SEASON:Four

SPOILERS: Big for Divide & Conquer, minor for The Tok'ra, In The Line of Duty.

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Conquering the Divide

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*I didn't leave ... because I'd have rather died myself ... than lose Carter. Why? Because I care about her ... A lot more than I'm supposed to. *

Jack took another swig of his beer as the words echoed in his head. They had been haunting him all afternoon, taunting him, tormenting him. He had been forced to tell his deepest secret, in circumstances that he had never imagined having the secret told. To a group of people that he would never have imagined telling that secret to. It was meant for one person and one person only. Admittedly, that person was present in the room, but the situation was nothing like he had ever wanted it to be.

He had wanted it all to go so differently, he had wanted it to be a romantic moment when the worries about the future of their careers were not a factor to dissuade them. He had imagined touching her face, telling her how he felt tenderly. He had certainly never thought that he would be strapped to a seat and forced to say how he felt under duress. Worse yet, to hear what she had to say under the same circumstance. To make matters worse he had agreed afterwards that none of it had to leave the room, embarrassment at the time making it easy for him dismiss. Now he regretted it.

Then things managed to get even more screwed up, if that was possible. Arriving in the Gate Room just in time, they discovered Martouf was the Za'tarc and managed to stop him, right before he opened fire on the President. They had been forced to kill him. Sam had been forced to kill him.

He had never really understood the relationship between Sam and Martouf and he realized that more than ever as he watched her, cradling his head in her lap as she sobbed. He regretted not going up to her, pulling her away from his body. But he hadn't. He stood and watched until Janet had led her away.

He hated to admit that he had never liked Martouf. The fact that he constantly watched Sam with those puppy dog eyes was pathetic. He was jealous of him, not for the puppy dog looks, but the fact that Sam seemed to return his affections. That made him feel guilty. He was sure that nothing had ever happened between the two of them, more so now than ever before, but that didn't stop her from experiencing strong feelings for the man. It certainly wouldn't have lessened the impact on her for having to kill him.

Here was where his confusion lay. He had watched her cradling his head tenderly, lovingly. It had made him so jealous, so unsure whether he had actually heard correctly what she had admitted to during the retesting, or whether he was just hearing what he wanted to hear. But he knew what he heard was true; just as he knew that the emotions that she was expressing then were what was left over from Jolinar more than from herself. It still didn't make it hurt any less.

So he had left the Gate Room and went straight to his quarters to hide from the world and try to sort out his feelings. After an hour he realized it was futile, so he headed home for some relative peace and quiet.

He couldn't concentrate on anything; couldn't get the image of Sam and Martouf out of his head. He could not overcome his feeling of humiliation and dread. What was this all going to mean for the future of SG-1? Those words continued to roll around in his mind, unrelenting.

*Because I care about her ... A lot more than I'm supposed to.*

He had been sitting there for what felt like hours, trying to organize his thoughts, attempting to work out how he felt, now that Sam knew for certain how he felt about her. One thing he knew for sure was that things were never going to be the same again. The situation could be swept under the carpet, which would only prove to be more disastrous as time went on.

He knew himself that if it were put aside, conveniently forgotten, he would torture himself day and night for not trying to resolve it. The tension would only increase until the team was shattered and their friendship lay in tatters. He knew if he didn't do anything those words that he had been forced to speak would torture him forever. * I didn't leave ... because I'd have rather died myself than lose Carter ... I care about her ... a lot more than I'm supposed to. *

He made his decision quickly, he had to see her, talk to her. He felt compelled to apologize for putting her in this situation. He felt the need to help her get over the death of Martouf, knowing that what she needed first and foremost was the comfort and understanding of a friend. Resolutely he grabbed his jacket and car keys, and left the house, hoping fervently that every thing would go smoothly.

For some reason he knew that she wouldn't be at home. Almost instinctively he headed straight to the place he knew she would be. The place that it had all started in the first place, the SGC. The drive to the base took twenty minutes, traffic deceptively quiet for the time of night. Flashing his ID card at the gate guard he drove on into the parking lot and pulled his truck into an empty space.

Suddenly he felt extremely nervous. What if it didn't go well? What is she didn't want to talk to him? What would he do then, crawl home and feel sorry about himself? He realized he was being silly. They were friends, above all else, they were adults, and they could work it out. Shakily he pulled his keys out of the ignition and hopped out of the truck.

Minutes later he was down in the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain, walking through corridors that he could navigate blindfolded. The base was eerily quiet as he wove his way through the maze of corridors, not really paying attention to where he was going, but finding that he still needed to build some courage before seeing Sam. Before he knew it he was standing outside the infirmary. Sighing he walked in and headed straight for Janet's office. The door was open, but he stood outside for a moment, watching Janet as she wrote in a file folder.

He knocked on the doorframe, startling Janet. She closed the folder, as she looked up at him in mild surprise. "Colonel!" she breathed. "I thought you had gone home."

Jack walked deeper into the office. "I did. I came back to see how Carter is doing". He replied as he took the seat opposite her.

Janet frowned slightly. "I guess she is as well as can be expected, upset and confused. I ordered her to stay on the base because she was in no state to drive", she responded, "She's in her quarters trying to rest". She looked at him sharply, but with the concern of a friend. "And how are you doing Jack? It's been a pretty rough day for you too".

Jack smiled slightly, he knew this was coming, but found it a bit of a relief to be talking to somebody about it. Janet was one of the privileged witnesses during the testing, and the retesting. She and Teal'c were the only SGC members that knew the truth. She had the unfortunate task of writing the official report on the testing, which if it had been anyone other than Janet he would have been worried about, but he trusted her to be discreet. "I am about as well as can be expected", he replied trying to sound light-hearted. "When you have just been humiliated."

Janet flushed and looked down at her file. Jack quickly realized what it was. The official report. He blanched. "You don't have to worry Jack", Janet stated, meeting his eyes, "I am not going to report the details of what you and Sam said".

Jack broke her gaze, feeling embarrassed. Not only were his and Sam's careers at risk, but Janet's now too. He wished fervently that this whole day had just been one long tormented dream, that he would wake up and realize that it was not real. Only he knew it wasn't; it was as real as every other day. A soft touch on his arm bought his attention back to the doctor. "Jack you had to tell the truth, it was better than the alternative", she said distastefully, referring to the "procedure" that he almost went through in an attempt to undo the programming.

"I know Janet, but it doesn't make it any easier". He looked down at his hands on the table. "This is going to change everything Janet; Carter knowing how I feel about her, me having a pretty fair idea how she feels about me. I just don't know what is going to happen from now on. I don't want to leave the team, I don't want to retire yet and I sure as hell don't want her to quit the military. That doesn't leave us with very many options does it", he asked rhetorically. "Yet on the other hand I want her, I want to hold her and kiss her and love her, but I can't do that!"

Frustrated he stood up and began pacing. "I need to know how she feels. I need to talk to her".

"Then go and talk to her Jack," Janet stated.

Jack stopped, looked at his friend and smiled bitter sweetly. "I'm just trying to build up the nerve", he replied, "I am more than a little embarrassed by what happened today, being forced to tell her like that. What if she doesn't want anything to do with me?"

Janet smiled warmly. "She will be embarrassed too, but I have a feeling that she would want to talk as well". She stood up and walked around her desk to stand in front of Jack. Even though she was a good foot shorter than he was, her mere presence made her seem taller in stature. "Go and talk to her Jack, go and console her, she needs that more than anything tonight. I would do it myself, but I would just be a small consolation".

To Jack, those words said just about everything and gave his confidence an enormous boost. He shot her a grin before pulling her into a quick embrace. "Thank you Janet", he said as he released her and turned, leaving her office.

With a renewed sense of purpose he strode through the corridors at a brisk pace and was in front of her quarters before he knew it. Taking a deep breath he raised his hand to knock on the door.

***

Sam could not get the words out of her head. They were assaulting her, haunting her. Taunting away the only thing she craved at the moment, sleep. * I didn't leave ... because I'd have rather died myself ... than lose Carter ... Because I care about her ... A lot more than I'm supposed to.* She opened her eyes with a sigh knowing that sleep was not going to be possible tonight, not with the memories of today still vivid in her mind. A day that was trying, tragic and humiliating. Rolling over she looked at the time on her clock. 2018. She had only lain down an hour ago, ordered by Janet to try and rest, the same orders that prevented her from driving herself home. Sighing again, she sat up on the hard military issue bed and flicked the lamp on.

She felt a fresh bout of tears tickling her eyelashes and angrily brushed them away. She had been forced to kill a friend today. A man she had felt an unusual kinship with, perhaps not love, but a familiarity and affection that she knew had not come from her but had been impressed onto her soul. "Oh Martouf", she whispered, "I am so sorry. At least you are finally with Jolinar now."

It had taken her a long time to work out exactly how she felt about Martouf. Jolinar's memories had imprinted on her strongly, especially her love for Martouf. Then Sam met Martouf and instantly felt the attraction and devotion that Jolinar had felt for him. In fact, the sensations left by Jolinar for him were overwhelming and so difficult to discern from her own feelings. Personally, she knew that she herself felt her own kind of attraction to him, but with Jolinar's memories clouding her own feelings she always felt it difficult to tell hers apart from those left over from the Tok'ra.

On the other hand there had been her attraction to the Colonel, which had been growing since she had met him in the briefing before the Abydos mission. Even back then she had not been able to prevent herself from becoming attracted to him, although she tried her hardest to dismiss it. Having Jolinar take her over and meeting Martouf had exacerbated that for quite a long time, throwing her thoughts and feelings into confusion. But beneath it all she had still felt this latent attraction to her CO. An attraction that she was prohibited from having.

She managed to put it to the back of her mind most of the time, resolved to the fact that even if he did return her feelings they would never be able to act on them. So she filed them away with the knowledge that if they could never be involved at least they could still be friends.

Now she wondered if they would ever continue to be that. She did not yet want to think how it was going to impact her life, the team, the SGC. Though, try as she might to not dwell on them, Jack's words ran through her head, over and over like a mantra. * I didn't leave ... because I'd have rather died myself ... than lose Carter ... Because I care about her ... A lot more than I'm supposed to.* She knew how hard the admission must have been for Jack to make, as hard as it was for her to have to admit to him and the others in the room that she felt the same way too.

They were feelings that she did not want to have to confront at the moment. Feelings that she knew could jeopardize not only her career but his too. Feelings that now they had come out, could very well threaten the status quo of the team, and their careers.

She knew that she would have to face Jack sometime, sooner rather than later, but found herself unwilling to make that move. She was not sure that she could face him at the moment, let alone speak to him. She felt so exposed at the moment, before it had all come out she had at least been able to pretend that all there was between them was friendship and camaraderie. Now she was not so sure. How was she to act around him now? Knowing what he knows? Knowing what she knows? She did not think that she had ever felt so humiliated in all her live, nor would she ever feel so humiliated again.

She felt torn. Part of her wanted to mourn Martouf, the other part of her felt the need to try and come to terms with the humiliation she had been forced to endure today. She had been inconsolable for the better part of three hours, shutting herself in her quarters in an attempt to be alone with her grief. Now she didn't think she had any more tears left to shed, just a dull ache where her heart thudded hollowly in her chest.

Frustrated, she wondered if Daniel was still around to give her a lift home. Surely he was finished with the Tok'ra by now? Steeling her resolve she stood and quickly checked her reflection, appalled to see how puffy and red her eyes actually were. Nipping into her little bathroom she quickly splashed some water onto her face. Grabbing her jacket and keys she opened the door to the corridor to find the last person she wanted to face at the moment opposite it.

"Colonel!" She croaked, surprised and suddenly awkward. She felt a knot forming deep in her belly. Seeing him there aroused feelings in her that she had not wanted to face just yet. It brought back memories of today that she was hoping not to have to relive until she had gotten home, where she could grieve in private.

He looked uncomfortable as he dropped the arm that was raised to knock on the door. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and shifted his weight from foot to foot. "Carter", he replied, and in his tone she found that he too was as nervous and uncomfortable as she was, perhaps more so. "How are you doing?"

Sam bit her lip as she felt a fresh bout of tears welling in her eyes. She looked down at the ground and took a deep breath before looking back at him. The concern was obvious in his eyes. She was touched. "I'm as well as can be expected", she replied shakily. She could feel her control beginning to slip, her tears close to brimming over. "Did you want to see me about something, sir?"

He was staring at her, concern still on his face. He suddenly seemed to gather some confidence. "I came to see how you are doing", he replied, his eyes still not leaving hers, "and to give you a ride home. I figured you wouldn't want to stay here, but Janet told me you were in no state to drive yourself".

Sam forced a smile. "Thank you sir, but I was just going to see if Daniel was free to take me home."

"He's not", Jack replied quickly, too quickly. Had she been in any other state she would have instantly become suspicious but, as it was she couldn't find it in herself to care. He reached out and gripped her arm gently. "He's still busy with the Tok'ra", he continued, squeezing her arm softly. "Come on, I won't bite, you know", he joked.

She had to admit that she was flattered by his concern. She had not expected that he would be the one to approach her so soon after their humiliation, it just wasn't his way. She had not expected to see or hear from him until their return to the SGC in three days time. He did care for her, that much she knew now, so perhaps it was not such a long shot that he would seek her out.

Part of her wanted to relax, knowing that his intentions were more likely than honorable. He had sought her out to offer her comfort, despite the awkwardness of their current situation. She could see his concern in his body language, as well as the underlying tension that she was positive was mirrored in her own. She was aware that she needed to be comforted. She needed someone to be there for her at the moment. She did not want to be alone in her grief, and she was willing to put aside her discomfort if it meant that she could find consolation from the only person she knew that could possibly understand what she was going through.

Sam didn't attempt to smile at his glib joke; her emotions were so out of control at the moment that she half expected that she would burst into tears rather than smile. She settled with nodding in agreement as she closed and locked the door behind her. She wrapped her arms across her chest, hugging herself tightly as she struggled to maintain her self- control during their silently foreboding journey through the quiet corridors of the SGC. She could feel Jack hovering close at her shoulder and took a small measure of comfort in his presence.

They remained silent as they waited for the elevator to make its slow ascent, perhaps sensing her need to not talk for the time being. She was trying hard not to think of anything, to keep her thoughts away from everything that had happened today, but it was impossible. The haunting image of Martouf begging her to kill him. The lift doors opened and she felt Jack's hand press against the small of her back, guiding her out through the remaining corridors and out into the parking lot.

Being outside gave her a sense of release and her barriers crumbled despite her efforts to keep them up, beginning another torrent of tears. She couldn't stop them; she didn't bother to try. Strong arms wrapped about her shoulders. A hand touched the back of her head, guiding it into the sanctuary of his shoulder, and she settled into the embrace, graciously accepting the offer of comfort. He said nothing, which she appreciated, merely held her, giving his own form of solace in the simple gesture.

Gradually her tears faded and she moved away from him self-consciously, sniffling and wiping her eyes. Seemingly from nowhere he produced a handkerchief, which she accepted gratefully. Again she felt his hand on the small of her back directing her to his truck. She kept her eyes downcast, embarrassed to have lost control in such a public place. Unlocking the door he helped her in, ensuring that she put on her seatbelt before closing the door and making his way around to the driver's side.

The drive back to her house was made in silence; neither had spoken a word since leaving the base. She could feel Jack constantly shifting his gaze to her, and knew that he must have been worried about her, but she couldn't bring herself to talk yet, she didn't trust herself to talk yet. Finally she built up enough courage to look up at him and he drew his eyes away from the road long enough to meet her gaze and smile warmly, compassionately. She forced a small smile of thanks before tearing her gaze away to stare unseeingly at the houses rolling by her window.

***

Pulling the truck up to the curb outside her house he shut off the ignition and hopped out. He turned to find Sam already standing next to him, a questioning look on her face. "How about a drink?" he asked trying his best to put on a cheerful smile. He felt nervous as hell, like a teenager on his first date, except this was not even a date. He was scared that she would tell him to go, to leave her alone.

To his surprise and relief she nodded dully and began walking up the path to her house. * Maybe she does want company after all *, he thought. Quietly he followed behind her as she opened the door and walked in. Stepping in behind her he closed the door. "What would you like to drink?" she asked flatly as she removed her jacket.

He stopped her by putting a hand on her arm. She looked up at him, a frown on her face. Again he was struck by how sad she looked. Taking her arm a little more firmly he led her into the lounge and to the couch. "Sit down Sam. I'll fix the drinks". She looked up at him her face a blend of surprise and confusion as her glance drifted down to the hand that still rest softly on her arm. She flushed and nodded before her gaze drifted across the room. Quietly he walked into the kitchen. He did a quick search of her fridge and cupboards which revealed nothing that could any longer be deemed as edible. He wasn't particularly hungry himself and was sure that Sam wouldn't have much of an appetite, but knew that they would have to eat at some stage. Despite the lack of food he did find the other thing he was after, a bottle of whiskey and poured two glasses from it. Briefly he thought that it might pay to order in some food soon, but that was only a secondary concern at the moment. The main concern sat miserable in the next room.

With the glasses in hand he walked back into the lounge. Sam was still staring off into the far corner of the room, obviously lost in some thought or memory. Tears ran silently down her cheeks. His heart thudded dully in his chest as he realized what the thoughts running through her head must be. She must be torturing herself with grief with what she had been forced to do. Before he knew it he had moved over to the couch and placed the drinks on the coffee table. Aware that what he was about to do was potentially dangerous, he disregarded the thought as he sat down next to her and pulled her into his arms. He was just a friend comforting another in a time of need, he assured himself. She stiffened for a moment evidently surprised by the action. "Sssshh Sam", he murmured, "Let it all out. I'm here for you". Instantly she relaxed into his arms and began sobbing.

He had expected to feel awkward when he thought of comforting Sam, after all comfort was something that he was not particularly good at giving, and given the way that he felt about her, and that fact that he had been forced to tell how he felt about her, he believed that he would balk at the thought of holding her in his arms as he whispered soothing words and smoothed her hair.

Besides that years in the military had ingrained in them that they not show their emotions, that they remain detached and aloof of a situation. A commander was expected to remain a certain distance from his team, not get too close.

He had learned quickly over the last four years that this command was different. His team only had each other, they had no close family and given their roles in this top-secret program it was hard to maintain friendships outside of the SGC. At times all his years in the military had made it difficult for him to be anything other than Colonel Jack O'Neill, USAF. It had always been difficult for him in the past to open up with his command, to become anything other than a CO to them. The team still had its basic militaristic structure but beneath the surface it was anything but. He guessed that was because half of his team was civilian, but as a group they established a complex friendship and came to rely on each other more and more. He had never believed that he would ever find himself in a team with a dynamic that SG-1 had.

This was the first time that he had had to comfort Sam, other than the time that they had found solace in each other's arms when they had believed Daniel was dead. To him that did not count, nor the times that the group had comforted each other as a whole. Of everyone in the group they had both had the most difficulty relaxing in each other's company. The chain of command that had been instilled in them for so long still held a modicum of formality after hours, and the feelings that they had held and hidden for so long prevented them from completely opening up to the other for fear of it accidentally coming out and threatening the harmonics of the team and each other.

However at this moment it felt strangely right that he be the one to hold her as she wept, offering her solace with his embrace. Perhaps it was because of the events of today, seeing what she had been forced to do, what they had both been forced to do, gave him a bit more of an understanding of what she was going through than others might. Slowly, instinctively, he began to slowly rock her, like he used to when Charlie was upset. Her hand tangled in his shirt as she moved closer to him, only slightly, and buried her face deeper into his chest. He fought hard at the swell of emotions that her closeness stirred in him.

He rubbed a comforting hand over her back as her body shuddered with the force of the sobs racking her slender frame. Her arms tightened around him again. He smoothed her hair away from her forehead and without realizing exactly what he was doing he brushed his lips over the bared part of her forehead. To his instant relief she did not react to the touch except to grip his shirt tighter, "You'll be ok Sammy", he whispered into her hair, "We'll get through this together".

The revelations they were forced to make seemed insubstantial in light of her sorrow. What she had been forced to do today made their confession dim into the background. She had been forced to kill a friend, he had begged her to kill him and she had complied. Killing was always a difficult thing to do, something that you could never really make yourself immune to, but to kill a dear friend was something that was near impossible to get over, let alone forgive yourself for. He was telling the truth when he said that they would get through it together, he vowed to himself that he would do everything in his power to help her recover from this.

He lost track of how long they sat there like that, clutching each other, it felt like hours, and it quite probably had been. Slowly, inexorably, her sobs began to subside. Her body had stopped shaking, but she still sat there for a long time, cuddled up against him. He continued to stroke her hair, rub her back, and whisper pacifying words.

He could not help the flash of disappointment he felt when she pulled away from him a little more. She twisted to look at him; her tear stained face flushed with embarrassment. "I am so sorry sir", she apologized, sounding more miserable now for her supposed misconduct. "I didn't mean to ... I mean I..."

Jack reached out and touched her shoulder to shush her. "Sam", he said tenderly. "I would be more worried if you weren't crying. I didn't invite myself in with the intention of watching as you tried your hardest to bottle up your feelings". Sam looked abashed as she cast her eyes around the room. Purposefully he let his arm drop down to rest gently on her knee. Her eyes snapped back to him, wide with surprise. "I know for a fact that hiding from your feelings, bottling them up and walling them does not help. I'm here tonight as a friend Sam, I don't want you to think that you have to go through this alone."

Sam flushed again and offered him a wan smile. "Thank you, sir", she replied, "I don't think I would have wanted to be alone tonight anyway". Her eyes were misting with tears again, her lip quivering as she tried to hold them back.

Jack could see the pain and misery that was engulfing her. He wished fervently that there was something that he could do to take the pain away, something more than just comforting her. "Please Sam, call me Jack", he told her softly. He gave her knee a gentle, friendly squeeze before leaning forward and taking the glasses from the table. Sam took hers gratefully, downing the whole glass in a mouthful and grimacing as she swallowed. She was still misty-eyed and he could tell she was trying so hard not to let the tears to flow again. "I've always found it funny that the military tries its hardest to teach its soldiers to hide their emotions, which is all well and good in the field, but after years of it being drilled into you, you can't help but act that way all that time. You stop relying on other people to help you through a difficult situation but you don't rely on yourself, so you just shut it away and try not to think about it. It took me a long time to realize that that is not the best way to deal with anything, especially grief. What is the point of acting nonchalant when you are being torn up inside?" He could see her brow furrowing with what he was saying, obviously puzzled by the vagueness of his words. "What I am trying to say is that you can talk to me Sam, I want you to talk to me. I want you to forget the Air Force, forget our ranks, for you to put down that barrier and talk to me as a friend".

They lapsed into silence for a moment, not an uncomfortable silence but more a contemplative one. Jack watched as she bit her lip, a single tear running down her face, instinctively he reached out and brushed it away. Her face took on a whole new level of pain as the tears began flowing again. "I killed him Jack", she cried. "He begged me to and I did. I don't know if I can live with myself for doing that".

Leaning closer he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. Once again her shoulders shuddered with her tears. "He was going to kill himself anyway. What you did was humane", as soon as the words left his mouth he realized it sounded more like he was talking about a pet dog than a man. He quickly corrected himself. "Sorry, that didn't come out right. I think it would have been more painful to watch him put that weapon to his head and pull the trigger. You remember how hard it was to watch Astor do that, but to see Marty do the same thing ... it would have torn you up".

She nodded in response. "I know that si ... Jack ... but it doesn't make it any easier!"

He pulled her closer as the force of her sobs increased. "I know it doesn't. He is still gone and there is nothing you can do about it but accept it and try to move on".

Her arms snaked around him as she buried her face in his shoulder. "Oh, it hurts so much", she moaned.

He enveloped her with his arms, cognizant of the fact that it was the only comfort that he could really offer her. "I know it does Sam", he replied. "But the pain will go away. It always does".

Instantly her sobs ceased and, pulling away, she looked up at him her eyes searching and inquisitive. He could not help but be puzzled by her reaction. Had he said something to annoy her and if so, what? She did not look annoyed, more speculative than anything else. He began to feeling disquieted by her close scrutiny. He glanced away briefly but felt his eyes drawn back to her blue depths. "You would know wouldn't you Jack?" She asked softly, "You've had to deal with so much in your life Jack, so much death", her eyes were watching him, searching his. "How do you cope with it all?"

Jack could feel his cheeky grin pulling at his cheeks, a joking remark on his tongue. He curbed them both as he held her eyes, feelingly decidedly awkward. He had never been one to talk about his feelings, let alone one to share them with a friend. His customary reaction was to brush it off, offer a glib and sarcastic response, which he knew was not going to go over tonight. It still did not help the trepidation that he suddenly felt. "Well I didn't really", he began, "cope, I mean". He took her hand, finding that he needed to feel the subtle touch of her flesh against his. "I mean you know what happened with me and Sara and all because I hid the way I was feeling about Charlie's death. Instead of talking to her I shut myself away and drank myself into oblivion to try and forget about it. It took me a long time to realize that by pushing away everyone that cared I wasn't helping myself at all and I wasn't coping and by that time I had already lost everyone that mattered to me". He flushed; embarrassed at the memories he was beginning to dredge up. He could feel her squeezing his hand lightly. "But yeah, I've had to deal with a hell of a lot of death in my time, but the only way I really deal with it is by shutting it away because I had nobody else to turn to".

Sam looked surprised. "But you shouldn't have to do that Jack", she breathed.

He could not help the brief, bitter, laugh that escaped his lips. "Oh, I can think about it as much as I want to, but I can't talk to anyone about it. Daniel wouldn't understand and Teal'c, well he's from a whole different place, his beliefs are different to ours".

"What about me?"

He gave her a sharp look. "Personally or professionally?"

She glanced away, face flushing. "I'm sorry sir", she stammered, "that wasn't appropriate of me".

Jack shook his head, trying to show her that she had not been out of place, and angry with himself for the outburst. He knew that he should not have been so hard on her, she was only trying to help. "No I am sorry Sam", he said, drawing her attention back to him. "I was the one out of line". Silently he cursed the military for invoking these regulations, even though he understood why they were in place.

Sam was shaking her head, disagreeing with him. She opened her mouth to speak, but he quickly continued, cutting her response off. "I have been in the military for nearly twenty years. All that time we were trained that a CO always keep themselves apart from their subordinates, that they not show weakness of any kind in front of their team. But at the SGC it's different. I mean, we are still in the military, but for most of us we have no family outside; we are like a little family of our own buried under a mountain. But because of what has been ingrained in me for so long I sometimes find it hard to open up", He squeezed her hand, receiving a small smile in return. "Professionally speaking I shouldn't really share my feelings, but personally . well I would love to, but it is difficult for me". His words had a purposeful double meaning. He knew that if he was ever to open up to her, if she was to comfort him, he probably would not be able to control his actions, and the military side of him still forced him to hold his tongue. Old habits die hard, he thought bitterly.

Sam's return smile was tender and warm, but did not totally reach her eyes, the underlying sadness not so easily forgotten. "Well just so you know, I am here if you ever need to talk".

He squeezed her hand. "Thank you Sam", he replied softly, his heart skipping a beat. Here she was, mourning a friend, offering her own shoulder to cry on if he ever needed it. He couldn't get over how selfless and sweet she was. Unable to help himself due to the sudden swell of emotions in his chest, he reached out and stroked her cheek, wishing that he could do so much more. "But you are the one that needs the support at the moment, not me".

The reminder caused her face to scrunch up dismally as she seemed to fight the next wave of tears that threatened. "I was trying to forget", she responded, her voice anguished.

He pulled her closer to him. "You should try to forget", he said as He hugged her closer to him. "I know you cared very deeply for him", he murmured into her hair, hoping to distract her away from the fresh torrent of tears.

She shook her head. "Not just me, not just my feelings", she replied, sobs diminishing a little. "Jolinar left an impression of all her feelings for him in my mind. I am grieving for her too".

"That's rough", the words slipped from his lips before he could stop them. He had always been aware of the fact that Jolinar had left a scattering of memories and impressions in her head. It had been all too clear when they had first encountered the Tok'ra, gating to a planet based on Sam's intuition. The rapport that she had shared with Martouf from the onset had been obvious, to him most of all and though he had tried not to get jealous, he could not help himself. Martouf seemed completely smitten with her, he could hardly blame him, but he often wondered how much of his affection came from his feelings for Jolinar and her supposed resemblance to his dead lover rather than for Carter herself. "I can only begin to imagine what you must be going through Sam", he corrected. "Having to mourn alone is hard enough, but to do it for two people", he paused, unsure how to continue. "I'm sorry Sam", he offered weakly, reaching out and squeezing her hand.

She gave a sad smile. "It's difficult, but I'll get through it", she replied, "I've learned to differentiate between my feelings and what she left in my head ... but sometimes it's difficult". Her lip twisted bitterly. "Like right now". Leaning forward she took her glass and swallowed the contents in one mouthful, grimacing as she swallowed. "Oh I could do with getting drunk tonight", she muttered.

Jack smiled in silent agreement. He felt the exact same way. Today deserved to be forgotten, even for only a short period. He did not voice his agreement, knowing that it would probably bring up a conversation that he did not think she was ready to face yet. He was content to wait until she brought it up herself, in her own time. "Well I'm not going to let you get drunk", he said, hopping up out of the seat, "but I don't see any reason why we can't have another".

Standing, he downed the contents of his own glass and walked back into the kitchen. He filled their glasses again and was about to walk back into the lounge when he relented and grabbed the bottle too. * It wouldn't hurt to have a couple more,* he thought, mindful that years in the military had given them a harder head for alcohol than most people. She offered another weak smile as he handed her glass to her and sat down. This time she sipped at the liquid sedately rather than knocking it back in one gulp.

They lapsed into a silence that was not uncomfortable, merely reflective. Jack found his thoughts drifting to Martouf, or Sam and Martouf to be more precise. He still could not get his mind around the precise nature of their relationship. * Exactly how close had they been? * He wondered as his eyes drifted back to her face. She too was lost in deep thought, a hint of a smile on her face. "What are you thinking about?"

Her eyes snapped to his and she flushed slightly. "I was thinking back to when we first met Martouf", she replied, her eyes glazing again. "I gave everyone such a fright when I recognized him, when I knew his name, it surprised the hell out of everyone, myself included".

Jack forced a smile as he remembered back to that day. He could remember how jealous he had been, seeing the bond that established between the two of them almost instantly. That Martouf had stuck by her side during the whole ordeal with her father, when he himself was unable to. "Yeah, you gave us a hell of surprise", he replied awkwardly. Nervously he wondered whether he should ask her the question that was occupying his thoughts so completely. * To hell with it,* he thought,* if I want her to talk about her feelings I should start the ball rolling.* "Did you love him?"

Her eyes widened in surprise at his question, obviously not expecting it to be asked, she looked away uncomfortably. "Yes", she replied, her voice low.

Jack felt his chest tighten at her response. It was not the reply he was hoping to hear, far from it. He felt his hopes and spirits begin to crumple. * Maybe this day had been just a great big misunderstanding,* he mused, *maybe I took the meaning that I wanted from her words, rather than what they actually were. * He felt stupid, bringing her home with the intentions of discussing something that did not exist in the first place. He tore his gaze from her and finished off his glass in one mouthful before he realized what he was doing.

Sam's soft touch on his arm drew his attention back to her. She had a small, affectionate, smile on her face, which told him that she had seen on his face everything that had just gone through his mind. "But you have to understand Jack that the love I felt was all residual from Jolinar", she replied. "What I personally felt for him was the kind of love that you hold for a friend. I knew that his feelings for me were reflective of what he felt for Jolinar, that if we pursued any sort of deeper relationship that it would be based on that. I also knew that no matter how hard I tried to deny it I was attracted to someone else and not him".

A lump formed in Jack's throat at her frank admission. He did not need to ask to find out who she meant, he could see it in her eyes. It took all his will power not to pull her to him and kiss her silly, but he kept a tight reign on those risky emotions. He could not, however, stop the grin that spread across his face at her words. His heart was pounding. * She doesn't love Martouf,* he thought greedily, his mind soaring at the possibilities. For the moment he did his best to not think about the downside of those feelings, thinking instead that all his years of believing he was alone in his love, that it was being reciprocated. Although he had not wanted to get his hopes up before she had truly admitted her feelings the implication of her words said more than enough to him. Idly he hoped like hell that he had not misconstrued her words again, it would kill him.

Sam smiled, the first smile to touch her eyes all night, before glancing away shyly. He wondered if she was ready for him to bring it up yet. It was his main motivation behind seeking her out and bringing her home. They both knew that it had to be addressed, but was it too soon after Martouf to discuss it? He had the creeping suspicion that if it was not brought up tonight they would probably not have another chance to talk about it. He wasn't willing for that to happen. He wanted her, if not in body then he would settle with the knowledge that she shared his feelings and that at some time in the future they could be together.

He felt apprehensive as he sat forward slightly in his seat. He had thought about a moment like this many times in the past, but now that the moment was here he was left nervous and unsure of how he should proceed. * What do I say to her? * He asked himself, *do I just come out and say it? Tell her that I love her and then deal with the consequences afterwards, or lead her into it slowly? *

Obviously sensing his unease and his train of thought, Sam leaned forward and touched his hand. "We don't have to talk about it Jack", she said, "We can just leave it in the room like we had agreed to".

Jack shook his head. "No, Sam", he replied. He caught her eye and could see a tension that matched his own behind them. "I was wrong when I said that we should just forget it. I was embarrassed so I just said what I could to get out of that room". He could see her face falling and realized that his words made it sound like he was trying to get away from her. "I didn't want to have to tell you how I felt in a room full of people, I just wanted to get away from them, but I didn't want us to sweep everything under the rug either, and forget about it".

Sam's smile was uncertain as she watched him. "I already knew how you felt Jack", she replied.

He shook his head wondering if she had said that simply to ease the tension that had suddenly crept between the two of them. "No you don't Sam, not totally".

Confusion clouded her face, doubt. Reaching out she put a hand on his leg softly, unwittingly making his skin tingle and his heart pound harder. The motion spurred him to continue, fueling his tongue. "I love you Sam", he blurted.

***

*"I love you Sam".*

After today the revelation had not been completely unexpected, but Sam still felt her breath catch in her throat as his words made it a reality. He loves me, her mind yelled. Although he had admitted that he cared for her, a lot, she had still held firm to the small doubt that that was the extent of his feelings for her. Loving someone was a whole different matter. She was well aware of the risk he was taking telling her how he truly felt. Part of her was still reeling from the surprise of the admission, but another part of her wanted to jump up and do a little dance for joy. He loves me! He loves me! He loves me!

A quick glance at Jack showed that her surprise had been obvious, and woefully misinterpreted. He looked downcast, embarrassed and hurt. He began to pull away from her both emotionally and physically. She had seen it happen enough times in the past to know that once those emotional walls went up it was virtually impossible to break through them. He had opened up to her a lot tonight, let down barriers that she had never expected him to, and she was not going to let him ruin this night by withdrawing back into himself. He had taken an enormous chance in telling her what he did, and it was only fair that she shared the feelings that she felt too.

She could not help the smile that almost split her face as she reached out and caught his hand, squeezing it slightly to show that his words had not shocked her in the way he was thinking. She could not help the smile either, aware as she was, that she probably looked like an utter fool, but as the reality sank in deeper and deeper she was unable to help herself. "I love you too, Jack", she whispered breathlessly, her sadness of earlier almost completely forgotten.

His reaction was almost immediate, his relief obvious as he exhaled loudly. He pulled her into his arms, clutching her tightly to his chest. His exuberance was contagious, she was sure that she could almost feel the happiness radiating off him. He pulled away from her enough to press a quick kiss to her forehead. "Thank you Sam", he murmured.

Sam felt herself succumbing to his simple touch. His closeness to her was beginning to make it almost impossible to think clearly. Subconsciously she began to softly run her hands across his back, drawing them in slow, soft circles, responding to the same touch of his hand on her back. He pressed another soft kiss to her forehead and she slipped further. She wanted this man, more than she ever thought possible.

She pulled away from him slightly and looked up at him, drinking in his appearance. She could see the desire in those chocolate brown eyes and knew that he too was lost. He licked his lips as he brought his hand up to gently cup her chin. She could tell by his slow movements that he was giving her every chance to refuse him, but she couldn't. She licked her own lips, a small gesture to show that she too was willing. Their lips came together tenderly, yet passionately, powered by their mutual need to get closer to the other, to show how they truly felt.

She knew that there were a thousand reasons for them not to do this, but all thoughts of rationality fled from her as he pulled her closer to him and tangled a hand in her hair, deepening the embrace in the same motion. She ran her hands over his back, stroking, as her tongue tangled with his hungrily.

His hand swept down her side, and she could feel his own need to feel her flesh under his touch, she felt the same need herself. He pulled his lips away from hers and began placing soft kisses down the sensitive flesh of her neck as his hands began roaming her body. With a small moan she threw her head back to allow him better access to her throat. His hands found the bottom of her shirt at the same time her own found the hem of his shirt, and gingerly began to run her hands softly up his back, down his sides, over the muscular flesh of his stomach and chest, exploring the soft flesh she had so often dreamed of touching, a dream that was rapidly becoming a reality.

Sam could feel Jack's hand as it traveled up her stomach, igniting pleasures she had long forgotten. Inexorably his hand traveled higher, until it came into contact with her bra. Suddenly reality came crashing back home as she felt the illicit pleasure of his hand cupping her breast. She froze under his touch, her eyes flashing open as the thought hit home. Illicit pleasure. It was exactly that; an illicit pleasure. The military tried to prevent this very thing from happening, tried to prevent fraternization between two officers. She had been so close to giving herself completely to this man, to her CO, without even sparing a thought for the consequences of their actions. Throwing caution to the wind along with her commonsense.

Jack's eyes opened to meet hers and she could see the realization had struck him too. They weren't supposed to be doing this, yet too easily they had almost lost control of themselves.

She was shaken to the core. She had never thought that Jack's touch would send her so over the edge, that it would arouse this depth of feeling in her. She ran a shaking hand through her hair, feeling somewhat bewildered, and incredibly confused. She could not believe how much his touch had affected her, how deeply it had affected her. She was having a hard time slowing her breathing; her heart was pounding in her chest. "Holy Hannah!" She murmured under her breath as she looked down at her still shaking hands. "That was ... amazing. I never imagined it would be so ... wow!"

Finally, when she thought she had settled herself down somewhat, she looked up to catch Jack's eye. She could not miss the bemused smile on his face. * Did he hear what I said? * She wondered, knowing that that was the only possible explanation for that smile. She could feel her cheeks heat as she pulled her eyes away from him, crestfallen that he had seen her so perturbed by that single embrace.

He took her hands in his, sending her heart racing again at the touch. "I know exactly what you mean Sam", he said quietly, his voice full of reassurance. "I could never have imagined kissing you being so ... mind- blowing". She could hear the love in his voice, and the remorse. "But I guess that doesn't help matters".

Sam found herself surprised by his overtly pessimistic statement. It was something that she would never have pegged him to say. Then the meaning of his words struck her, she had begun to understand his mindset of the few years that she had known him, she knew that he was intimating that she would have the most to lose should anything go wrong. She sank back into the couch, feeling deeply confused. "No it doesn't", she disagreed, "because now I know what I want and I don't know how to go about getting it." She fixed her gaze to his, hoping to convey the depth of the feelings through the simple look. It took a great weight off her shoulders knowing that she no longer had to hide her feelings for him, she no longer had to pretend that she felt indifferently and she wanted him to see that. "I want to be with you Jack, I don't want to have to wait for a time that I am no longer under your command for us to be together, but what can we do?"

It was something she had thought about often, in whimsical moments before she had known how he had truly felt. If they had fallen in love, what options did they have open to them? It was frustrating how few options there actually were, and how inconceivable they had been to her. She tried not to think of them as she nurtured the hope that Jack had some other solution that she had not thought of.

She could see him schooling his expression, trying to hide the smile that lurked close to the surface. Beneath that though; she could see the lingering fear. "The way I see it", he began finally, "We have three choices. Firstly, I could retire again", he paused and Sam automatically began to shake her head furiously in disagreement, but Jack raised a hand to prevent her from saying anything. "Secondly, you could request reassignment to another team, or I could request another command. The only other option we have is to begin in this relationship and keep it between the two of us, keep it strictly off-base and hush-hush".

She knew her distaste at the options was showing on her face. She had thought of them herself often, and dismissed all but the last just as quickly as they came to mind. "You can't retire Jack, we need you too much".

Jack offered her a sad smile. "There are other Colonel's out there better than me Sam, I'm not that important. If it means that we can be together I want to do it", he paused long enough to reach out and gather her hands in his. "Sam I have lost too much in my life. I never thought I would love anyone else after Sara left. I never believed that I would be lucky enough to fall in love twice in my lifetime. I am blessed to have found you, and I can't let this slip by me, I won't lose you Sam ... and I don't want to wait"

Sam could feel herself melting at his words, so heartfelt, so sweet and charming. Smiling shyly she ducked her head in an attempt to hide yet another flush. * Why the hell am I acting like a schoolgirl around him? * She felt Jack pull a hand away from hers to cup her face gently and tilt it up to look at her. "I am not going to give up on us, but I am not going to pressure you into a decision that you don't want to make. I just want you to know how I feel".

"I won't let you retire Jack", she repeated quietly, defiantly.

"I won't let you be reassigned", he retorted with a sardonic smile. "What if I talked to General Hammond?"

"And risk him splitting the team up anyway?" She countered; surprised that he would even suggest it considering the consequences. But the more that she thought about it, the more that she came to realize that they had no choice. Their only option was to take the risk and not tell anyone. Their roles at the SGC, as part of SG-1 were too important to both of them to even consider jeopardizing it now. He shrugged nonchalantly. "Yeah, you're probably right", he responded with a sigh.

They lapsed into a contemplative silence. Sam's mind was working overtime as she thought through all their options, dismissing them almost as quickly as they came to mind as she tried to think of more. But her thoughts drifted back to the only option that seemed to be even remotely viable, despite the risks involved in it. She sighed loudly, annoyed and upset that there were so few options available to them. "If we kept quiet, would we tell anyone, our friends, or would we hide it from everyone?" She hated the idea that they would have to hide this from their friends, but if it had to be she would accept it.

"For the time being I think we keep it quiet, but if we are asked ... I don't think we should lie to them unless we think that it will get back to the General". His reply came quickly, his voice sounding pained, as if the same misgivings had been on his mind too. He did not want to lie to their friends any more than she did.

Sam nodded in agreement, it was the only way. Then her decision was made. She felt like her heart was being torn from her chest. "We can't do this Jack", she said and watched as his face crumbled. "There will be a time and place when we can be together, but at the moment we can't. If we got found out we would both be court-martialled, it would be the end of our careers. Besides that, I don't want to have to lie to our friends; I don't want to have to hide from them. I want to be able to go out to dinner or a movie with you and do the things a normal couple would do. Can you honestly tell me that we would be able to do any of that?"

Jack looked like he was still coming to terms with her choice, hell she was too. His mouth snapped shut with an audible pop and he squeezed his eyes shut. Sam could not help but feel guilty for hurting him. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "No, I guess we couldn't", he replied quietly. His voice was so full of pain and hurt.

It tore at Sam. Before she could stop herself she could feel another bout of fresh tears welling in her eyes. She leaned forward and took his hand as her tears began running down her cheeks. "I want to be with you as much as you do Jack, but I also want to have a normal, ordinary relationship and I can't see that happening at the moment", she gripped his hand tighter, not wanting to let him go and felt a small measure of relief at his answering squeeze. "But that doesn't mean that I am dismissing any sort of relationship at all. I want to be with you Jack, I love you, I have loved you for a long time and I am not going to give up on us".

With his free hand Jack reaching out and wiped the tears from her eyes. "I love you so much Sam", he murmured. "I don't want to give up on us either". His voice was husky with emotion that he was so obviously trying to repress. "If this is what you want, then it is ok with me, as long as I know that sometime in the future we can be together".

"Of course we will Jack", she replied, hoping that there would be no cruel twist of fate that would keep them apart. "And you know it won't hurt if maybe we went out to dinner, as friends", she smiled, hoping that he would pick up her hint. She wanted to keep this thing alive.

Jack smiled and pulled her to his chest. "No it wouldn't hurt to go out ... as friends", he murmured, and he hugged her as if he never intended to let go.

Sam found herself relaxing in his arms, unwilling to move lest it break the moment. Instead she snuggled deeper into him, drawing her legs onto the couch as exhaustion took hold of her. Slowly, she drifted off to sleep in the arms of the man that she loves.

***

Sam woke slowly, the sunlight from the open curtains drawing her from her exhausted slumber. She could feel Jack's slow breath on her hair as he slept on and wished she could stay in bed all day. She smiled as she twisted carefully in his arms, trying not to wake him. The movement caused him to tighten his arm around her torso and she smiled. She only wished that she could wake like this every morning.

She took a long moment to lie there and just watch the sleeping man next to her, looking so peaceful in his slumber. She felt overwhelmed by her feelings for him and by the depth of his for her. She could not help the smile that grew on her lips as she watched him. She loved him so much more than she thought she could have loved anyone and even though she knew they could do nothing to consummate their love, she had the satisfaction of knowing that one day they would. One day she would be able to wake every morning with this man by her side.

She cast her thoughts back to the night before. She had woken a couple of hours later still wrapped in a sleeping Jack's arms, she had almost had second thoughts about the decision she had made. Almost, but she still held firm to her desire that they have a normal, unhidden, relationship. Jack woke minutes after her, sleeping leaning down and placing a kiss on her lips. They had stayed up for most of the night just talking. It was something they had never really had the opportunity to do, just talk. Jack had been so gentle, so loving, and so different from what she had known in the past. He had dropped his barriers, the wall that closed off his emotions. He opened up to her, another thing she had not expected, talked to her about his experiences in Iraq, his past, about Sara, about Charlie. In turn he comforted her when her memories of Martouf surged up and overwhelmed her again. She felt a lump form in her throat as she thought about Martouf, still struggling to overcome the loss and the guilt, but now she knew that she would always have Jack to turn to if she ever needed to talk

It was 4 o'clock when they decided to call it a night. Sam did not have the heart to let Jack go, she still felt the need to have him close to her, the need to gain more comfort from him. She asked him to stay, trying to ignore her better judgment that the decision could be risky. As it turned out he was a perfect gentleman, she had set the ground rules and he would follow them until she told him otherwise. Self-consciously they both retired to her bedroom and, making the silent decision to remain clothed, settled down to sleep, clutching each other with the desperation of knowing that this would be the one and only time they could do this in the foreseeable future.

Movement next to her drew her attention back to the man lying next to her. To Jack, the man that she loved more than she knew was possible, the man she could not have. Lazily he stretched and opened his eyes. A sleepy smile stretched across his face. "Mornin'", he murmured sleepily.

"Good morning", she replied happily.

His arm tightened even more around her as he leaned over and pressed a kiss to her lips. She rested her head against his shoulder, again wishing that she could take her choice back. She began to stroke his chest, unsure what to do next. This just felt too good, too comfortable. She accepted the situation easily, more easily than she should, but she could not help herself. Irritated, she pulled away from him and rolled out of the bed. Behind her she could hear Jack sigh. She turned and smiled at him. "Coffee?"

Jack took a moment to think, then smiled sadly. "No, I think I should go. It is going to be hard enough for me to leave as it is".

Sam nodded, silently agreeing. He was right, she did not want him to leave and it was obvious that he did not want to either. Resolutely she remained where she was, ignoring her urge to close the distance between them and press him to the bed. She watched sadly as he got up and straightened his clothes, then proceeded to pull on his shoes. She tried to swallow the lump that had just grown in her throat, fought to bite back the tears that suddenly stung her eyes. She hugged her arms tightly around herself.

Jack stood and closed the distance between them. Gently he pulled her into his arms. "Don't give up on us Sam, because I am not going to", he murmured, brushing his lips across her forehead. "In fact, how would you feel about dinner, tomorrow, 7 o'clock at O'Malley's?"

Sam smiled, feeling somewhat reassured by his words. "That sounds good Jack ... it's a date", she said hesitantly, instantly regretting the words. It was not a date; it could not be a date.

"Good", he replied, hugging her tightly, briefly. He stepped back slightly, enough to meet her eyes. She could see the remorse there, the reluctant acceptance that at the moment this was all they could share together. Leaning down he licked his lips, inviting her for one last, farewell kiss. Tilting her head back she parted her lips slightly, feeling him edge closer until his lips met hers. Then all too soon it was over, he pulled away, out of her arms. "I'll pick you up at 6.30 then".

Turning he walked towards the bedroom door, stopping and turning back as he reached the doorway. "Remember Sam, if you need to talk I am only a phone call away".

Hugging her arms tightly around herself she nodded, feeling the tears pricking at her eyes again. "Thank you Jack, I will remember", she replied, her voice choked up.

"I love you Sam", he whispered. Then he turned and left the room.

Sam waited until she heard the front door close before she let all her emotions out. A combination sob/laugh escape her throat as the tears made their way down her cheeks again. Even though they could not be together at the moment, she found some comfort in the knowledge that he loved her, and someday hopefully not too far into the future they would finally be together.

The End