Cherished Torment

#3 of "Special Things" Series

Category: Romance/Angst/UST

Spoilers: A Hundred Days, Shades of Gray

Season: Three

Pairings: Sam and Jack

Rating: PG (Older Kids)

Warnings: None

Summary: Jack needs to mend fences and reconnect with the woman he loves. Sharing something especially painful lets her know that his feelings haven't changed.

Author's Note: Just a short piece of angst. Thanks to my beta, Buddy, for all her assistance with these pieces.

Disclaimer: Stargate 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 was in private, intense agony — the same agony that crept around to haunt him every year at this same time. He had woken up this morning and gone straight to Charlie's last school picture, pulled it out of the box in which he kept it, and set it on top of his dresser. Then he'd sat on his bed and stared at it for a while, letting the familiar grief flood and consume him, allowing the barriers usually keeping the pain at bay to recede and disappear.

He gave himself this freedom only once a year, for one whole day, to honor his dead son. Charlie's birthday was the only day he reserved solely for him. On this day only he went to his grave and let himself relive the happiness of his birth, the many precious moments they'd shared, and that horrible day he'd been taken away from him. On this day only he forced himself to keep his beautiful little face clear and sharp in his mind, and he made himself ask his baby for forgiveness one more time.

His lost son deserved this much. In his insuperable selfishness — which he tried to excuse as self-preservation — Jack didn't allow himself to dwell the rest of the year. He had mastered an infinite number of techniques to make himself focus on anything but his grief, and these skills permitted him to function every day. They allowed him to be Colonel Jack O'Neill, and not just another broken, anguished dead child's parent trying to endure.

But not on this day. This day belonged to Charlie alone, and he didn't allow himself the luxury of oblivion. He would not touch booze, he would not watch TV, he would not go for a run, and he wouldn't even eat a decent meal. Today he grieved, and nothing else.

He'd been doing this for years, ever since he'd lost his precious child. He'd been spending this day alone, either sitting at home or before Charlie's grave, rain or shine. And it had never occurred to him to share his grief with anyone. But this time the thought of her company kept intruding. For the first time ever, he needed someone to be there with him on this most special and heartbreaking day. And he wanted it to be no one but her.

He'd hurt her. Twice. The first time he'd hurt her with his lack of faith and his weakness. The second time he'd hurt her because he'd been ordered to. And he couldn't truly justify either case, knowing that she was still hurting.

He still saw the shadows of pain, disappointment and accusation in her eyes, even when she was saying "Yes, Sir." He felt her wounded eyes on him when she thought he wasn't paying attention, and her wonderful smile had vanished to be replaced by a plastic, false image of what it used to be. And it was entirely his fault.

He'd been wandering around the empty house like a ghost for hours on end, and he finally decided it was time to go see Charlie. Sam's face appeared in his mind again, relentless in its clarity.

She was off work today. They all were. General Hammond had given them all some down time to rest and bond after his fake retirement and solo mission on behalf of their alien friends.

Daniel had reluctantly forgiven him but still gave him hell about lying to his team and not trusting them with his mission, making them believe that he hated them all and had left them behind to return to Edora. He was vocal about his displeasure with the whole thing, but Jack knew that things with Daniel were going to be okay.

Teal'c had not said a word, but Jack knew that he was the only one that completely understood and didn't hold a grudge. He was a soldier, a warrior, and a brother. Things with Teal'c were fine.

Sam had welcomed him back, sincere relief reflected in her eyes when she'd realized that he had not abandoned them to return to the woman with whom he'd betrayed her love. She had even claimed to understand. She was a soldier, too. She understood about covert operations and secret orders. There was nothing to explain, she had insisted when he'd attempted to talk to her in private. But the ice barrier that had been erected when she'd realized that he'd been with Laira and had given up on her even while she'd been wearing herself ragged trying to bring him back had gotten thicker and colder. Things with Carter were definitely not okay.

He knew that he had probably destroyed any chance of ever having her in his life. He'd been holding on to that hope for more than two years, fighting the Goa'uld every day with the faint glimmer at the end of the tunnel taunting him mercilessly, the promise of her love a distant prize still coveted. Now he might as well forget about it. She hadn't forgiven him, and he didn't think she'd ever reconsider.

But he had to try. He had to give it his best shot. He couldn't just give up and accept it. He still needed that glimmer of hope. He still needed her to look forward to.

So Jack O'Neill, grieving father, picked up his truck keys and headed toward his major's house, his heart in his hands and an admission of guilt in his eyes.

He rang her doorbell, noticing that the sky had darkened and that the smell of rain permeated the air. He stuck his hands in his jacket pockets, suddenly chilled to the bone, and patiently waited.

He didn't have to wait long. She opened the door and mutely stared at him, her eyes full of sadness and hurt clearly wondering what he was doing at her doorstep. "Sir?" she finally said, and he realized that he'd been staring back, not saying anything.

"Carter, do you have a moment?" he softly asked.

Sam nodded silently and stepped out onto the porch, not inviting him in. She was wearing jeans and a light blue tunic sweater that hugged her shape, making her look delicate and feminine. She was also barefoot, and Jack briefly wondered what she'd been doing.

Accepting her refusal to let him in, he sat on the steps of her porch and waited for her to join him. She stared at the back of his neck for a while but eventually relented and sat next to him, looking at anything but him. He deserved it, he knew, but her resentment still hurt like hell. Still, he decided to take the plunge and do what he'd come here to do.

"Carter, do you remember when I told you about special things that I shared with special people?" he quietly started. He saw her jaw clench with anger, but he decided to ignore her reaction and continue.

"Well… sometimes… those special things are not… happy things. Sometimes… special things are just that," he tried to explain. "They're special just because they're only mine to share or not to share."

She turned her blue gaze on him, now puzzled. So he continued. "There is one special… sad thing… that I never thought I'd want to share with anyone… ever." Now he looked at her, meeting and holding her bewildered eyes, praying for a miracle. "Until now."

Sam looked away again, unable to look at him without wanting to reach out and touch him despite her anger. She'd been initially annoyed at finding him here, knocking on her door. She'd peered through the peephole and been tempted not to open. Then she'd noticed his gray, somber face and had gotten worried, so she'd opened the door after all. But his words were making her angry again.

'Special things?' she huffed internally. How could he dare talk to her about special things after what he'd done? She'd assumed she was no longer the one he'd be sharing special things with. He'd fallen for Laira. He'd lied to her about his secret mission as if she couldn't be trusted. And he had given up on a future for them when he'd asked that woman to come home with him. THAT she could not forgive.

"Sam?" she heard him softly call, making her look at him again. 'And he called me Sam, now? Why not Carter?'

"Sir, I don't understand why you're telling me this now. If you want to talk about special things with special people, you should take a quick trip to Edora and catch up," she coldly stated, looking away again, her tone frigid.

"That's just it, Sam," he started to say, but she interrupted.

"Carter. You call me Carter. Don't call me Sam. Sam is for my friends, the people close to me, the people that care about me and trust me," she argued, noticing with dismay that her voice had broken at the end.

Jack ignored her rebuke although she could tell that it had hurt. She hoped that it had sliced through his heart like sharp steel, the same way her heart had been cut open when she'd seen him with Laira. But she realized that he was not letting her words foil him. He'd come here to say something, and knowing him, he'd do his damnedest before he gave up. True to form, he continued undeterred.

"You're still special to me, Sam. You're still the one I want to share special things with. Not Laira."

"You could have fooled me!" she snapped at him, tears now shining in her eyes.

"I'm sorry about Laira. I'm sorry for giving up hope and being weak. I'm sorry for not believing that you'd move heaven and earth to find a way to bring me home. But I'm not sorry for asking her to come back with me. I asked because that's what I had to do. Maybe it wasn't what I wanted, but it was what the little honor I have left demanded of me." His voice had been steady and calm, and Sam closed her eyes and let the tears fall.

She didn't respond. She couldn't. She kept her eyes shut, sitting next to him but miles away, still unable and unwilling to forgive and forget. But he continued talking.

"I came here because I was wondering…" he paused, then started again. "I came here because I needed some company today. Your company."

She still did not respond. Her heart was still closed and tightly locked.

"I'm going to see Charlie today. I've always done it alone. But today… today I want you with me," he admitted, his voice now so quiet that she almost had to strain to hear him.

His revelation hit a nerve Sam didn't realize was still alive inside her. His confession made her look at him with new eyes, the eyes of a friend instead of a woman scorned. The misery on his face now made sense. Now she knew why he suddenly looked older, beaten, and hopeless. And her heart went out to him. Her love and weakness for him won over her bitterness.

Jack finally begged, his need naked and unashamed. "Will you come with me? Just for a little while?"

Sam held his eyes, her own still teary and hurt but no longer cold. Another tear escaped, and Jack reached over and gently wiped it away, his own eyes bright. "Please," he croaked.

Her face crumbled, and her arms reached for him, wrapping around his neck and pulling him close. She determinedly forced her tears to stop, sniffing loudly against his neck while she held him, and she eventually answered. "Just let me go get my shoes."

Jack almost melted with relief. He hugged her back, nodded silently and buried his face in her neck, thankful for the gentle, kind, compassionate heart beating inside the woman he loved.

Maybe there was still hope. Maybe she could some day completely forgive him and forget his stupidity.

Maybe he could still look forward to that little, enticing light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

Maybe he could still have Sam Carter someday.

The End