Wednesday dinners were a tradition born soon after Sam's transfer off of SG-1. Every Wednesday that they were both on world, Jack and Sam would spent a few hours together over a meal.

They had started as nothing more than Sam and Jack holed up in his office with Chinese takeout. She'd broken the first awkward moment when she appeared at his office door with a question about some field protocol or another. Jack had answered the question while she pulled out boxes of food. As she would for the next few weeks, Sam spent the next two or three hours peppering him with questions, which he duly answered more out of confusion than anything else.

But the tradition was born.

After the first few meetings, Jack began to think of the food as bribery or payment for becoming Sam's de facto mentor in all things command. Jack suspected that Sam was so attuned to asking his advice that she was continuing the practice without thinking. But that supposition was quickly proven wrong, as Sam was just as likely to take Jack's advice as she was to politely ignore it. From the very beginning she was clearly making this command her own. That left Jack with the uncomfortable idea that she weekly sought his companionship purely out of respect for their now defunct command relationship. Maybe she didn't want him to feel obsolete. He hadn't really, until that thought surfaced.

But before his personal affront could derail the weekly meetings, they were eating in actual restaurants outside of the mountain, wearing civilian clothing and an entire evening could pass without any discussion of command responsibilities or training techniques.

Jack was left with the realization that these meals were about something else entirely.

They certainly weren't dates. That was made abundantly clear in a thousand subtle, yet unmistakable ways. They always drove separately. Payment for the meal was split neatly in half. They frequented popular, brightly lit establishments that were more likely than not to house other SGC personnel out and about enjoying their time off.

Maybe it was stupid, but to Jack the very obviousness of their behavior was the clearest indicator that Sam hadn't intended the dinners to be anything more than they were. She was never nervous or secretive and made no attempt to hide the meetings. It was nice, really, Jack told himself. They had spent years avoiding this very situation, but now there was no guilt or fear. And Sam…the only word Jack could come up to describe her now was light. She was almost weightless.

Watching her indulge in some favorite sweet, Jack was finally able to put his finger on what exactly had changed about her. Sam had always been one to look towards the future, always booking on that next promotion, the next great discovery. She was always reaching.

But here, sitting across the table in a crowded restaurant, he saw something in her he hadn't even realized was missing: contentment. Like she had stopped searching because she had finally found what she was looking for. Like she no longer felt the endless drive to prove herself.

She looked at peace.

Not that she didn't still have her fair share of burdens. She'd been granted the command of SG-7, but no sooner had she taken control of the team than another member had stepped down from field duty. Captain Lewis was quick to assure Sam that her command had nothing to do with the career change as much as his wife's eminent birth of their third child, but Jack knew Sam couldn't help but wonder at the sudden desertion. Luckily the other two remaining members of SG-7 seemed happy to stay. So Sam was left with one civilian scientist and a medical sergeant, but also with the added difficulty of picking a new team member.

Easier said than done.

"Hammond's given me 24 hours to make a final decision," Sam grumbled, dropping a pizza on the table between them one Wednesday night.

Jack smiled smugly even as he began helping her shift through the files in search of that elusive perfect candidate. She already had three weeks. The general must gave come to the end of his considerable patience to give her this latest ultimatum.

"Now maybe you'll have a little more sympathy for the difficulties I had replacing Daniel," Jack commented gamely, tossing another file in the 'No Way' pile that teetered dangerously high on his desk.

Sam didn't reply and Jack looked up to find her staring intently at her soda.

"Yeah," she replied noncommittally a moment later.

"Daniel still being an ass?" Jack ventured, when she said nothing further.

Sam smiled gamely, but it was a bit jagged for his taste.

"He'll come around," Jack promised.

She nodded mutely and returned to shifting through the pile of folders with a heavy sigh.

Jack wanted to kick himself for even mentioning Daniel. Or maybe just kick Daniel. As expected, the news of Sam's transfer was a bit of a surprise to all. While Jack had reluctantly accepted the importance of the move and Teal'c had simply beamed proudly at Sam, Daniel had been less than pleased, no matter how much he had tried to hide it. It was almost as if he took Sam's reassignment as a betrayal.

Jack couldn't even remember the last time he'd seen Daniel really speak to her more than simply returning her hopeful greetings with unerring civility. Unsurprisingly, it was getting to her.

"I don't suppose you'd let me have Santos," Sam said, interrupting Jack's thoughts.

"Hands off, Carter. Get your own geek!" he replied with mock indignation, more than happy to let her change the subject.

Her eyebrow rose with feigned umbrage, but the next moment she laughed and poked him with her elbow 'accidentally' as she grabbed another folder.

Yes, Jack thought, she's definitely lighter, Daniel drama and all. He reached around and grabbed the last slice of pizza off her plate, ignoring her loud protest and another elbow jabbing him playfully in the ribs.

Nope. Definitely not dating. But somehow, Jack could almost convince himself that this was better.

Sam reread the mission file for at least the twentieth time. She could probably recite the whole thing word for word if required to, but that didn't stop her from reading it again. In just a few hours, after weeks of training and bonding exercises, she was taking her new team off world for the first time. She had complete confidence in each member of her team and knew that they worked well together.

But that didn't keep her from being a bit obsessive.

She ridiculously felt like everyone in the base was watching her, trying to see if the high and mighty Samantha Carter, former member of the flagship team, actually had what it took to lead. But Reynolds and the other team leaders had been nothing but welcoming and courteous to Sam, and she knew neither Hammond nor Jack would let her set one foot off world if they didn't think she was ready. So maybe the only person looking for Sam to fail was herself.

Maybe she would just read the report one more time…

When she refocused on her desk, though, there was a slender crystal flute full of sparkling liquid sitting where the file used to be. She looked up to find Jack leaning against her desk, another glass in his hand.

"Your first mission," he said. "I think that deserves a toast."

Sam smiled, absurdly grateful for the gesture. She still hesitated, thinking that drinking champagne only hours before her first mission was probably not the smartest move. But Jack looked at her in askance so she picked it up, raising it slightly.

"What are we toasting to?"

"How about great discoveries and safe returns?"

"Sounds good to me," Sam said, tapping her glass gently against Jack's.

She took a small sip and almost laughed when the liquid hit her tongue. She swallowed with difficulty and looked up at Jack who had finished off his glass in one go.

"Sparkling apple cider, sir?" Sam asked.

Jack smiled and produced the bottle to pour himself a refill. "I think champagne would be a little inappropriate right before a mission, Major."

Sam knew he was mocking her, but for once she didn't really care. Mission file forgotten, she finished off her glass and held it out for a refill.

She could do this.

A few hours later, Sam stepped through the wormhole with her team, the euphoria of setting foot on a new world greeting her like an old friend.

Three faces turned to her as she stepped out into the bright sunshine, looking for orders.

Sam gave herself one moment to take a deep breath, and then all hesitation dropped away.

Bring on that next great discovery.

Daniel had always been a student of human behavior. He watched people as they bustled about their lives and gave the chaos patterns and meanings. He could look at an object and see what it meant to people; he could will himself into the lives and psyche of long dead people purely by touching a statue or speaking a forgotten text. He was perceptive, understanding and willing to believe the best of people, even after years of having it come back and bite him in the ass.

He was an optimist.

But he couldn't forgive Sam.

Sure, part of him had always known the day would come when SG-1 would lose someone. Jack to promotion, Teal'c to his torn loyalties, or any one of them to the hovering specter of death. What he had never considered was that Sam might just walk away from them. Not even for Jack.

Daniel wasn't blind. He had daily lived with barely concealed subtext for seven long years. Forbidden attraction was quickly absorbed as just another part of the team dynamic, nothing more important or less profound than Teal'c and Daniel's own losses and unique concerns. Jack's son, Sam's mother. All of these currents had bled together to form a coherent, if not unconventional, unit.

But Sam made the move that pulled all of that apart and Daniel was left to wonder if he was doomed to always feel like an orphan.

He didn't want to begrudge her happiness. He just wasn't ready to accept that SG-1 had to be the sacrifice. Not that Sam didn't make a concerted effort to spend time with each of them. Even Santos was a regular presence in Sam's lab these days. She sparred with Teal'c at least twice a week. And then there were the infamous dinners with Jack that the whole base was buzzing about.

Not that Daniel ever paid much attention to SGC rumors. After all, he only had to look at either one of them to know that nothing was going on.

Maybe that should have made Daniel feel better, but it didn't. It just pissed him off even more. And since he wasn't really talking to Sam all that much, it left Jack as his main target.

Unsurprisingly, Daniel found Jack standing in the briefing room overlooking the gate room. SG-7 was gearing up for their third mission together. Somewhere during his time on SG-1, Daniel had developed the sick habit of watching Jack watch Sam. And here he was again.

"I don't understand you two," Daniel said without preamble, not bothering to hide the obvious annoyance in his tone. "You two are finally free to be with each other and you do nothing. Isn't this what you always wanted?"

Jack stiffened at Daniel's indignant tone; though it might have also been a reaction to the fact that Daniel had just gracelessly smashed open a topic mutually agreed upon as off-limits years ago. Either way, Daniel couldn't bring himself to care.

Jack remained still for a long time and when he finally spoke, his tone was much calmer than Daniel would have expected.

"I guess it never occurred to you that none of this has anything to do with me," Jack replied evenly, almost as if he had been anticipating this confrontation. His composed response just pissed Daniel off even more.

"Of course it does," he snapped.

Only then did Jack turn to Daniel, his eyes intense. "No, it doesn't," he said firmly. "This is about her."

Daniel stared at Jack for a moment before looking out the windows onto the Stargate below. Sam leaned casually against the ramp railing, observing one of her team members secure supplies to the back of a rover. The younger man instinctively looked up at Sam, asking her a question. Sam nodded back at him and patted him congenially on the shoulder.

The wormhole sprang into life and Daniel could vaguely hear Hammond giving her team a go. Sam saluted smartly and as her arm dropped her eyes strayed briefly up to the briefing room, resting on her ex-teammates. Unbelievably, she winked at them before turning her attention to her team, leading them through the gate.

She seemed at ease and in charge, things Daniel had seen in her a thousand times before, but somehow it was different, almost…effortless.

"I thought…," Daniel said inanely, his anger deflating rapidly.

"Yeah," Jack breathed. "I know."

Jack's face showed an uncharacteristic moment of something Daniel hesitated to call wistfulness, but that was the only word that seemed to fit.

It took Daniel another two days to consider that maybe Jack was right, maybe this was about Sam. Daniel had actually convinced himself this was all about the thing that had been between Jack and Sam all these years.

The next day, when SG-7 stepped back through the wormhole covered head to foot in a startlingly bright red coat of dust, Daniel was there waiting. Sam noticed him as soon as she stepped through, but she didn't turn to speak to him until after she had completed the homecoming ritual of incoming teams.

Weapons having been returned to the arms locker and her team corralled towards the infirmary, Daniel fell into step next to her. They were almost all the way to the elevator before Daniel finally found his voice to say something.

"Do you think…we could have dinner tonight, Sam?" he asked.

Sam paused before the open elevator door, peering at him through red-rimmed eyes. Eventually she smiled, flashing white teeth. "After a trip to Janet and a thorough shower, I'm all yours."

Daniel wanted to sag against the wall with relief, but instead he took a moment as she disappeared behind sliding doors to wonder how long she had been waiting for him to ask.

Daniel was pretty sure he didn't deserve it, but Sam fell back into their friendship as if there had never been a three month stretch of tension between them. He supposed it was her way of telling him that she could forgive him anything.

Through most of the meal she regaled him with stories of her missions, such as the Evil Red Dust of P7A-846. If Daniel needed any more proof that her move hadn't been a good thing for her, that meal certainly provided it.

It wasn't until they were lingering over dessert that Sam finally broached the unspoken topic of her time away from the SGC.

"When I was being held by Keren…," Sam began hesitantly and Daniel held his breath, because this was the first time she had ever broached the subject of her torture with him outside of her official reports.

"I had these…hallucinations," she finished, darting uncertain eyes towards Daniel.

Daniel kept his face blank and nodded slightly in encouragement.

"I think I'd had a stroke or something…but still." Sam gave a short, self-conscious laugh. "You were there and you were there…," she joked.

Daniel smiled softly. "What did we say?"

Sam absently played with her drink. "Oh…you know. Swift kick to the mikta and all that."

Daniel nodded in understanding.

"It was after you all left… There were these three…mes."

"Three…Sams?" Daniel asked in clarification.

"Yeah," Sam said with a wry smile. "One of them was like G.I. Jane on steroids and another was a female Felger."

Daniel suppressed a laugh at the images her words created. "And the third?" he asked.

Sam's face became serious once more. "I…I didn't know about her for a long time. She looked…so normal. At first I wondered if she was like some Normal Sam. The one who could be a mother, a wife. All the stuff that I've never had. But she was more than that. She was the one who stuck with me, telling me to trust myself. She was in my dreams, in my vision. I thought she might have been haunting me there for a while.

"I think I finally understand her now, though. The other two were like…my self-projected images, the way I want people to see me. But I think the other one…I think she was what I could be, what I wanted to be.

"She was just…so sure of everything. She was content in her own skin."

Daniel was nearly overwhelmed by everything Sam had been through those weeks she was missing. But he could see it now, the ways she had changed. He could see that it was good for her.

"That's why you left SG-1," Daniel concluded.

Sam looked up at Daniel, her eyes now hopeful, proving to Daniel that he had been a bit more obvious about his feelings of abandonment than he had intended. He wondered how long she had been waiting for him to reach out, to let her explain.

"She told me once…that I wasn't stuck, I was just standing still. I think it was then that I realized there were really only two things keeping me on SG-1," she said hesitantly. "I stayed because I love you guys. You're my family."

"And the other?" Daniel asked.

Sam hesitated as if trying to think of the right words. "Following is easy, Daniel. Maybe too easy."

Daniel nodded, trying to wrap his mind around what she was saying.

"I think I stayed so long because it was safe. But that safety is just an illusion. And I'm not going to hide behind it anymore," she said intently, her fingers closing tightly around her drink.

There she was, doing the brave thing, and all Daniel had done was condemn her for it.

"I'm sorry, Sam," he started, just to have her cut him off by grabbing his hand.

She smiled warmly at him, his behavior the last few months already forgotten.

And all Daniel could think was how much he'd missed her.

SG-7's luck lasted exactly six months, which was nearly twice as long as Sam might have expected, even for a non-front line unit. She suspected that's why they couldn't have settled for merely one inconvenience, but rather they had to have trouble set upon them in seemingly unending waves. The mission began innocently enough, a mild week on PF3-736 with nothing more pressing than an in depth geological survey. Everything was fine until they crossed over into the low lying foothills to collect a few more samples and unknowingly wandered into the territory of a previously undiscovered primitive (if not bizarrely well armed) civilization.

They were left alone for the better part of two days before the first pair of men wandered into their camp, waving primitive tools and barking loudly in a language none of them were familiar with. Taking the display as a warning to leave their territory, Sam had her team pack up while the natives watched and carefully work their way back down out of the mountains. They'd seemed appeased, but apparently SG-7's transgression was even more dire than originally realized.

The natives reappeared early the next day, this time with reinforcements armed with a strange conglomeration of Goa'uld weapons. The next two days turned into an evolving game of hide and seek, SG-7 steadily working their way back towards the gate, with the inhabitants of '736 always a step or two behind.

The terrain was rough, pockmarked with ancient lava tubes and decaying volcanic rock underneath a thin veneer of grass and brush growing in the shade of trees. It was the land itself that, often enough, was the biggest enemy of an SG team. Captain Silverman, through no negligence of his own, managed to take a nasty tumble, an audible crack sounding through the forest. A broken leg would have been a painful, but minor enough inconvenience if it hadn't been for the continuous pursuit of the natives. They were already two days overdue and had been unable to relay their situation back to the SGC due to some special quality of the rocks in this region.

The impromptu triage gave Sam time to rethink the whole situation, particularly the abrupt change of their luck from bad to worse. She wasn't sure what else could possibly go wrong, but was at least smart enough not to voice it.

"We must have trespassed on sacred ground to make them this angry," Dr. Ortiz surmised from her position against a bank of boulders SG-7 had taken refuge behind.

"No kidding," Sam said, wiping absently at the trickle of blood attempting to run into her eyes. She couldn't remember exactly how she had received the wound, but after two days running guerilla style through the forest, they each sported some sort of wound by now. Add to that the general lack of sleep and the situation was looking rather dire.

Sam dared raise her head momentarily above their makeshift barrier. A quick count cataloged at least six natives a few hundred yards across a small gully before a staff blast forced Sam back under cover.

"Garret!" Sam called out as the dust settled around them.

"Yes, Ma'am!" the young sergeant chirped as he instantly materialized at her side. Sam decided now was not the time to discuss his overly enthusiastic use of honorifics yet again and settled for briefly rolling her eyes as she took another shot at their attackers to maintain the distance between them.

"How far left to the gate?"

"Only a mile, Major. We've almost completed an entire circle," he said, pulling out a map showing their wayward journey.

"Leave me here," Captain Silverman interrupted. "I can hold them off long enough for you to get reinforcements."

Sam glanced at Silverman, noting the green tinge to his face and the determined way he gripped his P-90. He had somehow pegged himself as the newest member and therefore the one with the most to prove. Sam was more than ready for him to get over that.

"Noble sentiment, Silverman," Sam remarked, ducking out of the way of a wayward staff blast. "If not completely stupid."

Sam didn't miss the beat of relief on the captain's face, though he did well to hide it quickly.

"This river," Sam said, turning back to the map. "It stretches westernly before curling back to the gate."

"Yes, Ma'am. It's rather circuitous though. That route is nearly five times longer."

"Sounds perfect." Sam crawled over to sit next to Silverman, checking his splint. Garret had done a good job with it. One of the benefits of having a medic on the team, even it did meant they spent a lot of time looking at various types of alien moss. "Sorry we can't give you morphine, Captain. But we're going to need you alert if we're going to pull this off."

"May I ask what you have in mind?"

Sam ignored the question. "Ortiz. Any particular reason you think this is sacred ground?"

"I've been noticing piles of rocks that seem to be altars of some sort. Probably sacred barriers meant to ward people off."

"So, hypothetically, if I destroyed one, they'd be pretty upset."

Ortiz nodded.

"Well, let's see how much I can piss them off. You three stay here. When they take off after me, I want you to head to the gate, double time."

Garret was the one to protest. "You're injured, Major. You won't stand much chance staying ahead of them with a concussion."

Sam tied a bandana tightly across her forehead to keep the blood out of her eyes. "It's just a scratch. Believe me, I've been concussed enough to know the difference."

And if she was lying, just a little bit, she just figured what they didn't know couldn't hurt them.

"Don't mistake that for a request," Sam said when nobody moved.

Reluctantly they all nodded and began rigging a stretcher for Silverman. When it was done, Sam carefully crawled out and around the gully, ending up behind the natives while the others distracted them with spats of weapon's fire. Sam pulled to a stop near three stone altars. From this angle, she had a much better view, realizing there were actually ten men crouched there.

"Great," Sam muttered. "The odds keep getting better and better."

With a silent apology to Daniel, who Sam was convinced would know she as abusing an archeological site even with a galaxy between them, she jumped to her feet, yelling loudly. The natives turned in confusion just in time to see Sam take a swift kick to a nearby altar, scattering the stones.

Unsurprisingly, Sam's plan worked a little too well. With enraged roars, they set off after her, their weapons fire riddling the forest around her.

"Great plan, Sam," she grunted as she sprinted from tree to tree, making sure they were continuing to follow. "Now just try not to break your own leg."

By the time she hit the edge of the river, Sam had to reconsider the intelligence of this plan. She wound in and out of the trees lining the water, intent on not making a bigger target of herself than needed. Being chased by angry aliens had never been one of her favorite activities. But she didn't allow herself to think of that, because her team was depending on her and in the adrenaline of the moment that was all that mattered.

"We're at the gate," Garret's voice announced over her radio a while later. Thank goodness for that, because as far as Sam could tell from what she remembers of the map, she was less than a mile from the gate herself with an entire entourage on her heels.

"Dial it up and go through!" Sam barked back, not interrupting her long, even strides.

Five more minutes and she rounded the corner. Her cover dropped away, but the Stargate was visible in the distance.

She was going to make it. She was less than four hundred yards from the shimmering face of the wormhole with lungs burning and head swimming from her not-concussion, but she was going to make it.

She should have learned by now not to make such stupid assumptions, even in the privacy of her own mind. The blast came wild from her left where a native materialized out of the forest. Burning pain in her back knocked her forward, face slamming into the dirt as all of her momentum abruptly came to an undignified stop.

More rustling in the woods behind her could be heard. Maybe she wasn't going to make it after all.

Just before the natives reached Sam, though, a barrage of bullets made them temporarily fall back, giving her just enough time to scramble back to her feet, her shoulder burning.

Just behind the DHD stood Ortiz, face determined and gun quite literally blazing. "Get you ass moving, Sam!" she called.

Sam bit back the pain and dug in, covering the last distance under Ortiz's cover.

They had barely materialized on the other side before Sam was turning to Ortiz and giving her a piece of her mind, gasping breath and all.

"What the hell was that, Ortiz?"

"That was me saving your life," she replied nonchalantly as the iris slid closed behind them.

"When I tell you to do something, I expect you-," Sam didn't get to finish what she had intended to be a rather stringent dressing down when she swayed abruptly. Ortiz grabbed her arm, keeping Sam from making another face plant.

"You are so stubborn," she said and Sam wondered if she imagined the edge of pride in her voice.

Sam allowed herself to be laid out on a gurney, looking back at Ortiz when her vision cleared. "Exactly how many times do you think you can get away with this civilian crap?"

The doctor laughed. "Just often enough, I promise you."

"Don't give her a hard time, Ma'am. She was just doing a little something you taught us," Silverman noted from his own stretcher, blissfully receiving morphine at last. "Sometimes it takes heroics, even if they are completely stupid."

"Insubordinate," Sam mumbled as she finally lost her battle with consciousness. "My entire team is insubordinate."

No one missed the edge of pride in her voice either.

When next Sam woke it was to find Jack perched on a chair, chin lowered into his hand. Taking the unguarded moment to observe him, she noticed that he looked tired and a few days growth roughened his jaw.

She felt her stomach clench with something she had thought banished, swelling with guilt.

But then Jack glanced up, his face clearing at seeing her awake.

"Hey, Carter," he smiled, all tiredness hidden once more.

Sam ran a hand over the stitches on her face, looking gingerly around the room. "My team?"

"Fine. Ortiz and Garrett are keeping Silverman company. Janet's decided to keep him around another day. Apparently it was a nasty break."

Sam winced and she couldn't help running through the entire event again, trying to see if there was some way the accident could have been avoided.

"You got them home, Carter," Jack said, reading her mind.

Sam nodded.

"He's lucky really," Jack said, his voice suddenly full of suspicious levity.

"And why is that?" Sam asked, peering up at him.

"At least you didn't splint his leg for him."

Jack had just gotten home and was kicking his shoes off in anticipation of a long, hot shower when the doorbell rang. Jack sighed heavily and considered not answering it. But if it was Daniel, like he suspected, no amount of playing possum would get rid of him.

Jack impatiently yanked the door open to find Sam standing on his front porch, leaning slightly against his doorjamb.

"Carter! I didn't know you were getting out today," Jack said.

She smiled. "Yeah, well, I can be persuasive when I need to be."

Jack understood the need to escape the infirmary as much as the next guy, but she didn't look particularly stable, standing there with her arm in a sling. "How did you even get here?"

Sam turned back and waved. He could see Daniel's car backing out of the driveway. "Right," Jack said.

He must have looked confused though, because Sam ran a hand self-consciously through her hair and said, "It's Wednesday, isn't it?"

Was it? Jack did a quick count in his head. "So it is," he said with a smile. He grabbed for his coat behind the door and looked around for his shoes. "You sure you feel up to going out?"

"I was thinking we could just stay in."

Jack stumbled over one of his shoes.

"If that's okay," she said, her face beginning to betray embarrassment.

It was only then that Jack realized he still had her standing out in the cold on his doorstep. "Of course that's okay," he said, throwing the door open wide enough for it to ricochet off the wall.

Jack wasn't sure where his sudden spastic behavior came from, but in his defense, Sam was rather unapologetically smashing all the Wednesday Dinner rules. Dinners at their homes, alone, was never part of the ritual.

He followed her into his family room, watching her gently lower herself on his couch. She was in pain, he could see, no matter how much she was trying to hide it. They fell into an awkward silence as all the comfort found in their previous meetings abandoned them.

Food, they clearly needed food. But before Jack could flee the room, Sam finally got around to what she'd come here to say.

"It was close," she said softly, one hand coming up as if to shield her injured shoulder. "Not SG-1 close, but close enough."

Jack nodded uncertainly. He knew exactly how close it had been, having read the reports. But close was what they did everyday and Jack was more worried by the look on Sam's face, that haunted one he had hoped never to see again.

"You kept your head and got them home, Carter," he said.

Something in her expression shifted and he had the not unfamiliar feeling that he was missing something.

She looked down at her hands and picked absently at the edge of her shirt. Then, still not looking at him, she asked, "Were you worried?"

"Was I...," Jack repeated dumbly. That must be the stupidest question she'd ever asked him. And he should know. He kept track of this sort of thing. Of course he'd been worried. When he'd found out SG-7 was missing, he'd stayed on the base the entire time.

In the ensuing silence, Sam finally looked up at him, her face a startling blend of stubborn defensiveness and aching vulnerability. She looked like she was resigning herself to something incredibly unpleasant and he realized with a jolt that whatever this was, it wasn't about her personal fear of close calls.

Jack pushed out of his chair, trying to think of the best way to answer her question.

"We were off-world when you missed your first check-in. When we gated in the room was sort of eerily silent and we just knew something wasn't right," he explained as he watched her. "Looking back, I think they expected me to make a scene."

Sam made a small sound of amusement. "And did you?"

"No," he said, lowering himself down on the couch next to her, close, but not touching.

"Why not?"

He had been worried, of course, he would rather have her back and safe rather than out there somewhere in danger. But he was surprised at the underlying confidence he felt. He just knew, somehow, that she would make it back. He had trained her himself, he knew that she was more than capable.

He remembered thinking that maybe he could handle her running around the Universe on her own team.

Not that he didn't stay on the base the whole time she was missing, meeting every incoming wormhole. He'd said he had faith in her, not that he was heartless.

"I knew you would make it back."

When she finally turned to look at him, Jack let his eyes travel from the stitches that stood out starkly against her pale face to the arm carefully cradled in a sling. Suddenly Jack was back standing by her grave, Pete's words echoing in his ears.

I was the one who left, you know. She came back with bruises, stitches and a busted leg and I just couldn't handle it. I couldn't handle not being able to fix it, or be with her to keep her safe, or hell, even know what the she was really doing day by day.

Sam was still staring at Jack like she really wanted to believe what he was saying, but couldn't quite let herself. He reached out and touched her face just below the line of stitches.

"I'm not going anywhere, Carter."

Her eyes widened and dropped away, but not before Jack saw relief in them.

"How do you do that?" she asked, leaning into his hand before he could pull it back. "You always seem to understand me, even when I don't understand myself."

"Oh, don't worry. I'm confused by you more often than not."

She smiled warmly, her hand lifting to rest on top of his. "Not when it matters most."

A dozen different flippant responses automatically rose to the tip of Jack's tongue in reaction to her open sincerity. Anything to create more distance between them. But for once, he bit them back, needing to see where this was going because it was pretty clear that tonight all bets were off.

"Sam," he said uncertainly, the word more of a question than anything. But that one word broke more barriers than it erected.

She answered his unspoken question by leaning even closer into him, until he could feel her breath brushing warmly against the edge of his jaw. "Just to be clear," she whispered, inches from his face, "this is not about testing for frogs."

Jack barely had time to connect that bizarre statement to anything before she was pressing her lips against his. Jack opened his mouth in surprise, but Sam just took it as an opportunity to deepen the kiss. By the time her tongue was tracing softly along his lower lip, Jack had completely forgotten anything but the warmth of her mouth. His hands automatically moved to curl in her hair at the back of her head and the soft curve of her waist, almost as if nine months hadn't passed since they last experienced this and Teal'c had never interrupted them with his impeccable timing.

They spent long moments rediscovering the feel of each other. Jack's hand slowly swept up the smooth flesh of Sam's side until he reached the soft underside of her breast. He was rewarded by a soft humming sound deep in her throat that did crazy things to his blood pressure. He pulled her up against his chest, reveling in the feel of her soft flesh molding to his body, when she hissed sharply in pain.

Jack instantly leaned back, looking her over carefully. "Oh god, sorry. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she said with a smile that valiantly worked to hide a grimace of pain. "We just might have to hold off on that for a while longer until I heal."

Jack's eyebrows shot up at her innuendo. "Sam, are you sure-."

But Sam quieted his statement with another kiss, albeit a more chaste version. She pulled back just far enough to meet his eyes. "I wasn't pretending that kiss never happened, Jack. I just…had to be sure that anything between us was for the right reasons and not about near-death experiences, or because of my fears. I had to-."

It was Jack's turn to quiet her ramblings by covering her lips with his. Too bad he'd never had this option in the old SG-1 debriefings. "I understand," he said when he was sure she was breathless enough again to stay silent.

Her face softened, betraying that aura of simple contentment that he had come to associate with her. Jack helped her shift positions until she was comfortably nestled against his side. "I think I could get used to this," she murmured.

"Fine by me," he said, giving in to the urge to touch her face again.

She pulled his hand down, spreading his palm open wide on her lap. "You never told me how you got this scar," she said, running her finger along the puckered skin. "It wasn't there when I left."

Jack didn't doubt that she had a catalog of his scars in her mind, each of the times they were injured in the line of duty. Each time they almost didn't make it back. Jack knew SG-1's scars as well as his own.

"Debris from Keren's lab," Jack said, his voice hoarse with suppressed memories, the phantom bite of metal against his palm and the smell of singed flesh all around him. "So I would never forget where you died."

"I didn't die there," she said softly, her head lowering to his chest.

"No," he agreed.

"In spite of everything that happened to me there, I think maybe that was where I found myself," she said. "I know that sounds cheesy…"

"No," Jack reassured her. "Maybe now the scar should remind me of something new. About how you found your way back."

"And how I always will."

He knew as well as she did that that was a promise she didn't have the power to keep. But more than anything, it was a promise that she would never give up. And that was enough.

Jack lowered his head to her hair and listened to her breath stretch out long and even as she succumbed to much needed sleep.

He would be there when she woke up.

The End

It seems so far to go
It took so long to get here
Now I'm saying things I swore I'd never say
And I'm afraid again

I thought I had it in me
I used to be so sure
There I was stronger than ever
Here I am blaming the hurt

And if I fall
I will find a way back to my hands
I'm the only one who can help me find my feet again.

If I Fall, by Tara Maclean