s long history of shattered love affairs and apparent resolution to remain unmarried and thus, out of social danger? Did he really want to take the risk and put in jeopardy a friendship from which he (and even Teal’c) derived so much pleasure? Not to mention the fact that any action towards a more serious relationship would necessitate the full disclosure of events from his past that might so easily turn her away before anything had a chance to begin—an idea that did not sit well with him at all.
Glancing down at Thor, who was riding quite contentedly in the saddlebag, he wondered if he really had any option at all.
“We’re never going to find a fox, are we?” he asked abruptly.
“Considering our complete ineptitude on this particular subject, I would guess not,” Miss Carter allowed gracefully.
Turning to Teal’c, he clearly saw that the man was attempting find a feasible trail to follow and failing miserably. “No luck?”
“Unfortunately not, O’Neill. These woods contain many animals, but their tracks seem to follow erratic patterns and are often lost in the underbrush.”
“Just as well,” O’Neill replied, shifting in his saddle. “Shooting would detract from the conversation. Although I admit that I had been looking forward to discovering whether your skill with a rifle was everything Daniel claimed it was, Miss Carter.”
“If you are that curious, pick a target and I would be happy to demonstrate, although I fear that Daniel may have overstated the matter slightly.”
“Perhaps you should pick a target then, as you are sure to be a better judge of your skill than I could ever be.”
Her eyes scanned the terrain impartially, finally settling on a mark some thirty meters off. “Do you see the evergreen branch? The one that is broken?”
In fact, it was not broken so much as snapped, the end hanging precariously onto the rest of the tree. The shot was a difficult one, obscured by pine needles and distance. “Yes, I see it.”
Without fuss, Miss Carter raised her rifle, took aim, and cleanly shot the branch exactly where it had been clinging to the rest of the tree. It fell to the ground with a clamor in the echo of the shot, while O’Neill and Teal’c gaped in surprise.
“Miss Carter, I do not believe that Daniel overstated the matter in the smallest measure.”
As they neared the pastures behind her barn after a few hours of half-heartedly searching for a fox, Samantha tried to calm the emotional turmoil roiling in her stomach. The scene earlier with the puppy had brought to light the uncomfortable truth of her feelings for Colonel O’Neill, and ever since that revelation, every little word exchanged seemed to have hidden meaning and significance. Jokes were funnier, shared looks were sweeter, and compliments certainly meant more. If his approval of her shooting abilities had pleased her, then his surprising compliment on her current haphazard ensemble of an old pair of her father’s trousers and a white shirt downright stunned her—he had merely said that somehow, she managed to look nicer in men’s clothing than he did.
Strangely enough, his observation was true as well as shocking—but only because when he had gotten dressed that morning he had apparently somehow managed to put his vest on backwards and it was bunching up his entire garb in a rather ridiculous fashion. While she had grown accustomed to refastening his tie, stripping off his vest was a line that she dared not cross just yet.
Dismounting Jolinar and leaving her in the pasture for Mr. Siler or one of the stable boys to tend to, she looked up at her two visitors and came to a rash decision. “Would you both like to come inside? There’s something I should like to show you, if you have the time.”
They looked at each other and came to a silent agreement, joining her on the ground. “We have nothing but time, Miss Carter,” O’Neill allowed, following her lead into the main house.
She led them through the main rooms to the back, the old greenhouse. Previously, only Daniel and Janet had been allowed into this room, and she was more than a little nervous about showing her new friends what may have been her most closely kept secret. Still, they had reacted to the news of her somewhat rocky past with nothing but equanimity and support, and never failed to surprise her with their open-mindedness. Hopefully, they would not fail her now.
Pushing open the wide double doors, she led them into the room. It was obvious
that long ago it had been a conservatory of some kind, with light pouring in
through the immense green glass windows. Now, it was so much more than a place
to transplant flowers. Through careful planning, she had managed to build
herself what was almost the equivalent of a laboratory, lined with glass test
tubes and beakers carefully labeled and rough-hewn microscopes. “It’s not
much—certainly not equal to the labs in
The colonel picked up a small trinket that she had been using as a scale weight and tossed it between his hands, looking around. “What do you do in here?”
“Oh, whatever I can. Currently, I’m working on a theory about magnetism and what sort of effect it could have on soil, as well as trying to make a practical working model of thermodynamics, but I am having trouble finding enough information about heat controls to really make a functioning apparatus.”
His hands never seemed to stay still, flipping through a stack of careful organized papers she had written out by hand. “You record your findings?”
“Doesn’t every good scientist?” she asked, a bit puzzled by the question.
“Yes, of course, but most do so for publication purposes.”
It was a sore spot for her, the inability to make anything of her private discoveries. “Yes, well, that’s hardly an option for me, now is it?”
“Hmm. You know, my new house came complete with an impressive array of books, including a massive section on science. As I shall certainly never make use of it and I doubt Teal’c has any interest-“ (at this, Teal’c, who had been standing in a corner quietly, bowed a bit in affirmation) “-you’re welcome to whatever you like.”
The previous proprietors of Cheyenne Manor had been notorious for their enthusiasm about science—even the cast-off journals and essays they had left behind would be more information than Samantha could previously access over the course of years. “I…that’s very generous of you,” she said finally, stunned by the very prospect.
An uncharacteristic still
Everything was happening so quickly—not two hours ago he was unresolved how to even deal with the feelings he was experiencing for the woman in front of him and now he stood on the brink of sharing his most intimate secret with her. But it seemed, at the moment, to be the only logical recourse—she had brought him here, had shared with him the pastime closest to her heart. If her little laboratory was ever discovered, she could stand to lose the thing that obviously brought her the most joy, but she had trusted him to know the truth of her character.
He felt that it was only right that he attempt the same sort of honesty. Unfortunately, his secrets were quite a bit more serious than a clandestine passion for science.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Teal’c silently sliding out of the room, shutting the door behind him. Once again he felt profoundly thankful for the friend he had made in the exotic man, who understood him without seeming to put much effort into it. He did not even wish to have this conversation—he certainly did not want an audience present while he tried to explain himself.
“You may have wondered why a man such as I would suddenly retire to the country without explanation,” he began, and saw the somewhat sheepish affirmation in her eyes. “I…well, you see, I was married. Before. And I had a son. Charlie.”
She seemed to understand that he did not wish to be interrupted, processing this new information in thoughtful silence. “One summer I was on leave for a few weeks, enjoying the time with my family. But I became careless of my surroundings…my pistol was normally locked in the study, but I must have forgotten….”
He found that he could not actually bring himself to spell out the particulars, but saw by the sudden flash of horror in her eyes that she had drawn the inevitable conclusion. “Charlie was eight. Afterwards, I couldn’t…I didn’t know how to go on. Sara—my wife—wavered between trying to pull me out of my grief and blaming me for the entire incident. Things would have…well, I do not know for certain what would have happened had I not been recalled, but I believe that it is very possible I would not be standing here today.”
Her eyes glistened with tears, but he could find no trace of
condemnation in her expression. “However, I was
recalled, and found myself sent on a mission to
Words failed him then, both because there was nothing more to be said and because he had reached his limit. Uncertain how she would react to him now that she knew the darkness that lay in his past, he waited stoically for her response.
A verbal reply never came—instead, after what seemed like an interminably long period, she surged forward and wrapped both arms tightly around him in the fiercest hug he could ever remember receiving.
Exhaling a long sigh and leaning into her, Jack knew then that there would be no more debate about the proper course of action with regards to Miss Samantha Carter—if he did not at least try to gain her hand in marriage, it would be yet another momentous regret to weigh down upon him.
Jack O’Neill had had quite enough of regrets.
“A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment.”
~Pride and Prejudice
Two weeks passed and while there was no definitive change in their behavior towards one another, the intimacy of their friendship increased on a near daily basis. It was rare indeed that some reason was not thought up to travel between the two houses within a twenty-four hour period, even if the excuses were ridiculous in the extreme. Once together, they would just…spend time together. Colonel O’Neill seemed to have a bizarre fascination with merely sitting in her lab while she worked. Sometimes he would bring a book, sometimes a foreign and seemingly useless toy he picked up in the East Indies that the natives had referred to as a yo-yo that looked very well-traveled, and sometimes he would just sit quietly, occasionally asking her to explain what she was working on—and always seeming to regret it when she did.
This arrangement suited her just fine, although it had taken three days and four broken test tubes before she had caught on and moved most of the breakable items out of easy reach.
As she watched him sit quietly near her workbench while he skimmed through the novel of the day, she wondered if anything would come of their somewhat peculiar relationship. The last few weeks had been alternately the happiest and most terrifying of her life, although she could not coherently explain why either emotion was so prevalent. Every time she tried to step back and rationalize the situation, O’Neill would do something upset her precarious balance and set everything asunder once again.
To her eternal surprise, Sam found that she rather liked things that way. At least with this arrangement, whatever was going to happen was free to do so without the added interference of her insistence on overanalyzing every aspect of a situation. It was a freedom she had never allowed to take root in any of her previous relationships, and the uncertainty of if was strangely liberating.
At that moment he looked up from his book and caught her studying him. She jumped, looked down at the paper she was supposed to be writing, and proceeded to blush profusely, all behavior more suited to a silly young schoolgirl than an old maid of nearly twenty-five.
“Something occurred to me last night,” he said conversationally, closing the novel and putting it on her bench.
“What would that be?” she asked, mentally taking a tally of everything on the desk to make sure there was nothing she couldn’t live without should his fidgeting once again prove fatal to a piece of equipment.
“You should publish your scientific articles.”
Taken aback by that particular pronouncement, Samantha glanced down at her slim stack of reports and findings. “You’ve never even read them—you don’t know that they are scientifically sound.”
Judging from the expression on his face, it had honestly never occurred to him that they wouldn’t be. “Oh, they’re sound. You wrote them, you tested them…I would be willing to lay a very large wager that they would turn the scientific world on its end.”
His absolute and unwavering faith in her scientific talents was more touching than any perfectly worded compliment she had ever been paid. “Even so, are you forgetting that I am a woman with nothing more than a self-taught education? Any one of these factors would make publication nearly impossible—combine them and you’ve created a lovely little hopeless scenario.”
Somehow he had found a stray piece of paper and was proceeding to tear it in endless little squares. “So use a pseudonym. Women have done it before, and I am sure will do it again until popular opinion widens the confines of the female’s position in society.”
Unprepared for a touching and equally enlightening conversation about such deep issues, Samantha was forced to really consider his proposition. “I wouldn’t even know what name to use so as to avoid suspicion.”
“Well, Samuel is a common enough first name, certainly, though you could merely use S as an abbreviation and achieve a similar effect.”
That was true enough. “Yes, but even though I imagine S. Carter is a fairly common name, it would still be easy enough to track down if someone was particularly insistent.”
“So use S. O’Neill.”
The words hung in the air heavily, as though they could swing down at any moment and severe the tenuous ties the two had been so carefully building. “Not…I just mean that it would be…” he tried to explain himself, stumbling over his words.
In a moment of peculiar insight, Samantha simply decided not to let the situation become something awkward. He had made the offer to be encouraging and supportive, and it was a very kind thing to do. “I…may take you up on that,” she said, feeling at peace with the idea.
Slowly, a smile spread across his features. “I…hope you do.”
Maybe it was just wishful thinking on her part, but she got the distinct impression that neither one of them were talking about the pseudonym any longer.
While she watched, his hand rose and brushed against her face, the calloused thumb rubbing down her cheekbone with distinct purpose. “You’ve a bit of ink just here,” he said—but his hand remained.
Just when Samantha was considering the idea that for once, she and a potential suitor were on exactly the same page at precisely the same time and that this could mean very good things indeed, the double doors to the laboratory flew open.
“Pardon me, Miss Carter,” said a familiar voice from the door’s
Colonel O’Neill’s hand fell away and Samantha sighed. “Yes, Mr. Siler?”
“I am sorry for interrupting you whilst you are…working…but, I wanted to warn you that--“
The well-meaning aid didn’t manage to finish his sentence before the door hinges were tested once again, this time with enough exuberance to nearly propel the door against the wall with a disconcerting crash. “Sammie!”
That particular (somewhat ridiculous) endearment twisted the colonel’s mouth into a disbelieving smirk. “Sammie?”
She could not possibly begin to deal with his amusement and the situation at hand, so she ignored it in favor of the more pressing matter. “…Hello, Dad.”
Anyone who was well-acquainted with Jacob Carter would freely tell you that the man was a force to be reckoned with—a trait that many believed he had passed on to his daughter. Along with his strong opinions and somewhat domineering personality, he possessed an unshakable and somewhat daunting moral fiber, not to mention the protective streak that could make a territorial bulldog seem like a docile sheep in comparison.
When you combined that particular trait with Samantha’s own strength of will, it was not difficult to see why the relationship between father and daughter was alternately close and then taut with friction.
His arrival at Vorash Hall was something of a surprise—he had been home only four months previous and as such, was not expected again for quite some time. Still, as he embraced his daughter tightly and eyed the stranger now standing beside her, he thought that it was not, perhaps, an untimely visit.
“How are you, kiddo?” he asked, pulling away so he could study his daughter more thoroughly. Still as gorgeous as her mother, with a presence that demanded the attention of a lady and a faint ink smear across her cheek that spoke of a more unsophisticated elegance.
“I am fine—surprised to see you! What are you doing here?”
Perhaps his arrival was not as heralded as he would have liked, then. “Did you really think I would forget that my little girl is about to turn twenty-five?”
Her nose wrinkled at the mention of the impending event. “Well, you can’t blame one for hoping. Though really, at twenty-five, I hardly qualify for the title of little girl.”
“Children are always in bonnets and bibs for their parents,” the as-of-yet-unidentified man said whimsically.
“Oh! Dad, this is Colonel Jack O’Neill. He bought Cheyenne Manor a few months ago. Colonel O’Neill, this is my father, General Jacob Carter.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar to Jacob, and although he was certain that the younger man had never been under his command, he wondered if perchance he had served with his long-time friend George Hammond.
To his credit, O’Neill executed a very smooth bow. “A pleasure to meet you. Your daughter has told me…next to nothing about you.”
Decorum dictated that he return the gesture, and so Jacob quickly bobbed a greeting. “I can’t say that I am surprised—I have heard nothing of you, either.”
At least Samantha had the grace to blush a bit. “Well, you see, I…what I mean to say is….”
Saving her from the discomfiting situation in which they had placed her, Jacob interrupted her stammering. “It is of no matter. Samantha, I have come back solely for the purpose of throwing a ball in honor of your birthday. It has always been my particular wish to lavishly celebrate the day you came into my life, and for once I intend to carry out my full purpose, regardless of any and all objections you may raise to the contrary.”
Seeing that she was about to spout some of those very objections, he pressed on. “Good! I shall set Mr. Siler about making the arrangements. After all, we have less than a fortnight.”
While Jack and Sam had been occupying themselves with the increasing familiarity of their relationship, bonds were also being formed between Janet Fraiser, Daniel Jackson, and Teal’c. As the would-be couple’s closest friends, they formed the social circle around which many events were planned. While all three freely admitted that they had attended more card games and teas in the last few weeks than they had in many months previous, none seemed to mind overmuch.
In fact, they had become so accustomed to one another’s company that the three would often meet together for a leisurely lunch or afternoon tea when the fourth and fifth members of their party had taken it upon themselves to come up with alternate entertainment. This particular afternoon, they had gathered at Janet’s small cottage, helping her grind some of the herbs and other miscellaneous ingredients needed for her various home-spun medical remedies.
“Did you hear that Jacob Carter is back in town?” Janet asked conversationally.
“Is the man you speak of Samantha Carter’s relation?” Teal’c inquired.
“Oh, yes. Her father. Sam must be absolutely thrilled—last time he was here they fought,” Daniel shared, wondering what exactly the herb he was crushing was—his eyes were beginning to water. “This isn’t some form of ivy, is it?”
“No. Why, did they argue? She never told me.”
Daniel shrugged. “Does it matter? If it’s not one thing, it’s another. What about dandelion, because I simply can not be near them without….”
“No, Daniel, it’s not dandelion. I’ve heard that Colonel O’Neill was there when General Carter arrived. How do you think that meeting went?”
Considering the personalities of the two men in question, Daniel determined that they would either bond together or come to blows. “I honestly haven’t the slightest clue. How would you react if you stumbled in on the visit of a man who wasn’t courting Cassie?”
Janet looked significantly relieved. “Oh, good. Then I am not alone in thinking that the situation between them is a little…peculiar.”
“It certainly is unlike anything I’ve seen before. But then, neither one of them has had much success with typical romances—maybe this sort of informal formality will end in better results for everyone.” He sniffled, and then sneezed, glaring at the white mortar and pestle in front of him. “This is some sort of goldenrod, isn’t it?”
“For heaven’s sake Daniel, it isn’t—“
Their bickering was abruptly put to an end when Teal’c reached over Daniel and scooped up the crushing instrument, handing him a wooden spoon to stir the boiling water instead. “Oh. Thank you.”
The switch had honestly never occurred to him. With one last sniffle, he turned his attention to stirring and the subject and Jack and Samantha’s relationship was appropriately put to rest.
After a few tense encounters and suspicious looks shared between them, O’Neill and Jacob Carter had indeed fallen into a tentative friendship. As it turned out, O’Neill had served with George Hammond, and moreover, the sound of his name had brought forth outstanding praises from the older man. With this assurance, Jacob certainly felt more at ease with the copious amount of time O’Neill and his daughter spent together.
He had searched carefully for all the usual signs of a courtship—after following the progression of five previous engagements, Jacob was well acquainted with the usual maneuvers preceding a marriage. However, their relationship, whatever it was, seemed free of these signs—no simpering compliments, generic gifts, or contrived dialogue could be detected in their relations with one another. As far as he could see, there was only mutual respect on the part of both parties, so he concluded that O’Neill and his daughter had no designs for one another.
If he perhaps had a fleeting fancy that it was too bad such an attachment had not formed, he did not mention it—he had suffered through five engagements only to be met each time with a returned daughter and a score of irate neighbors and as such, he was not particularly eager to repeat the experience.
In fact, the better acquainted himself with Colonel O’Neill, the more he thought that his daughter’s new friend might be just the man to help him with the concern that had brought him home in the first place. While his daughter’s birthday was certainly a day worth celebrating, this particular year it brought into play several new factors that Jacob feared would leave his daughter in a vulnerable position. He did not wish to retire as of yet, and while Daniel and Mr. Siler certainly did all they could, they were not quite as vigilant about Samantha’s security as he might like.
Yes, Jacob was coming to believe more and more that Colonel O’Neill was exactly what he was looking for in a new neighbor.
“Why did you not tell me about your impending birthday?” Jack asked Miss Carter as they meandered their way down the lane.
“It honestly hadn’t occurred to me. It is usually not such a production, you see. This is the first year in five that my father has even been present for it, and certainly the first time he has insisted on making such a fuss. I really don’t know what to make of it.”
To Jack, that sounded like Jacob had a very specific reason to pay attention to this birthday in particular, but he didn’t mention the suspicion in case such a thought was unfounded. “What do you normally do by way of celebration, then?”
“Nothing, really. Cassie makes me a present sometimes—a painting she’s finished or something similar, and often Daniel and Janet have come over for dinner. Our cook makes a cake. It has always been a low-key sort of event when we paid attention to it at all.”
“Is the party a nice change of pace then, or an unwelcome one?”
She grimaced. “It is a pleasant change that he’s taking an interest—but I do wish he would take an interest in some other way. Sometimes I feel that my own father does not know me at all. I like to think that if I had ever had children, I would have paid more attention to their own personal dispositions.”
Now here was an interesting subject, and one they had not touched on since his abrupt personal confession so many weeks ago. “You have thought about children, then?”
She sent a small smile in his direction. “A woman does not get engaged five times without putting some considerable thought into the matter of children,” she pointed out. “I remember once thinking that it was a relief I didn’t end up marrying Mr. Narim because I wouldn’t have been able to stand having children who looked at me with his horrible, beady eyes. Uncharitable of me, I know, but then, he really wasn’t a nice man. He killed one of my cats you know, though he claimed it was an accident.”
The flight of fancy drew a chuckle from him. “Well, you were certainly more than justified in chasing him off with that hunting rifle.” Strangely, he wished he could have been there to see the spectacle that would have made, Samantha indignant in her anger while her beady-eyed fiancé ducked for cover.
He was surprised to find that they had arrived at his drive, and therefore had no excuse to continue walking with her. Considering carefully the open expression on her face and the curious sort of lightness he still felt when with her, he dared to take her hand in his own. “Samantha…” he started a bit roughly. “Do you think you would do me the honor of saving a few dances for me at this ball of yours? I should very much like to…waltz with you.”
The question was a precarious one at best, because of the implications he had carefully laced into it. Somehow, the two of them had developed a habit of speaking words that sounded like one thing while standing for another, and this habit was the only way he could find of properly expressing himself to her at times. In this instance, the implication of a man like Colonel O’Neill voluntarily putting himself in the center of attention with the woman of the evening at his side was an indication of his much more serious objectives—objectives with life-long consequences.
A squeeze of her hand accompanied by her brilliant smile eased his mind away from the worries about proceeding too fast and rushing her into yet another engagement that she might come to regret—the beam on her face could not be for anything less than an ardent agreement to his silent appeal, could it?
“Colonel O’Neill, if you wish to waltz with me, then waltz with me you shall.”
~Pride and Prejudice
To Sam, the next week seemed to fly by impossibly quickly. Though little
had changed in her meetings with Colonel O’Neill, there was now an aware
Often, she found an inexplicable tension vibrating in her limbs and that her stomach could not be calmed by even the cook’s blandest broth. Despite all this, she discovered a joy in each day that was not comparable to any feeling she had experienced previously. It seemed so strange to think that after so much trial and indeed, her eventual condemnation of all romantic intrigues, she would find herself anxiously awaiting yet another proposal. Still, she could not bring herself to compare her relationship with Jack O’Neill to any of her previous entanglements. Although she had not known him nearly so long as some of her other suitors, she felt strangely confident that a life spent with him would be more satisfying than any other possible outcome. Perhaps it would not be particularly easy and she certainly would not always be as blissful as she seemed to be now, but at the very least, she would never suffer from boredom.
In the hours directly preceding the ball, Samantha found herself standing in front of her wardrobe, fingering the dress already hung out for the coming event. The frock was new and, she believed, particularly flattering. Although she normally was not the sort of woman to indulge in personal vanity, on this one occasion she thought that perhaps it was acceptable to be particularly mindful of her appearance. She had loved this pattern the moment she had seen it, and the dressmaker had fashioned the silken brocade with an artistry that befitted the circumstance.
When she was finally ready to go downstairs and check on the status of the preparations, she felt confident that for once, there was nothing in her being that could be picked apart and frowned upon—tonight, she was a woman without flaws.
The hallway was bustling with servants and cooks and other assorted hired help, intent on transforming the ballroom from an air of mundane tedium to one of almost magical beauty. Flowers and garlands hung everywhere, and in one corner the musicians were tuning their instruments. The smells of roast pork and fragrant side dishes filled the air, and the shadows of twinkling candlelight danced upon the walls. If there was one thing that could be said about her father’s party planning skills, it was that together with Mr. Siler, he certainly left no stone unturned.
Yes, it seemed appropriate that everything be perfect for tonight—it was in fact, the first time Sam had cared enough to be conscious of her surroundings. With the setting so meticulously laid out by her father, it was almost like he had already blessed the proposed union.
Coming to stand next to her father, Sam slipped her arm through his and squeezed it warmly, feeling an overwhelming affection for the him. “This is all lovely.”
The praise seemed to mean a lot to him, and for that reason if no other, she was relieved that she had attempted to reach out to him. “I am glad you approve. I was not quite certain that you were pleased with all the fuss.”
“Yes, well…I changed my mind.”
“A woman’s prerogative, I suppose,” Jacob joked.
“Oh, so you are finally prepared to admit that I am no longer the girl of twelve with skinned knees that you need to protect at every turn?”
Her question seemed to strike Jacob as particularly meaningful, for he was silent a long time before replying. “A father always wants to protect his daughter. No number of birthdays will change that.”
For the fourth time, Jack O’Neill grasped the ends of his tie, determined for once to properly fasten it without aid. His movements were mechanical and meticulous, and yet still somehow managed to create a knot that, at first glance appeared correct. Unfortunately, the illusion dissipated under a second inspection, and the colonel let out a frustrated yell, accompanied by a curse that could not be repeated in proper company.
“Do you require aid, O’Neill?” Teal’c asked as the large man entered the room, adorned in what Jack recognized as the robes that he reserved for formal and stately occasions.
“Teal’c,” he said tiredly, “am I crazy? Can I really be considering getting married again when I am obviously incapable of performing a simple task like fastening my own tie?”
Large brown hands carefully took hold of both ends of his tie and began looping the garment back and forth into the appropriate formation. “As I understand it, O’Neill, a man’s skill in marriage does not directly relate to his skill with formal attire.” Finished, the man stepped back and O’Neill was both pleased and a bit annoyed to see that the tie was now fashioned correctly. “You are concerned about your intentions to propose to Samantha Carter tonight.”
“Yes. No. I…do not know, exactly. Just nervous in general, I suppose. She is…young.”
“I was led to believe that most women in your society are joined at a considerably younger age than Samantha Carter’s twenty-five years.”
“Well, yes, but she’s still twelve years younger than I,” Jack pointed out. “She does not have my…history…to contend with.”
“It is not uncommon for an age difference to be present between spouses,” pointed out Teal’c.
“I know. I just…Teal’c, I actually want this,” Jack said, hearing the disbelief in his own voice echo in the room. “I want this to work, I want her to say yes and her father to approve...it matters.” It went without saying that it was the first time in very long while that he could recall something mattering so much to him.
“As it should, O’Neill.”
That was also true, and it made the rest of his doubts and insecurities fade into the back of his mind. In the end, maybe the fact that he was so nervous was the best sign he could ask for.
He arrived late, appearing at the door with Teal’c by his side just when Sam had begun to worry over his absence. The now familiar half-smile on his face as they bowed and curtsied in greeting was a welcome sight, putting to rest the doubts that had swirled in her hyperactive mind. “Colonel O’Neill, sir,” she said by way of greeting. “Thank you for coming to my party.”
“I would not have missed it,” he assured her quietly. “It is, in fact, an event that I have been much anticipating.”
Excitement lanced through her. “As have I, I admit.” When his dark eyes seemed too serious and too intent on her for a casual meeting in the hallway, she turned her attention to his companion. “And Teal’c. Thank you so much for coming. Those robes are particularly striking.”
His grounding presence eased her once again active nerves. “I thank you, Samantha Carter. These are the garments of my people reserved for the most laudable occasions—I thought them appropriate for the celebration of such a noteworthy event as your birth.”
She found the explanation strangely flattering, and found herself blushing at such praise from the normally inscrutable man. “I am very touched, Teal’c. You shall have to tell Daniel all about them—I am certain he will want to inquire over the meaning of every stitch and fold.”
“I shall be happy to oblige the curiosity of Daniel Jackson. Would you be able to direct me towards his location?”
“Oh, he’s in the ballroom with everyone else—I think the music is about to start and he has been roped into dancing with Carolyn Lam Landry.”
An inquisitive look came into the foreign man’s eyes. “I must admit to some curiosity over your forms of dancing. Do you think that if Janet Fraiser is not previously engaged, she would be so kind as to instruct me in the movements of your culture?”
Tripping over his somewhat strange request, Sam glanced at the Colonel. “He wants to dance with Mrs. Fraiser,” Jack clarified helpfully.
“Oh, I see! Well, I am sure she would be more than pleased to oblige you.”
O’Neill nodded his agreement. “Yes, but in order to do so, we shall have to join them. Miss Carter?” The question was actually an invitation, and she more than happily took the arm offered to her, enjoying the rarity of being escorted into her party flanked by two men of such fine and agreeable distinction.
When they finally located Daniel and Janet, who were attempting to fade into obscurity by huddling into a far back corner of the room, dancing was about to begin. As their friends took their places on the dance floor, Sam found herself once again contending with nerves. Strange, now that the event she had so long anticipated had arrived, that she felt uncertain how to proceed.
Thankfully, Colonel O’Neill seemed to have more presence of mind than she—at the current moment, anyway. “I do believe those are the first chords in a waltz, Miss Carter.”
“So they are, Colonel O’Neill.”
“And I seem to recall reserving the honor of a waltz with you this evening. Would you compliment me even further by allowing me the very first dance?”
Relief flooded through her as she found it quite impossible not to smile at him. “By all means, sir.”
As he led her onto the floor and the dance began, his hand firm on her back and his eyes warmly looking into her own, Sam thought that perhaps, this evening really would turn out exactly as she had so longed for it to.
Jack O’Neill was more surprised than anyone when he realized that he was actually having a more than pleasant time at the evening’s festivities. Friends surrounded him, shielding him from the inquisitive and intrusive glances of those persons with whom he was lesser acquainted, and between himself and Samantha there was a pleasant tension he looked forward to resolving as soon as he could find a moment to pull her aside.
Distracted as he was, he failed to notice Jacob Carter approaching until the General was already amidst their crowd. “Everyone having a good time?” Jacob asked.
“It is indeed a most pleasing event, Jacob Carter,” Teal’c acknowledged.
“Good! I am glad to hear that Samantha’s friends are finding the night entertaining.” The small talk looked as though it might continue on extemporaneously and ruin their fun except that Jacob abruptly turned to Jack and asked, “Colonel O’Neill, I was wondering if you would take a turn with me. I have something very particular I would like to discuss with you.”
At a request like that, how could he have refused? With his excuses to the party, he joined Jacob on the patio, wondering what in the world all this could be about. “Not that I mind, General Carter, but do you care to explain my extraction from the festivities?”
Underneath the surface of slight annoyance, Jack was actually a bit frantic, trying desperately to recall an incident during which he could have offended the General in any degree. The problem was that nothing immediately came to mind—in fact, he and Jacob had seemed to get along quite well after their first somewhat awkward introduction.
The older man shifted his weight, studying Jack in a particularly thorough manner that he found somewhat unsettling. “I am to return to my post tomorrow, Colonel.”
Wondering what in the world this could have to do with him, Jack blinked. “Oh. Well…I know that Miss Carter will be sad to see you leave so soon.”
“Not any more than
Would it be too forward for Jack to assure the General that hopefully, she would soon not be spending so much time alone? Considering the state of his somewhat unique courtship with Samantha, he supposed it probably would be. “I can assure you that Samantha is thought of in the best sense by those whose opinions truly matter,” was the best he could come up with.
“Yes, I can see that. But there is further cause for concern. As you probably know, Samantha has somewhat of a…history. As a father, I have overlooked her exploits because I trusted her judgment. However, I worry that with her nearly such an advanced age, she may grow lax in her requirements for the society that surrounds her at a time when that could prove to be most dangerous to her.”
The idea of Sam becoming even the least bit lax was a bit ridiculous, and while Jack was sure that Jacob meant well, this conversation was becoming more and more absurd by the moment. Still, the implication that Samantha could somehow be in danger set a bit of tension in his shoulders. “I am afraid I do not understand your concerns.”
“Yes, of course not, but I am trying to explain it to you. You see, Samantha’s mother came from a very wealthy family and was, coincidentally the only heir to her family’s rather substantial fortune—not even a distant relative could be located. Determined that the wealth should be intended only for her direct descendants, the estate is fashioned in such a way that it does not come into the receiver’s control until they are of a proper age.”
Suddenly, his concern was coming into focus, and Jack felt all of his so carefully laid plans for the evening begin to unravel. “Her twenty-fifth birthday,” he said hollowly.
“Yes,” Jacob confirmed grimly. “I had hoped she would be married suitably before news of this came out, but circumstances and Samantha being what they are—well, here we are.” A heavy sigh escaped him. “My entire marriage was shaded by the public perception that I had married for money. While it was not true, it was a stigma that put great strain on my relationship with my wife. I do not wish that for Samantha, or even worse, for her actually to be seduced into a cad’s clutches for the sole intention of gaining control of such a significant amount of wealth.”
“No, of course not,” O’Neill agreed, perishing the thought. Still, silently he raged against the situation he now found himself in—this new information had contaminated his carefully laid plans. If he proposed to Samantha now, knowing about the money and position that would come with such a union, he would appear to many to be no better than the type of man over whom Jacob was so concerned. In fact, a proposal now would be certain to gain only Jacob’s wrath and scorn—it would seem as though he had found out about the money and wasted no time in securing it for himself. The idea of tainting his relationship with Samantha in such a manner was reprehensible. Maybe if he explained everything, if he assured her that he had money enough of his own and no designs—
But it was not to be, for the next words out of Jacob’s mouth were, “You and my daughter seem to have a solid friendship. I was wondering if you would be my eyes while I was away, guarding against the sort of man who would seek to take advantage of her situation.”
Jack was now put into an impossible position. There was no way to deny such a request and not appear to Jacob that he was a callous brute, and if he undertook the responsibility, then he was bound by duty to drop all designs he had on Miss Carter with regards to himself. Despair spread through his chest, aching and empty where only moments before there had been delight and anticipation. It seemed as though there was no longer a way he could fulfill his deepest wish and marry the woman who he had come to so fervently love and admire.
Swallowing against the bitter taste in his throat, Jack said hollowly, “General Carter…I assure you that I shall be vigilant in your absence.”
Flushed from the exertion of dancing so many dances and laughing so long, Samantha took a reprieve from the joy of the dance floor to calm herself, sipping some wine and watching the festivities with a smile on her face.
The smile only widened when she saw Colonel O’Neill weaving his way through the crowd towards her. “Where did you disappear to?” she asked when he got within speaking distance. “I go off for one dance with Daniel and you vanish. Is everything all right?”
Although he smiled and assured her, “Yes, of course,” the tension she sensed radiating from him was a new and not at all pleasant addition to the man with whom she was so well acquainted. However, when he next said the words she had been waiting to hear all night, the worry was banished from her mind.
“It seems to be a very fine night this evening. Would you come out into the garden with me for a spell?”
Trying not to appear too eager, she nodded and slipped her arm through his once again, following his lead through the doors and into the late spring air.
It was brisk now that the sun had gone down, but not uncomfortable, and the flickering lights of the candles that surrounded the stone porch mixed with the muted music floating out from the ballroom created a romantic atmosphere. While it was all a bit more cliché than she might typically like, for this moment and this man, she did not seem to mind so much. It was hard to make out the specifics of his features in the half-dark, and she did regret that because she should have liked to look him in the eye for this particular eventuality.
When they were far enough away from the commotion inside to apparently suit his liking, he turned and clasped both of her hands, his grip loosening and tightening almost reflexively. “Miss Carter—Samantha—Sam…” he began, voice deep and rarely serious, “I hope you know how much I...value your friendship.”
She squeezed his hands back, feeling a sense of peace come over her. “As do I,” came her truthful assurance.
“Good, good, that’s…I mean, I am glad of that. And I want you to know that I…I do…that I…care for you a great deal. Much more than….” here, his speech began to fail him and he ducked his head, shifting his weight in a fashion she was very familiar with by now.
That was when she realized that somehow, something had gone dreadfully awry. “Something is wrong!” she exclaimed. “Do tell me what it is, please. We can fix it together.”
His whole body seemed to wrench at that and he drew her close, tucking her head against his shoulder. Alarm filled her and she clutched at him, wondering what in the world could have caused him to be this distraught.
After gathering himself a little, he pulled away from her, even going so
far as to release his hold on her hands. A shaft of light illuminated sad brown
eyes and she had the curious aware
With great and precious care, he leaned over and placed a single kiss on her forehead, the sensation of his warm lips against her now chilled skin both wonderful and strangely terrible. When he stepped back, she sensed the finality that surrounded him and could not comprehend it. “Make my apologies to everyone. I simply can’t…just can’t…good night, Miss Carter.”
At that, he turned and disappeared down the stone steps and into the dark of the spring night, leaving her standing bewildered in the light of candles and well-wishes.
He did not once look back.
“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, and if things had gone the way he had intended them to the night before, Jack O’Neill would have gone fishing or riding and insisted that Samantha join him—after all, she still had not taken him up on his fishing invitation. As things stood, he wished only to brood over his misfortune indoors with a good bottle of scotch and plenty of peace and quiet.
Unfortunately, it seemed to be one of the few days that this wish could simply not be fulfilled—something O’Neill saw as a disgruntling new trend in his life. Genuine and even moderately pressing business matters required that he go into town to see the town clerk and run several smaller errands.
Seeing as this was the case, he roped Teal’c into accompanying him, rightfully thinking that if his mood proved too sour for the more polite manners of public society, Teal’c and his ever-implacable attitude could smooth things over. He also brought along Thor, because somehow, things seemed a little less dire with the abnormally serious hound at his side. As the three made their way down the road to town in silence, Jack could practically feel the questions Teal’c must have no doubt been wordlessly entertaining. He rather rudely refused to acknowledge them though, determined not to speak of the unfortunate turn of events that had led to his current mood. Perhaps if he did not discuss it, indeed, if he made a conscious effort not to think of it at all, the sinking disappointment of his misfortune would fade, given time.
The faint hope was violently dashed when they happened upon Miss Carter following the same road in the opposite direction, quickly gaining on their position. Faced with no polite alternative, Jack stopped and bowed, making a concentrated effort not to look at her pale face and disappointed eyes too closely. “Good morning, Miss Carter,” he said formally.
“Good morning, Colonel O’Neill, Teal’c,” she greeted them. “How are you on this fine day?”
Silence stretched as O’Neill neglected to reply, so finally, Teal’c stepped in as Jack had known he would. “I believe that I may be suffering some ill-effects from the beverages served at your party last night, Samantha Carter.”
A wan and all-too brief smile graced her lips. “Oh dear. Are you quite well?”
“I shall be fine, but I thank you for your concern. Did you enjoy the festivities?”
Jack could not bring himself to meet her searching gaze, instead staring at his feet with a great intensity. “Oh. It was all right, I suppose. Did you have a good time?”
This time her smile was a little more sincere, focused completely on Teal’c because it seemed to be the only way she could think of to get through this particularly awkward scenario. “I’m so pleased to hear that. I am certain my father would be as well, but I am just returning from seeing him off—he was needed back at his station.”
“I shall be sure to express my gratitude to General Carter when I next meet with him,” Teal’c allowed.
Finding himself unable to stand silently while she continued to send such searching glances in his direction, Jack finally looked up. “I am sorry to hear that he had to leave so quickly—you must miss him when he is gone.”
She nodded a little, looking a bit brighter now that he was no longer ignoring her existence. “Yes…he can be demanding, but he is my father. Besides, it was…nice…to have some company.” The last was said in such a wistful tone that Jack had to swallow back the offers of companionship that sprung to mind, reminding himself repeatedly that Miss Samantha Carter could no longer be what he had so fervently wished she would become—she was now a responsibility, a duty that he was honor-bound to carry out.
“Yes…I am certain it was,” he said, striving for the appearance of cool removal that had come so easily to him before she had entered his life.
His cold demeanor seemed to be convincing enough to deter her, for she seemed to wilt again. “Yes. Well…I shall leave you to continue on your way, then. Good day.”
“Good day,” he said, forcing himself not to watch as she walked further and further up the road. Turning to the somewhat condemning look in Teal’c eyes, he felt anger and exasperation in equal measure. “Don’t start,” he warned bitingly, proceeding once again towards downtown Gateshire.
Perhaps it was only his imagination that identified a similar look of disapproval in Thor’s large dark eyes, but Jack narrowed his eyes at the animal nevertheless. “You either.”
Janet had been expecting the visit of her friend all morning, knowing that last night had been the perfect setting in which Sam and Colonel O’Neill could finally put forth a firm declaration of their feelings and intentions. So when she heard the squeal of Cassandra outside, she was pleased, setting about making some tea that they could enjoy while Samantha went over the details of the romantic scenario.
She was not prepared, however, for the hollow-eyed and dejected friend that appeared in her doorway. “Oh my,” Janet exclaimed in spite of herself. “What in the world did Jack O’Neill do?”
A short and bitter laugh filled the room. “I suppose that would be the problem—he didn’t do anything.”
“Nothing?” repeated Janet incredulously. “You mean to say that he didn’t….”
“No,” Samantha confirmed, sitting down on a stool with an air of dejection so profound that Janet found her throat tight with shared disappointment. “He said that he was going to—or at least, I thought he had. Nothing was ever concrete with us, no firm or fixed emotion declared. But there had been the implication that he was prepared to—and then nothing!”
Janet slipped her hand into her friend’s, trying to offer some modicum of support in this trying time. “Perhaps he was simply nervous.”
“I considered that,” Samantha replied. “But I just ran into him on the road. Janet, he barely could bring himself to look at me, let alone….” Her friend’s voice was the closest to tears Janet could ever remember, and the sound was one that she had hoped to never hear. “Did I do something wrong? Something to make him change his mind? Did he just start, look at me, and realize that I was not what he wanted in a wife after all? That perhaps all the eccentricities that endeared him to me at first would wear thin over the span of time?”
“That’s simply not possible, darling,” Janet said soothingly, releasing her hand to pull her into a firm embrace, smoothing golden hair like she would with Cassie when she took a particularly bad fall.
“Then…then maybe it was all in my mind. Janet, maybe he never loved me at all—maybe it was all me. He never really said….” Her voice broke. “Oh Janet. I just…I really thought that this time would be different, that he…but I didn’t even make it to an engagement this time!”
As Samantha’s tears finally fell, Janet did all she could by holding on tight and comforting her friend as she digested the bitter taste of unrequited love.
Soothed by Janet’s calm and loving presence, Samantha soon calmed herself, appalled at her outburst. Luckily, Janet was the sort of true friend that did not judge one for emotional missteps.
Wiping her face clean of the last vestiges of her tears, Samantha could not help but feel a little foolish. “I am sorry, Janet. It is not the end of the world that he does not…that things did not turn out as I hoped. I should not have behaved so dramatically.”
“Nonsense. Everyone is entitled to a good cry once in awhile—if not, then Cassandra is certainly remiss in her behavior on a regular basis.” Although the joke fell a bit flat, the effort was appreciated. “Are you sure that you’re quite all right?”
Resolved, Samantha nodded. “Yes. I shall be fine. I am resolving to remove Jack O’Neill from my mind once and for all. I cared for him, but obviously, he does not return my affections—there is nothing more that can be done but to move on.”
“Seems logical,” Janet agreed, though her voice carried more than a small amount of doubt in it. “Although Colonel O’Neill is still a rather significant member of our social circle, as well as Gateshire’s in general—will this be a problem?”
For a moment, the thought of solitary afternoons in her lab held no joy because he would not be there to tease and joke and break her more delicate instruments. The prospect of ever riding Jolinar or shooting or dancing again seemed horribly bleak. Most of all, the image of him fishing in the large lake by Cheyenne Manor without her ever joining in seemed so wrong that Samantha actually felt that she might cry once again.
But she quickly gathered her control and steeled herself against the inevitable. She had gone through five previous breakups and managed to come through emotionally unscathed—Jack O’Neill would certainly not be her undoing.
What was more, as things stood, she had more reason to be angry than hurt. Looking back at the situation, he really had implied things, had contrived situations to purposely create a feeling of intimacy that he apparently had no intention of following through on. If anything, in this situation, she should be wounded over the imposition more than she should be mourning the lack of a happy result.
So when she went to answer Janet’s timely question, “Of course not,” was the easy (and, of course, completely untrue) dismissal that came out. After a fortifying sip of her tea, she cleared her mind. “Did I tell you about the interesting results of my pH experiment? It might help you drastically when growing some of your herbs.”
will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to
expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happi
When Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell arrived unexpectedly at Vorash Hall in early June, he had expected only the open arms (and conveniently, open doors) of long treasured friends. What greeted him was, in fact, the enthusiastic welcome of a woman who desperately needed a distraction from her own melancholy.
Although Cameron certainly never would have wished such trying times upon the young woman whom he thought of as his own sister, it did admittedly occur to him that her current state of heartbreak could be particularly helpful in fulfilling several key points of his personal agenda in Gateshire.
His acquaintance with the Carters had begun a few years ago, when Jacob had happened to be his first training instructor. The two men had kept in touch even after Cameron had been transferred, and when he was back on British soil, he had been invited to stay at Vorash Hall. Perhaps Jacob had been hoping that his new star pupil would bond with his daughter—and in fact, he had, although probably not in the way Jacob may have liked. Cameron had instantly been attracted to Samantha as an engaging and intelligent best mate, with whom he could easily spend time, but there had never been any romantic inclination between them. When asked, he would have described Samantha as a much loved sister, and absolutely nothing more. Still, in many ways she had become his touchstone, a rock to turn to for advice when the world seemed like a particularly trying place.
This was perhaps the first time that their usual dynamic seemed reversed. He had come to Vorash Hall to seek Samantha’s advice and counsel, when in actuality, perhaps it was she that could better benefit from a spot of friendship.
Then again, who was to say that they could not help each other?
Sitting in the parlor, drinking their customary pot of tea, Cameron
carefully mulled over their current respective plights. He knew that the likelihood
of Samantha sharing the particulars of her situation was slim to none, and
short of being fully informed, the only cure for sad
“I suppose that you are wondering at the abrupt nature of my visit,” Cameron finally stated, munching on a scone.
“Well, you do normally write before appearing on my doorstep,” Samantha teased. “Not that your presence is ever unwelcome.”
“Of course not!” Cameron laughed. “But I have to admit that I have more specific reason for this visit than an overwhelming desire to catch up with you, old friend. I do not recall if I wrote to you speaking about my recent promotion….”
“You did not, and I’m quite angry with you for it. Dad had to inform me on his recent return home. Congratulations, though.”
Her good wishes were sincere and deeply felt, which provoked in Cameron a deep sense of achievement—there were few women who would understand the intricacies and difficulties that went into a military promotion, but Samantha Carter was certainly one of them. “Thank you. As you know, with this promotion comes a substantial rise in my income—one which now leaves me free to pursue interests that might otherwise be unobtainable. The chief of these being, of course….”
Samantha sighed, putting down her teacup. “You want to find Vala.”
“Find her? Yes, I suppose that’s a necessary part of the process. But ultimately, I want to marry Vala.”
If Samantha Carter was generally considered a subject of public concern, then it would be fair to say that Vala Maldoran was one of public outrage. Despite what many saw as numerous flaws in Miss Carter’s character, the entire population of Gateshire would easily agree that they were nothing compared to the downright hopeless case of Miss Maldoran’s irretrievable good name.
Both women had been born rich and privileged, and strangely, it seemed to satisfy neither of them. While Samantha chose to take out her frustrations by enmeshing herself in the forbidden facts of an inappropriate education, Vala had chosen to express her discontent by purposely engaging in various forms of inappropriate behavior. As a young woman her sins had run the gamut from garish and practically painful honesty to lewd and even sinful conduct. Finally, at the age of sixteen, she had been sent away to a reform school, in the hopes of instilling within her some modicum of sense of what could be considered appropriate behavior.
For years, nothing was heard, which most everyone had considered a blessing. Finally, upon the advent of her graduation, she was invited into the house of her great uncle Langford for a summer visit. It was a well-known secret that the old man harbored hopes of encouraging an engagement between his niece and his adopted son Daniel, which would have had the convenient side effect of only increasing the family’s concentration of wealth and power. While sparks had certainly flown when the two met, they were not the harbingers of a peaceful, happy, and prosperous union so much as they were the slightly dangerous indicators of an extremely volatile relationship. The pair certainly had a unique connection, but neither could seriously entertain the thought of a romantic one.
This had also happened to be the summer in which Cameron spent nearly two months at Vorash Hall, recovering his strength after a particularly vicious injury sustained in the heat of battle. While Daniel’s attraction to Vala had been one of a strange sort of morbid curiosity, Cameron’s had been a slow-growing ember of interest that all too soon flamed into something more. Both sincere and earnest in his attentions, Cameron had honestly intended to do right by Miss Maldoran, despite the vociferous objections from all sides. As Samantha saw it, this had left Vala in a somewhat uncomfortable position, trapped between relations who strongly opposed a match to an only moderately paid Major in the army and the future of spending her life with Daniel, which, while entertaining for the rest of the world, may not have been the most satisfying life. To make matters worse, Samantha had honestly believed that Vala had been attracted to Cameron as well, and the idea had frightened her—she was not the sort of woman with whom deep connections came naturally.
By August, she had obviously had her fill of the situation, and one evening had packed her bags to join a group of gypsies that had been passing through town. Personally, Samantha always thought it had been a brilliant escape—Vala had the sort of mind that was ideally suited for a gypsy’s less-than-legitimate exploits. She had figured that Vala would be happier and Cameron would forget his affection, given time.
Of course, she had recently learned that some affection did not fade away, no matter how much one might wish for them to do so. As such, she was perhaps more sympathetic (and perhaps even a little sentimental) towards Cameron’s plight than she elsewise might be.
“Marry her? You find that you are still that enamored with her, then?” she asked, uncertain of the correct response.
“Yes, quite. And since it now seems that her family has quite relinquished the idea of her entering into a marriage with Daniel—or really, anyone else of respectable background—I have more of a practical chance than I have had previously. The extra income does not hurt the situation, either.”
All of these were good and valid points, but then, there was one other significant item he had neglected to mention. “But Cameron, I do not believe that the Maldoran or even the Langford family had ever been your most substantial challenge.”
At this, he smiled, though Samantha could fathom no reason why he should. “You mean, of course, that Vala is not exactly the type to settle down and submit to marriage with anyone, despite her family’s opinion.”
“Well, you have to admit that she’s extraordinarily strong-willed.”
“You would recognize that!” he teased, an accusation that brought only pride to her features. “I do not wish to change Vala in any way—I am perfectly content to marry her as she is. Despite all of her many and varied objections, I do not believe that she shall be happy living such a solitary life for very much longer—she’s much too social. I even think that she might find some appeal in establishing a home of sorts, as long as it was free of the restrictions that she finds so very binding to her existence. These are things I can offer her, as well as the fact that I love her quite in spite of—maybe even because of—her many…eccentricities. I even believe that I shall be able to provide her with some excitement now and again, if everything goes according to plan.”
His declaration was sweet, in its own strange sort of way, and really, very practical—but then, she was used to hearing nothing but good sense from Cameron Mitchell. “Oh, so you have a plan then?”
“Of course I have a plan. I shall just need your help in carrying it out.”
Intrigued despite herself, Samantha rested her chin her hand. “I’m listening.”
The plan was, and always had been, deceptively simple. From what he knew of Vala’s character firsthand and from what he had deduced in her relationships with others, she was an extraordinarily contrary sort of woman. While she could in no way be in doubt of his affections for her, his chances in actually securing a relationship were, in fact, very small. As evidenced by so many of her life choices, Vala was intrigued by what she could not have, not by what was plainly within her reach. When you compounded this trait with her somewhat substantial streak of pride, you were left with an interesting combination—a woman who did not want easily obtained attentions until they were no longer hers for toying with.
Her patterns of behavior persisted even when they put in jeopardy things that she might legitimately desire—like, as Cameron hoped, a real and defined relationship with him. He was not basing his hopes on his feelings alone—on several occasions last summer, there had been considerable evidence to illustrate that she was by no means as immune to him as she might wish him to believe. In fact, he attributed her genuine interest in him as a factor in her hasty decision to run away—when it came to dealing with real emotions, Vala’s preferred method was to ignore them all together.
All of this he had taken into account when trying to determine a course of action. Once carefully thought over, it was the age-old simplicity of jealousy that he felt had the best chance of being an effective tactic against Vala’s considerable defenses. The combined slight of the idea that someone could so easily toss aside what had been supposed to be violent feelings of love towards her with the apparent ardent attachment of her suitor to another woman might possibly be enough to contrive a situation that would most easily work in his favor.
Now he was faced with the task of convincing Samantha that this course of action was a permissible one. Typically, she was not the sort of person to engage in such complicated intrigues, being a great believer in the concept of straight-forward dealings. However, this was perhaps where her distressed mental state might factor in most advantageously.
“I want to carry out a bit of a farce for Miss Maldoran’s benefit,” he began to explain, choosing his words carefully. “I propose that we—speaking here, of course, of you and I—pretend to form a romantic attachment and even enter into an engagement. Granted, it would be nothing more than a pretense with which to draw Miss Maldoran back here, complete with her somewhat wounded pride and indignation.”
His friend blinked, digesting this information. “Do you really think that will work?”
“Most likely, as long as we’re thorough in our charade. Be sure to be seen around town, then after a few weeks place an announcement of the engagement in the paper…Word gets around, even to women on the verge of exile such as Vala. It would be in her nature to confront me if I am her true desire—if not, then at least I know for certain one way or the other.”
This last point seemed to strike a chord with her, and finally she nodded. “Fine then.”
Honestly, he had not expected to convince her with such ease. “Really? It would mean you’d once more appear to have had a fiancé only to lose him.”
Though the fact was a serious one, it only drew her laughter. “I’ve already had the five—what’s one more jilted lover? As long as I can inform my father of the fallacious nature of the engagement in order to avoid undue interest on his part, I don’t see a problem.”
Strangely now that he had obtained her approval, he felt curiously ill
at ease about the situation. “Samantha—and you must forgive me for perhaps
being a bit impertinent—but if this is going to put any modicum of your own
Her smile was sad. “Cameron, I thank you for your consideration, but believe me when I say that had that been the case, I would have informed you.”
She had not informed him of the specifics of her situation, but then knowing Samantha, it was doubtful that she ever would. Still, he would speak as plainly as he could without knowing the details. “There is no hope, then?”
“There is only the hope that my…preoccupation…will fade, given time.”
From where Cameron sat, that response translated to no hope at all.
Though she had yet to take note of it, Jack’s watch over Samantha Carter was vigilant, utilizing tactics as simple the occasional ride by her dwelling to ascertain the status of things and as complex as setting Walter to paying close attention to the gossip running rampant through town daily. So when he noticed that a new visitor had arrived at Vorash Hall as he passed by, he took no immediate concern.
It was Walter returned from town with more detailed news that his suspicions arose.
“Apparently, sir, the young Lieutenant Colonel is recently promoted and quite the intimate friend of the family. It is not unusual for him to stay several weeks at the Carter residence whether or not the General is there.”
Perhaps a bit imprudent, but not entirely unheard of considering the many live-in servants and other appropriate chaperones. Thus far, he had heard nothing over which to be concerned.
“But there is some speculation as to his timing—with his latest promotion came a substantial raise in income.”
A sinking feeling began settling deep within O’Neill’s stomach, heavy and foreboding. The reasons were two-fold. Firstly, a rise in income meant that the supposedly innocuous family friend could now more than afford to support a wife in a fairly comfortable style. Secondly, there was something to be said for the idea that some men, once introduced to living with money, would always hunger for more—an appetite that could no doubt be satisfied by Samantha’s considerable new dowry.
“Do many suspect him of having anything other than innocent intentions towards Miss Carter?”
This, Walter considered carefully. “There is a mixed opinion. Everyone acknowledges that despite her history, she is an exceedingly agreeable woman, and a decided attraction for any man—perhaps even more of one to a man who wishes to improve his connections within the Army. Still, he has been friendly with the Carters for many years now, and no whisper of romance has ever been uttered between them.”
Suspicious timing then, but nothing that was as of yet condemning. “Walter, please continue to quietly suss out further information.”
“Always, sir,” the ever-helpful man replied. “Now, about these four letters that require a response….”
Impatience swelled in him at the thought of facing tedium like paperwork. “Surely you can handle those, Walter.”
“…Of course, sir,” came the exasperated reply before O’Neill once again found himself alone in the library, mind preoccupied with this recent turn of events. If Mitchell’s intentions turned to the more romantic sort, the distant watch he had been keeping upon Miss Carter in order to preserve his own state of mind would no longer be sufficient to ensure her protection. This meant awkward run-ins and tense situations, both of which were sure to taint even the memory of the happy friendship that had once existed between himself and his comely neighbor.
Looking around the room, he felt a deep sense of discontent. He had intended to expand upon the science tomes within the library even further and make several improvements to the room itself as a wedding present to Samantha, had things between them ever progressed to such a level. He had even had formal plans drawn up, though he had planned to give her free reign to decide the details for herself. Now, this room held little joy for him, knowing that with things in their tense state, she was unlikely to even make use of her standing invitation to borrow a book from his thus far unused collection.
Not for the first time in the last few weeks, he cursed the stroke of ill-fate that had caused Jacob to seek his confidence at that precise moment in time. If perchance he had approached him but half an hour later, things would now be much more happily settled. Instead, he had been relegated to a position of dutiful watching, always keeping in close contact with the object of affections without ever being free to express them.
Sometimes, he wished that he was not the sort of man to worry about details like honor and duty. But had that been the case, then he should never have been even close to the sort of man that a woman like Samantha Carter deserved.
“There is nothing like employment, active indispensable employment, for relieving sorrow.”
Because Samantha could not abide the idea of misleading her friends, both Daniel and Janet were fully informed of the plan Cameron had concocted. Janet seemed a bit skeptical, but her concern seemed to stem more from her general concern over Samantha’s state of mind than the actual design of the plan itself, which she seemed to have no real feelings about other than to admit that if Vala settled in Gateshire even only part-time, it would certainly increase the entertainment the small town had to offer. For his part, Daniel whole-heartedly approved of their machinations, but Samantha suspected that his approval had little to do with the validity of the plan itself and more to do with the fact that if Cameron succeeded in marrying Vala, she would once and for all be out of his hair.
Having Daniel as an ally was helpful because he was one of the few people who had a way to contact their traveling mark, being in possession of a rough sort of map of her typical route around the country and the addresses of several post office boxes she checked semi-regularly. As his part of the deception, he agreed to send her news of their impending engagement.
All of this
left only the task of convincing the public at large of their increasing fond
She had even gotten used to catching the snippets of conversations whispered about them as they made their way about town. While people in Gateshire were avid gossips, they were blessedly unsubtle about it.
that they’ll be married shortly, as Mitchell is being transferred to
“Not the midwife? I thought they were close.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. If Janet Fraiser entered a church, God would strike her down. Don’t you know that there’s a law that midwives can’t go to church?”
“Of course. Everyone knows that. Too much direct contact with…well, it just wouldn’t be appropriate.”
Glancing at Cameron and trying desperately not to laugh, Samantha continued walking down the street away from Mr. Felger and his wife, Chloe. If nothing else, you had to admire his complete lack of information—part of Samantha uncharitably wondered if it took effort to be that dim-witted. To be fair, though, Chloe was really quite sweet—she just made the mistake of following her husband’s lead.
“Do you think they realize that everyone in the vicinity could make out their conversation?” Cameron asked once they were in the clear.
“The beauty of Mr. Felger is that he would never think to notice,” she assured him, laughing.
Right then, she caught a glimpse of what she thought to be Colonel O’Neill across the way—but when she turned in that direction, it was gone.
Scanning the streets quickly before resolving to put O’Neill out of her mind entirely, she lied. “No. Nothing.”
Not a week after Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell’s arrival at Vorash Hall, O’Neill’s deepest concerns had been solidified. Worried that perhaps the entire Carter family had been conned by the younger man, he had immediately written a letter to Jacob expressing his concern over the blossoming situation. By focusing on Jacob’s possible concerns, he somewhat successfully managed to avoid mulling too long over his own—that being the final loss of any chance he had once had with Miss Carter himself.
Still, he saw no reason to purposely subject himself to the painful scenario of interacting with Miss Carter, especially now that her attentions were so clearly bestowed on Mitchell. The near run-in early that week had already been too bittersweet for his liking. If he missed her company a bit more than he might like, well, there was no recourse for it.
However, even Jack O’Neill could not avoid catastrophe forever, and it was on a walk along his far property line that he found himself face to face with the situation he had been concentrating so very carefully on avoiding, for there in his direct line of sight was Samantha, walking arm in arm with her new beau. To make matters worse, she actually looked…contented, smiling up at the man without reservation or hesitation in a manner Jack recalled all too well from weeks past.
There was no way to avoid at least a passing conversation, and so Jack steeled himself for the inevitable, bowing in greeting when it became clear that they had noticed his presence. “I do apologize,” he managed. “I did not intend to intrude.”
“And so you did not,” Mitchell assured him. “We were just enjoying the summer air.”
“Yes…we’ve been experiencing very fine weather,” was O’Neill’s somewhat lackluster observation.
“Indeed, we have…I fear that I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance, though I can certainly guess as to your identity.”
Finally, Miss Carter spoke, having the grace to look embarrassed at her slight. “Forgive me. Cameron, this is Colonel Jack O’Neill. Colonel, this is Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell, my…an old friend of the family.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Jack choked out, head spinning over the implications of her nearly-spoken words.
“Likewise. I’ve heard nothing but the best of you since my arrival.”
Somewhat skeptical, Jack could not help the smirk that crossed his features. “Really? I was under the impression that my reputation was somewhat more…varied…than that.”
“Perhaps,” Mitchell allowed. “But not from those sources which really concern me.”
It was a
generous thing to say, full of the fine civility that indicated a good
education, and to make matters worse in O’Neill’s opinion, he could detect no
trace of insincerity in Mitchell’s tone. Indeed, it was hard to resent a man
such as this, who seemed so genuine in his earnest
“I very sincerely doubt it,” was Mitchell’s fine reply. “Would you care to join us? We were thinking of proceeding to that bit of fine wood ahead before turning back.”
That wood was, in fact, where he had first stumbled across Samantha, and thus the idea of accompanying them held even less joy than it might otherwise. “No. Thank you, but I should be returning. Good day, Mitchell. Miss Carter.”
He turned and fled the way he had come, realizing at some point that other than the somewhat stilted introduction, Miss Carter had not uttered one word during the entire course of the conversation.
Still puzzling over this fact, he returned to his home only to find a letter had arrived in his absence from Jacob Carter. Eagerly, he scanned its contents, only to despair at them.
Cameron Mitchell is an acquaintance of many years, one whom I trust beyond measure. I do not believe that she is in any danger from him. Your concerns, however, are appreciated as the true measure of a friend.
combined with the engagement announcement Walter had discovered in the paper on
Sunday, signaled the end of all hope for Jack O’Neill. He could only wish now
for Samantha’s full and complete happi
With the engagement announcement printed in the paper (and thus, cut out and sent to Vala through the post), Samantha and Cameron could fall a bit lax on their efforts to convince everyone in Gateshire of their mutual affection. Perhaps they had rushed it somewhat, but Cameron felt confident that they had been convincing enough to persuade most of Gateshire, and the finality of putting an announcement in the paper would certainly sway the rest. The freedom from activity allowed Cameron to more thoroughly prepare himself for the eventual outcome of his little charade, whether it be good or ill. However, as a result, it also left Samantha to her own devices.
While normally, this might not have been a problem, Cameron could not help but notice that since the awkward scene with O’Neill a few days past, she had been unusually busy. Three times now he had found her asleep in her lab, burying herself in vials and journals and scientific theories for so many hours that she had exhausted herself beyond measure. He suspected that at least one night, she went entirely without sleep, occupying herself with doing mundane chores around the estate—chores that she paid other people more than generous sums to do.
Cameron was not simple-minded, and had long since deduced that O’Neill must be the man over whom Samantha now found herself in knots. But he knew his friend well enough to know that she would not appreciate any interference on his part, even if it was to express his concern over her behavior. Her frenetic activity was a distraction, something with which to occupy herself while she came to terms with whatever grief it was that weighed on her.
Watching from across the room as she bustled about getting tea ready (and Cameron was quite certain that she had never bothered to prepare tea herself before in her life), he turned to Daniel and Janet. “Is it just me or…?”
“No,” Daniel interrupted, pushing up his spectacles and frowning. “It is definitely not.”
“Right. Good. So she’s definitely….off?”
“If the definition for ‘off’ is trying to work herself to death, then yes,” Janet said dryly.
“Should we try and stop her?” Cameron asked tentatively.
The scathing looks the other two immediately sent his direction were more than enough of an answer. Still, Daniel felt the need to elaborate.
“By all means,” he said with more than a trace of humor in his voice. “Be our guest.”
Cameron wisely decided to abstain. Still, he watched as discreetly as he could over the next few days, growing increasingly worried when the level of frenetic activity showed no signs of cessation.
When she developed a persistent cough after a night spent in the barn baling hay, his concern began to evolve into downright alarm.
~Pride and Prejudice
Coming away from her
most recent swindle, Vala Maldoran
had to admit that there was more than a little to worry about. She was running
low on money—she’d have to resort to pick-pocketing if she wanted some kind of
meal today—and she was running out of people who would partner with her, even
for a sort time. Of course, that may have had something to do with the way she
had systematically cheated nearly every gypsy in the
It wasn’t that she was incapable of running a successful scheme alone—there was no one better at sweet-talking witless aristocrats than Miss Maldoran. It was just that a partnered job was so much more profitable. Not to mention, at least if you had a partner, you had some company. As it stood, Vala had no one with which to banter and no one to annoy—a woeful state of affairs indeed.
Luckily, she happened
to be in a town where one of her mailing addresses was located, and she could
bet on a letter waiting for her from Daniel. Daniel’s letters always held a
refreshing dose of sarcasm and sweet
Walking into the post office, she greeted the man behind the desk with a friendly (and surprisingly genuine) smile. “Good morning, Mr. Smith. How have you been?”
“Miss Maldoran! How do y’do?” the man’s accent was thick, but his demeanor was charming. “I was figurin’ on seein’ ye soon, seein’ as I got a nice stack’o mail for ye.”
A ‘nice stack’o mail’ translated to three letters, each written in Daniel’s precise hand. Perhaps she would not have to resort to petty thievery today after all.
A shame, that.
One cordial goodbye to Mr. Smith, three letters, and ten pounds later, Vala could do nothing but stare at the last piece of correspondence in abject horror. Cameron was engaged? To Samantha Carter? The mind boggled at such a thought.
Not that she disliked Miss Carter—in fact, she was one of the few people in Gateshire who seemed to have a brain as well as a sense of humor, a rare combination indeed. But the idea of Miss Carter marrying Cameron Mitchell, who had spent so many hours last summer assuring Vala that this very event would never come to pass, was very disconcerting for her. Granted, it had been her choice to walk away from Cameron and all the various…complications…he presented, but that did not give him the right to just…get over her!
No. It simply was not possible that Cameron had completely put aside the emotions that had run so deeply within him less than twelve months past. And if he had not, then he was using Miss Carter abominably ill, something that Vala could not abide.
She would simply have to go back to Gateshire and tell him so.
Vala appeared on scene even more promptly than Cameron could have dreamed, and with her quick arrival he finally knew the answer to the questions he had so long held about the nature of her heart. While she might never admit it, she cared for him too—perhaps even more than cared. Now he just had to make sure not to show his hand too soon.
Situating himself most advantageously on the front lawn, he had a wonderful view of her arrival. “Why, Miss Maldoran,” he said by way of greeting as she led her horse into the drive. “What a pleasant surprise.”
Dismounting her horse with haste, she glared at him. “Cameron, do stop the ridiculous act. You know full well why I’ve come.”
Feigning innocence was a skill Cameron had perfected as a young boy with a nose for trouble. “Indeed, I do not, though the pleasure of your company is always appreciated.”
Frustrated, she waved a newspaper clipping in front of his face. “This! This is why I’m here!”
“Ah, so you’ve heard. Come to extend your well-wishes, then?” he asked pleasantly.
“Bullocks. I’ve come to box your ears! How dare you do this?”
“Last time I checked, getting married was no serious crime.”
“Well, that’s certainly up for debate, but it is a very serious matter indeed when you are marrying one woman less than a year after swearing undying devotion to another!”
He frowned at that. “I certainly never said such a ridiculous thing.”
“I recall it with perfect clarity.”
“You must be mistaken,” he dismissed easily. “And even if I had made such a proclamation, what would it matter? You rejected my every advance last summer.”
A sultry look flashed in her dark eyes. “Not every advance.”
Heat flushed through him, but he held his composure. “Near enough. What difference does it make to you that I’ve transferred my affections on a more…agreeable…lady?”
The idea of Samantha being agreeable to his advances was laughable, but there was no need for Vala to know such a thing. “I find it objectionable because it is not possible! No one falls out of love so readily, especially not a man such as you. You’re simply using Miss Carter, a fact that I find despicable in the extreme.”
“Is it so difficult to believe that I was perhaps not as enamored with you as we once both believed?” he asked, extremely diverted by this turn of conversation and her so-called righteous indignation.
Playing at boredom with the subject, he glanced at the quickly clouding sky, heaving a sigh. “If you insist on continuing further with this line of argument, we’d best proceed inside. It is going to rain.”
She followed him in, lecturing all the way.
This was working out better than he had hoped.
Due to being a costal town, Gateshire often experienced a few weeks during the summer where they were subjected to a remarkable number of severe thunderstorms. No one really minded too much—after all, too much water was certainly preferable to not having enough. Everyone simply adjusted their schedules to get all outdoor chores finished before , because during these few weeks it was anyone’s guess if after that would be clear or fraught with turmoil.
As such, Samantha Carter was trying to hurry back to the shelter of the house, eyeing the storm clouds rolling in with a challenging sort of air. She had ventured out to a far property line to survey the damage a flooded creek had wreaked upon a small storage shed there. Pleased to see that it was not as dire as she had feared, she had resolved to fix it tomorrow—there was obviously little more time today. The niggling and persistent cough she had been dealing with the past few weeks scratched at her throat in the cooling air, and she had the passing fancy that she might even take a bit of a nap when arriving home.
Her path back to the house followed the roiling water for a good bit, and while this normally would not have been anything of note, today she could not help but notice a particularly mournful sound coming from amidst the angry waters. Scanning the expanse before her, she was startled to locate a little bundle of shivering greyhound puppy huddled on a tiny island of leaves and other debris. Sure enough, at a second glance, it was definitely Thor, looking more distraught than she had ever seen the poor creature.
Glancing at the sky, she knew that he could not be left there—if the storm was as vicious as it promised to be, his little sanctuary would be washed out in no time. With that resolved, she began to strip down to her undergarments, eyeing the distance between her and the dog with uncertainty. “Oh, boy,” she muttered before wading in.
It took all of her strength to struggle against the violent current towards Thor, and several times as her feet slipped against the slick bottom of the stream she wondered if she would make it. But finally, she grasped onto a branch near Thor’s tail. Upon seeing her, the young animal had stopped howling, simply watching her progress with large eyes and a wagging tail. Now that she was nearer, she could see the fine shiver that had overcome the animal, and felt for him. “Poor dear,” she crooned, reaching for him. “I do wonder how you got here at all.”
He offered no explanation, but did lick her cheek by way of greeting. “Let’s get out of this mess, shall we?”
Thor seemed to agree, and nestled under her arm with no struggle at all. The journey back to shore seemed worse somehow, and by the time she was on solid land once again, she had to admit to feeling a bit light-headed. “Well, that was certainly an adventure,” she remarked to Thor, now cradled in her arms. “At least we’re out of the wet.”
That was when it began to rain in great, heavy sheets.
The rain did not deter Jack O’Neill, who stubbornly remained on horseback as he searched frantically for his beloved pet. He admittedly spoiled the creature and did not allow him outside without supervision, especially in weather such as this. Unfortunately, one of his butlers, a man of rather sour disposition ironically named Makepeace, had let Thor loose sometime that morning, and the puppy had not been seen or heard from since.
Teal’c, ever obliging and knowing how much the animal meant to his friend, had gone off in one direction, while O’Neill had been faithfully searching the other. But he had reached the far property line some time ago and was now resorting to riding along it, scanning the horizon as best as he could through the severe weather. Despite all this, he refused to give up—Thor was such a small creature that he feared for his safety, and O’Neill could not abide it if something grievous happened to his small companion.
His eyes caught on a blurred figure in the distance, over the fence onto the Carter property. It was certainly too big to be Thor, and seemed, in fact, to be a person—but what would someone be doing walking through these horrible conditions? Determined to help, O’Neill led his horse to jump the fence and gallop towards the slow-moving silhouette.
As he came closer, he was startled to realize that it was Miss Carter herself, drenched through to the skin and shivering violently. It was no wonder, either, as besides being drenched, she appeared to be wearing very little. “Miss Carter!” he called over the pounding of the rain. “What in heaven’s name are you doing out in this?”
A pale face with blue-tinged lips peered up at him. “I was saving your dog, if you must know.” Now he could see Thor cuddled in her arms, shivering nearly as violently as his rescuer. “I would have been home in plenty of time, but he was stranded in the middle of the stream. I was forced to fish him out.”
Taking the dog from her, he cuddled Thor into a somewhat dry saddlebag. “I am in your debt. Allow me to take you home.”
“Oh, no, it’s all right. Not that far now,” she insisted, though her glazed expression was more than a little alarming.
“Miss Carter, I fear that I must insist. Come now, up.”
After no small amount of struggle, she was situated in front of him on the saddle, teeth chattering and body unconsciously huddling closer to him, searching out whatever warmth he might have to offer.
Five minutes into the ride, he realized that it was in fact she who was providing all the warmth—she was burning with fever. Alarmed, he pressed a hand to her cheek. “Miss Carter, how are you feeling?”
When he received no reply, he repeated stubbornly, “Miss Carter?”
Finally twisting her a
bit in the saddle so as to ascertain her condition, he realized that she had
passed into unconscious
It was a grave sign, and it was with no small amount of dread in his heart that he spurred his horse into action. As soon as he caught sight of the Vorash Hall stables, he dismounted. His steed would find its way into the barn by itself, where the stable hands could look after him. He could spare no time. Situating Samantha in his arms (and, at the last moment, remembering to pull Thor out of the saddlebag to trot at his side), he made a dash for the main house.
His arrival was dramatic in the extreme, a loud clamor of the door being pushed in that drew Cameron Mitchell and a woman he did not recognize to the foyer. With his gaze fixed on Samantha’s too pale face, Jack said the only thing he could.
“She needs a doctor.”
“Ladies can never look ill.”
Janet was not a doctor, but she was the closest they could do on short notice—and Sam had a long history of trusting Janet and her herbs over doctors and their leeches, anyway. Still, when she emerged from Samantha’s bedroom with a drawn and worried face, Cameron knew that this was no trifling cold they were dealing with.
Jack O’Neill sat in the corner, head in his hands and refusing to say a word, cordial or otherwise—but refusing to move, as well. A small gray puppy curled up on his lap, as though it too was waiting for whatever would happen next. When Janet exited Samantha’s room and shut the door behind her with a final-sounding click, they both raised their heads, and the cold desperation painted across O’Neill’s features struck Cameron as the worst sort of feeling that could possess a man.
Wiping her hands on her apron, Janet took a moment to gather herself before speaking. “I fear that the situation is very dire. The cough that has worried us for so many weeks—“
At this point, O’Neill interrupted, looking vexed in the extreme. “She has had a cough? Why has no one done anything for her?”
The insinuation that he had not been attentive to his friend’s health was vexing, and Cameron did not take to it well. “Samantha does not take kindly to those who interfere where they are not wanted. We watched as vigilantly as possible, but what was to be done? Should we have tied her to the bed, forced her rest and drink broth until it dissipated?”
“If you had to,” O’Neill snapped.
Exasperation filled Cameron—even though he had admittedly considered a very similar course of action. “Yes, because she would have taken that so well!”
“Would it matter, as long as she was healthy?” O’Neill’s tone was defiant and Cameron could have sworn that even the dog was glaring at him. Come to think of it—
“I’m not the one who let his dog run wild!”
“Gentlemen! This is not helping Samantha, and it is certainly not endearing to the rest of us,” Janet interjected, looking between them so sternly that Cameron could not help but feel sheepish. “Now, as I was saying, the cough that has so persistently plagued her has now evolved into a particularly virulent bronchial fever. I will do what I can, but I fear that she is in an extreme state of danger.”
“What is to be done?” asked Vala quietly from the corner where she had ensconced herself.
“The fever must be broken before there can be much hope, and that shall be no small task.” Here Janet hesitated, as though saying her next words would make the situation even more serious. “It may be wise to bring her father home—just in case things do not turn.”
Harsh reality began to settle low and heavy in Cameron’s gut, and the idea that he had been so preoccupied by his own silly machinations that his friend’s life was now at stake weighed heavily on his mind. Luckily, O’Neill took charge.
“Mitchell, do you know where General Carter is stationed? It’s about a day’s ride, if you leave now,” he asked, looking resolute upon this course of action.
“Of course. I shall leave at once.”
O’Neill nodded, face now stoic with the resolution of what must be done. “I shall stay here to aid Mrs. Fraiser in her efforts.”
Unconventional, to be certain, but judging from the defiant expression in his eyes, O’Neill would not be swayed. To Cameron’s surprise, Vala spoke up once again. “I shall also stay, to help in whatever manner I can.” With a surprising amount of sympathy, she moved towards Cameron then, as though to comfort him. “Cameron, I….”
He took her hands, bringing them to his lips and pressing them there for a brief moment. “I must go.”
So began one of the longest nights in Jack O’Neill’s life. After Janet and Vala had managed to change Samantha into dry clothing, he was allowed into her bedchambers—though admittedly, Mr. Siler tried to prevent such a breech in etiquette. Jack would not be deterred however, and once inside her room, there he stayed, stationing himself resolutely at her bedside. While Mrs. Fraiser busied herself with teas and poultices and Miss Maldoran took charge of boiling water, rinsing out laundry, and making broth, Jack simply sat, watching and waiting.
Normally healthy skin was now unnaturally flushed, tendrils of golden hair sticking to a sweat-covered forehead. When she was still, he wiped her skin with a damp cloth, trying to chase away the fever that held her in its grasp. When she shivered violently with chills that wracked her body, he made sure the covers were tight around her. When she coughed and gasped for breath, he propped her up, smoothing a gentle hand down her back in an attempt to ease the spasms. When she thrashed with fever-induced nightmares, he could only hold her hand and wait.
Waiting was the worst part. When waiting, there was nothing to distract him from the fear that had encompassed his entire being or from the heavy amounts of blame that he felt now rested on his shoulders. Once again, someone he loved was in danger, and once again, he could only see it as his fault.
It was a few hours before dawn that Mrs. Fraiser performed another examination, brow furrowed with concentration while counting out pulse beats and judging the strength of Samantha’s fever. “Any improvement?” he asked, wanting to be hopeful and knowing that it was a fool’s dream.
“Very little, I fear,” Janet confirmed, pulling away. “You should get some sleep. I believe one of the extra guest bedrooms has been made up. Your friend Mr. Teal’c arrived a few hours ago and is now resting in one, I believe.”
“No.” His reply was soft, but firm.
“We can wake you if anything changes. Please. You’re not entirely out of danger yourself, you know—you got just as drenched as she.”
“I’m not leaving her, Mrs. Fraiser. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can get back to the work of saving your friend’s life.”
Exasperated, she seemed to be searching her mind for another reason to insist on his departure. Finally, she said, “You know, I don’t know if it’s appropriate for you to be in here with her, no chaperone in sight.”
Now she was just grasping at straws. “Don’t be offensive. She’s hardly in any…besides, she’s en….” Stumbling over his words, he finally came up with the perfect response. “We have a chaperone.”
A quizzical eyebrow raise was her silent response and he managed a wan sort of smirk, pointing to the corner of the bed where Thor lay, watching over them all with his typical serious expression.
Her expression softened and finally, Janet nodded. “Fine then. Just take care—of yourself as well as of her.”
He shooed her away, back to her teas and the faint hope that Samantha’s strength of character would yet prevail over her deathly condition.
Jacob stared out of the window of the carriage, willing it to go faster, to magically transport himself to his sick daughter’s bedside. Cameron had arrived at dawn, grave and serious in his summons, and news from home had not been so unwelcome to Jacob since his wife’s death.
Silence echoed, heavy and foreboding in the small contained area with Cameron sitting across from him. “You know, her mother died at twenty-six. I had hoped never to be in this position again.”
“Samantha is a woman of extraordinary will. She may yet pull through. Sending for you was more of a…precaution.”
He was uncertain whether the optimism was reassuring or tiresome, but then a man who was facing the loss of his only child could be forgiven for not being more congenial company. “Who is with her?”
“Mrs. Fraiser is acting as her physician—the doctor is away for the month and Samantha always trusted Janet’s judgment more than anything. Miss Vala Maldoran arrived yesterday morning, and was determined to stay and help where she could. And of course, Colonel O’Neill refused to leave her side.”
Now there was a piece of interesting news. “O’Neill? Jack O’Neill?”
“The very same.”
“But what has he got to do with this whole affair?”
“O’Neill was the one who found her, soaked and feverish. He hastened her home and has not left since.” After a moment’s consideration, the younger man’s face softened a little. “I believe that he loves her very much.”
The suggestion was a strange one at first, and Jacob could hardly believe it. “I was under the impression that their friendship was only that.”
Such a concept seemed to amuse Cameron. “I am afraid that I am not privy to any details regarding their situation, but judging from the behavior I have perceived in both of them since my arrival, I am fairly confident that you are mistaken. I do in fact wonder why things have not been resolved between them previous to this, as both seem so clearly taken with the other that it is painfully evident for anyone dear to them.”
Evident, perhaps, to
everyone except her own father. Fearing that his misconceptions had permanently
endangered any chance of his daughter’s future happi
If they did, he owed Jack O’Neill a great and weighty apology.
Exhausted and wondering exactly how she had gotten mired in this situation, Vala Maldoran sat in the parlor, waiting. Whether she was waiting for further instructions, waiting for something to happen, or waiting for nothing at all, she did not know—she was simply waiting.
Upstairs lay a woman who held more hearts than Vala could even hope to touch, being a recipient of the love of friends and a father and, as was becoming increasingly apparent, two good men. She couldn’t help but wonder what that would be like—her current lifestyle afforded many advantages of freedom, but it also tended to be a very solitary living. Vala had no one on which to rely other than herself. While this had been part of the appeal at first, it was now, perhaps, wearing a little thin. She could not help but recollect that there had been a time not so very long ago that she may have ended up in a different position, but she had run from the implications such a connection held.
This was perhaps the first time that those implications seemed desirable rather than binding.
A figure appeared at the door and she smiled at it. “There’s my Daniel,” she said fondly.
“Vala!” Daniel exclaimed, looking a bit like a put-out fish. “What are you doing here?”
She shrugged, using the shield of bravado that came so easily to her. “I could sense from across the country that you missed me, obviously.”
He scoffed, but sat next to her with a bit of a smile nonetheless. “Yes, of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Why, indeed?” she replied. “If you’ve come to check on your friend, I’m sorry to say that there’s been no news one way or the other.”
“Are you? Sorry, I mean.”
“Daniel, dear. Don’t be ridiculous. You know how I love news.”
They fell into silence, and because she knew Daniel better than almost anyone and because she knew when Daniel was brooding, she ended up clasping his hand in a silent offer of support. “I am sorry she’s ill, Daniel. I know she’s very dear to you.”
For his part, he peered at her through those spectacles of his and managed a small smile. “You know, I do believe you are. Thank you.”
Feeling irked at his continual underestimation of her character, she pulled away. “Even I have a heart, Daniel.”
With a gentle hand, he turned her face back towards his, blue eyes wide and sincere. “I never doubted it for a moment.”
That drew a small smile from her as well, and she rested her forehead on his shoulder. “I think maybe I did.”
Dawn came and went and Jack stayed awake, if for no other reason than to ascertain the reality of Samantha’s breathing, which was slowly become more regular and even. Hope began to take root, curling insidiously inside him waiting to either be vindicated or struck down.
Mostly, he sat in silence, unable to do anything but wait for what would happen. Sometimes, one of the ladies in the house would join him—Mrs. Fraiser made periodic attempts to compel him into movement and Miss Maldoran seemed not to know what to make of him at all, both touched and befuddled by his extreme behavior.
It wasn’t until Jacob’s arrival that Jack felt there was anyone present with whom he had things in common—here was a man who loved Samantha as much as he. Tired and drawn with unabashedly red-rimmed eyes, Jacob came to Samantha’s side, a large and tan hand brushing against the dry, heated skin of her forehead. “How is she?” the general asked, voice heavy with emotion.
“A little better, I think. Mrs. Fraiser would be able to tell you more specifically.”
The hand that had just been touching his daughter so reverently came to rest on Jack’s shoulder, a solid and empathetic weight. “You stayed with her all night?”
“Yes.” There was a defiant tone to his response, ready to take to task anyone who insinuated that his actions were less than appropriate. But instead, Jacob just squeezed his shoulder.
Jack nodded, not knowing what else there was to say. Luckily, it seemed like Jacob had his own ideas on that score. “Colonel O’Neill…I believe that I owe you an apology.”
Not sure what he meant, Jack waited, hoping to get further clarification. Luckily, Jacob promptly gave it. “It seems that in my great concern for my daughter’s well-being, I inadvertently prevented that which would have made her—and you, I believe—the happiest.”
This conversation was not one that Jack was eager to have—it revolved around a subject too private and near to his heart to be so closely examined. “That is of no consequence now,” he said gruffly.
“Then you do not deny that you love my daughter?”
To that, Jack could say
nothing at all. Fortunately, he did not have to, because that was the moment
when Samantha’s eyes fluttered and opened, her voice rough from dry
Jacob gave a shout and there was a great flurry of excitement. Jack pulled away, faded into the background to watch. When Janet took Miss Carter’s pulse and felt her forehead and continued to smile, he knew that Samantha had managed it.
She had won.
It was all the information Jack required, and with that peace of mind he slipped out of the room, not hearing the nearly inaudible and somewhat disbelieving, “Jack?” that issued from the direction of the bed a few moments later.
“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”
A few days later, Sam
was all but recovered, and feeling more than a little foolish for putting
everyone through such an ordeal. Although everyone insisted that it was no
imposition at all, she was certain it must have been, though she had no way of
proving it—the memory of her ill
Now that she was back on her feet, her father was once again being called away. Walking him to the door arm in arm because she was as of yet forbidden from venturing further by Janet, Sam reflected that she was a uniquely fortunate woman after all—engaged or not.
“I’m very glad you came,” she said to Jacob, completely sincerely. Her first memory upon awakening was hearing his voice. Of course, her second was catching a glimpse of Colonel O’Neill, and as she knew that could be nothing but wishful thinking, she doubted the authenticity of the first. Still, there had been a comfort in his presence that could not be given by anything but the love of a parent.
He tightened his hold around her. “You must just promise never to scare me like that again—I could not bear it.”
“I shall do my best. How long do you think you’ll be gone this time?”
Surprisingly, he mulled quite a bit over his answer. “Oh, I think you can count on me being around much more frequently from now on. This whole thing has been a bit of a revelation for me. I’ve been neglecting you for a long time—so long that I cringe to recollect it. But no longer. You are my only daughter, and you are precious to me—that is worth more than any military position.”
Feeling strangely emotional at her father’s unexpected outburst of emotion, Sam swallowed back the fit of tears that threatened. “I…would like that.”
“Good!” he said, squeezing her again before stepping out the door. “Besides, I suppose I shall have to come back before too long for a wedding.”
Puzzled over that remark, she called back, “But Dad, you know that Cameron and I are not….”
“Of course not!” he interrupted, an almost gleeful tone in his voice. “That was not the wedding to which I was referring.”
He made his departure then, leaving her in a bit of wonderment over his meaning. Finally, she concluded that he must have been referring to the hopeful nuptials of Cameron and Vala—though why that event should bring him so much joy, she had no idea.
Now that Miss Carter was well again, Vala found that she felt rather unnecessary, intruding upon the privacy of Cameron and Miss Carter when she was obviously not needed or wanted. Seeing as this was the case, she resolved to take her leave—after exchanging some parting words with Cameron.
She found him sitting in the garden, studying a book about…sailing? Puzzled by that, Vala pushed it aside and cleared her throat.
When he looked up and smiled at the sight of her, she felt a curious sort of pang in her heart, wishing that his smile meant the same thing now as it had meant last summer. “Well, I think I’ll be going now,” she said.
Strangely, he seemed surprised at this. “Just like that?”
Confused now, she tentatively replied, “Um…yes? There doesn’t seem to be any reason for me to stay.”
Closing his book and putting it aside, he stood, coming nearer to her. “I had hoped you would stay for the wedding.”
The idea of being present while Cameron vowed to love another woman, even one as worthy as Miss Carter, was infinitely distasteful. “Sorry to disappoint.”
Now, he seemed amused. But really, his behavior was so scattered that she could not for the life of her determine what it all meant. “You have a curious sort of expression on your face. Is there some reason that the thought of my marrying Miss Carter bothers you so?”
“I never said it bothered me,” she corrected, glaring at him defiantly. He was precariously close now, looming directly over her with that strange, self-satisfied smirk on his face.
“But it does,” he stated bluntly.
At her hotly issued denial, he stepped away from her, which was both a relief and a disappointment. “Ah. I see. Too bad. If it had, I may have reassessed the whole thing.”
She certainly hadn’t been expecting that. “You would have?”
Carelessly, he shrugged, as though his answer was of no consequence at all. “Well, considering that she and I were never engaged to begin with….”
Her mind did not seem to be able to correctly assimilate this information. “But…there was the announcement…and….” She trailed off, puzzling it out for herself. “It was all…a ploy? And Daniel…he knew?”
“Yes. He was immensely helpful. But it seems that all my plotting has come to nothing, as obviously, you do not care for me in the slightest.”
Now recognizing the entire ruse for what it was, instead of being angry, she was strangely…intrigued. One step at a time, she sidled towards him again, the beginnings of a smile on her face. “You plotted for me?”
He leaned down and nuzzled his nose against her ear, a hot breath washing down her neck. “Vala, my dear, I didn’t merely plot. I schemed.”
Closing her eyes and leaning towards him, she smiled. “I think that is the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard of.”
His low chuckle sent a
delicious wave of shivers through her. “Good. Marry me then. I’m going to
resign from my position in the Army. We’ll live here half the year and on a
trading ship to and from
The promise made her smile, but her mind was still mulling over his captivating plan for their future. “A ship?”
“Mmm, yes. A trading ship on the high seas. There could be intrigues, you know, and daring escapes. Perhaps even pirates.”
With a laugh, she kissed him. “Sounds…perfect.”
In celebration of their recently secured engagement, Samantha threw Cameron and Vala a garden party the next afternoon, with a small group of friends sipping champagne and making conversation. Cameron could not help but look around the room and feel a supreme sense of satisfaction—not to mention luck—that everything had ended so fortuitously. Scheming was not something that came easily to him, and had it not been for the aid of these loyal friends, he might have never succeeded in gaining his heart’s desire.
Speaking of, next to him, Vala seemed to be enjoying the company almost as much as he was. She, Samantha, and Janet got along famously, debating hot-topic issues like women wearing men’s clothing (a notion he found strangely appealing) and what subjects Cassandra might get the most use of knowing in the future, as her education was about to begin (they all seemed to have a curious vendetta against needlework).
Next to them, Daniel, Teal’c, and Cameron could barely keep up with the constant flow of conversation, instead turning to each other for entertainment and leaving the women to their own devices. “So, when will you be married?”
“As soon as possible,” Cameron assured the Daniel, who looked curiously relieved. “I have resigned my commission as an officer in the Army, having finally obtained the rank I desired, and have now taken a private job with a new trading company that’s to set up shop right here in town—Atlantis Shipping and Trade Co., I believe it’s called.”
“I think I’ve heard tell of that. Run by a…John Sheppard?”
“Yes. He’s an old friend of mine who was so obliging as to grant me a job as the Captain of one of his vessels. He’s even allowing Vala to travel with me, which you can imagine is quite unusual on a trading vessel such as this.”
Daniel smiled fondly. “She’ll take to it better than you, I’d guess.”
Cameron laughed. “I have no doubt.”
That was when Jack O’Neill burst onto the patio through the double doors and, without a word, struck Cameron with enough force to throw him to the ground.
Jack O’Neill had experienced the gamut of emotions in his lifetime, but there were very few times he could recall being this angry. He fairly seethed with the emotion, and had ever since hearing of Cameron Mitchell’s impending marriage…to Vala Maldoran! The very idea that someone could so callously toss aside Samantha Carter was inconceivable to him, and because he lacked the fine manners required when comforting crying women, he opted for the more abrupt action of beating Cameron Mitchell within an inch of his life as punishment for his crime.
The first punch took the unsuspecting man down, and even though he did not wish to, Jack waited until he was back on his feet before charging towards him once again. A commotion arose from the crowd gathered and a flurry of hands and strident voices attempted to stop him, but all of this he ignored—he would have hit Cameron a second time had one set of hands he knew all too well not come to rest on his arm.
Turning, he took in the sight of a refreshingly healthy, but thoroughly startled and more than a little exasperated Samantha Carter. “Colonel O’Neill!” she scolded. “What in heaven’s name do you think you are doing?”
Puzzled, he studied her. Although there was more than a little bewilderment in her gaze and anger coloring her cheeks, she certainly did not look like a distraught and jilted lover. “…Defending your honor?”
Confusion now darkened her eyes, as though she could not possibly fathom what he was about, while the group surrounding them seemed to back up at once, moving towards the house in an almost choreographed manner. “That’s very…sweet, I suppose. But my honor is not at stake, and even if it was, I would be perfectly capable of defending it myself.”
Frustration swept through him, even as he acknowledged the truth of her statement. “I do not doubt it. Still, you should not have to, and someone must.” Jack could not help but notice when, one by one, the other guests disappeared indoors to tend to the wounded soldier, leaving him alone with Samantha. All of this only served to exacerbate his frustration. “He was engaged…to you. And now…he’s engaged to her. Something must be done!” he insisted.
Her laughter, while a familiar and welcome sound, was a bit befuddling. “Well, you’re right on one account anyway.” Seeing that he still did not comprehend the truth of the matter, she clarified, “We were never engaged.”
Not engaged? Was such a thing possible? Jack could not quite understand how such a thing could be. “…But then, why the charade?”
A shrug was the only ready reply she had. “Miss Maldoran is a curious sort of woman. Cameron thought that it might be best to go about wooing her by a more…circumspect route.”
“You mean, by wooing someone else?”
“Well, appearing to, anyway,” she confirmed.
So many emotions swamped him all at once that Jack felt compelled to sit down, finding himself now confronted with possibilities he had thought always closed to him. There was anger there still, though it was fading fast, and bafflement, and, most welcome of all, relief. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
A raised eyebrow accompanied her next remark, the tone of which was perhaps a bit sharper than he would have liked. “When, exactly, would I have had the chance? Besides, I did not think it would matter to you. You had gone out of your way to make it abundantly clear that your feelings towards me were…nothing of consequence.”
At the very idea, he had to close his eyes. Apparently, his careful attempts at appearing indifferent had succeeded. “Miss Carter…I…believe me when I say that my behavior, while probably erratic from your point of view, can all be explained. What is most important right now is that you know how very…untrue…that is.”
She seemed very still now, as though if she moved this whole scene might fade away. He could sympathize. “…Really?”
Taking a deep breath,
he stood, walking close to her and brushing a thumb down her cheekbone as he
had so long ago, the sweet
Incredulity swamped every feature of her face as her expression wavered somewhere between a smile and a frown. “I feel as though I should still be angry at you for everything you’ve put me through these last months.”
“Me! What about you, with the engagement that wasn’t an engagement and the nearly dying?” he protested, sidling even closer to her.
She looked a bit sheepish at that, smiling and tilting her head to meet his eyes. “You make a fair point. How about we call it even?”
“I could live with that. You still have not answered my question, though.”
In the split second that she deliberated, he was fully prepared to offer her anything, to agree to whatever conditions she might lay down, if only she would agree. Luckily, he didn’t have to, for the next and only word out of her mouth was what he most wanted to hear.
After much coaxing, the rest of the party joined the happy couple on the patio where they resumed their festivities, now having twice the cause to celebrate. Mr. Siler, ever anticipating his mistress’s needs, brought out a fresh bottle of champagne for toasting and soon, everyone had forgotten the taxing events of months past in favor of the joy now facing them.
As Jack surveyed the scene, friends surrounding him and the woman he had so long desired close by his side, he could feel decidedly saccharine thoughts coming upon him. Mitchell, as it turned out, was not a bad sort of man—he had even been gracious about his newly acquired black eye, seemingly too enamored with his own recently secured fiancée to worry over such trivialities. Mrs. Fraiser and Teal’c seemed surprisingly cozy, and for his part, Daniel was obviously content to simply….
At that moment, O’Neill had a curious insight. “Teal’c,” he exclaimed slowly. “You…were here. Before me, I mean. At the party.”
Sending a look his way that Jack had long since interpreted as ‘what’s your point?’, Teal’c only said, “Yes, O’Neill.”
“But…how did you...I mean….” The stammered words conveyed the depths of Jack’s bewilderment.
“Janet Fraiser was kind enough to invite me to the festivities,” Teal’c explained helpfully.
Jack tried to wrap his mind around this new information. “So…you knew. About…everything?”
Teal’c blinked. “Indeed. Janet Fraiser explained the situation while issuing her invitation.”
Now thoroughly exasperated, Jack exclaimed, “Well, why didn’t you say anything?”
Teal’c merely blinked again by way of a response—which, as far as Jack was concerned, was no response at all.
Next to him, a laughing Sam squeezed his arm. “Perhaps he thought that your case needed the added effect of a dramatic entrance.”
She rolled her eyes at his petulance, but kept smiling nonetheless. “No. But it certainly was entertaining.”
Before the end of summer, there were two weddings, and Jacob Carter came home for each of them. Gateshire as a whole could not quite believe it when Samantha Carter, with her six previous fiancés, actually managed to make it down the aisle—and with such a respected man, no less!
But, for the first time in her life, she was blissfully unaware of whatever they might have said against her, being too happy in her new circumstances to care even the slightest about what other people thought. She lived with her frustrating, ridiculous, and beloved husband, the enigmatic and observant Teal’c, and the steadfastly loyal puppy Thor in Cheyenne Manor most happily. For a wedding present, Jack gave her the library to remodel as he had always planned—and for his part, Teal’c began to convert the conservatory into a laboratory. This, of course, sent Walter into fits—but they paid no more attention to him than they did anyone else.
Cameron and Vala took up residence in Vorash Hall’s carriage house when they were in town. Jacob, who was home much more often than not these days, enjoyed the company. Daniel visited often, and some time many months later, Teal’c admitted to a deep and ardent admiration for Janet Fraiser.
It took many by surprise when she returned the sentiment.
So it was a thoroughly satisfied Jack O’Neill that went through his post now, smiling at the package that had finally arrived. Tucking it under his arm, he did not have to think twice about where to locate his wife.
Sure enough, she was ensconced in her laboratory, examining something through a looking glass with great intensity. “I have a surprise for you,” he said cheerfully upon entering.
Looking up, she gifted him with the brilliant smile he loved so dearly. “Hmm. Flowers?”
He scoffed at the idea. “Please. I would never stoop to such clichéd horrors.”
“Candies, I suppose?”
“Well, what is it then?”
Without any further ado, he handed her the parcel that had arrived in the mail. It was one of her beloved scientific journals, and on the cover was boldly typed The Behavior of Thermodynamic Reactions as Observed in a Practical Model.
More importantly, underneath it read, A Study in Three Parts by S. O’Neill.
She studied it for a moment almost reverently before putting it down so that she was free to kiss him thoroughly.
“Well, you are certainly a singularly unique sort of man, Colonel O’Neill,” she allowed with a smile.
“Coming from the happily married woman working in a laboratory, I’ll take that as a compliment,” he retorted before embracing his wife once more.