Title: Hanging by a Moment

Author: Ayiana

Pairing: S/J (established)

Wordcount: 1517

Rating: Anybody

Spoilers: Written after Line in the Sand, but doesn't contain any specific spoilers.

A/N: This one started with a single line out of nowhere - "Walk with me" - and turned into this. Don't ask me how, because I haven't a clue. Thanks for the beta help go to daisycm83, and for the posting discussion, to annerphb.

Summary: Jack's worried enough to be emotionally honest with Sam. Yeah. We're talking seriously worried.

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Her eyes collide with his across the sterile confines of the infirmary and she knows he's come all the way back to Colorado Springs to see her. This surprises her for some reason, although under the circumstances it probably shouldn't.

"Sir." She pushes herself up against the pillows and hopes she looks better than she feels.

"Colonel." He nods as he comes to a stop beside her bed. His stance and attitude are coolly professional. Only his eyes betray his worry. "I hear you zigged when you should've zagged."

She smiles and wishes she could pinch some color into her cheeks. "Something like that."

Shoving his hands in his pockets, he gives a jerk of the head. "Doc says you're going to be fine."

"Yes, Sir." The stitches pull at her skin, and she fights the urge to scratch.

Their gazes meet and hold for endless seconds. Then... "Can I get you anything?" he asks, and his eyes tell her this isn't what he really wants to say, but here in the SGC, where much is classified, their relationship has the highest classification of all. "Yo-yo? Jello? Magazine?"

She shakes her head, but her eyes don't leave his. "I'm good, Sir."

"Ahh." He rocks back on his heels. "Right then." He watches her for a few seconds longer. "Feel like breaking out of this joint for a while?"

Her heart leaps at the idea. Freedom, even if only for a few minutes, sounds like heaven. "I'd like that very much, Sir." Careful, she thinks. Don't overdo the enthusiasm.

His lips tilt at the corners, and she suspects he's fully aware of just how desperate she is to get out of this bed. He turns to their sharp-eyed chaperone. "How about some time-off for good behavior?"

Doctor Lam isn't happy about the idea. Her nod is reluctant. "Thirty minutes."

She insists on a wheelchair, and Sam gives in without a fuss rather than risk having her freedom revoked.

What a pair they make, she thinks a few minutes later. She in baggy scrubs, and he in dress blues. But the people they pass act as though there's nothing unusual about a Major-General pushing a wheel-chair through the halls of the SGC. Then again, in the grand scheme of Stargate oddities, wheel-chairs and pajama-clad lieutenant colonels probably don't rate a second glance.

Jack heads straight for the elevator. When it arrives, they find they have the car to themselves. They're quiet on the ride up, but out of sight of the surveillance cameras, his hand brushes against her shoulder. She drops her gaze to the floor, certain her expression will betray their secret.

Topside, he wheels her to his truck, shrugging off her questioning look. "The doc said thirty minutes. She didn't say where."

Five minutes later he pulls to a stop at the end of a tree-lined dirt road. "Feel like walking?"

"God, yes."

He grins at her vehemence and reaches behind the seat for the spare tennis shoes she keeps there. "Want these?" he asks, lifting an eyebrow and glancing at her fuzzy slippers.

The mere thought of trying to change her shoes makes her side ache, and apparently he realizes that, because he's out of the truck before she finishes shaking her head.

It only takes him a moment to deal with the shoes. Then he helps her out of the truck, supporting her until she finds her footing.

"What is this place?" she asks, looking around.

He glances at the skeletal remains of a small cabin, and shrugs. "Just something I found one day."

She senses that there's more to the story, but something about the stillness, in the air and in him, silences her questions. He leads her to a narrow path, and Sam thinks it looks more like a game trail than a human one.

"There's something I want to show you," he says.

Picking his way through the underbrush, he leads her deeper into the woods, stopping occasionally to make sure she's okay. It's a short path, and within minutes they arrive in a tiny meadow with a gurgling brook that empties into a reed-framed pond. Sam looks around. If she were an artist, she'd want to paint this scene.

A fallen sycamore tree lies nearby, its remains nursing a delicate new generation of plant life. She crosses over to it and leans into its solid strength as she gazes at the pond. She's restless. Countless hours with nothing but ceiling tiles to analyze have made her mind sluggish, so she tallies the number of water striders that dance across the ripples and calculates their impact on the shimmering surface. She wishes she could walk on water, too.

"Never gonna happen," he says, his low voice coming from someplace behind her left shoulder. She jumps a little. He knows her better than anybody, but this is the first time he's read her mind.

She keeps her eyes on the water and wonders whether there are any fish here. "What'll never happen?"

"I'll never be able to take a call from the SGC without wondering if I've lost you forever."

The quiet words surprise her. He doesn't open up easily, doesn't talk about feelings or the things that matter to him. The fact that he's doing so now tells her how worried is. She turns, reaches out, and lets her fingers surf the gentle rise and fall of his chest. "I'm okay, Jack."

But he shakes his head. "You almost weren't."

She tries a smile, but it wavers a little. She knows just how close she came to dying. "Almost doesn't count."

"It does now." Now that they're together. Now that there is a they. Even if it is a they shrouded in secrecy.

"You want me to quit?" In a way she hopes he says yes, because if he does, and something awful happens because she isn't there to fix it, she won't have to shoulder the guilt alone. It's a horrible, selfish thought, and she shoves it away.

But he sighs. "No," he says. "I don't want you to quit. They need you. Hell, the whole damned universe needs you."

Only he needs her too. And she needs him. And where do two people fit in the calculus of billions?

"So..." She counts his ribbons, touching each one as she goes. So many battles. So much death.

He catches her hand, twines her fingers through his. "I'm just sayin..."

When he stops, she looks up, and her breath catches in her throat. There's an intensity in his eyes that she doesn't remember seeing before. "What?"

"I love you."

It's the first time he's said the words, and the stark admission brings tears to her eyes and a lump to her throat. When she's ninety she'll still be able to picture this scene, the sun glinting in his hair, the blue sky overhead, and that incredibly vulnerable look in his eyes.

The moment stretches, taffy-like, and when she doesn't answer his eyes go dark and shuttered. Only it isn't because she doesn't want to. It's because she can't. The words are there, but her throat has closed over them, locking them inside. And she swallows hard, but it doesn't help.

The muscles of his face go tight. "I just, um, thought you should know." He coughs, makes a show of looking at his watch. "Well would you look at the time. I need to get you back before Landry sends out a SAR team."

Dropping her hand, he turns. And he's halfway across the meadow before Sam can gather her wits enough to call after him.

"Jack!"

He turns. Looks back at her. Waits.

She takes a step toward him.

"Listen," he says, before she can speak. "Forget I said anything, okay?"

"No." She's walking faster now, limping a little, but not slowing down because this is too important. For this she would run a marathon with a hole in her side. "Because I love you, too."

He stares at her for a moment, and then he opens his arms, and she doesn't stop walking until she reaches the safe harbor of his protective embrace.

It doesn't really change anything, she thinks as he tucks his head into her shoulder and pulls her close. And yet it changes everything.

They stand there for a long time while the breeze whispers in the trees and the brook carries on a conversation with itself. And when he eases his hold on her and she looks up, there's something new in his eyes, a serenity she's never seen before. He must see something in her eyes as well, because he drops his head, his lips seeking hers in tender affirmation.

They leave the meadow together, hands joined as they walk slowly back to the car. Real life is about to claim them again, and they both know that the day may yet come that will separate them forever. But somehow, getting their relationship out in the open makes all those other uncertainties just a little bit easier to take.