These Days

By Tarra O'Neal & Flotternz

Email: flotternz@yahoo.co.nz and IrishLas413@msn.com

Status: Complete.

Category: Romance, Hurt/Comfort, Angst

Pairings: Sam/Jack

Spoilers: Major for Abyss; Frozen, Divide and Conquer, Entity, Meridian, Revelations, A Hundred Days.

Season: Season 6

Sequel Info: None

Rating: PG/PG13

Summary: After Jack returns from Ba'al's clutches he has some things to deal with.

Disclaimer: Sadly we don't own SG-1, or that lovely graying, brown eyed Colonel...*sigh*! Oh woe are we!! Anyways... Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate Productions, MGM/UA, Viacom, Double Secret Productions, Gekko Productions and the Showtime and/or Sci Fi networks. No infringement is intended to the above parties. This is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.

Author's Note: Tarra: I got the inspiration for this while on my drive home from work. One of 'those' songs came on the radio and the chorus just fit! I really don't consider this a songfic, just a little push in the right direction. I guess since I got you wondering what song it was I should tell you. It was, as the title reflects, "These Days" by Rascal Flatts. The rest of the song has nothing to do with Sam and Jack, but the chorus, well it just sounded right. So I hope you enjoy it. I asked Saz, my partner in crime, if she wanted to contribute anything to this note, but she chose to remain silent. Her exact words: "Tell them I'm shy." And if you believe that I got some ocean front property to sell ya here in Missouri! *wink* LOL (Thoughts of the characters and italics are denoted by asterisks, as yahoo likes to strip formatting.)

Feedback: SWEET!!! We love feedback!! The more we get, the more we write, and everyone's happy!! J

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"These Days"

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Sam Carter sat in a chair at Colonel O'Neill's bedside, unable and unwilling to move as she listened to him mutter unintelligibly in his troubled sleep. Janet had given him something to help him sleep half an hour ago and he had drifted off quickly. Sleep meant dreams; sleep meant reliving the pain and agony that he had been forced to go through. He had suffered through something she couldn't comprehend, something that would quite possibly scar him for life.

She had been there when the gate had activated. When he had stumbled through clutching the hand of the slave girl, apparently dazed and stunned as he looked around the concrete room that he probably believed he would never see again. She had been the first to his side as he released Shaylan's hand and dropped to his knees, too exhausted and in too much pain to carry his own weight any longer. She had held him and tried to reassure him that his was going to be safe as he lost the fight to remain conscious and passed out in her arms.

She was indirectly responsible for him being here, in this condition. She had begged him to take the symbiote, knowing that the thought of blending sickened him. Her reasoning behind it hadn't been solely for the reasons she gave him, to get the information from Kanan as well as curing him from his illness. She hadn't wanted him to die. She wouldn't have been able to bear it if the man she loved had died when she had been given the chance to live. It had been selfish of her to force him into something he hadn't really wanted to do, and been too sick and delirious to make a proper, cognitive decision on.

How could she not feel responsible for him being in this state now? The only consolation she had was that he was still alive, but she doubted he would ever be the same again. Not after Ba'al. She had never seen his eyes as haunted as they had been since his return. He looked like a hollow shell of the man he had been, and it wasn't at all to do with the withdrawal that he was going through from the sarcophagus. He had been tortured. He had died and been healed and died again in a vicious unending, relentless, cycle.

Jack moaned softly in his sleep, his body squirming. He seemed to be caught in the clutches of some sort of nightmare. He moaned again, louder this time, his arms and legs thrashing slightly. Sam jumped up out of her chair and moved closer to the bed, searching for a sign that he might be waking up. Her first glance told her that he was still deep asleep, and firmly ensconced in whatever nightmare was holding him. His face looked pained, pale and drawn.

"No acid, please," he cried out, thrashing his hands again.

Without thinking Sam reached out and took one of his hands. It was cold. Gripping his hand tightly, she perched on the edge of his bed, gently stroked the back on his hand with her fingers. "Ssh Jack," she whispered to him, hoping that her voice had the calming effect that she hoped. "I'm here Jack. You're safe, no ones gonna hurt you here."

His thrashing slowed a little, but his face was still twisted with pain and fear. Sam leaned over him, brushing her fingers through his hair, across his forehead, whispering comforting words to him. The effect of her fingers on his face was instantaneous. He sighed softly, his face relaxing, his hand tightening reflexively on her hand as he settled back in to sleep. She didn't have the heart to move her hand, to disturb his already troubled sleep.

She settled herself more comfortably on the bed and continued to stroke the back of his hand. This past month had been hard on her. Finding out that Jack was dying of that illness, having to beg him to take the Tok'ra symbiote to save his life. Then there was the two weeks he had stayed at the Tok'ra base, the two loneliest weeks of her life. It was amazing how she had become so used to his company, how much she enjoyed his daily visits to her lab when he was bored, the lunches they shared together.

It was boring, she had realized. Without him there life on the base had truly been dull. She had missed his constant jokes, his continual efforts to get a smile from her. His attempts at getting her to explain to him what she was working on, and frustration when he couldn't understand. She loved the way his brow creased when he was confused and she missed it like crazy when it was gone. She missed him like crazy when he was gone.

Then Thoran had come through the gate and told them that Jack had disappeared and her heart stopped. The more that they pieced together what had happened to him, the closer she got to falling apart completely, and when they worked out that he had been captured by Ba'al she just about lost all hope. The only thing that kept her going was her desperation to find a way to get him home. So she put all her energy into that, and when she got into the sanctuary of her quarters or home, then she would break down.

*Oh god!* A stray thought struck her, a realization of what exactly she had done to make herself feel better, to get it all off her chest. Her eyes drifted down to Jack, still sleeping soundly next to her. There was nothing she could do about it now. She couldn't get into his house, so she couldn't take it back. She had made the conscious decision when she had started and now she had to live with it and any consequences it might bring.

Sighing, her gaze drifted back down to his face. He looked so peaceful at the moment, his face calm. It was a far cry to how he looked when he was awake, ragged and weary. Since he'd returned he looked older, greyer, tired and that was what haunted her the most. She wasn't used to seeing him constantly miserable, she wasn't used to talking to him and not getting the constant stream of sarcasm. She missed the flirting.

She had missed him.

She had come to realize something in the time he had been away, something she had always known and always fought so hard to try and ignore. She couldn't bear to be without him. She found it funny that her most profound realizations always came when he had been torn away from them . from her.

When he was trapped on Edora she had come to acknowledge that she cared for him, a lot more than was appropriate given their positions. The attraction, the spark, she had felt from the moment they had met had grown into something profound, something more than friendship. For the sake of her team and her career she had tried to forget, tried to ignore the feelings that kept creeping back when she least expected it.

When Jack had fallen ill, when he was dying, when they had been offered the only chance to save him, those feelings had re-emerged. When he had been captured by Ba'al her fear had forced those feelings to the surface again. Forced her to accept the one thing that she had tried to deny for so long.

She loved him.

She loved him and she had to get him back. It was that realization that had driven her on had motivated her when her spirits fell. It was those feelings that gave her the hope that she so desperately needed.

Releasing his hand, she stood from the bed, satisfied that he was sleeping soundly for the moment and quietly walked out of the Infirmary. She had some thinking to do, some decisions to make. It was too late now to try and hide those feelings anymore. It was too difficult to suppress them, and for once she didn't want to.

She didn't want to lose him again. Ever.

***********************

Jack threw his keys on the coffee table, throwing his jacket over the arm chair in the corner. The house was dark and cold and smelt musty after being shut up for so long. He looked at the flashing display on his answering machine. *Wow, I must be a pretty popular guy.* Twenty-five messages. That had to be a record. He pushed the play button as he set about making a fire.

Beep. "Mr. O'Neill. This is Paul at Capital One Bank. You have been pre- approved for a Capital One Credit Card with an available credit limit of $5,000. If you could give me a call at 1-800-555-0934, I'd be happy to discuss this with you. Thank you and have a nice day."

Jack rolled his eyes. *Like I need another credit card.*

Beep. "Mr. O'Neill? This is Max at Movie Galleria," a cracking voice of teenager came through the speaker of the machine. "Umm, the videos you rented on the 15th are past due. Just a reminder, you have the Best of the Simpsons Season 3, Spaceballs, and uhh ... Disney's Beauty and the Beast *?!*. Your dues come to $1.99 each night they are overdue. If you could return those as soon as possible it'd be great. Uhh thanks."

*Crap.* He would have to forget to return those now wouldn't he? Embarrassing enough he had to rent that Disney movie, for Teal'c and Jonas, in the first place; now it was overdue. Could it *be* anymore awkward?

Beep. "Colonel Jack? This is Billy Masters next door." A child's voice entered the room this time. "I was just wondering if you'd seen my dog. He wasn't in his pen when I got home after school. You remember what he looks like don't you? He's black and white with a short tail and floppy ears. His name is Georgie. If you see him could you tell me? I really worried. Thanks Colonel Jack."

Aww, poor kid. It was hard to lose a pet. He'd have to call him tomorrow and see if he'd found him. Right now though all he could think about was getting a beer and getting warm.

He made his way to his kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. The cold glaring light flooded the darkened kitchen. He squinted and stuck his head into the compartment. *Sweet.* He always kept more than enough of his favorite beer. He may be on the bare necessities in the food line, but hey ... at least he had beer. He snagged a bottle and popped the top as he shut the door. He heard the messages rattle off as he took a swig of his beer. A couple of hang-ups. No biggie, he got those all the time. Probably just some kid playing around.

He sat on his sofa and took another swig as the machine beeped again. Breathing, but no talking. Yep definitely pranks. He chuckled thinking back to when he used to that. A whole ... what ... three months ago. He grinned.

Beep. Silence. Then, softly in the background, "Holy Hannah, what am I doing?" Click.

Jack sat up choking as his drink went down the wrong way. He'd know that exclamation anywhere. He sat on the edge of the sofa, his beer now forgotten.

Beep. "For what it's worth ... I'm sorry. I know that may not mean a whole lot right now. But I am ... sorry that is." Click.

He closed his eyes as he listened to her soft voice. Sam. The message was nearly a month old, and yet it was like she was in the same room with him.

"I know. Sam, I know." His voice came out in a strangled croak.

The machine whirred and beeped again and indicated the next day and time. "Sir ... I know you're not there. But ... I just ... need someone to talk to. Everything is just ... I don't know ... different. I just wish ... I wish ..." Jack sat up straighter. What did she wish? He'd never heard her sound so ... despairing before. "I don't know ... I know I'm rambling. I'm sorry. *Beep beep beep* ...... I'm sorry, sir. I gotta go. They need me in the lab. Uh nite, sir."

So she'd been calling from base. He could nearly picture her slumped over her desk, trying to concentrate on some kind of analysis on her laptop, rubbing the cute little creases in her forehead, biting her lower lip. *Holy crap.* Amazing what that image alone was doing to him. His breathing had increased, as he anticipated the next message.

Beep. "Sir ... I ... " Silence.

*What? What what what?!* Jack unconsciously found himself sitting up straighter, leaning in towards the answer machine, intent on the sound of her voice.

"I'm tired. So tired. I feel so lonely. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I am. I just ... I need someone to talk to. You're normally around, you keep me company and your not here ... Sometimes I wished I wouldn't have asked you to take that symbiote ... to take a chance and find a sarcophagus. Of course your condition might have worsened but ... I can't help but feel I could have thought of something else ... some other alternative. Then you wouldn't be in this mess ... you'd be here. With me ..." Click.

Did she just say what he thought she said? He was sitting straight as a board, afraid if he moved then he wouldn't hear it all, that he'd miss something. He definitely needed a beer now. He reached his hand out, shaking mercilessly. He gripped the neck of the bottle and drained the entire contents.

Beep. "Jack ... I just wanna say that ..." *Was that a hiccup?* "You should be here. Why do you always leave ... Oh god! This is my fault this time." His eyes bulged. Carter ... drunk? Was that possible? Of course it was possible. But ... oh god! She was blaming herself. None of this was her fault. Maybe he blamed her a little bit at the beginning. But not now. Her overwhelming sadness was ripping his heart out.

The machine cut her off. Though she must have called back immediately afterwards, if the next message was any clue.

"Jack ... I'm so so sorry." Her voice caught on a sob. "Please don't hate me. I never meant for any of this to happen. I don't think I could live with myself if you hated me. Just come back. I need you. Please? Please come back to me ..." Her voice ended in a whisper as sobs overtook her. That was all he heard for the rest of that message until the machine cut off.

He hadn't heard Sam's deepest emotions and feelings since ... well that one time in the room. The time they both swore that they would leave it in the room. He didn't want to do it then, but he did for Sam's sake. Looked like she really didn't want to either, at least unconsciously anyway.

He'd never seen the raw emotions of Sam Carter before. Not the deep down ones. On one hand he wanted to see more of them, wanted to know what she was really feeling. But on the other hand, he didn't like seeing Sam this vulnerable. She was always so calm and together. That she'd let her defenses down and let her collectiveness slip, to him no less, it unnerved yet touched him at the same time.

True they trusted each other. He wouldn't have agreed to the whole Kanan thing if he didn't. And he knew she trusted him as well; she'd have to if she'd told him all that. That she'd been drunk at the time didn't register, the only thing that mattered was she needed him. That thought was a lot to take in. He'd never felt needed, not wholly anyway, especially not so much since his son's death. But this strong woman, his second in command, needed him.

He leaned back against the sofa, and drew his hand over his face. Wow. So much to take in, in what ... five, ten minutes. He looked at his watch. Two hours had passed. He'd been sitting there listening to Sam's voice for over two hours. Unbelievable.

Beep. "Umm Sir. I want to apologize if I said anything inappropriate last night. I uh ... had a bit too much to drink and well ... I just hope you're not mad at me. Umm I have to go; there's been some kind of development at the base, something about the Tok'ra. I really should go. I'll talk to you later."

Mad? How could he be mad at her? He couldn't. Simple as that. Not for long anyway. Her smile, her laugh, the look in her eyes. Those things rolled into one just made it easy not to hate her. Heck, he more than liked her. He ...

Beep. Crying. She was crying. He could barely make out anything she was saying. It made him want to go to her immediately and take her in his arms, comfort her. But he couldn't. It had already happened. Long past. "Jack ... please forgive me. I ... it seems that things have gotten so much worse. I can't believe you've been captured by a System Lord. I ... I don't understand what went wrong. The Tok'ra said everything was under control. That you were recovering, that Kanan should release you any time. I'm sorry. I wish I knew what to do, but I don't. For the first time, I'm lost. I don't know what to do. Oh god, Jack ..." She continued sobbing.

His hands had curled unconsciously into fists as he recalled his imprisonment. He'd wanted to give up so many times, but he held on. He never even realized how she might have been dealing with it. Apparently she'd thought there'd been no way. She given up on herself. *Don't give up on me, Sam.* He silently urged her.

A few more creditors came on the line. Then an advertisement for a local political figure sharing their views and volleying votes. *Hurry it up.* He knew the next one would be her. He could feel it in his bones. It was her.

Beep. "Why is it we always wait until after the fact before admitting to things?" She was surprisingly sober, and not crying. Her voice was hoarse, like she had been, but had long since spent all the tears she'd had. "I never told you how I felt. Of course we both know why. Duty, honor, all that. I wanted to tell you so many times. So many times. But I didn't. I never really wanted to keep everything in the room. I just agreed, because I thought that was what you'd want. I mean I pretty much forced you to admit your feelings in the first place. I don't know how many times I can say I'm sorry, but I truly am. If I knew then what I know now, things would have been a lot different." Click.

What was she saying? He *thought* he knew what she was saying, but he hadn't actually heard her say it. He waited patiently, or at least as patient as he could be, for the next message to begin.

Beep. "Like I was saying, things would be different. I wouldn't have left that room if I knew how things were going to turn out. We've drifted apart. I don't know what happened. It was like we were afraid to be around each other. I guess in a sense we were though. Afraid that someone might find out the truth. I'm not afraid now. Ironic isn't it. Now that it's too late, I'm not afraid to let you know how I feel. The truth is ... I love you. I have for quite a while. But I guess you knew that. Or maybe you didn't. I'd always hoped you knew. I'm tired of hiding things. I'm tired of pretending for the sake of the people that watch us. I ... I'm just tired Jack. I'm going to bed now. I love you." Her voice ended in a whisper. If he hadn't been straining to hear it he wouldn't have.

She loved him. *She loves me.* She'd said all that when she thought him to be lost. When she'd thought there'd been no hope of finding him. How could she have given up so easily? Then it hit him. She didn't give it up that easily. It had nearly killed her to admit to it. To admit that she didn't have all the power to save everyone. That even though she was the smartest person he knew, she couldn't figure this out. He heard the pain in her voice. He heard the sorrow. It was almost the same as when they'd 'lost' Daniel. Only this time ... this time it had been so much more.

That was the last message. The machine halted prompting him to save or erase the messages. He stood unsteadily and walked the short distance to the machine. The blinking had stopped, replaced by the steady glow of the display. He started erasing the messages one by one. Until he got to the last one. He couldn't erase that one. No matter how much he tried, his heart, and maybe his mind, wouldn't let his finger push the button. He pulled his hand back and ran it through his hair. His eyes were getting heavy, the alcohol working with the fatigue against him.

Sleep. He needed sleep. He shuffled up the few short steps to the hallway that lead to his bedroom. The door had been left open, the bed still made, clothes still strewn across the floor. Some things never changed. Other things did. Right then though, he was too exhausted to contemplate about them. He fell across his bed after he'd stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers. He pulled the covers up to his chin and flopped onto his side, his eyes closing even before his head settled on his pillow, sending him off to a deep, but troubled slumber.

*************************

Jack woke with a yelp and sat up. His heart was pounding and every inch of his body was covered with a sheen of sweat. His sheets were tangled around his ankles, but it didn't matter. He was so hot.

He tried hard not to think back on the nightmare that woke him but it proved impossible as the images assaulted him even when he was awake. It had been like this every night since he had returned, though he had hoped that his first night back at home, in his own bed, might stave off the nightmares for just one night. He should be so lucky.

There was nothing of substance to the nightmares. Nothing more tangible than a scattering of images, images left in his mind from Kanan, images more recently of the torture he had received at Ba'al's hands. The sounds and feel of the knives as they pierced his skin and the sizzle of acid as it ate it's way through his flesh.

Scrubbing a hand warily over his face, he kicked the sheets the rest of the way off his legs and slid out of the bed. He wished for just one night he could get a decent night's sleep, but it didn't look like it was going to happen anytime soon. *Damn Kanan. Damn Ba'al. Damn them both to hell.* He hated living like this, hated being constantly exhausted yet unable to sleep. He had thought suffering through the withdrawal had been difficult. This was worse.

Pulling on a pair of track pants over his boxers he shuffled out of his bedroom, eager to find something to distract his mind from the constant memories it dredged up to haunt him with. He felt deflated. All he wanted to do was curl up into a little ball and sob his heart out, but he was a grown man and a Colonel to boot, and it wasn't like doing that would make him feel any better anyway.

Padding in to the living room, his gaze drifted to the answering machine and a small smile drifted on to his face. His mood lightened instantly as he remembered the messages that had been left on it while he had been away. His heart swelled as he thought about the last message, and his smile grew, the nightmare quickly forgotten. She loved him. Stepping up to the machine he pressed the play button and sank down on the sofa as Sam's anguished voice filled the room. He closed his eyes and just listened to the sound of her voice.

Her voice soothed him. It always had. Even when she had a sense of authority about it, it still held a note of gentleness. The way she explained things to him simpler. Some of the time he understood what she was talking about, and those times he just sat back and listened. He never let on that he understood though, for fear that she would just stop. Those times mainly were when they were alone in her lab while she was working on a doohickey or thingamajig. He enjoyed those times. Their time.

He never realized how much he missed those times, not until they became less frequent. He blamed himself mostly. He'd let them drift apart. Things had become strained after the whole za'tarc thing. Then he'd had to 'kill' her. So many things happened to wedge them further apart. But then Daniel had ascended. Sam had taken it so hard, and what did he do? He pushed her away when they should have drawn on each other's strength. It had helped some when Jonas had joined the team, they became friends again. At some level anyway. Not all the bantering and flirting was there that used to be, but it wasn't nearly as tense either.

The message ended. He rose from the sofa and walked over to the machine and pressed the play button again. Sam's voice filtered through the air again. It sounded so good to his ears. It was so much better than sleeping right then. Not that he *could* get to sleep, but he didn't particularly want to. He was happy to just sit there in the dark and listen to Sam's voice float over him.

The waves of love he felt warmed him from the inside out. True, it was coming from a recorded message that was weeks old. But it still it comforted him like nothing else could at that moment. Well there was something, but he didn't look for that to happen. At least not right then.

What he wanted more than anything right then, was to have Sam here with him. To hold her in his arms, and tell her how much he loved her. To tell her he wouldn't be leaving her any time soon. That he didn't want to either. He wanted to wipe away the weeks of anguish she had felt, to dry her tears.

But he had a feeling that he wouldn't be doing that tonight. He wouldn't be doing that for a very long time. He closed his eyes as he relished in her soft voice washing over him.

**************************

She turned the ignition off in her car, and continued to watch the rain batter against the windshield. *I must be insane. It's not even three in the morning, it's cold and rainy and I am sitting in front of my CO's house. The CO that I love.* Her gaze drifted to his house, noticing that even though it was the middle of the night the lights were on in his living room.

Opening the car door, she hopped out and locked it behind her before her resolve failed her completely. In seconds the pelting rain had soaked her through to the skin, but she didn't care. Soon she would be inside his house and out of the rain. But she couldn't move. Her feet were frozen in place, unwilling to take the steps up his walk to his front door.

*Why am I here? I shouldn't be here.* She dismissed the thought. She'd had to come. She had started something when he had gone, and now she had to finish it. It was too late to turn back now, it had been too late the moment the words left her mouth. Now that she had told him how she truly felt. Strangely, it didn't bother her like it should have. In fact, she was relieved that she had gotten it off her chest, six years worth of repressed feelings. She only hoped that he still felt the same way.

There was no way that he hadn't checked his messages, it wasn't his style. And now she had to face up to the consequences. Now was the time that she found out whether she had left it to late to tell him the truth. Now it was time to find out if she was going to get rejected . or not.

There was nothing that she could do about it but try and deal with it. Besides, she wouldn't know until she talked to him, and she couldn't talk to him until she got to the door and knocked. The closer she got to his door, the louder the sounds from inside grew. Assuming it was just the television, she quickened her pace knowing that he must still be awake.

Reaching the door, she stopped in surprise. It wasn't the TV that she was hearing. It was her voice. It was one of her messages. He was listening to her messages. The recording stopped, and there was a pause for a moment before the next message played. *What the hell?* It was the same message as before. She froze, moving her ear closer the door, trying to listen harder.

The message stopped, and as before there was a short pause. And it played again. *Why is he listening to it over and over again?* Confused and more hopeful than she had been since she had arrived she raised her hand and knocked loudly on the door. The message cut off abruptly. Her heart started pounding harder as she listened to his footfalls coming closer to the door. The exterior light flicked on.

Squinting, Sam kept her eyes on the door as it opened slowly and Jack's face peeked around it. His eyes widened with surprise when he saw her and her stomach plummeted to the ground. He didn't look happy to see her. *Oh god,* she thought, *I've made a mistake. I shouldn't have come.* The door closed and she heard the sound of the chain being slipped out of the lock.

The door was flung open again and before she had a chance to react she was pulled into a fierce embrace. Her arms hung stiffly at her side as her confused mind struggled to comprehend what was going on. The arms wound tightly around her body, pressing their bodies even closer together.

"Oh Sam, I hoped it would be you!"

Slowly Sam forced her arms into motion, sliding them around Jack's neck and closing her eyes. This had been the last thing she had expected to happen. *Does that mean he feels the same way? It had to, didn't it?* She couldn't talk, her knees had turned to jelly, so she leaned into him, letting him hold her steady.

Unwillingly, she felt tears pricking her eyes. All the emotions of the last month, the loneliness, the fear, the hope, the loss and the relief, all came to a head. She couldn't stop the flow once it started and it felt so right that the release should come when he was holding her. The tears came in huge wracking sobs, her whole body shaking with the force of them.

She felt Jack pulling away from her. "What is it Sam?" he asked, his voice full of concern. "What's wrong?"

She shook her head, unable to voice a months worth of pent up emotions and heartache. She couldn't talk, not yet. He seemed to understand as he gathered her into his arms again and she buried her face into his chest, sobbing harder. His hand smoothed over her hair. "Ssh Sam, don't cry," he whispered softly.

His words, the tenderness in his voice, only made her cry harder. She had needed this, she realized, needed this release of emotions, needed to be comforted by another human being. That it happened to be the man that she was in love with was just an added consolation. She needed him, more than she had ever been willing to admit to in the past. She needed the feel of his arms around her, to hear the gentleness in his voice as he whispered comforting words.

Only he could make her feel better.

Vaguely, she became aware of him moving away from her, of one arm sliding around her waist, of her body being propelled forward as he supported her weight and guided her into the warmth and sanctuary of his home.

And she felt like she had come home herself.

**************************

Jack couldn't believe his luck. In minute he had been thinking about how much he wanted Sam to be with him, and then the next there she was, standing at his doorstep drenched to the skin. The last thing he'd expected, though, was her to burst into tears. It wasn't her style, she barely ever showed how she felt, and she barely ever broke down so completely in front of him.

His heart was pounding in his chest as he led her into the house and closed the door behind them. He gathered her into his arms again, his shirt already soaked through from her drenched clothes, but at the moment he didn't care. All he was concerned with was comforting the woman who had turned up on his doorstep at 3 o'clock in the morning. The woman he loved.

He knew now, after listening to all the messages on his answering machine, that this last month had been as hard on her as it was him, perhaps even harder. She had been fighting the guilt of persuading him to the joining, and discovering what that blending had brought on him. He knew how she truly felt, after so long wondering and hoping that she felt the same way, he knew now and was desperate to tell her that he felt the same way.

He closed his eyes, basking in the feel of her body pressed against his, her face buried into his chest. He didn't want to move, he didn't want to let her go, ever. He inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent that was purely her, and found himself losing control. He unwound his arms from her back, his hands moving to her face and cupping it gently between them, tilting it gently up to face him.

"Sam, look at me," he whispered, his voice suddenly hoarse.

*How was it possible for a woman so young and beautiful to love me?*

But as her eyes flickered open, her tears suddenly forgotten and he could see it in her eyes. The love, the fear, the hope. His mouth went dry. He had never seen her look at him so openly, never been able to see the feelings shining in their beautiful blue depths. She had gotten so good at hiding how she felt that he'd had no idea whether she had felt the same way. Even after hearing her confession on the answering machine hadn't been enough to convince him, not completely, not when it would be so easy for her to turn around and tell him that she had only said it because she thought they would never get him back.

Then she had turned up on his doorstep in the middle of the night. She had broken down in his arms. The emotions that she kept so well hidden were all there, in her face, and he didn't need to search to find it. He didn't even need her words. She had made her decision. She had decided not to turn back, when it would have been so easy to. She was here to face up to what she had told him.

Unable to help himself he leaned forward, his face inches from hers, his thumbs gently stroking across her cheeks. "Don't cry Sam. Don't ever cry over me," he whispered.

She smiled, her eyes sparkling as her eyes slid shut and she parted her lips invitingly. He captured them hungrily with his own; needing to show her without words how he felt. His hands slid down her cheeks, down her body to rest around her waist as one of her hands drifted up to tangle in his hair. He drew her closer to him and heard her whimper with need and desire. The sound urged him on, his tongue asking for silent entry into her warm mouth. Her own tongue brushed daringly against his, causing fire to course through his body.

She brought both her arms around his neck, pulling him closer to her. It seemed they couldn't get close enough. She shivered involuntarily against him. He pulled back enough to look into her face, still holding onto her. All of a sudden her teeth chattered, as she continued to shiver.

"Let's get you warmed up." He led her in front of the fire and sat her down on the rug as he fed more wood into the fireplace. As the fire flared again, he looked down at Sam and saw she was still obviously cold. He left the room with a soft "I'll be back" and went in search of something dry for her to put on.

He rummaged through his chest of drawers trying to find something that would fit her comfortably. Unfortunately he came up empty handed. It seemed he really needed to do laundry. He looked around his room trying to find anything, when he spotted an old soft quilt folded on the trunk at the end of his bed. He came back into the room struck with a major sense of protectiveness. He wanted to make sure Sam was safe. He guessed that was why he preferred having her on missions with him. Because she could watch him, and in turn he could watch her, see she was all right.

He kneeled down behind her as he unfolded the blanket. "Why don't you get out of those wet clothes?"

She turned her head and looked up at him. He didn't want her to feel like he was taking advantage of her insecurities and vulnerability. "I won't look, I promise."

She merely smiled displaying all the love she held for him. She nodded her head and dropped it as a sudden attack of shyness overcame her. As Jack looked away, she began unbuttoning her blouse. He could see her actions evident in the shadow on the wall. Her closeness was having a heady effect on him. His breathing became short and labored. She lay her blouse on the floor next to his knee and went on to her jeans.

He heard the zipper fall and he swallowed hard, finding it difficult to breathe at all now. The rustle of movement in front of him made him more aware of her than he'd ever been. She shuffled some more before she managed to get her wet, and now quite snug, jeans off. She removed her bra and panties and added them to her pile of wet garments.

"I'm done." He barely heard her say.

He lifted the blanket and risked a glace at her now naked body. He saw a smooth expanse of creamy soft back. The fire only added a sensual glow to her already perfect body. As he draped the quilt around her he let his hands brush her shoulders.

Once he had the blanket wrapped around her, he spread his legs and sat behind her, pulling her into his embrace, wanting to use his body heat to warm her. Her head fell back against his shoulder and she sighed softly. "Do you feel better now?" he asked huskily, his lips brushing her neck.

She nodded her head. "Yeah."

She didn't need to say anymore to him. He knew that sometimes you just needed a good cry to get everything off your chest. He wished he had the courage to do it himself sometimes. "So what are you doing showing up at my door in the middle of the night?" he asked, attempting to keep his tone playful and joking to try and ease the tension that had suddenly settled over them.

"I think you have a pretty fair idea, don't you Jack?" she whispered, her voice cracking.

The quiet use of his name didn't go unnoticed. In fact, it set his heart racing. "Yeah I do," he responded. "We need to talk."

"Yeah we do."

Jack sighed. He was never much of a talker, not when it mattered, not when it came to talking about his feelings. That was what she needed though; it was what she wanted, why else would she be here?

"For what it's worth, I feel the same way. I always have."

Sam's body stiffened under his arms, her head moved off his shoulder. "Then we have a problem, don't we?"

"Only if we make it a problem, Sam." She turned to look at him then, her eyes wide and shining with tears. He quickly reached up and pressed a finger to her lips. "I don't think you would have come all the way out here in the pouring rain to tell me that you hadn't meant what you said. I don't think you have any intention of taking those words back . and I won't let you."

She blinked, a solitary tear tracking slowly down her face. "I can't go back to the way we were before Jack. I mean, for the last two years we've practically been strangers, and why? Because we were afraid to show how much we cared? We were afraid to slip up and let on that we'd become closer than we ever could have imagined?" her face twisted with misery and she began sobbing again in earnest. "I'm tired of hiding how I feel, Jack. I'm tired of coming so close to death time and time again and realizing that I might die without you knowing how I truly felt about you, or worse yet, of losing you without ever having the chance to know what it was like to be loved by you."

Jack pulled her back into his arms as she began weeping again, guiding her head against his shoulder, his mind struggling to comprehend what she was trying to say to him. Her words lightened his heart. He had always felt exactly the same way, but had never been able to voice them. He knew he had to say something to her, but was at a loss as to what to say.

"The hardest thing I've ever had to do in the whole time I've been in the military was the moment I had to shoot you when your body was taken over by that entity," he whispered. "When Doc Fraiser told us that you were brain dead I just shut down, I couldn't leave your bedside. I couldn't leave you. It just about killed me seeing you hooked up to all those machines, knowing that that was all that was keeping you alive, and knowing that it was me that had put you there. I was ready to retire on the spot."

She was sitting completely motionless now, her head nestled against his chest. "Why didn't you?" she asked quietly. Craning her neck to look up at him, her bright blue eyes held him captive. It was like the very air between them crackled with electricity.

"When you got better, you just jumped straight back into work and I . I felt like I had to be around you, that I had to try and protect you from whatever was out there trying to hurt you." He flushed and gave her an embarrassed smile. "Silly, I know, but when I shot you I realized that it wasn't worth it anymore, any of it, if you weren't around and I decided that I had to make sure that you were always gonna be safe."

He snorted and tore his gaze away from hers, feeling incredibly stupid. I shouldn't have told her that! Now she'll think I'm crazy! He jumped slightly when her hand cupped his face, drawing his eyes back to hers.

"That's really sweet, Jack," she whispered, her eyes shining.

The look in her eyes made his breath catch. "I just knew that if I couldn't be with you in the way I wanted then I had to be with you some other way," he blurted. She smiled sweetly, her arms sliding around his waist causing the quilt to nearly drop too far. His own arms tightened reflexively around her. "I love you Sam."

"I love you too." She sighed softly against his chest and pulled away. "So I guess we have to make a decision now, don't we?"

Jack closed his eyes. *Is this the part where she changes her mind? Where she thinks the risks outweigh the advantages? Where we wait for a couple more years, until we're both free of our obligations, of the rules and regulations, until we begin a relationship?* "I think you know where I stand on this Sam," he replied. "I want to be with you, I don't want to wait anymore."

"Two months ago I might not have agreed with you Jack," Sam whispered, drawing his attention back to her face. He could see it then. He could see that she had made a decision. He only hoped it was the right one. "But we came so close to losing you and I can't do it again. I can't go through that again. I want to be with you too, Jack."

Jack's heart stopped for a moment as Sam's words sank in. He had been so sure that she would turn around and say no. He hadn't wanted to get his hopes up believing that she would throw caution to the wind and tell him the one thing that he had truly wanted. But she had. A grin spread across his face, answering the one being flashed at him by Sam. "So, we'll talk to Hammond tomorrow then?"

Sam's face fell. "Hammond?" she asked dully.

He knew what she was thinking without her having to say a word. A relationship between them was prohibited, and by going to General Hammond it would mean they would be split up, placed into other commands, or worse yet, court martial. But Jack had a feeling that it wouldn't happen that way. He had a feeling they were too important to split up. "I don't wanna run around behind everyone's back just so I can be with you Sam. It don't want to lie to our friends, and I don't want to run the risk that if we get caught doing it he'll split us up. If we're honest from the start it'll all be okay, I promise."

She forced a smile, but he could still see the fear lurking in the depths of her eyes. "You better be right Jack!"

"Aren't I always right?" he laughed, shifting her so they sat face to face. "Now how about we make the most of the rest of this morning?" he whispered, leaning in to capture her lips in an earth-shattering kiss.

*******************

Jack sat fidgeting in a chair in front of Hammond's desk, while Sam sat straight-backed in the other one. They had for the first time that either of them could remember, made an appointment to speak with him. As the case may be, they were both early. An Airman had led them in and asked them to have a seat while they waited for the General.

For the umpteenth time in as many minutes Jack asked the same question. "What do ya think he'll say?"

Sam held onto her optimism. She had to or else she might fall apart. And that was something she didn't want to do, especially then. So she reassured him as she had for the several times before that. "Hopefully he'll hear us out."

"Ah okay." And he shifted again.

More minutes passed, but either of them refused to glance at their watches. If they had though, they would have seen they'd been sitting there for well over thirty minutes. Jack shifted some more, and Sam didn't.

"Thank you for waiting, Colonel, Major. I got held up in the Control Room." He sat behind his desk, moving papers and files off to the side, clearing the center. "What is it I can do for you?"

They had agreed to let Sam do the talking, as she was so much better with words, especially in moments of stress. "Sir, we decided it was time we discussed something with you." Sam met Jack's eyes, and he silently urged her on. "It's something that could effect SG-1."

Hammond's suddenly intense gaze moved between Sam and Jack. He clasped his hands in front of him on the desk and leaned forward, contemplating how to forge forward. "I have some idea what this is about. I had expected this at some point, though I have to say I am surprised it took this long."

This got Jack's attention; he sat up straighter in his chair. "You do? You are? Wha...?"

Hammond chuckled at Jack's lack of finesse. "I'd have to be blind not to, Colonel. There aren't too many people who *don't* see it."

That remark shut Jack up for the moment.

"As I was saying, I was anticipating this at some point, so I took precautionary measures and investigated the subject." He looked pointedly at two of his best officers and continued. "I have observed your interactions for over six years now. When I became suspicious of your feelings for one another I was concerned. But I didn't say anything. For one I didn't want to lose my flagship team, and two I wanted to make sure what I was seeing was real. I soon found out it was."

Jack's eyes strayed to Sam, not hiding his feelings from her. He could see the fear and disbelief reflected in their sea-blue depths. He opened his mouth to say something, but the General ran over him.

"Doctor Fraiser told me what happened when the two of you had been retested, which only served to confirm my suspicions, and I knew that you two had decided not to act on it, and I respect you for that. I also knew that when Jack shot you, Sam, that you could both still performs your duties if you were required to, no matter how difficult the task might be."

"I made a decision shortly thereafter." He went on. "I had a long discussion with the President, and we came to the conclusion that the regulations regarding fraternization should be amended. You made a prime example that two people that cared deeply for one another could also work well together."

Jack's brow wrinkled as he took in the new information. This was something he hadn't expected at all. "So you're saying ..." He waved his hands around gesturing for words.

"I'm saying that there is no longer anything to hold back a relationship if you choose to pursue one. And if I'm right, that is why you came to see me, is it not?" He smoothed over in his slow Texan drawl.

"Oh wow," the couple murmured in unison, their faces a mask of disbelief. A grin crept over Sam's face as the General's words hit home and she jumped up quickly, pressing a kiss on the General's cheek. "Thank you, sir!"

Hammond chuckled to himself and settled back in his seat to watch as an exuberant Jack O'Neill stood and gathered his 2IC into his arms. "See? I promised you it would all work out," he whispered before leaning down and capturing her lips with his own, seemingly oblivious to anyone else in the room.

Sam's arms went fully around Jack's neck pulling him closer. They heard a slight cough behind them. "I do trust you will keep the public displays of affection to a minimum while on duty." Hammond replied with a smile in his voice.

Sam and Jack pulled apart, though still keeping in each other's embrace. "Yes Sir." They echoed.

"Good." He sat back thoughtfully in his chair. "Now ... It has also come to my attention that you both have accumulated an excessive amount of vacation time. I'm extending SG-1's downtime."

Jack looked down at the woman in his arms and smiled. He dropped a kiss onto her welcoming lips.

"I hear there's this cabin in Minnesota ..." The couple didn't hear him as they walked out of his with their arms around each other.

****************** ~~Finis~~

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