Take Care of Her

(Tag to "Threads")

Category: Episode Tag/Romance/Angst

Spoilers: Threads

Season: Eight

Pairings: Sam and Jack

Rating: PG

Warnings: None

Summary: Pete and Jack have a heart to heart conversation.

Author's Note:I sincerely thank my beta, Buddy, for her always enthusiastic assistance with my stories.

Disclaimer: SG-1 and its characters are not my property. I have written this story for the enjoyment of Stargate SG-1 fans all over the world. No copyright infringement is intended and no monetary gain is expected.

Jack got up from his couch with a groan, wondering who could be the untimely intruder visiting his home in the middle of the night. He glanced at his watch and noticed that it was almost midnight. 'For cryin' out loud!' he thought to himself. He then peeked through the peephole and froze.

Detective Pete Shanahan, Carter's fiancé, was standing at his doorstep, patiently waiting for a response as he shifted nervously from one foot to another. Jack's first impulse was to leave him standing there and turn around to continue watching TV, but he reluctantly realized he was being childish, so with a deep sigh, he opened the door.

"What can I do for you, detective?" he tersely asked when he was finally face to face with the cop. His countenance clearly indicated he wasn't happy to see the man standing at his door. Well, he was never happy to see him, so this came as no surprise to Pete. The younger man, however, did not react to Jack's unpleasantness.

"May I have a word with you?" he calmly asked.

"At midnight? Couldn't this wait?" Jack asked grumpily, pointing at his watch.

"It won't take long, I promise. And it's important. This is about Sam," the cop answered softly.

"Is she okay?" Jack snapped worriedly, stiffening with alarm and taking a step out of the house to look into Pete's car, which was parked in his driveway.

"She's not here. She's home and she's safe, as far as I know," the young man responded.

"As far as you know? She just lost her father, for cryin' out loud! Shouldn't you be with her?" Jack snarled at him.

"She doesn't want me with her. May I please come in? It's kind of chilly out here," Pete quietly responded, apparently too despondent to get angry.

Jack realized something must have happened to elicit this unexpected visit and relented, pushing his door wide open. "Fine," he tersely responded, stepping aside so the younger man could enter his house. He followed him in and pointed him toward the living room. "Do you wanna beer?" he asked, deciding to be polite and find out what the heck was going on.

"No, thanks. I'm driving to Denver right after I leave here. As a matter of fact, I was on my way there and decided to turn back to talk to you," Pete answered, taking a seat on the edge of one of the cushy chairs in Jack's living room. His elbows rested on his knees, and he was visibly uncomfortable, which made Jack even more curious about the reason that compelled the cop to visit him in the middle of the night.

"You're not sticking around? The funeral should be in a couple of days, and I'm sure Carter will need some help," Jack asked, irritation at the man again overwhelming him. He had never quite liked him. It wasn't just that he'd taken the place he'd coveted in Carter's life and dashed his hope of ever calling her his. The guy just wasn't worthy of her! He didn't deserve her, but he still had her.

"That's why I'm here. I was hoping I could count on you to be there for her during the next few days. She's going to need company and moral support, and I'm not in a position to give it to her anymore." Pete waited for the information to sink in and watched as Jack slowly sat on his couch, his deep brown eyes never leaving his face. What Pete was not sharing with the older man scrutinizing him from the couch was the fact that his real intention was to help Sam get what she wanted.

"What's going on?" Jack finally asked the young man who dejectedly sat in his living room.

"Sam broke our engagement this afternoon. We're not getting married after all. So I won't be around any longer, although I'll come up briefly for the funeral, of course," he informed the general, his voice breaking at one point, but bravely regaining control and swallowing hard after he was done speaking.

"What?" was Jack's perplexed response, suddenly feeling weak with relief and hope.

"You heard me right. She doesn't want to get married. And it's not that she needs time to mourn or more time to get used to the idea of marriage. She doesn't even want to date me anymore. So she's going to be alone, and I'm worried about her." Pete's admission made Jack lower his gaze. He didn't want the man to see his elation. At the same time, he couldn't help feeling sorry for the cop's palpable distress.

"What happened?" Jack succinctly asked, his suspicious eyes returning to Pete's and wondering if the cop had hurt Sam in some way.

"You happened," he answered gravely, his eyes meeting the general's unwaveringly.

"Excuse me?" Jack asked, scowling in sincere confusion.

"It's always been you. I'd suspected from the beginning, but I didn't want to admit it. She's in love with you, not me. And she needs you right now," Pete answered, a bitter taste in his mouth as he uttered the words. He had to remind himself that he was doing this for Sam, because he loved her, and because she deserved to be happy. He'd also realized that Jack had done exactly the same thing. He'd willingly stepped aside and let Pete walk into Sam's life, probably thinking that it was the best thing for her.

"Did she… tell you this?" Jack asked, bewilderment and anxiety suddenly taking over his displeasure at having Carter's fiancé in his house.

"No. She never mentioned your name," Pete admitted. "But I know."

"You may think you know, but…" Jack tried to argue.

"Don't be thick, General. You know I'm telling you the truth. You two can't be together because of the military's regulations, but you've been in love with each other for a long time," Pete stated, the words difficult for him to say. "I even knew that you were the reason why she took two weeks to say yes to my proposal."

Jack shook his head and started to argue, but Pete did not let him. "I don't know what happened the day before yesterday. Maybe she got scared when I took her to see the house I'd bought for her. Maybe it was her father dying last night. I'm not sure. All I know is that today she broke up with me and told me that she didn't love me enough to marry me. She said she was confused… and then I confronted her with maybe having feelings for someone else."

"And what did she say?" Jack asked, masking his hope expertly.

"She didn't deny it. But she didn't admit to it, either. She assured me that there was no one else, that she wasn't cheating on me or anything like that, which had never occurred to me. Sam would never do something like that."

"So why do you think I have anything to do with it?" Jack challenged.

"Because I know that she came here right after we saw the new house together." Pete's contrite look did nothing to appease Jack's sudden irritation.

"What?" the general asked, his tone hard again with anger.

"I followed her. I knew something wasn't right. So I followed her here, and I saw her sit in her car for a good ten to fifteen minutes before she finally got out and went around to the back to see you. I know you were there because I could see the smoke of the barbecue."

"She did stop by to see me but… she never got the chance to really talk to me. I… had company," Jack admitted, looking at Pete with less annoyance as he remembered Sam's discomfort when she came by to see him two days ago.

"You had a woman with you?" Pete asked in surprise.

"Yes. I've been dating someone," Jack answered defensively.

"Oh, damn! That must have been hard for her. She was so sure you weren't seeing anyone," Pete shook his head, looking down at the floor in regret.

"How do you know?" Jack asked, exasperated.

"I asked her on a few occasions whether you were in a relationship. I admit I always felt threatened by your presence in her life, so I made it my business to find out as much as I could about you. She thought that you might date here or there, but that you didn't have a steady relationship with anyone. Do you love this woman?"

"Your curiosity will be the death of you someday; do you know that?" Jack growled unpleasantly.

"I know. It's my biggest flaw. I can't help it. The point is, she thought you had no intimate relationship with anyone, so finding a woman in your house must have been hard for her."

"If it was, she handled it well. And I'm not so sure you're right about her feelings for me."

"Of course I am! I know she was in tears by the time she got back to her car, and now I know why." Pete now understood why Sam had been in such distress as she'd taken refuge in her car. She'd still been crying as she'd hurriedly driven to the SGC, stealthily followed by her concerned fiancé.

"Her father was dying," Jack argued lamely, his heart breaking at the thought of hurting Carter.

"She didn't know that until she got to the base. I made sure to ask her." Pete was now getting impatient.

"You don't miss anything, do you?" Jack observed with annoyance.

"I'm a detective." Pete was unapologetic. He felt he'd done what needed to be done for his own sake and Sam's.

"So you are." Jack still sounded annoyed, but not defensive.

"That's why I also know that you love Sam, not whoever this other woman is," the cop stated with certainty.

"The woman is gone already," Jack admitted, refusing to confirm or deny his love for Carter.

"Go to Sam, Jack. Don't leave her alone at a moment like this," Pete encouraged him with a sigh, giving up on trying to make the general open up.

"It's more complicated than that, Pete. I don't want to hurt her career," Jack finally and surprisingly confessed.

"I'm sure you can fix that problem somehow. But she needs you right now. She's going through a lot," he insisted, encouraged by Jack's admission.

"I'll make sure we're all there for her. Her team will support her, as always," Jack assured him stubbornly, and Pete rolled his eyes in frustration.

He then scrutinized Jack with what looked like disgust and shook his head, finally standing up. "I don't know whether to feel sorry for you or for Sam. If you don't go to her, you're an idiot, man. If you're not there for her when she needs you, she may not be there when you're ready to admit that you love her, too."

"You don't know what you're talking about!" Jack snapped at the younger man, frustrated by the fact that he also believed what he was saying, but felt restricted by the ever-present regulations.

"Don't I? I've watched her carefully every time she's in your presence. Her whole demeanor changes when she's with you. She's admitted to me more than once that she admires you and respects you more than anyone she knows. It's clear that she adores you. She's told me how much she's learned from you and how intelligent you really are, despite your dumb act. I'm starting to wonder whether her love for you blinds her to how stupid and cowardly you really are."

"Easy!" Jack warned, not really angry but not disposed to letting the young detective talk to him that way.

"The most wonderful woman in the world is in love with you, suffering from the loss of her father, and maybe even from the loss of a normal life. She's probably heartbroken at finding you with someone else! And you're still here arguing with me?" Pete finally yelled in exasperation.

Jack didn't respond. He just sat there, looking into empty space as the cop finally started to walk toward the front door, ready to leave. Jack finally looked at Pete when the young detective said his final words. "Take care of her, Jack."

The sound of the front door slamming closed startled Jack out of his reverie. He'd been looking at Carter's former fiancé, but he had not been seeing him. In his mind he'd been seeing Carter's face when she'd heard Kerry's voice as she stood there, awkwardly trying to explain her doubts to him in the middle of his patio. Her eyes had closed in mortification and she had gone pale with shock. Her body had tensed and she'd opened her wounded eyes to briefly glance at him before she'd turned to Kerry. Then her colonel persona had taken over, making it possible for her to handle a civil conversation with his lover as she probably mentally beat herself for being there in the first place. The phone call from the SGC had saved her from the uncomfortable situation. She had practically fled to her car, her head down. And he'd felt like the lowest life form on Earth.

Kerry's decision to break off things with him the following morning had come as no real surprise. She'd been there to witness his discomfort and concern over his colonel. Her intelligent eyes had watched him carefully as they had sat down for a quick and silent dinner of charred steaks before he'd abruptly decided to go to the base to check on Jacob's situation. He had returned very late from the SGC and had made no attempt to make love to his anxiously waiting lover. His thoughts had been on Sam and her dying father.

Before Jack realized it, he was driving to Sam's house. It was now close to 0100, and he had no idea of what he was going to say or if she'd even be awake. As he got out of his car his sixth sense suddenly made him aware of being watched, and he realized that Pete's car had followed him. The cop had parked up the road, and Jack thought he saw him wave at him as the younger man pulled away and left. The guy never learned. But Jack admitted to himself that he couldn't blame him for trying to make sure the woman he loved was taken care of. You had to admire that.

Jack was surprised at how quickly Sam's door opened to reveal a distraught but very awake Carter, doing her best to wipe her blotchy face and control her tears as she anxiously looked up at him with swollen, red-rimmed eyes. "Sir?" she asked, standing in bafflement inside the door as she held it open, valiantly trying to sound professional.

"Carter…" he started to say, then he closed his eyes and started again. "Sam," he softly corrected, his eyes heavy with concern for her.

She didn't answer, but her face crumpled and her head dropped as she stood there, looking lost and forlorn in her jeans and blue sweater, and Jack quickly stepped in and took her in his arms. Sam clung to him, her hands fisting his jacket in sorrow as she wept, not noticing when he closed the door behind him and secured the lock. His arms held her closely, stroking her back as she cried against his chest, racking sobs shaking her to the core as she sought refuge from her pain in the man she loved more than anything.

She'd been beckoning him with her mind. She'd been crying her heart out for hours, feeling lost without her daddy, guilty for hurting Pete, and disconsolate with the realization that Jack had moved on and left her behind. She'd been craving his presence, and now here he was, his strong arms around her and his heart beating under her cheek.

"It's gonna be all right, Sam. I'm here for you," he whispered against her hair, rocking her softly as she clung to him in relief.

"I know. You told me already. And I believed you," she answered between sobs, both happy and sad at the same time. Yes, he'd already told her he'd be there for her always, and she'd decided at that moment that it would have to be enough, that she couldn't marry the wrong man while Jack O'Neill continued to be there for her, Kerry Johnson or not. It was wrong.

"I love you, Sam. It's time I said that to you," he whispered moments later, his arms tightening around her even further.

Sam stopped sobbing and looked up, her eyes revealing a mixture of shock and delight. "Jack?" she asked in bewilderment. What did this mean?

"I love you. I've loved you for years… you know that. I never stopped. And I've been dying inside knowing that you were marrying someone else," he admitted.

Sam frowned in confusion. "What about Kerry?" she asked in a small voice.

"There's no Kerry… and no Pete to keep us apart," Jack responded with a half smile, brushing away a strand of hair from her eyes.

"You know?" she asked in confusion. Did he know she was no longer marrying Pete? How?

"Yeah. He told me," Jack admitted.

"Pete? When?" She asked, wiping her face and pulling away from Jack in consternation.

"Tonight. Just a little bit ago," he answered.

"W… why?" she asked, wondering what exactly her ex-fiancé had shared with her CO.

"He was concerned about you being alone right now. He really does care for you, you know?" he bitterly acknowledged.

Sam's face crumpled again, and she croaked, "I know. I'm so sorry for hurting him!" She started to cry again, and Jack pulled her back into his arms.

"He's gonna be okay, Sam. So are you. It wasn't meant to be, and he knows that," he gently reassured her.

"Did he tell you that?" she asked between sniffles.

"Not in those words, but yeah," he answered. "He sure did."

"Oh, God! I screwed up so badly!" she admitted brokenly.

"No, you didn't. You were just trying to be happy, and I always knew that." Jack pulled away to look into her eyes, intent on convincing her that he understood.

"You did?" she asked, looking at him with hope in her eyes.

"Yeah! I understood, and I even approved. I pushed you into saying yes to him, didn't I?" he asked wretchedly.

Sam nodded, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. "I thought you'd given up on me. I thought… you didn't love me anymore," she managed to say, and Jack realized by listening to her broken words just how much this belief had hurt her.

"Never, Sam. Never. I just wanted you to be happy, and I didn't want you to waste your time waiting for an old man like me. I thought Pete made you happy, and I was willing to live with that." He was looking into her eyes, his own intense with feeling, wanting to make sure that she believed his words.

"I tried to stop loving you, I really did. But I couldn't!" she sobbed, all control over her feelings lost. Sam buried her face in his chest again, blaming herself for complicating things so badly.

"I'm glad you didn't. We'll make it work, Sam. I promise," Jack soothed her, raining kisses on her hair.

"How?" she cried despondently, not lifting her face from his chest.

"There's a way. I wasn't going to take it, but I've been offered a job at the Pentagon. General Hammond is retiring, and he wants me to take over. I'd said no, but now I think I'm going to take it," he explained.

"You're leaving?" she asked anxiously, looking up at him again with troubled eyes.

"We'll visit each other. It's the only way," he justified.

"You'd take a desk job in DC for me?" she asked in wonder, knowing that he'd hate it.

"I'd do ANYTHING for you, Sam. As long as I have you, I'll be happy anywhere." He finally smiled at her, a broad, genuine smile that convinced her that he was telling her the truth.

"Oh, Jack! I love you so much!" she cried again, hanging on to his neck and smiling back.

"We'll be okay, Sam. We'll be together," he promised, finally tipping up her face and placing a sweet kiss on her soft lips.

Yes, Sam knew that as long as she had him, everything would be all right. And she sighed into his mouth, finally savoring his love for her and finding solace in the belief that she had a future to look forward to with Jack O'Neill by her side.

The End