Title:Out of the Depths

Author: Jen Gafeller

Email: Angst; Sam/Jack UST; Hurt/Comfort; Epilogue/Missing Scene: New Order 2

Content Warnings: Sam/Jack UST; some foul language.

Rating: PG-13

Season/Sequel: Season 8

Spoilers: Big 'ol spoilers for New Order. Some little ones for The Other Side, Jolinar's Memories, The Devil You Know, Abyss, and Grace. Probably more than that, but right now I can't think of them.

Summary: While watching New Order, I found myself wondering what our heroes were thinking during the last bit of the action. There was also a big missing scene that I have attempted to fill in here. Wow, this summary really wouldn't get me to read this story…..oh well…anyway. Oh, and if you haven't seen the episode, this probably won't make a whole lot of sense.

Archive: Anywhere, just let me know where it is. SJD, yep.

Status: Complete

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime / Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money changed hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. Not to be archived without permission. Feedback and constructive criticism welcome through e-mailing me at the above address. I'm poor and don't have much but my muse, so please don't sue me. )

Copyright: © 2004 Jen Gafeller

Author's Notes: Ok, I really thought this episode was outstanding on several different levels, with one big glaring exception: we didn't really see much emotion from the guys when they thought Sam was dead, nor did we see much from them after they found her alive. I'm not sure I've done this much justice here, but I at least feel a bit better about it. )

Dedication: To my daughter, who left this world long before she deserved. You are my inspiration and my guardian angel, my Cora Beth.

OUT OF THE DEPTHS

"I know you can hear me! Fifth, what's happening? Where are you?" Sam called. She sensed rather than saw him and spun around to face him.

"We must leave."

"Why?"

"They've found a means to fight us."

"The Asgard? How?"

"The one you call O'Neill."

"What?" Not the Asgard? How long have I been out here? The Colonel is here? Building weapons that can stop them? How? The questions raced through Sam's mind at hyperspeed. Relief flooded through her. They were here. O'Neill was here, and she knew he wouldn't leave her like this; trapped for eternity in this hellish nightmare.

"Your friends, they are killing…. They are trying to stop us."

"They're trying to save me."

"No. They don't care about you. I told them I would kill you if they did not stop."

"Then why don't you kill me?" Sam waited expectantly for Fifth's answer, when it was not forthcoming, she plunged ahead. "You know why my friends won't stop just to save me?"

"No."

"Because they know when it comes right down to it, I would rather be dead than trapped like this forever." Fifth looked surprised. Good. One way or another this will end, soon.

"No matter what you feel for me, I will never love you back. Kill me if you want. But if you have even one shred of humanity in you and you really truly love me, you'll let me go."

She couldn't be sure what had happened next. One moment she was challenging Fifth to end it all right there and the next she simply wasn't there any longer. There was no feeling, no sensation and she had only a split instant to wonder if he had truly killed her afterall.

They had been beamed down not far from the structure Thor had seen on his scanners. The building in which they were Sam was being held captive. Jack flanked by Teal'c and Daniel hadn't been searching long when the replicator buggies had found them first. Jack knew they had one slim chance to get to Sam, and that chance was quickly slipping away from them. The replicator attack was slowing them down, they were wasting time they didn't have holding them off. He felt the beginnings of desperation creeping up on him and he viciously fought it down. Now was not the time. Now was the time to blast their way through these damn things as fast as possible and get to Sam. That was all that mattered.

"Who's your Daddy!"

"Stop!"

The command brought Jack up short and he pivoted on his heel bringing his weapon around as quickly as possible.

"If you harm me or any more of my brethren, I assure you Major Carter will die instantly."

Son of a bitch. I knew those guys were going to come back to bite me in the ass. Before he could think of an acceptably snide comment, Fifth had faded back into the trees and rather than pursue him, Jack decided that retreat, in this case, was definitely the better part of valor. He couldn't take the chance that following them would also result in Carter's death.

The Asgard communication device he clutched in his hand crackled to life with Thor's voice.

"O'Neill, I have successfully modified my ship to emit a massive disruption wave."

Jack reached for the device to reply. "Excellent. I knew you could do it."

"The weapon is fifty percent charged. If this works, you will have saved the Asgard once again."

"I'm real happy for ya. I'm extremely proud. But we've got a little bit of a problem down here. Fifth detected our approach and he claims he can kill Carter…instantly."

"O'Neill…"

"Hey, I know what you're gonna say! Her life was already sacrificed and you've got your whole planet to worry about. But I've got problems too…"

"Jack…" Daniel interrupted, his head cocked, listening intently.

"Hang on a second." Jack turned toward Daniel. "What?" He asked, now also listening closely. At first he couldn't tell what had alerted Daniel, but then there it was, on the edges of the breeze. A sound he had heard too damn many times before. A big honkin' group of replicator bugs.

"This could be very bad." Daniel said, his eyes still scanning for the first signs of the replicators.

Then, just at the edges of the tree line, there they were. Swarms of replicators heading down from the ridge above them. Heading right for them. Fifth's threat still heavy in his ears, Jack didn't dare raise his weapon. Bracing himself for the onslaught, they stood stock still. Maybe if they stood still enough they wouldn't kill them. Yeah, right.

He wasn't sure which of them was more shocked when the replicators moved on past them as though they weren't even there. He couldn't believe the bugs would just pass up the chance to kill them all since they were the ones who had been killing them by the dozens not five minutes ago.

"What're they doing?" Daniel asked urgently.

"Looks like they're running away!" Jack replied in his best 'geeze Daniel how the hell am I supposed to know' voice. "Thor, you ready yet!"

"What is happening, O'Neill?"

"They're retreating!"

"You must stop them, O'Neill. The weapon is not yet ready. They cannot be allowed to escape."

Thor sounded worried. He hated it when Thor sounded worried, it was never good for anyone involved. Damn. This was the part of command that he had always hated. The part that demanded he put the greater good first. The part that demanded sacrifice. Had it been his own life he wouldn't have hesitated. But as his luck would have it, it wasn't his life he was being asked to offer up. It was Sam's. Damn, damn, damn.

"Come on." The terse order was met with silence. Neither Daniel nor Teal'c questioned him, but simply followed as Jack led them in the wake of the retreating replicators. No one spoke. No one needed to say anything. It wasn't as though any of them truly wanted to take any action that would cost Sam her life, but after seven years they knew that she wouldn't want her life to be bought and paid for by the entire Asgard race.

They caught up to the rear of the group replicators who were still moving determinedly through the trees, their destination apparently set. Jack gave a small hand signal and they fanned out evenly. If they were going to do this, they sure as hell were going to inflict as much damage as possible. Jack hesitated for just a bare moment, casting a silent apology skyward to the woman who would always hold his heart; whether he could acknowledge it or not. He then took careful aim at the largest cluster of replicators then slowly and deliberately fired into it. Following his lead, Teal'c and Daniel open up with their own weapons, dealing out destruction with every squeeze of the trigger.

Jack felt powerful with the Ancient weapon in his hands, blasting away at the replicators that seemed to be appearing from everywhere at once. He was killing as many of them as possible, but it was small consolation compared to the loss he could feel gnawing at the edges of his newly awakened senses. He didn't think it had truly sunk it yet and he prayed to whatever God was out there that when it did he'd be strong enough to withstand it. She had come out here to save his sorry ass, and now she wouldn't be coming home. Son of a bitch...this is so not happening.

He moved automatically, firing the weapon into the largest pockets of replicators that were threatening to overwhelm them at any moment. Even the Ancient weapon wasn't going to be enough against so many. Bu right now he didn't really care. Let 'em come. He'd take out as many of them as he could before they took him down too; just like they'd taken down Sam. He wanted to scream at the injustice of it all.

They had been steadily firing into the replicators, working their way in the direction the bugs were headed. As they broke into a small clearing Jack stopped dead in his tracks. There before him was the ugliest excuse for a ship he had ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. Massive and hulking with legs that extended out in several directions, the ship resembled a large replicator tarantula. As they stared dumbfounded, the bugs they had been pursuing were incorporated into the ship's underbelly and the ground began to shake as the engines were powered up.

For the life of him, Jack wasn't sure why he hadn't fired on that ship the moment he saw it. He had the Ancient's weapon still clutched in his hands, ready to be unleashed on those that had most likely killed Sam. But he couldn't seem to bring himself to bring it to bear on them. Rarely had he hesitated to take action in such times, but this once his nerve failed him. He had failed her. They were going to escape despite his efforts. They were going to escape. His weapon wasn't going to make a dent and Thor's ship wasn't ready to fire yet. He hated failure and the bitter taste it left in his mouth.

The ship lifted off, its legs dangling for a moment before drawing in toward its center. They watched as a hyperspace window opened over their heads and the replicator ship disappeared into its depths. They watched it go, knowing they couldn't stop it. Knowing they had lost. Knowing what it had cost them and that the price had been all too high. They had sacrificed Sam's life for nothing. Fifth and his replicator brothers had won anyway.

Just moments later a subtle rumbling could be felt in the ground beneath their feet. Daniel glanced around warily, expecting another attack at any moment. It was Teal'c who realized the tremor for what it was.

"Thor." He said simply.

Of course, the weapon Jack had helped create and that Thor had modified to be used on a much larger scale was finally ready to use, but it came only moments too late to stop them all. An unknown number of replicators had escaped. And that was unacceptable.

Jack's Asgard communicator sprung to life. "O'Neill, the weapon worked. Reports from the colony say all the remaining replicators have been neutralized. While the ship did escape, at least we have an effective means of fighting them now."

Daniel stole a glance at Jack's face; he hardly looked pleased to hear the news of the Asgard victory.

"Yeah, well, at least there's that." O'Neill replied sarcastically.

Thor replied almost immediately, probably to spout off some sort of meaningless platitude about sacrifice and the greater Asgard good. Bullshit. Daniel thought.

"O'Neill, I am detecting a fourth life sign in your immediate vicinity."

It was the last thing any of the three of them expected to hear and they looked at each other uncertainly. Daniel was the first to be shaken from his surprise and move off into the trees, his eyes sweeping from side to side, searching for any trace of his teammate.

"Sam!" The archaeologist called at the top of his lungs, praying to hear something, anything. He could hear the others moving off in opposite directions, their shouts becoming muffled as they moved further away from each other in their search.

"Carter!"

It hadn't taken more than a moment or two before Jack could hear Teal'c's baritone voice rising above the trees. "Over here!"

Thank God. He thought to himself as he sprinted in the direction he had last seen the Jaffa take. As he cleared the tree line, he could see Teal'c leaning over a slight form lying on its side in a pile of fallen leaves, her pale skin standing out in sharp relief against her dark clothing. As he drew nearer, Jack could see Sam beginning to pull herself upright with the Jaffa's help and he let out the breath he hadn't even noticed he was holding.

Sam could feel her wits slowly returning and what she could sense confused her. Pain, first and foremost, came flooding into her awareness. Pain in her head mainly, but also cramping pain in her arms and legs. Other things then came to her; the smell of the damp earth beneath her head, the feel of the loose leaves under her hands. Well, definitely not dead. Dead wouldn't hurt this much. Right? She thought wryly.

Sam slowly began to shift her arms, pleased when they moved at her command as she rolled over onto her back. Easing her eyes open, her first glimpse was of Teal'c's worried face just above her own, his hands on her shoulders helping her to sit upright. She shook her head slightly to clear it.

Skidding to a halt at her side, Jack pulled the Ancient weapon off his arm and discarded it as he reached out to lay a comforting hand on Sam's leg, reassuring himself with that contact that she was indeed alive and whole. Relieved to see her eyes slowly track toward his, Jack said the first thing that came to mind.

"You okay?"

The smile on her face made it all worth it, Jack decided. One of those patented Sam Carter smiles that reached all the way to her eyes.

Fifth had mentioned the Colonel, but until she actually laid eyes on him, Sam hadn't dared to believe he was actually here. Seeing him now crouching at her side, his face creased with worry, her doubts were dispelled like so many leaves upon the winds. "Glad to see you sir."

"Likewise." It seemed like a lame response, even to his own ears, but it was all he could muster at the moment. What do you say to someone who risked their life to save yours, only to nearly be killed in the process? He doubted he would ever have the words to thank her, to thank any of them.

Jack didn't move for a few moments; didn't break that tenuous contact with his second in command; didn't speak for fear of breaking the spell that seemed to encompass them all. They were a team again, something he certainly hadn't expected when he had rushed to stuff his head in that Ancient head sucker. Then he had been miraculously revived by Thor, only to discover Carter's loss and again they were fragmented. But now, against all logic, they were together again and for that he would be eternally grateful.

It wasn't until Daniel cleared his throat that Jack realized how long they had been sitting there at the edge of that dank forest and he shook himself from his reverie. "Yeah, so… let's go home, huh?"

"Indeed."

Jack nodded and reluctantly stood, pulling the Asgard communicator from his pocket. "Thor, buddy! We've got Carter. How about beaming us up?"

The words were barely out of Jack's mouth before they found themselves on board Thor's ship, the diminutive Asgard Supreme Commander striding toward them, his hand extended.

"O'Neill. We are in your debt."

Jack reached out automatically to take Thor's hand. "Anytime, Thor. Anytime. But for right now, how 'bout a lift home?"

"Of course. I have prepared quarters for you and your team. I'm sure you'll require some rest before we arrive. We pushed the engines of the Daniel Jackson beyond specified parameters on our trip to Earth and back, so our return journey to Earth will take somewhat longer. But we should arrive within a day."

Jack nodded silently. He'd be glad for the extra time to get used to walking and more importantly talking in a language other than Ancient. "Thanks, that'd be great."

Sam thought that a day to pull herself together sounded pretty damned good. She hardly felt like herself and appreciated the extra time to begin to feel more normal. She slowly rolled onto her side and pushed herself to her feet, unnerved by the unsteadiness of her legs which threatened to give out beneath her. Had it not been for the Jaffa's steadying hand, she may well have crashed right back to the floor again.

"Major Carter, are you well?" Teal'c asked worriedly.

Sam took a couple of calming breaths before she attempted to reply, her voice decidedly shakier than she would have liked. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired I think. I didn't exactly sleep much over there." Her legs now somewhat stronger, Sam took a small step away from the Jaffa and he dropped his hands from her arm. Teal'c knew his teammate well enough to not take any sort of offence, but rather admired her for he strength.

Jack took a step closer to her, the pallid sheen on her face suggesting to him that she was far from 'fine'. Knowing that she wouldn't much appreciate it if he called her on it in front of the rest of the team, he decided to take a more indirect approach.

"Yeah, sure, okay. Well then how about we all go get some rest. I'm sure Thor can run this ship just fine without us getting in the way."

"How would you know, Jack? You've been sleeping while the rest of us've been out dealing with System Lords and replicators and such." Daniel replied sarcastically, a wry smile tugging at the edges of his mouth.

"Yeah well, having my head sucked and then having to come back save your butts, again I might add, makes up for it a bit, doncha think?" Jack replied, reveling in the banter he had very much missed during the last few days before he had allowed himself to be stuck in Mr. Frost's idea of a vacation retreat.

They all smiled at that, safe in the knowledge that SG-1 was well and truly back, together again.

Thor had given them quarters just a few hundred feet down the corridor from the control room. Four consecutive rooms lined up to one side of the hallway, each with a simple pallet, small chair, and what looked like a small sink. Jack was less than impressed and decided that one of these days he'd have to show them a bit more about hospitality. They each retired to a separate room, Sam in the first followed by Jack, Daniel and Teal'c.

Sam sank gratefully down onto the surprising soft bed, startled when a small pillow and folded blankets appeared the moment she sat down. She smiled slightly, marveling yet again at Asgard technology. She took the time to pull off her boots before swinging her legs up onto the bed and pulling the blankets over her shoulders. She was shivering slightly, but chalked it up to the temperature difference between the planet and Thor's ship, which had always felt a bit cool to her. Within moments she had dropped into a fitful sleep.

Jack couldn't be sure how long he had slept, or what had awakened him, all he knew is that he was now wide awake and once that happened the chances of sleeping again were somewhere down around slim and none. He pushed the blankets down and swung his legs off the side of the bed to rest his feet on the chilly deck.

It had been so cool to be in total control of the ship, that much he now did remember. Thor had been right, it had all started to come back to him now. More recent events he had experienced once he was plugged into Thor's computer had come back first, then flashes of other memories began to make themselves known. And some of them quite frankly shocked the hell out of him.

Teal'c's worried face crouched so close to his own. He had known instinctively what the Jaffa had wanted to say and at the time he couldn't bear to hear it. It was too close to breaching that cool veneer he had so carefully constructed. The fact that Teal'c had even begun to give his own feelings a voice was enough to crack that veneer slightly.

He could see himself sitting on some sort of throne or something. And while sitting on a throne had always been something of a fantasy of his, this was hardly what he had dreamed of. The throne had pulsed and throbbed, he could see the results of its machinations. The blobs of yellow light, looking for all the world like thousands of little pac men, then chomping their way through the super soldiers and through Anubis' ships in orbit, utterly destroying them all. That part had given him a good deal of satisfaction; that if he were destined to die here on this quest at least he would take that half ascended snakehead with him.

Using the weapon had sapped his strength and he had felt his consciousness beginning to fade. Just as he was about to give in entirely and sink into the abyss he could just about reach out and touch, there was Sam leaning in so close all he could see was her wide eyes and worried expression. He realized that it wasn't her declarations that they had won, or that he must continue to fight, but her quiet pleading voice using his given name and not 'Sir' or 'Colonel' that had given him pause; that had given him just enough strength to croak out a couple of last words. Her troubled face had been the last thing he had seen as the Ancient sleeping chamber had frozen him as solid as an ice cube and he had clung to that vision as everything else faded to nothingness.

He shook his head slightly, bending down to pull on his boots. Dwelling on this sort of stuff never did anything but serve to confuse him even more than usual. He was interrupted from wondering about it any further by what sounded suspiciously like a groan of pain from one of the rooms next to his. The walls onboard Thor's ship were apparently thinner than they looked, but he couldn't be sure from which direction the sounds had come. It wasn't until the groan morphed into a very recognizable voice that Jack came to his feet, heading for the door and the corridor beyond.

He slid to a halt in front of Sam's door, unsure if he should knock or just head on in.

"No…no, please…"

The strangled sobs dispelled any lingering doubts and Jack activated the door, stepping inside just the doorframe.

"Carter?" Jack asked tentatively. Sam lay on her side, curled nearly into a ball, her hands clutched to either side of her head as if in pain. Jack winced in sympathy and moved closer to her bedside, intending to wake her from her nightmare. Past that he didn't have a clue what he was doing or even if it was a good idea, but leaving her in pain like this just wasn't an option.

Jack leaned over and reached out a hand, laying it on Sam's shoulder and shaking her gently. He was hardly prepared for her reaction. Rather than waking as he had intended, she had startled and rolled onto her back, her hands lashing out at him.

"No! No! Stay back!"

"Carter! Carter, wake up! Wake up, it's just me." Jack said soothingly, not daring to touch her lest it set her off again. The sound of his voice seemed to rouse her from the nightmare and her eyes flew open, searching the room wildly as though she didn't quite know where she was.

"Colonel?" Sam asked, her breathing ragged. Shaking slightly she slowly pulled herself upright, disentangling her legs from the confines of her bedding.

"Yeah. You okay?"

Sam looked around the room, running a shaking hand through her hair. Thor's ship. She was onboard Thor's ship. Fifth was gone; the replicators were gone. The Colonel was here. Jesus. She thought bleakly. She looked up and realized that the Colonel was still waiting for her to respond.

"Yes, sir. I'm fine."

Jack raised an eyebrow at the pat answer, indicating he didn't believe it for a moment. Not that he had expected any other response from her.

Sam closed her eyes, willing the splitting pain in her head to the furthest reaches of her mind, to a place where she hoped she could allow it to fade to a mere annoyance. But the pain coupled with her fatigue was hampering her efforts and the best she could manage was to cease its pounding in time with her heart. A small victory, to be sure, but one she would have to be satisfied with for now.

When she dared to open her eyes again Jack had pulled the room's chair along side her and had seated himself it in, scrutinizing her carefully.

"So, you wanna tell me about it?"

Sam was startled by the question and her eyes widened in response. His perception could be maddening at times, especially when she wasn't prepared for it. "Um…not really, sir."

Jack nodded silently then raised his eyes to look at directly into hers. "Carter, take it from one who knows all too damn well, whatever happened, you're going to need to talk about it eventually. Now I know that's the last thing I'd do myself, but trust me, I've paid for it." He had seen that look on her face before, every damn time he had looked in the mirror during those first few days and weeks after he had returned from Ba'al's little summer camp. Seeing that look reflected at him from the face of his 2IC saddened him more than he would have thought possible.

Sam nodded weakly, sensing the truth in his words. She sat back against the bulkhead and drew her knees up to her chest, resting her chin atop them. She just didn't think she was going to be able to tell him, at least not yet. She would need to tell someone, that much she knew was true. And she trusted the Colonel more than anyone. But putting her weakness on display for him was something that she would never be comfortable with, ever.

Jack simply sat at her side, not speaking for several moments, allowing the silence to stretch on, hoping she would take the initiative and tell him what had happened to her onboard that replicator ship. When Sam reached up to rub a hand across her eyes yet again, Jack decided this waiting game wasn't working.

"So, should I see if Thor's got an aspirin around this tub somewhere? You look like you could use it."

Sam managed a wan smile and nodded once.

"Okay, hang tight, I'll be right back."

As he stood to leave, Sam was suddenly struck by an overwhelming, and to her mind irrational, fear of being alone. Unsure how to get the Colonel to stay without sounding incredibly pathetic and needy, Sam opted to answer the question she had previously dodged. Just the thought of putting those experiences into words scared the hell out of her, but not nearly as much as the thought of being alone right now.

"Sir…" Sam began uncertainly.

Jack turned back to face her, curiosity etched into his features. "Yeah?"

"On that ship, when he…ah…he…" Damn, this was going to be harder than she thought. She took a deep breath and pushed ahead. "Fifth was a bit upset with what we did to him. He decided to take it out on me."

Jack froze, his blood running cold. He had always been willing to accept the consequences of his actions and decisions. The fact that this time Sam had been singled out personally to pay the price for his decision two years ago quite frankly was something he had never considered as a possible outcome. His heart was pounding in his ears as he moved to slowly take up his seat again, facing Sam.

"God…" Jack whispered. "Carter…I…I ah…" Not that words were ever easy for him, but right now his tongue felt thick in his mouth. He forced his way past the blockage. "I'm sorry."

Sam was shocked by the admission. The word 'sorry' had rarely graced the Colonel's lips and it had certainly not been in the context of apologizing for a command decision he had felt so strongly about at the time. In fact, she could only remember one other instance it had happened and that time they had discovered almost too late that they had taken sides with the wrong end of a world war.

"Sir," Sam began, "you did what you thought was right. I agreed with you. I still do."

Jack's eyebrows rose. "Even now?"

"Yes, sir. Even now."

With a morbid sense of curiosity that he couldn't contain, Jack asked the question rolling around in this mind before he could think better of it. "Did he…ah…I mean, he didn't…hurt you, did he?" Jesus, how's that for delicate O'Neill? Real slick.

"No, sir…not in the way you mean." The last had slipped out unintentionally; went too far. But it was too late to take it back now.

"What does that mean?"

"Fifth was more interested in the psychological rather than the physical. He…forced me to relive some things I would have preferred to keep in the past."

Jack realized that this would likely be the only chance he would have at getting Carter to open up and talk about what had happened to her. Once they were back inside the SGC she would bury herself in her lab, only poking her head out long enough to eat and sleep occasionally. He had seen her do it often enough. And so, playing up to his more dense reputation, he forged ahead.

"Okay and exactly what does that mean?"

Sam pursed her lips into a tight, thin line. Did she really want to get into this now? Probably not. Would she feel better if she did? Maybe, maybe not. Was the Colonel likely to let it go? Definitely not. Pigheaded was woefully understating O'Neill when he wanted something.

"He pulled out of my mind things that I had experienced. Some not so nice things. Like Netu."

Jack winced at the name. Sokar's pleasure planet, made over in the image of hell itself. Carter's ordeal had begun before they had even arrived, thanks to Marty and his damned Tok'ra memory doohickey.

"But it wasn't just my own experiences. Somehow he was able to force me to relive other things. Things that others had been through. I'm still not sure how he did it. But it's like I wasn't myself. I was you. Once I think I was Teal'c. Maybe even my Dad. It was like your pain was mine." Sam missed the look of shock and terror on Jack's face and rushed ahead, heedless of his discomfort. Now that she was actually talking about it, she didn't want to stop. "I'm not even sure where you were. I didn't recognize it…the place. It looked a bit like a mothership, but not one I'd ever been on before." It wasn't until she heard a strangled gasp from the Colonel that Sam dared to look up.

She didn't think it was possible for someone to be so pale and yet radiate such fury at the same time. The Colonel's eyes were dark and boiling with a barely contained rage that caused Sam to gasp in response.

Dear God...my dear sweet God! Jack didn't know what infuriated him more, that Fifth had tortured Sam with her own past, or that he had dredged up quite possibly the worst experience he had ever endured and forced her to live it. He was cursorily aware that he was shaking and also slowly acknowledged that, much as he might not like it, there was nothing right now he could do about what had happened. But if he ever got his hands on Fifth, so help him…

Jack realized belatedly that Sam had stopped talking and was gazing at him with wide, anxious eyes. He consciously worked to calm himself before opening his own mouth to speak. "I think I know where that was." Jack said quietly. "It was almost two years ago. Ancient history."

The realization hit her like a fist to the gut. Ba'al. Damn, of course. The Colonel's attempt brush aside his uneasiness had been half hearted at best, but Sam prudently let it go. "Up until that point, I thought I could handle it. But seeing you…seeing Teal'c…I couldn't…" Sam trailed off.

She knew she had already gone further than she had intended. So rarely did she let anyone see this side of herself; the side of her with all too real weaknesses. The side of her that made mistakes and who shed tears for them. But lately it had been all too easy to let her defenses down around the Colonel. Hell, she'd practically broken down in tears in front of him in the infirmary just a couple of months ago. She knew that if she went much further, she might cross over into territory she had patently told herself was off limits. Territory that left her more open and ultimately vulnerable than she had ever allowed before. She also knew that if she ever did open herself up that far, it would likely be with the man sitting opposite her now.

"I'm sorry, sir. Didn't mean to get into all of that right now."

"Carter…Sam…you did the best that you could." Jack paused, wondering how far he should go; wondering how much he should reveal. And deciding he didn't really care. She needed to hear it. "Sam…you are one of the strongest, most courageous people I have ever served with. What happened to you here won't change that."

Sam didn't realize until that moment just how much she had needed his approval; needed to hear those very words from him. She wasn't sure she could truly believe it, but maybe one day she would be able to buy into his faith in her.

"I wish I could believe that, sir."

"Believe it. I do."

Sam knew that arguing the point would be fruitless and settled for silence instead.

"So, ya still want that aspirin?"

Sam smiled slightly, "No, sir, I'm feeling a bit better now."

Jack smiled in return. "Good. So, I should probably let you get some sleep, huh?" He had pretty much run out of profound things to say and once that happened things were bound to get awkward.

"Yeah, I suppose so." Sam replied, a lost look flitting briefly across her face. Had he not been watching, Jack would've missed it entirely. He rose from his chair and after tucking it back into the corner, he turned toward the door, using the action to allow him time to consider his next course of action.

Okay, now what? Pretty much all talked out here…Let's see, should it be plan A or plan B? Jack cast a sidelong gaze at Sam's face. Yep, plan B.

Turning back to stand at the side of her bed, Jack hesitated for just a moment before reaching out a hand and pulling Sam to her feet. Saying nothing and allowing his actions to speak for him, Jack drew her into a gentle hug, one that he hoped would convey all that he wasn't able with his limited vocabulary.

Sam couldn't have been more surprised if Daniel and Teal'c had suddenly entered the room dancing the tango… and for a moment she didn't react at all. But standing there with those strong arms enveloping her, wrapping her in a cocoon of safety, she realized that this was somewhere she longed to be. And right now nothing else mattered. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to sink into his embrace, drawing strength from it and allowing herself to be at peace, if only for the moment.

"O'Neill."

To his credit Jack didn't flinch at the sound of Thor's voice over the ship's intercom, but instead simply answered his hail. Yep, gonna have to talk to the little grey guy about hospitality and timing.

"Yeah, Thor. What's up?"

"We are approaching Earth. We will be in orbit within the hour. I thought you would like to know."

"Thanks Thor, we'll be there in a minute."

Jack pulled back slightly to look at Sam. "So…"

"So…"

"Let's go home."

"Yes, sir."

Fin.