Decommissioned

Many thanks to all of you who read my little effort at fanfic. And double thanks to all who reviewed: your comments are deeply appreciated and helped tremendously in the final chapter (shout out to mara anni for a valuable insight). Super thanks again to dreamer one, beta extraordinaire. This is a rocky chapter; hang in and enjoy!

5. Full Disclosure

I've got you. This time, I've got you.

Jack felt the world and time shift around him. Back to the moment he should have altered that forsaken mission.

"I'm thinking we should just go back while we're ahead," Sam said. The horsemen's reaction to her was violent in the extreme. He'd thought they could handle it. In the end it was Sam who had to handle it, alone.

With an Asgard beamer handy, Jack had kept close contact with Landry and Davis over the past few hours, finally getting word that Sam had left the SGC. Jack insisted Landry allow Daniel and Teal'c to keep her in sight, which the two would have done anyway.

Now she was here, stiff against him, her tall form shivering with emotion. No tears; Sam didn't do tears in front of him much. He held onto to her, imparting the support they'd always tried to give each other. While deep down a part of him wickedly welcomed this chance to hold her close, another part was a little surprised at how much it hurt to do so, physically and emotionally.

Really hurt. Sam was letting it all go and what she was releasing was pure fury. She grabbed onto him, tee-shirt and flesh gripped in her strong hands. Ouch. Definitely going to be gouge marks. Her fist pounded his shoulder. OUCH. Make that gouges and holes, he thought

"How could a general expect me to just do him?" Sam growled into his chest after a few minutes. She pulled back, her eyes shiny and bursting with anger. The next moment his arms were empty.

Sam stalked away from him and paced. Jack's eyes narrowed as he noted the signs of her fight with Newcombe: Her dress blues, usually as perfect as humanly possible, were wrinkled and close to losing a button. And was that? His hands clenched. It was a bruise forming on her jaw. Son of a…

Turghan's hand swung round his body to backhand Carter across the face. The brutal blow knocked her completely off the ground and landed her on a log, where she barely missed cracking her head. Even so, it took two long seconds before she shook herself aware and just missed getting hacked with Turghan's over- the- top knife. He released the safety on his P90.

"Gen. O'Neill, this is Agent Barrett. Col. Carter's mission was successful but you need to know there was an unforeseen development. The general physically attacked her. I have to say she fought back like I never knew she could. She was far from being his next victim."

Newcombe tried to rape her, Barrett meant. And they'd watched. He wondered how to buy a private moment with that depraved, lower than a snakehead creep.

As he saw her turn around to pace again, he picked up more signs of the fight: her stocking had a run. Her hand, when she raised it to swipe her hair back impatiently, showed discolored blotches. Suddenly her eyes were on him again.

"We keep this whole damned planet from being enslaved, and what does he do? He comes after a Lt. Colonel! How stupid is that?" Sam demanded. She had bright spots of color on her cheeks like a fever. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. Then she was coming toward him again. "He said…he had a 'fancy' to have me on the glass." Her voice dropped and a look of revulsion came over her. "Sir, I …we set him up, yeah, but he wanted me, you know?" She asked and walked into him.

"I know," Jack whispered as he opened his arms and enfolded her again. Her agitation was wearing down; he could feel her resting her weight into him more. He closed his eyes at the reminder of her close call on that mission eight years ago.

"But what will happen to Dr. Carter tonight if we wait?" Teal'c asked. Jack's heart jumped when the old chief hesitated.

"Turghan will partake in his newest purchase."

Then the newest version of the same nightmare fell on her.

"Let me get this straight: some bozo of a general's ordered her to his hotel room for - to… WHAT? What the hell's going on?" Jack asked the voice on the other end of his private cell phone. "And are you looking for shooters when you put him against the wall? Yeah, I'll do it!"

"Newcombe's accused of blackmailing female soldiers into having sex with him. We have testimony but top brass wants an unbreakable case. Carter's volunteered to get it." Maj. Davis informed him, with the President's approval. "The White House and the Joint Chiefs gave this a go. They really want him taken down."

Ten minutes of intense point counterpoint followed, with Jack pushing to be there and Davis insisting that he couldn't. Davis prevailed due to the restrictions from the top; Jack was inside on this only as a favor. It was as far as he was allowed, no negotiations. He couldn't help her.

" We've got her six, General."

"I'll take it personally if you don't, Davis."

As his former teammate and current friend removed herself from his embrace to pace again, Jack wondered about the part they couldn't cover. Obviously they miscalculated the general's determination to get at Carter. How the hell does a general fall so low? Keep it down, for her, he ordered his spiking anger.

She'd played it close from the time she first asked his advice, shielding her fellow soldiers even those she trusted with her life. Davis said the details were undisclosed to protect the victims, but Sam was free to inform him of her role, in part because she came to him with the situation first.

The other part had to do with their "special relationship," that is, as former CO and 2IC on the first-line planetary exploration and defense team. Jack watched her stop and glance out the window through the pale sheers. Late afternoon sun framed her in a halo; angel of mercy he mused. Then he shook himself. His "angel" was hurting from her tussle with a devil and he was mentally doodling. Aside from the first moments when she realized where she was, Sam took his presence in stride. He liked that. But she was still venting steam.

"Did you know him, sir? Did you know he…"

"Nah, didn't like him much, Carter. And at his level just about everybody's outside his dirty little circle," Jack replied. He kept eye contact with her. He was very glad he could be honest with her. Finally she nodded and sighed. Her eyes were gradually taking in the place, noting the high ceilings, natural wood floors and long windows of the suburban house. The furnishings hadn't caught her attention yet except for the cocktail table that she studiously avoided in her pacing.

As a matter of fact, he noticed something in the way she avoided his eyes at different times.

Sam probably knew she was stalling. Yet he couldn't ask her to open up to him if she wasn't ready. Bringing her here was supposed to give her space, allow her to regroup, walk a hole in the floor or whatever helped. Maybe this wasn't such a good…

"He was despicable. He sat there and kept smirking, bragging that he'd get away with his crimes," Sam spoke suddenly. She paused and stared down at the glass topped coffee table. Her hand came up to rub her forehead a little wearily, but her face was angry again. "He ordered me to 'surrender'! And he expected I would because…he, uh, he was so crude," she said, her voice faltered, losing heat.

Again, not looking him in the eye, Jack noted. Then she paced away, putting distance between them. Jack felt his stomach lurch. Did that creep do something else she hadn't disclosed?

They'd gotten her back. But during the night he opened his eyes to a slight sound. He lay facing her, and in the fire light he saw her move restlessly and frown in discomfort. He thought she uttered 'Don't!' but then she settled on her side and quieted. After the throw down with the chief, she didn't quite walk steadily but typically, Carter said she was 'fine.' And then they found out she'd been whipped. She'd never said a word.

Her soft voice brought him out of the past.

"Didn't mean to be so antsy," Sam said. Itwas so hard when she was looking directly at him, into his knowing brown eyes. But who was she kidding? He knew something wasn't right.

Jack rubbed his hair in thought, self-consciously sticking his hands in the pockets of his jeans. She turned away and paced to the window. What are you hiding, Sam?

Jack was reminded of his post-special ops state of mind. The overload of mission images, smells, adrenaline and the need for secrecy that bottled it all up until the right safety valve was within reach. It had kept him just like Sam: walking a wire. She had gone ballistic already but there was always fallout after release. He was pretty sure she hadn't let it all go. He took a step. Sam's head swung up. He stopped. Oh, yeah, strung.

Sam grimaced at herself. She couldn't envision better support than her team, and better with Jack. Therein lay the source of the disquiet. Her eyes shifted to the window.

"Sam?" Jack bit his tongue. Again her head snapped toward him. "Come on, that's your name, you answer to it, right?" he said lightly. It took a moment but she finally lost the fine crease between her eyes and smiled a little smile. Better. "So, talk to me. Old battle-ass and his ass-ociates are down for the count. The soldiers got justice …"

Seeing Marguerite back at work would be the best thing about this sordid operation, Sam thought.

"Have you…heard the tape, sir?"

Jack was warned by the hesitance in her voice.

"No, I doubt I'll be allowed. Need to know," Jack replied.

"I want you to." Her voice was flat. He didn't like that, not from Sam.

"Something else going on, Carter?" He waited. Sam focused on what Jack thought was the Air Force logo on his tee shirt. He cleared his throat and the sound jolted her back. Her expression wavered before she made a decision.

"Yes, sir, something else," Sam said. As if her legs gave out, she sank onto the couch, feet flat on the floor and leaning her chin in her hand. He thought she could fold herself in half very neatly if she lowered herself a bit more. Her head turned as he eased closer and sat on the coffee table in front of her. Blue eyes looked deep into brown before her lips lifted slightly. "I don't remember thanking you, sir," she said softly. Slowly her hand reached for him, finally grasping one of his that dangled between his knees.

"For what, Carter?" Jack responded. He let her hold his hand without returning any pressure. This was different, he thought as he studied her hands. Strange that he'd watched her hands working at numerous tasks over the years; he'd never noticed how much he noticed her hands. Long fingered, large feminine hands. He suddenly saw the beefy hands of a four star general and how they would dwarf hers. Back off from there, he ordered himself.

He realized she was still silent.

"For what you taught me that got me through this…this toxic encounter," Sam said finally. She let his larger hand fall and then caught it again just to feel its warmth and weight over and over. The thought that this was a little off did occur to her but it felt good, and she needed to feel a little good again. "I finally know why you insisted I learn particular moves."

Oh yeah, mostly prompted by the comparison of Turghan's size and Sam's.

Samantha and Goliath. He had a damned machete compared to her utility knife and she wasn't backing down. At Turghan's opening charge, Jack's mind was mentally forcing her to avoid the broad swings of the chief's weapon. The flurry of close-in fighting ripped his heart even as he finally realized Sam was doing it, drew first blood, for cryin' out loud. He admitted then and there how much he'd taken her skills for granted. Never again, if – when she got through this.

"Uh, I don't think I had much to do with your kick-butt mission, Carter. It was you from the first phone call," Jack replied. "Pure don't-tread-on-me Carter all the way." She stared at his hand until he flexed it. Looking up, he raised an eyebrow. Sam ducked her head and smiled before resuming the hand-juggling. "I've known for a long time now that you have great stuff in you, Carter. It shows."

Sam paused and frowned at the memory that surfaced.

"Sir, I was so angry about it all that I didn't really think," she explained.

"You, not think? Your anger has thoughts, for crying out loud, Carter!"

Her hand gripped his. This was harder than she thought.

"When the JAG and Davis got one of Newcombe's boys to push me forward on his list, I – we had no way of knowing exactly how he would approach me. We figured he'd pick up on my dad, on General Hammond. But it wasn't discussed – oh, crap." Sam swore as her voice caught. He was holding her hand now, waiting out her lapse. "It wasn't discussed that you could be part of it." In her heart she expected it but she kept that to herself.

Jack sat back. Her eyes told him a story of shame and guilt.

"He used me to blackmail you? How?" Jack asked. Her hand pulled out of his. She bit her lip, a gesture he was familiar with when she was deep into a complex problem. "Sam."

"He said he would report that I slept with you to get promoted. That we were already in a relationship that broke regulations and he'd make sure you were disgraced. And Hammond disgraced. If I didn't sleep with him."

The words tumbled from her mouth and then it closed. She was looking away from him, her hands clasped on top of her knees. At his shocked expression, Sam couldn't sit; she got up and just waited. If that idea freaked him as much as it did her, he'd be speechless. And he was.

Words didn't make it to Jack's mouth. They snagged in his brain as he digested her words. Affair with Carter. Holy crap, where had that come from? She wouldn't meet his eyes. Good thing; he could feel fire shooting from him when he thought of what that would have done to her. Her knuckles were white. It took some time to find his voice again.

"Ok, so he was dim-witted enough to think you'd do that. That I'd do that. What else?" Jack knew there had to be more. He sure didn't want there to be more but he obviously wasn't going to get what he wanted. He'd only made the mistake of not inquiring further with her just that once.

"…cuts and bruises, and just some aggravation of the lash wounds. She'll be sore but ok in a few…" Jack lost the rest of the doctor's words after 'lash.' He could feel Daniel and Teal'c as they all looked toward the curtained-off bed behind where Sam was resting. Blood freezes in 1.2 seconds after sudden shock, his mind informed him from very, very far away.

Sam faced him and shook her head.

"I shouldn't have brought it up. Sorry, sir."

"Don't do that, Carter. Not this time." Jack said. His voice was tense, his face haunted like Sam had rarely seen. His eyes drove into her, probing for something he needed to find.

"Uh, sir?"

"Absolve me. It's clear you never forgave me for leaving you that night."

"No, I never blamed you. I never blamed any of you. I told you that," Sam answered. Whoa: she didn't have to think of what night he was talking about. She felt herself on edge again. Jack locked onto her. She took a step back before she could stop herself.

"Who did you blame, then?"

"Sir, it was a lousy mission and nobody could have changed a thing! I didn't blame anyone."

Jack watched, taking another step. This time she stood her ground. Barely.

"Maybe you should have," he replied. Sam stared at him, still as the walls. He swallowed at the surge of memory and emotion flooding him. She was standing in the compound, veiled, eyes down, in the posture of a servant or worse a slave. The blue dress was gone. He felt sick as he wondered why. Sam shied away from what he revealed. "If I'd told you the dreams I had." He blinked slowly to will the recalled visions away. "You know why I had dreams of you screaming, alone with that…Do you know why?"

Sam moved, bringing her hands together in front of her. He saw her shake her head. But she did know. She did scream.

"Because you didn't leave me anything else. That tent has haunted me for a decade, Carter. And now I see you're still there, too."

"How many times do I have to say this? I didn't blame you, sir."

"Really? 'Cause I distinctly remember you weren't debriefed for three days after we got back, and two of those days you wouldn't see us. On the third day you arose from your bed and forgave us all, and all was…" Jack's sarcasm covered the pain of being shut out.

"Don't you dare put your guilty conscience on me! You want to wear a hair shirt for another ten years, go right ahead, sir. I've moved on, so should you," Sam retorted. She averted her eyes but couldn't remain long without looking at him. He was grim, not angry but determined. He wasn't letting this go. "Not this time."

"Ah, you've moved on. And yet you're carrying that tent with you. It's called a flashback, Carter, and it means you haven't dealt with it and you haven't moved on. And you won't until you do." Jack returned firmly.

"It's been ten years! I haven't even thought about it until now!" Oh, damn. Sam mentally reached to pull the words back. Jack raised his eyebrow, and like the clever leader he was, just waited. "Sir, none of this has anything to do…"

"Sit," Jack said, cutting her off. Sam frowned at this abrupt order. He tilted his head and nodded for her to sit. Grudging, she moved to the sofa. "On the coffee table," he said. He wanted to kick himself at the moment of horror on her face.

"The couch is for sitting, sir," Sam murmured. The glass top repelled her. She looked up; he knew that.

"It's strong enough. Sit down, Carter."

"You brought me here to order me?" A broad swath of spotless, lightly tinted glass under her back, and above her, Newcombe.

"Humor me then, please. Sit on the coffee table." Jack repeated. Sam didn't move immediately. When she slowly made to comply he stopped her. He steeled himself to the puzzlement and relief and then annoyance on her face. "That glass will be in the tent, Carter, if you don't deal with this now. General Idiot brought back some bad feelings. Feelings you kept to yourself, but now they're out. And we know they're there and I need you let me in this time. Please."

He lifted her chin with his hand to try to see her eyes. The tears that welled up jolted him. Geez, don't cry…

"I'm not crying," Sam retorted. She knew he went belly up with protectiveness when he saw tears. "When I get angry my eyes water, that's all." She swiped the rogue drop that escaped before it reached her lip. Not that she minded that attention at other times but now, it only made her appear wimpy. Panic hovered on his face as he watched her deal with the teardrop.

"Ok, angry tears. I know about those. Talk to me." Jack replied. He wasn't buying all that but for now he'd place her reason on credit. The next moment she was on her feet. Two, three steps and turn; pissed-off Carter was back.

"He made it so disgusting, all right? So…so sleazy, like I sold my body!" She shouted at him. "God, and to think he thought you would be like him." Sam looked down at herself, her uniform. "He was all over me. He wanted me to fight him, and when I did, he got more… more excited. I felt so polluted…" Her hands went to the buttons but shook too much to undo them. Her eyes glazed as she grabbed the lapels and pulled until all the stubborn buttons popped off and she flung the jacket away from her.

Jack felt as if ten zats had blasted him at once. His brain was just beginning to process the violent image, her anguish. Then her umbrage about him and now she'd ripped her dress jacket off and…

Sam wasn't here.

Jack froze. His traumatized friend gazed at the cast off garment as if she expected it to spring back on her and she'd fight it to the death before she let it. And the way her hands fingered her skirt made him wonder if she considered…"He was all over me."

Jack's plans for Newcombe began forming from the red haze in his mind. Dismemberment; one finger at a time. Then - some of Ba'al's acid down his…

OK, focus, he thought. Sam's a combat soldier. She's wrestling demons in her past and present. She'd defeated the one only to face and defeat its resurrected presence again. It hurt, but Jack knew to wait, stand by; and long after he'd felt his heart about to jerk itself to bits, she came out of it. He hadn't moved but Sam's head swung toward him. Her eyes widened and…Oh, no… not the tears. Oh, crap.

"Angry tears, right? Cue me on this, Carter, you know," Jack said, his fingers waving helplessly. Her hands sprang up to wipe the leaks away. She couldn't wipe away her deep mortification. Then she covered her face briefly before looking back at him. Jack shuffled uncomfortably.

"Tears of embarrassment," she squeaked. Don't lose it. 'You handled it. It's what you do.'

"Ok, ok that's different. I guess," he murmured. She was still being too brave. Brave as in taking it on the chin and don't-want-to-look-weak brave. Not good, not now; they'd been there, done that. A change in her expression caught his eye; he watched.

Sam stood rubbing her arms absently. Her eyes were focused on the table again. With a determined shrug she stomped two steps, took a breath and sat. She clamped her eyes shut.

Just glass, that's all, Sam commanded herself.

Alright, stubborn Carter was good. Jack let her collect herself, then made his way to the sofa and sat in front of her. After some minutes he saw her take a deep breath and blink.

"Ok?"

"Yeah, I guess," Sam answered. She kept her eyes downcast until he lifted one of her hands in his. There it was all the understanding and concern she'd refused at the time. It was what she wanted back then, his belief in her. She'd had it since but apparently this didn't backdate. "It was kind of humiliating, you know? There I was trying to show you how qualified I was to be on SG-1 and I get snatched out of a tent by a boy!" Sam said, grimacing a little. He shook his head.

"I left you behind, Carter," Jack said. He fidgeted with her hand absently. Her head dropped again. "It's what this is about, isn't it? Being alone, not knowing if help would come, and if it did, in time?" He eased her head up with a finger beneath her chin, leaving her little choice but to look at him. Those eyes haunted him then, too:

Finally her eyes lifted above the dark veil and he felt pierced through. Blue eyes blazed with a banked rage he was surprised hadn't ignited the area in a mushroom cloud. Before he could move, Daniel was helping her hastily to mount the horse. They took off. Sam's combustion was put on hold. But it didn't come and he floundered in unrelieved guilt.

After a silent moment, Sam nodded, bringing Jack out of his disturbing recall.

"The general, the hotel – it threw me. I was back with that odorous chief and he made his intentions as clear and vile as Newcombe. But I knew you'd come, I did. I just wanted it to be before Turghan…" Sam whispered. It was incredibly clear as if it all happened yesterday. Even to the concern and guilt in Jack's eyes. She touched her forehead to his. "It's just that I couldn't stop thinking of the others the general got to. That they were trapped and had no way out and no one to help them." She took a shaky breath. "And it could have been me, sir. Me – powerless, trapped, raped."

Jack's breathing caught. Sam knew what he was thinking, what the three men had feared.

"I wasn't, sir." She said softly. "He decided to let his 'lesson' sink in. But he promised…that night." She shivered and of course he noticed.

"Is that when he whipped you?" Jack's voice was toneless. She'd never talked of it and he feared to ask, even though as her commanding officer he could have found out or ordered her to debrief with him. The Captain never balked at going on new missions but something deep had occurred and she still held it in. Her hair tickled his forehead. Jack raised his eyes to hers.

"You want to keep your man down for good? Hit him here," he pointed to his chest, "go through and pull his heart out," he panted. Her contained bitterness was replaced by openness and good ol' Carter curiosity. "Go through him. If you don't get in you'll still shock his heart enough to disrupt the beat or stop it altogether." After a moment, she nodded. "This is the last time you fight fair, Captain." Sam nodded her understanding and took a breath before resuming their combat positions. It was amends of sorts; she was good, but he'd teach her as many dirty tricks as it took to increase her advantage in a similar encounter. But there won't be any similar circumstances, he swore.

And at this moment years later, she'd proven herself again. It was standard operating procedure for her, doing what had to be done, and surviving with whoever she could tow along. Jack wanted to let her know he'd be there when she needed to shake the war weariness out. Be it earth or off-world; past, present, future.

Then the tears fell harder. They were both motionless. Jack tried to control his quivers inside but it was useless. These were the tears he dreaded, that went soul deep. Still head to head, he waited for whatever came next. Her hands crept up to grip his shoulders; he ignored the sharp little pain her long fingers caused.

"You know I was lashed. But it wasn't where…you'd think," Sam sniffed. She gave up trying to keep back the hated wetness from her eyes.

"Not your back?" This was new, he thought as he mentally scrolled back to the aftermath of the incident.

"Lower," she murmured.

Sam was dropped face down on the dusty rugs. Turghan stood, then summoned a female. He ordered the dress removed, and threatened to kill the servant if Sam resisted. Her hands were briefly untied to accomplish the hasty removal and the woman scurried out. The fine woven white trousers were left on. Sam heard his movements behind her and couldn't stop shaking. His rough hand stroked her back before becoming a more painful exploration. Finally he bound her wrists again before he dragged her up and over his knees. She bit her lip but the whimper escaped when he yanked the pants down. "To be a woman you must stop being a child. Before I come to you tonight, you will be grown!" He roared. The first lash came down.

Jack was so still she couldn't tell if he breathed or not. God, she'd said it…finally said it. She felt his hands ease to gently grasp her shoulders now.

"Sam. You sat a horse, you fought him…" Jack's voice was rough.

"That anesthetic worked, what little the grateful women could smuggle in," Sam replied softly. By the time she'd hiked back to the gate, it's benefits had completely worn off.

Jack swallowed. What could he possibly have said to her then? It was unbearable that his brave, proud 2IC had been treated that way. Not knowing her as well as he did later, he'd probably have driven her into herself with a well meaning joke. He flexed his hands on her shoulders. She was crying quietly, the only way she ever cried.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know," he whispered. Her hands fell from him so she could wipe at her face. He stopped her, and did it himself. "I'm sorry you couldn't tell me, and I'm sorry I couldn't help you." The image of her limping, or seating herself carefully in the cafeteria or briefing room assaulted him. She was so fair skinned; did she scar? She wasn't herself for over a week.

Sam nodded slowly. She knew from their first mission that he would take his responsibilities very seriously. She just didn't want to be an undue part of that duty. Now that she'd revealed her secret shame, she could see that he was going to take it on his shoulders anyway, after all this time.

And unlike then, she welcomed his shoulder now.

"C'mere," he murmured, and gently brought her onto his lap. Her head nestled into him and soon he felt her shudder and wetness mixed with her warm breath against his neck. Jack let the peace come over him as they held each other and let the tensions of past and present meet then drain away. He cradled her very gently, his hand stroking her back lightly.

If it wasn't a perfect world, it was at least a perfect moment, Jack thought. The world had seen another sunset. The worst guilt and anger he'd had for a decade released. The soldier he'd valued as his right hand, an impossibly brilliant scientist and truest close friend was sharing comfort and support. And more, trusting him. When her crying eased, they were content to let the moments extend in the quiet room.

He felt her stir against him. When he shifted his shoulder a little, she flinched. Jack stiffened.

Sam wanted to kick herself. Here she was in the best human cocoon in creation and she just broke it. She sniffed, wondering why that sensitive ear made contact with him at this moment. Although the memory it evoked was ugly, Sam didn't follow it. Her colleague and more than a friend had just given her safe haven from the day's madness and it warmed her from the bone to her fingertips. But she didn't want to disturb what peace he seemed to have now.

"You're hurt," his voice vibrated into her. Jack attempted to look at her but she tightened her arms around him. He smiled in spite of himself.

"No, not yet, sir," she muttered against his throat. His arms settled again and she thought all was well. Then she moved. "Oh," she groaned before she could stop herself. That did it, of course. Sam sighed as his hands gently but firmly eased her away.

"Where?" Jack asked. He looked down at her white dress shirt and then her arms. His eyes widened then narrowed. Bruises marched their way up her pale skin to disappear under the short sleeves. He lightly traced them, noting some were still forming while others were minor and would fade quickly. Toes; he'd hack them too…Sam's movement drew him back to her face. She pointed to the ear. Tongue, he added, break jaw on both sides.

"He liked to mark his catches. The doc treated it but it's still kind of raw," Sam whispered. His eyes blazed almost like a Goa'uld, she thought. She held still as his large familiar hand traced her earlobe until it reached the angry cut. He touched it so lightly she barely felt it. But when he touched his lips there she felt that. He leaned away a little to look in her eyes.

"Better?" Jack asked softly. Her blue eyes were wider than he'd ever seen.

"Yes," she replied so low he almost missed it. Oddly it did feel better; cleansed would be the right word. As if he knew this, he repeated the wonderful deed. Moisture gathered in her eyes again. Her arms went around his shoulders and she held him there as her mind gratefully replaced the bad memory with this. It was so much more than she ever expected out of this day. "Thank you, Jack," she said tearfully. "Thank you for being here."

"Always, Sam." Jack breathed in her hair.

The room was much darker when the quiet occupants mutually accepted that their time was up. Neither spoke as they separated. Sam climbed to her feet with Jack holding her hands before he stood, too.

"Ready?" Jack managed to ask. He was surprised and pleased when her hand spread over his shirt and smoothed it against him. Her bright hair moved as she shook her head slowly.

"Not quite. Sir, would it be so terrible if…if I showered? I know it sounds strange, but…" Sam said after working up the nerve to request this favor. She couldn't stand the uniform one more minute.

"Say no more. Although what you'll wear may not fit as well," Jack answered. He thought he understood; well, when she stripped off her dress blue that was a bit of a hint. He switched on a table lamp and was surprised to see her eyes on him. She smiled her thanks as if he'd granted her dearest wish. He would if he could, grant her dearest wish and his own, but for now a shower would have to suffice. "This way," he said.

Thirty minutes later, she stepped out of the steamy bathroom feeling brand new. And more: he'd given her the shirt he wore! She knew it the moment she touched it. How cool was that, she laughed as she fingered the soft fabric that draped her with his scent. It was a deliciously taboo comfort and Sam refused to analyze it, just simply accepted it. The sweat pants, rolled twice at her waist to secure them, were faded and soft from repeated washing. Sam grinned. She felt dressed for a lazy weekend afternoon. She carried her shoes so she wouldn't spoil the feeling.

"Thanks, sir. I just didn't think I could stomach my own clothes anymore," Sam said as she found him in the living room. He stared at her a moment before giving her a nod.

"I got that, Carter. What should I do with said unwanted articles?" Jack asked. His world just shifted again as she came out of his bathroom wearing his oversized clothes and looking…at home … in his home. Steady, fella. He held up the items in question. Sam wrinkled her nose and stepped around him.

"Kindling? I don't want them, sir. I don't want them in my house," Sam replied. Her manner dimmed a bit. Jack stuffed the items in a small duffle bag. She looked at him, a question in her eyes.

"Can't leave them here, you know," Jack explained. She nodded, suddenly shy. There was that pesky accusation of breaking regulations. Just in case, he said to himself, someone wanted to follow up. Keeping his fanciful thoughts on a tight leash, he cleared his voice. "I told Teal'c and Daniel to meet us at your place. Hope that's ok?" He knew they kept keys to each other's homes. Sam hesitated an age before she finally nodded.

Sam sighed. This was it; her respite was over, the real world awaited. She stepped beside him. He looked down at her with understanding in his gaze, the Asgard device in hand.

They smiled naturally at each other. Friends who helped each other, friends who accepted help from each other. Jack's arm came around her shoulder and she rested her head on his, a smile still on their faces as they disappeared in the sparkly light.

Daniel and Teal'c looked up from their seats on the sofa in Sam's living room. Seconds later, there they were. Jack took his arm from Sam as she stepped forward to greet them with a broad smile on her face. Jack looked incredibly goofy, Daniel thought.

"Sam, you're ok," Daniel said, happily returning her embrace. She nodded and kissed him on the cheek. "More than okay, I see. Hey, Jack." Daniel adjusted his glasses and gave Sam a second look in her new attire. He saw Jack signal 'don't ask' and just shrugged.

"You appear to have regained your mojo, Col. Carter," Teal'c said. He allowed her enthusiastic hug and even returned the nice gesture. Sam planted a kiss on his cheek.

"I'm getting there, thanks to all of you," Sam replied with a laugh. How she loved these guys!

"General O'Neill, it is good to see you as well." Teal'c turned to Jack. Jack grinned but was distracted.

"Is that pizza?" Jack asked. His stomach reacted immediately to the delicious aroma. He spotted the boxes on the kitchen island. "Yes! Oh Danny, be a good guy and put this in the dumpster, will ya? Thanks!" Jack said, tossing the small bag to his other scientist friend and making a bee-line for the food.

Sam watched the bag's short flight into Daniel's surprised grasp. He thought she looked repulsed by it.

"Sure, just save me at least a slice. It was just delivered!" Daniel agreed and sprinted outside. He didn't bother looking in it; no doubt it would be explained. The important thing was that their Sam was back. Daniel stepped back into the house.

It was almost like their early days as SG-1, Teal'c reflected as they finished their meal amid conversation spiked with humor (especially from O'Neill) and updates from himself, Col. Carter and Daniel. It felt good to be together once more. He missed O'Neill this past year.

But it was inevitable that the incident involving the military leader and Col. Carter would not go away easily. He saw lines of discomfort in his Tau'ri colleague when she moved. O'Neill was even more sensitive to her, turning to her whenever she evidenced such. She waved him off, true to her proud nature he had come to know. O'Neill chose that moment to catch his eye. He was a leader and it would be unusual if he did not sense his teammates unease.

"Ok, guys. It's been a blast, not to mention delicious," Jack said with a sigh. Sam, sitting next to him, looked up with the others. "Let's get to the 'but' you two have been waiting for." He felt Sam shift again. She had bruises he couldn't see (and probably shouldn't think of) and hadn't been still since they got here. Sam was more uneasy about what she was going to tell them. It took a minute or two before she spoke.

Sam related Newcombe's blackmail and threat to SG-1 in quick time. It didn't lessen the shock and anger it caused in Daniel and Teal'c. The threat to Sam's career hit them especially hard. Daniel looked murderous. Teal'c's dark eyes seemed to darken, the only outward sign of his displeasure. Ok, she thought. On with the rest of this travesty of a day. With a notable exception. Only slightly less was their shock that Newcombe was related to Hansen and blamed her and SG-1 for his death. That made Jack sit up.

"That has to be a fluke of nature: two messianic jerks in one family?" Daniel sputtered, a look of sympathy directed at Sam.

"Perhaps dishonor is in their blood," Teal'c remarked ominously. But his eyes were kind to her.

Her former fiancé was a grim memory for them, but far more for her. Sam didn't go into the damage the general's interference caused between her and his nephew. That was too painful and too personal to talk about - being subjected to "the lunatic fringe" – twice. They were so quiet she thought she could hear their churning thoughts. Jack shifted beside her

"Newcombe said…everyone that knew you didn't believe the rumor, sir. Said you were too noble for your own good. At least I can agree on that." she sighed. Jack turned to look at her, puzzled. She ducked her head. If they suspected there was more, none of them spoke on it, and the tension eventually eased after that final revelation. Sam expelled a breath.

Daniel looked at them, sitting almost identically with one leg bent and the other straight out. Sam was tired but now studied him curiously. He wanted to smile at their home-casual attire, especially the bare feet. One look at Jack's face, however kept him to the somber face more appropriate for what he and Teal'c just heard.

"So, there were rumors. About you two?" Daniel asked as casually as he could. Naturally he knew the truth; they were more by-the-book than the book. However, it was interesting that outsiders might see something other than commander and second in command. Sam had high color in her cheeks. Jack's ears were red. Their heads were cocked at opposing angles and sitting the way they were it was almost like looking in a mirror. When they both shrugged opposite shoulders, he had to glance away. If they decided to dispel rumors they'd best not be standing or sitting together at the time, he thought. "Yeah, what a crazy idea," he muttered.

"What was that, Daniel?" Sam saw Daniel's eyes on her.

"What? Oh, didn't mean to stare. Ok, I just wanted to know what we intend to do about these "problems" for SG-1," he said. "I mean, we have enough on our plates without this."

"I feel that, Daniel. Dealing with the general just gave me a feeling that we're fighting on two fronts. I mean, sexists, tyrants, ego-maniacs - we keep running into our own human craziness out there! Like chasing our tails around the universe," she answered, frustrated.

"Yeah, like Newcombe and Turghan, two sides of a coin," Daniel said quietly. He saw her face change but she nodded. "I guess it didn't occur to me how capable you were, that is, are; but I did let you down back then. Yes, I've learned since those early missions, but the mistakes we made, like almost losing you to Turghan…I marvel that you forgave me, us, at all. And today, when that – that goon in uniform went at you…" he stopped as the vision struck him anew.

"You faced him with the same resolve as you faced the tribal chieftain, Col. Carter. And again you prevailed," Teal'c added. She still impressed him all these years later, he mused. Quick to defray praise as she was now. He gave his regal nod and discomforted her no further.

Sam took a fortifying breath. After Newcombe's sarcastic "immaculate genius" remark, now they make her out to be a saint? She knew differently.

"You know I wasn't so forgiving at first," Sam said in a low voice. She didn't need to see their heads drop. Or their eyes averted as their thoughts went back to that painful debriefing.

Hammond sat stiffly, incensed that the team allowed a member to be separated and left alone in a culture so clearly hostile to females. Even Teal'c's dark complexion reddened at the tirade. Jack was uncharacteristically humble. Sam watched silently, coldly, glad at their blistering scolding. Only a few missions later, however, her resentment had fully faded.

"Look, I know I kind of flipped today, mixing up my villains and all. But Jack and I already went over the chief thing. I never blamed you. Ok, not much," she amended with a meaningful smile and they shifted unconsciously. "Look how young we were at missions then! And I haven't done anything we all haven't done since. I'm glad we're still around when we need each other. I mean, look at us: We're SG-1, it's what we do!" She said, raising a smile on their serious faces. "I'm glad you're here today," she said sincerely.

This conversation decided her: the earlier disclosure to Jack would remain between the two of them. It's done, for all of us. Then she did the unthinkable. She yawned.

"Well, that's a hint, Sam. Maybe we should let our mission leader get some rest," Daniel teased gently. But the look on her face alerted him. Glancing at Teal'c, he thought he saw it, too.

"Carter?" Jack asked, noting the change in Teal'c and Daniel's expressions. He turned to look at her.

"I just wanted to let you know you're welcome to drop by anytime," Sam replied, "All of you," she amended as Jack grinned. "I mean, you've always been, anyway. ALL of you."

"Some of us can 'drop in' literally,." Daniel said, casting a teasing eye at Jack. He grinned when Jack put his finger to his lips. Rumors, Daniel thought irreverently, right?

"Anyway, I'd love the company so why don't you stay over tonight?" Sam finished. Her face heated, and she hoped she didn't sound desperate. Three pairs of kind eyes looked back at her.

"Who gets the couch?" Daniel asked jovially. Teal'c even smiled his agreement.

"There is ample floor space, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c replied. He was already scouting the room.

"Hey, we'll just camp out right here. Sound ok with you, Carter?" Jack replied. He knew what she was instinctively seeking and her grateful smile confirmed it. She grinned at the other two and rose from the sofa.

"Just what I was thinking, sir. Daniel, Teal'c, ok?" Sam asked. She needn't; they smiled back at her and began moving furniture around. There were two chairs and the sofa. "I'll just get some linens!" She called and sprinted toward the rear of the house. The few tears of relief were dried before she returned to them.

They grinned at Sam's face over the mound of blankets and pillows she carried in and started playfully tossing to them.

Sam let her head settle on Jack's shoulder as they reclined on the sofa, their feet up on the wooden coffee table. Both were snuggled into their own blankets as were Daniel and Teal'c. She noticed they had moved the comfortable chairs to flank the sofa. It reminded her of their arrangement around the campfire on the Shevadai planet, after her rescue. She'd suspected it was a protective circle with her in the center; and it had rankled, briefly. But she was too relieved at her freedom to quibble then.

And now. Well, it was a perfect circle. Near perfect. A welcome languor spread over her. This night would see her surrounded by the bravest, truest men in the universe. Her friends. They needed to do this more. Jack's head lowered to hers as he breathed deeply, already asleep.

Sam glanced over her bundled teammates. This night would finish the horror of the past and the present. The three men around her would finally put that mission to rest, too. Turghan had lost her many nights of peace; Newcombe won't lose her even one. She could close the door on two of the most troubling missions of her life, and it felt final; it felt good. Tomorrow was tomorrow, they'd deal with it like they always do. And she wouldn't think about Jack having to leave again; there was no telling when they'd all meet…

"Carter, can you not think so loud? I'm over the rainbow here," Jack muttered, gently nuzzling her hair. She stifled a giggle. Then she yawned and huddled closer.

"So am I, sir," she whispered back.

THE END

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