"Jack?"

Carter shifted slightly, trying to get a little more comfortable. O'Neill had cried himself into an exhausted doze a couple hours earlier, and she'd held him tenderly, knowing full well that now that he'd allowed himself to cry for his friend he'd be able to start to get over it. Or at least be able to deal with it without falling back into the melancholy that had been so potentially deadly. The position they were in was awkward, though, and her muscles were beyond sore, and she'd ignored it for as long as she could, but she had to wake him and get him to move. At least a little.

"Hmmm?"

"Wake up for a second, will you?"

He opened his eyes and turned his head up to look at her, looking like a sleepy child just up from a nap, and Sam cupped his cheek with the palm of her hand, smiling gently down at him to let him know before asking that nothing was wrong.

"My leg is asleep, Colonel," She told him, "Do you mind if we get a little more comfortable?"

He came awake "God, Carter, I'm sorry." He lifted himself up so she could move her right leg out from under him, and sat up next to her. "You okay?"

"It's just a cramp," She said, rubbing the limb lightly to get circulation going again. "How about you? Feeling any better?"

Jack took hold of Sam's leg and draped it over his lap, moving her hand away to knead the stiff muscles himself. He was quiet for a moment, focusing on what he was doing, and taking an internal stock of how he truly felt. The pain was still there, but it felt as though a great burden had been lifted from him, and the debilitating grief that had plagued his every thought now seemed far more manageable.

"Yeah, Sam," he said softly. "I do." He looked up from her leg and into her eyes, and she was relieved to see that his expression wasn't bleak any more. "Thanks to you." His hands stilled on her leg as he tried to figure out how to say what else he wanted to say. There was still unfinished business between the two of them, and Jack wasn't going to let it slide another day. There was no room in his life at that moment for any more regrets than he already had.

"Hey, Sam..." He hesitated, and Carter saw the first sign of the old O'Neill when he got that look on his face that he normally had when she was trying to explain something incredibly complicated. The one that he wore when he was trying to figure something out that was beyond him. It had always been an endearing look; one that Sam treasured so much she'd sometimes go out of her way to confuse him just to see it.

"Hmmm?" She wondered what had him so perplexed.

"Do you... um..." He hesitated again, unsure of what to say, and how to say it.

"What?"

"Um... you and I...? Where... Wha-..." He stopped and took a deep breath, then tried again, this time attempting to sound a little less like an idiot. "If there weren't regulations, do you think that... you know, we'd be..."

Sam blushed slightly, well remembering their kisses of the past days, and the private feelings she'd always held for him. Feelings that she knew he shared.

"I'm sure of it, Sir," she told him, wondering what had prompted him to ask that particular question just then. Jack nodded, as though she'd answered some other question that he hadn't voiced, and he moved out from under her leg to sit closer to her. He looked about as uncomfortable as she'd ever seen him, but it couldn't have been the position, and Sam wondered what was wrong with him.

He took her hand in his and looked down at it, remembering how gentle her touch had been. He had to let her know what he felt, even if it changed everything between them. She needed to know. Just as Daniel should have known. If something ever happened to him – or to her – he didn't want there to ever be a moment's doubt about how he felt.

"Sam..."

"Jack? What's wrong?" There was real concern in her voice, and he looked up into her blue eyes. Eyes that he could so easily just stare at all day.

"Sam... Iloveyou." It came out in such a rush that they all sounded like one word, and Jack mentally swore and tried again, a little slower. "I love you. I want to be with you, and I don't care about the regulations." He looked back down at her hand, unable to meet her gaze in case she didn't quite feel the same way about him. This was going to be said, though. No matter what. "I just want you to know that."

Carter was floored. Simply and utterly stunned at his announcement. She wasn't surprised that he had feelings for her; she'd known that for a long time, but she couldn't believe that he'd just opened up like that to her. If she'd thought he'd been vulnerable before, it was nothing to what he'd just done willingly.

"Sir..."

"No, Sam... Jack." His brown eyes were pleading for her to understand, and suddenly she did. He was telling her exactly what he felt, in case something like what had happened to Daniel ever happened again. To him. He didn't want her to have to wonder what might have been had he been more open with her about his feelings.

"Jack." Sam said, smiling as she took her hand and pressed it against his chest, feeling his heart beating. How could she ever say no to something she wanted so badly? Something he was offering her without reservation? "Are you sure? Regulations –"

"I know, Sam, and I don't care. I'm not going to let anything hold us back. Or anyone. Especially myself. If you love me, and I love you, then we'll find a way around the regulations. I swear to you."

She smiled and he knew it was his answer. The answer to a question he should have asked her so many years before, but was too afraid of. The question that an echo of a friend had seen long before Jack himself had found a way to even voice it, even to himself. A question that she'd been waiting a lifetime to answer.

He returned the smile, and leaned over and kissed her. A kiss full of the promise that whatever might come in their future, she'd never have to face it without someone beside her who she knew loved her.

~*~

"Sam?"

It was much later, and Sam smiled to hear the voice on the other end of the phone.

"Janet. Hi."

"I was just calling to see how everything was going. How is he doing?"

Carter looked beside her at the man who was sleeping next to her, his arm draped over her bare belly, and one leg tangled with her own. Her free hand reached out and pulled the blankets up over him, and she smiled when he snuggled closer to her, the hand caressing her even while he slept.

"He's fine, Janet," Sam said, never more certain about anything in her life. "We're both fine."

The End