Closing the Divide

Rating: Teens/Older teens (description of violence)
Category: Alternate Universe
Season: No specific season, but Sam is a Major and Jack is a Colonel.
Pairing: Sam/Jack
Summary: Sam and Jack need to deal with the fall-out from a mission loss.

Once again, special thanks to my beta Melissa for all her help and for the title!

-x-x-x-x-x-

There was no answer when he knocked on the door. Jack O'Neill waited a couple of minutes and then knocked again, but the door remained stubbornly still.

He wasn't sure what he expected anyway. Hell, it had taken him six months just to work up the nerve to come to her house. He couldn't bring himself to imagine what might happen when she opened the door to see him standing on the step.

With a sigh, he stepped back off the porch, put his sunglasses back on and raised his head toward the sun. His short, silver hair caught in the warm wind and Jack impulsively decided to walk around the neighbourhood. He'd spent far too much time lately buried deep beneath a mountain, and the sunshine called to him. He meandered slowly down the street with his hands shoved deep into his pockets, his brain automatically keeping track of the lefts and rights he made while he thought of her. Jack hadn't gone far when he caught sight of her, as if his mind had the power to make her appear. He was on the top of a hill that stretched down toward a large open space edged on one side by a pond and dotted with trees and there she was. Sam.

Sam, who was apparently involved in an odd standoff, was seemingly unaware of the men creeping along behind her with automatic weapons. Jack moved to some scarce cover he found as he made his way quickly down the hill toward her position, his hand reaching instinctively for a weapon he did not have.

Jack knew the instant that Sam sensed his presence, betrayed by a slight jerk of her head in his direction before she froze. Cursing, he knew that she might have just alerted the men to his location and he too froze near a tree still several feet away from where Sam stood, exposed in the flat expanse of grass.

A command drifted on the wind to his position, and Jack found himself briefly sinking in relief against the tree as the men rose from the grass and continued their manoeuvres. He drew a breath and steeled himself, then walked to stand beside Sam, who still had not moved from where she stood. Jack could see the men to his left and the dog Sam was looking at as it rolled joyously on its back to his right. Sam didn't make a move to indicate he was there, so Jack cleared his throat and said the first thing that came to mind.

"Not very well trained, huh?"

"She'll bring the ball back eventually," Sam replied quietly.

"I was talking about the cadets," he replied with a bob of his head in their direction and was pleased when a brief smile flashed across her face.

"They're getting better. You should have seen them a couple of weeks ago."

The conversation lagged and the momentary pleasure Jack had felt when Sam smiled started to fade. His eyes travelled over her, taking in her long legs clad in blue jeans, a thin-knit, pale blue, long-sleeved sweater that was unzipped, revealing a slightly darker blue shirt underneath, her hair – still short – catching in the breeze. Her eyes were hidden from him behind sunglasses, but she wasn't looking at him anyway. As he tried to think of something to say, the dog finally decided that it would, indeed, bring the ball back and Jack watched as it made a beeline for Sam and dropped the ball right by her toe. The dog looked at Jack for a moment as if sizing him up and then turned its gaze back to its lady and master, tail wagging and waiting for the ball to be thrown again. Sam bent to pick up the ball and then threw it in a long arc as the dog raced away after it. This time, when the dog caught the ball, it was returned almost immediately and again dropped right at Sam's feet. But after a few more throws the dog again failed to return immediately, dropping to the ground to chew contently on the ball.

Jack cleared his throat again and said, "I'm surprised you're here."

"I've been here for quite a while."

"I meant here, here. Not park here."

"I know."

Again, she hadn't left much for him to work with, so Jack found himself floundering. Talking wasn't his thing; it was Daniel's, but this was a conversation Jack couldn't ask Daniel to have for him. Biting bullets and sticking his feet in his mouth, on the other hand, was something Jack had a lot of experience with, so he decided to plunge ahead.

"I figured that since you'd started working in R&D you'd be somewhere near Nevada, not outside of Seattle."

When Sam failed to respond, Jack's heart sank further. He was caught off guard when Sam's mouth suddenly twisted -- was it a grimace or a smile?

"Fortunately, they need me for my brain, not my body," she stated wryly.

"Sam…"

"C'mere, Daisy!" Calling the dog to her, she cut off the protest on Jack's lips. Sam scooped the ball into her pocket, ignoring the dog's whine of protest, and then clipped the dog's lead onto its collar. She stood and walked away from Jack without another word. Jack quickly caught up to her and matched his pace to hers, frowning at the slight limp he noticed along with the weight she had lost and the pallor of her skin. As much as he wanted to help her when Sam slowed even more on the hill back up to the sidewalk, Jack knew it wouldn't be welcome and he kept his hands and his voice to himself until they had reached the sidewalk before trying to speak to her again.

"Sam-"

"No."

"You don't even know what I was going to say," Jack protested.

"I'm not going back."

"Well, as much as I'd like it if you would, that wasn't what I was going to ask you."

Sam looked at him askance and shook her head disbelievingly as she walked down the street toward her house. "Why else would you be here?"

"I was going to ask if you would to have dinner with me."

That drew Sam up short. She stopped dead in her tracks and looked at Jack, her eyes searching his face. She sighed and the lines of tension that framed her mouth and marred her forehead tightened.

"No." She started walking away from Jack and flinched when his hand grasped her upper arm. He pulled her around to face him and then sighed at the wince that darted across Sam's face at the sudden movement. In response to the wince, and not the ominous growling coming from the dog which moved to place itself between them, Jack dropped his hand from Sam's arm and pushed it through his hair.

"Sorry." He knew he couldn't say it enough.

Sam muttered a quiet command to Daisy, who immediately sat, but stayed in position between the two.

"Have dinner with me. We should talk."

"I think everything you wanted to say to me was said the last time we saw each other. Goodbye, Jack."

"Sam, I didn't mean what I said. Dammit, Sam!" Jack called after her retreating back as she resolutely walked away from him and turned up the walk to her house. Although he knew it was just his imagination, Jack thought he could hear the lock sliding home as Samantha Carter shut him out of her life.

-x-x-x-x-x-

As he sat in an uncomfortable chair at the airport waiting for his flight back to Colorado Springs, Jack's thoughts unwillingly took him back to the last time he had seen Sam.

When she answered the door, Jack pushed past her brusquely and stormed further into her house, his eyes taking in the bare walls and the piles of boxes. Jack had turned his icy gaze to Sam where she stood leaning against the doorjamb for support, her eyes alternately looking at the floor, the ceiling, the far wall. At anything other than him.

"Going somewhere?" Venom dripped from Jack's voice.

"I was going to tell you, all of you. The paperwork was processed sooner than I thought it would be."

"How convenient."

"Sir…"

"Forget it Carter, I don't want to hear your excuses." Sam closed her eyes as if that would help protect her.

"Sir, you know that I was told I'd probably-"

"Drop it. It's better that you leave. It's better for you to decide that you can't hack it in the field anymore…" As he saw Sam pale even further and heard her breath catch in her throat, Jack tried to stop himself, but the poison bubbled out of him against his will. Fight or flight, and the second was not usually the option Jack chose. "…'cause Lord knows I can't trust someone who chickens out to watch my back."

In typical Samantha Carter fashion, when she shattered the explosion was quiet, directed inward. The blood drained from Jack's face and he tried to take it back, wanting to throw himself at her feet and beg forgiveness.

"Sam-"

A knock at the front door pulled Sam mindlessly toward the sound, instinct and subconscious dragging her down the hall and opening the door to reveal Daniel standing on the front porch. He took one look at Sam and pulled her closer to him, his hands and eyes searching for blood, tears or something, instinctively knowing there was something wrong. He spotted Jack coming down the hall and froze.

"Sam? Are you okay? Jack? What happened? What's going on?"

Sam drew away from Daniel and moved back down the hall, giving Jack as wide a berth as possible in the narrow space.

"I, I need to get some rest," she choked out, "If you two can lock up when you go."

"Sam?" Daniel called after her as she made her way down the hall as quickly as she could. He turned to Jack and his eyes narrowed at the expression of guilt on the older man's face. "What did you do, Jack?"

Jack ignored him and turned to follow Sam, but was stopped by a firm hand on his arm. Snarling, he turned on his friend, wanting to direct his self-loathing at another target before catching himself. After all, that's what got him in this mess in the first place.

"Daniel, I have to talk to her. I have to tell her-"

"Yes, but not right now. You can talk to her tomorrow. Just go home, Jack. I'll stay and make sure she's okay. You can talk to her tomorrow."

But the next day she was gone. Jack knew where she was going, knew that she had put in for a request to work at R&D following a medical discharge. That's what had set him off in the first place. But Daniel told him quite pointedly, his voice ice coated, that maybe Jack should give her some space.

It had taken Jack months of inner torment before he had even considered trying to talk to her. It had taken even longer to convince a distrustful Daniel to tell him that, while attached to R&D in Nevada, Sam was not actually living there.

For all the good it had done him.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Sam took comfort from the chatter and cooing surrounding her place by the tree. She was propped against it reading a book with Daisy at her feet. Around her was a neighbourhood Moms & Tots group that had started using the park when the weather was nice enough to bring the kids outside. The tall, quiet blonde seemed sad and the mothers' instinct to protect had lead the women to shift their activities closer to where Sam often came to read. As Sam didn't object and had made no effort to avoid their attempts to include her, even if she didn't actively seek them out, the moms decided that Sam enjoyed their company.

Today, however, the moms seemed to be focused on something else. Sam listened with half an ear to the giggles and off-colour jokes that were being bounced around the group.

"Seriously, someone should tell him."

"You just want to talk to him because he's damn hot!"

"Well, duh! Too bad I'm already married with kids. You think he'd be interested in a woman with baggage?" The comment was met with more giggles.

One of the moms, seeing that Sam was listening in on the conversation, tapped Sam's shoe lightly. "Hey. You're single. You should go tell him. Then we can live vicariously through you," she said as she gestured toward the object of their attention.

Sam followed the wave of the woman's hand to land on a man sitting by the edge of the pond in a camp chair, his feet propped up on a cooler and a fishing rod with a line in the water, and Sam's heart fluttered in her chest.

Sam stared at the man for a long time before pushing herself to her feet and moving toward him with her slow, off-kilter gait after telling Daisy to stay. The moms were surprised that their usually uncommunicative fosterling was going to go through with it.

When Sam drew level with the chair she stood at the side staring out over the pond. Jack remained silent, deciding that she had made the first move this time so she could be the first to break the silence. After all, so far he had just made a mess of everything anyway.

"They thought you should know there are no fish in there," Sam said finally.

Jack couldn't stop the grin that tugged up the corners of his mouth. "That's not really a problem for me. I like it better, to tell you the truth."

Silence bubbled between them again and Jack was practically biting his tongue. As long as she was still near him, he'd take what he could get.

Looking at him out of the corner of her eye, Sam sighed at the look of resolve on Jack's face. She knew him and she knew that he was letting her take the lead.

"What are you doing here?"

"You're here."

"Yes. That still doesn't explain what you're doing here."

Jack decided what he wanted to say very carefully. He knew that he was damn lucky she was talking to him at all, and he didn't want to make another mistake.

"I know you hate me, Sam. I hate me. We can probably add Daniel and Teal'C to the list too. You were hurt, scared and I never should have said what I did."

"You wouldn't have said it if you didn't believe it," Sam said so quietly he wasn't sure he heard the words.

Jack sighed, "I did mean what I said." Hearing Sam's strangled moan, he ploughed on quickly, "But it was meant for me. I should have been yelling it at me. I was so scared, Sam, you… you almost died and it was my fault. I should have had your back. And then when I found out you were going to R&D… I failed you and then I blamed you. And I'm sorry."

Sam mulled that over in her head, before speaking again. "That still doesn't explain why you're here."

"Well, I was hoping that some day you'd agree to go to dinner with me."

"Go home."

"I'm staying here. You need me."

"No, Jack. I thought I did once. But not anymore. You should go home."

Jack forced himself to keep breathing and keep his voice even. "I think I'll stay here and fish for awhile."

Sam closed her eyes as she was swamped with sorrow and anger, but instead of saying anything, she simply turned and walked back to her place by the tree.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Jack and the Moms & Tots didn't see Sam for another week. Jack showed up at the park every day and spent most of his time going through the motions of fishing. The moms noted Sam's absence with growing concern and finally, a couple of them approached Jack, their eyes full of suspicion. After all, the last time they had seen Sam was the day she had spoken with the fishing stranger who had just suddenly appeared one day. Even more telling, it seemed from the conversation that the two knew each other, although no physical contact--in fact barely a glance between the two--had been observed. However, Jack's obvious worry seemed to allay the women's fears of foul play.

Of course, that meant that Jack had to be extra stealthy when he jimmied the lock and broke into Sam's townhouse. He took a quick look through the house and found no evidence of foul play. Sam and Daisy were both gone, although Sam's stuff all appeared to be there. Jack concluded that Sam would be back. Eventually.

A couple of days after that, Jack was once again fishing by the pond when a familiar prickle alerted him to someone approaching him from behind.

"Daniel."

"Jack." As seemed to be the norm, the silence loomed between them – parking itself on a couch and drinking a soda. Daniel gave in first; Jack had a lot more practice. "When you announced you were retiring, I figured you'd end up in Minnesota."

"Yeah, Minnesota's good. But the non-fishing here has some perks too. Well, usually. I take it you've been talking to Sam?" It wasn't really a question.

"She's at my house. Why did you come here, Jack?"

"Told you, the perks."

"You're tearing her up, you know. Why can't you just leave her alone?" The heat in Daniel's voice had Jack wincing.

"You think I don't know that? If I could leave her alone, I would, Daniel, but I just can't leave her. As much as I've hurt her, I can't just walk away. Again. Is she going to stay in the Springs?"

Daniel ran his seeking gaze over Jack's face, noting the pallor under his tan and the extra lines that seemed to have sprung up overnight, and his anger started to dissipate. "If I said yes, what would you do?"

"I'd go back to the Springs."

"And if I said she was coming back here?"

"I'd stay here."

"If I said she was moving somewhere else?"

"Then I'd go there. Are you finished playing twenty questions, Daniel?" Jack snapped at him.

"You know you sound like a stalker, right?" The look in Daniel's eyes lightening the seriousness of the observation.

"I won't go near her. I won't talk to her. I just… I need to know she's okay. I need to be there to watch her back, because when I don't know where she is, all I can see is-" the image that now constantly floated in the back of his head shoved its way to the front and Jack snapped his jaw shut against the nausea that hit the back of his throat. Daniel placed a concerned hand on Jack's shoulder to support him, not sure whether what he imagined Jack was thinking was worse than the reality or not. Probably not. Eventually Jack shrugged off the hand and looked up at Daniel, his gaze once again shuttered.

"Tell her what you want, Daniel."

-x-x-x-x-x-

A few days later Sam came home, although Jack still didn't see her at the park. The lights were on at night at the house and he could occasionally hear Daisy barking in the back yard. He knew Sam was likely going to a different park on the other side of the neighbourhood. Eventually she reappeared, probably forced to use the closer park against her will, as Jack noticed her limp was worse. Again, the mothers and their children drew around her, but if she noticed, Sam gave no indication. She acted like she lived in a bubble; the only two living things in the park being her and her dog.

The moms were also trying to work their magic with Jack. They saw his concern for Sam and the sadness he tried to hide whenever he looked at her. So the moms started trying to draw him into their circle, luring him with treats and cute kids. At first, if Jack gave in to their requests to join them, Sam would pull away, calling Daisy to her and heading home. Gradually, Sam stayed even when Jack approached. Jack would sit across from her, observing her warily, never getting too close. Sam did not react to Jack's presence in any way and did not make even the slightest sign of acknowledgement.

Sam arrived late to the park one day, a basket in her hand. Jack was already sitting with the women, a gaggle of tots using him as a jungle gym. She placed the basket in the centre of the circle before moving toward her tree. At the questioning looks directed at her, Sam smiled briefly. "I made cake. Help yourself."

Her eyes collided with Jack's. For the first time in months, she looked him in the eye before she slumped against the tree and drifted off to sleep, as if the very act of looking at him had drained her. 'It probably did,' Jack thought to himself. He still couldn't look himself in a mirror.

It was good cake.

When Sam awoke from her doze – the best sleep she'd had for a very long time – she found that the moms and tots had already left and Jack had tempted her dog away from her. Sam watched the two of them as they played ball for several minutes before she rose and caught the attention of the dog. It raced over and pressed against her leg as she patted and rubbed the animal. Jack followed at a more sedate pace and stooped to pick up the basket before Sam could. It looked like Sam was going to say something, but then changed her mind and simply put the leash on Daisy before heading from the park, Jack trailing in her wake until they reached the sidewalk where he drew up alongside her. The two of them walked, unspeaking, toward her house. As had always been the case with them, actions spoke louder than words. Sam hadn't forgiven him yet, but Jack knew that the very fact Sam had not pulled away from him was a good sign.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Time passed slowly and fall arrived, settling in to stay, the temperature dropping and keeping the mothers and children home more often. Sam still spent a significant amount of time at the park with Daisy. Jack came and went, sometimes going through the motions of fishing, sometimes not. If the weather was nice and the Moms & Tots group wandered to the park, Jack would usually join them, helping the moms wrangle the kids. Sam would eventually join them as well. If the weather was blustery or rainy, Jack would arrive later to walk Sam home. Somehow he knew Sam needed some time to herself, and as much as he'd like to be with her all the time, he was just happy that she let him near her at all. From time to time he caught Sam looking at him, anger and hurt warring in her eyes, before one or both of them dropped their gaze, so Jack knew that he would have to be content with whatever she gave him.

Jack hurried toward the park, running a bit late after being caught on the phone with General Hammond. He was anxious to get outside. The weather was bright and sunny for the first time in a week. Earlier in the week, it had rained for two days solid and then the wind had picked up, dropping the temperature to record lows. As he neared the park, Jack could already hear the sounds of kids laughing and crying. Even though the ground was still a bit on the soggy side from the earlier rain, with only a few good days to look forward to, the moms had wanted to get the kids out for some fresh air. From his vantage point on the hill, he could see Sam was still throwing the ball to Daisy, and it looked like the moms had planned ahead because Jack could see that the blankets on the ground had been placed over a large blue tarp. A smile started to cross Jack's face, but it froze when he saw Sam's head whip up and start moving, searching for something with her eyes. Jack started to run as soon as Sam did, dimly registering that one of the moms had started yelling, calling for her son. Jack pounded down the hill in Sam's wake as she ran toward the pond. His brain registered and filtered the cries coming from the group of mothers, "Oh God, not the pond!", "Daniel! My baby!", "Sam's there! Sam's at the pond.", heard Daisy barking from her place on the shore and he watched Sam kick off her shoes, discard her jacket and wade into the water. Jack pushed himself harder, running faster. He arrived at the shore next to Daisy, who was whining anxiously, as Sam emerged from the water, a small, limp bundle gathered in her arms. Sam set the boy on the ground and Jack gently pushed Daisy back when she tried to lick the boy and Sam.

The moms had now arrived behind him. Barking orders, he pulled out a cell phone and thrust it toward one of them, "Call 911. Someone get some blankets!" Then he turned his attention back to Sam, who was trying to resuscitate the child. The sight of the small, unmoving body smacked into Jack, flashing him quickly back to another time, another boy, before Jack pushed it aside and focused on what was going on, ready in case Sam needed him to do anything. Fortunately, Sam had everything under control and Jack heaved a sigh of relief as the boy coughed and spluttered up water and then started to wail. Sam wrapped him in a blanket offered to her by one of the moms and then handed the boy to his sobbing mother before she sank bonelessly onto the grass. In the distance, Jack could hear the approaching wail of sirens, but he turned his attention to Sam, who was soaked and shivering on the ground. He moved over to her and started trying to take off her dripping sweater. Sam complied for an instant and then started to fight him, flailing and crazed. Jack tried to catch her hands, but ended up being kicked in the stomach. Beside them, Daisy ran around, confused and barking as Sam yelled at Jack.

"No, no, no! Don't!"

Jack tried logic, keeping his voice as even as possible, "Sam, we have to get you out of these wet clothes--it's too cold." But she still fought him with a level of violence he hadn't expected. Around him he heard the gasps and buzzes of the women and the approach of paramedics and police. Great, just what he needed. He didn't want to do it this way, but he needed to end this now. He used his superior training in hand-to-hand combat and quickly pinned Sam to the ground, ignoring the nearby sounds of protest and Sam's own groan of defeat. He brought a hand to the side of Sam's face and held it there gently until Sam opened her eyes, swimming with tears, to look at him.

"Please don't," she asked brokenly.

"I have to. I'm making it an order. Carter, behave yourself."

"I don't… I don't want you to see me like this. I don't want you to see…"

"I already have, Sam. I already know."

She looked at him then, tears spilling from her eyes. She had never wanted him to see.

When she nodded in response, Jack eased himself off of her and then pulled the sweater off of her left arm. When her arm was bared, he heard the gasps from the nearby onlookers as they took in the sight of the limb. Purple tissue warred with shiny scar tissue, disappearing up under the short-sleeved shirt Sam had on underneath. When she tried to pull away, Jack held her close to him and murmured, "Ignore them. It's just us. It's just us, Sam."

Sam shook her head in denial, but allowed him to pull her other arm out of the sweater. Wanting to leave her exposed to the stares of the others for as little time as possible, he made quick work of pulling her t-shirt off over her head, revealing more scars travelling the length of her torso and a part of her side that had been incredibly damaged. Jack kept his gaze averted from the sight. He saw her wound every night in his nightmares. He saw it when it was fresh, raw, bloody and burned. Although it had been healed as much as possible with a Tok'Ra healing device, Jack certainly didn't need to look at it again to know it was there. He reached for the jacket Sam had discarded earlier and someone handed it to him. He pulled it quickly around Sam and zipped it up. Sam immediately threw her arms around Jack's neck, pressing her head into the crook of his shoulder, trying to bury herself into him to escape her embarrassment and misery. She had never wanted anyone to see that, least of all him. To see what she looked like now. It was bad enough that Jack knew. Jack… Sam whimpered and Jack ran a soothing hand down her back before pulling away. He stilled Sam's further protests.

"C'mon, Sam, I've gotta get your pants off too. You know I've always wanted to get into your pants, right?" He was relieved to hear a watery laugh escape before Sam sobbed again, but she allowed him to draw away from her and remove her jeans, again revealing more damaged tissue spreading down to her thigh, although the worst had been located on her torso. Jack took a blanket that someone offered him and wrapped it around Sam's legs. He accepted another blanket pushed toward him to wrap around her shoulders over the jacket. Jack cradled Sam closely to him and finally looked at the crowd around them. The boy from the pond and his mother had been taken away in an ambulance, but another one was located on the street up the hill and he saw a couple of paramedics moving toward them. He nodded his head and let them check Sam's blood pressure and temperature, but waved them away when they tried to convince him to release Sam and put her onto the gurney. Sam had allowed the routine tests to be done, but had started to shake her head no when they paramedics indicated they wanted to take her to the hospital.

"But, sir…"

"She'd just check herself out AMA anyway. Where's my phone?" he asked the people surrounding him. His phone was handed to him, and he pressed one of the speed dial buttons as the police officers decided to approach him to insist that Sam be taken to the hospital and that the two of them needed to give a statement. He waved them into silence as someone at the other end answered.

"Doc? I need you to talk to some paramedics. Sam-" He broke off as the voice on the other end started shooting questions at him in rapid fire.

"Doc? Doc! Give me a chance to answer. Possibly hypothermic, definitely in shock and emotionally traumatized. You know she'll refuse to go. Yeah, here you go." He handed the phone to a paramedic. "It's her doctor."

Listening to the paramedic with half an ear, he fished his wallet out of his back pocket and handed it to the nearby police officer. "Look, there's my information. I can get you hers. We'll both be more than happy to give a statement, but can you just let us go home right now?"

The officer looked through his ID and narrowed his eyes to look at Jack. "This is you?"

"Yep. O'Neill, Jack, Colonel (retired), 69-4-141. And this would be Carter, Sam, Major (retired), 36-6-349. Look, can we go? I just want to get her home."

The officers exchanged looks with each other. They had been taken aback with the strength and skill the man had shown when he pinned his female companion, but the military training explained that. Still wary, they agreed that the two could go, but insisted on escorting them home. They also told Jack that they would be following up with them. Jack nodded his understanding, returning his attention to the woman cradled in his arms. With effort, he got to his feet without having to let Sam go and then trailed the officers up the hill to the police cruiser for the short ride to Sam's house, Daisy trailing after him.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Jack fished Sam's keys from her jacket pocket and let himself into her house. He hadn't gotten a good look at the inside on his earlier clandestine visit, but figured the bedroom was upstairs, so up he went peaking through doors he passed when he reached the landing. He found a bathroom and a spare room before coming across what was obviously the master bedroom. Sam had been unresponsive until then, but when Jack laid her on the bed, she curled into a tight ball, her back to him. He pulled the comforter across her so it was both under and over her, warming her. Then, Jack sat next to her and stroked Sam's wet hair away from her face.

"Sam. It's okay."

"I'm fine, you can go."

"That's not going to happen. I'm staying here."

'To watch your back. This time, I'll watch your back.' The thought echoed through his head.

"I don't want you here!"

"I know. But I'm here and I'm staying. Besides, the Doc is on her way and she knows the best way to eviscerate me if I'm not here when she arrives."

Sam gave up her protests, sinking back into silence. Finally, she said quietly, "When?"

"When what?" he questioned.

"When did you see?"

"Right after. I saw it… right after." Jack couldn't help the catch in his voice as the image came crashing back on him in vivid Technicolor.

The four of them were trying to maintain defensive positions, waiting for Tok'Ra and SGC reinforcements. Why did the missions that involved the Tok'Ra always go straight to hell? Then, an odd flash and bang, an unfamiliar incendiary device exploded with force and chemicals. No matter where it had landed, it would have been bad. But the laws of trajectory, gravity and Murphy had it falling right beside Sam, the initial explosion ripping her side apart and the chemicals slicking fire over her body. At Sam's scream of pain, Jack pulled out of his position and, trusting Teal'C and Daniel to lay down cover fire, raced toward the sound. When he reached her, Jack could see, smell, practically taste the blood, the burning flesh and terror lacing the air. Sam was rolling on the ground, trying to extinguish the flames, but fuelled by the chemical, they remained stubbornly persistent. Before Jack could move to her, Sam, mercifully, lapsed into unconsciousness.

Jack raced over and pulled Sam away from the chemicals still oozing across the floor and started pulling off her vest and cutting away her jacket, her shirt, all of the material that the chemical had soaked into that kept it against her body. Oblivious to everything but Sam, he didn't notice or care that the reinforcements had arrived, only noticing when movement in front of him caused him to instinctively pull up the P90, only to find himself face to face with an unfamiliar Tok'Ra. He snarled a protest as the Tok'Ra pushed him away from Sam, and would have struck him if he had not been pulled back by Teal'C. Even still, he struggled as the Tok'Ra doused Sam with something. Daniel explained later it was another chemical to counter the one in the dirty bomb. The Tok'Ra then brought out a healing device. It seemed to take forever before the device stopped glowing, sweat standing out on the Tok'Ra's forehead.

"I have done as much as I can here," he stated in the dual tones of the symbiote. "We must return her to medical facilities immediately. I must warn you, there is still a chance she will not survive this."

Jack bit back a snarl at these words. "She'll fight it!" Then quieter, "She'll fight it."

The flight back in the tel'tak seemed to take forever, Jack remaining by Sam's side as she lay motionless in the cargo hold, bedded down in their sleeping bags. Asleep or awake, Jack ran different scenarios over and over in his head where he had been there to protect her, to watch her back. And every time he fell short, the image of Sam writhing in pain on the ground coming back to him with a wave of nausea.

It had taken a week for Sam to regain full consciousness, spending most of the time she was awake writhing in agony. The Tok'Ra, Faveo, had remained at the SGC and worked on Sam several times a day, slowly helping to knit the open wound back together. After that, the physiotherapy had started and General Hammond had ordered the rest of SG-1 back into active duty, trying to keep them out from under the feet of the medical staff once it was apparent that Sam was going to pull through. Unfortunately, it was also obvious that Sam would never be able to return to full active duty, and the fact that a medical discharge was in her very near future was obvious to them all, even though Jack hadn't wanted to admit it. So, when they came back from an extended mission to find that Sam had filed paperwork for a medical discharge and civilian transfer, Jack's inner loathing had boiled over.

Jack sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair as the all too familiar shame washed over him again. Lost in his own thoughts, it took him a while to realize that Sam had turned and was looking at him with guilt-filled eyes.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Jack."

"What are you sorry for? I'm the one who should be sorry. You have nothing to apologize for."

"I should have been faster, I should have-"

"There was nothing you could have done, Sam! It was my fault, I should have… I should have been closer, been faster. Hell, been there instead of you."

"Don't say that!" Sam pushed up to meet his eyes.

"At the very least, I should have been watching your back!" Jack snapped back.

"You were! You always did!"

"Except when it really mattered."

"Jack, there was no way for you to know…"

"I'm not talking about when you were hit. I'm talking about at your – at your house, Sam. I should never have said what I said."

"No, you shouldn't have," Sam agreed, holding his eyes with hers. "It hurt, Jack. It hurt the most."

When Jack tried to look away, Sam placed a hand on his cheek and turned his face back toward her. "I didn't know why you were so angry with me, with yourself. I didn't know you saw…" She swallowed hard. "God, Jack, what you saw…" Sam started to cry, pulling Jack to her. Crying for him. Crying for her. An emotional release that had been a long time coming. Jack wrapped her in his strong embrace, burying his face against her neck, and swallowing hard against the surge of emotion. He'd never been good with this stuff, and he knew he couldn't put into words what he was feeling now. Sam eventually stilled and pulled away from him, looking at him seriously.

"It's still going to take time, you know."

"I know."

"You hurt me a lot."

"I know."

"And I… the scars are… It's not pretty, Jack."

"You are. You're beautiful."

"Jack…" His name ended on a gasp as he dragged a hand over her breast, on its way to curl around her neck. Jack tugged her lips toward his and they both groaned when the doorbell rang and Daisy started barking.

"I'll get it. You should put on some dry clothes."

The interruption was a very grateful man, the father of the child Sam had pulled from the pond. He thanked Sam profusely when she appeared downstairs next to Jack, and told her that his son, Daniel, was being kept overnight for observation, but seemed to be fine, thanks to Sam. He shook her hand several times, and Jack's as well, before rushing away to rejoin his wife and son at the hospital. As Jack closed the door, he turned to look at Sam, fighting to keep a grin off his face.

"There should be a warning about naming kids 'Daniel'. They get into the worst kind of trouble." Jack's grin spread as a laugh bubbled from Sam.

"I'm going to tell him you said that. You know he's probably going to show up with Janet, right?"

"Yup, Teal'C too, I would imagine. But now, I think you should get some sleep. You've had a busy day."

Sam protested that he was treating her like a child, but she couldn't stop the yawn that escaped. Sam let him lead her back upstairs and into her room, not bothering to change out of the track suit she had put on before going downstairs. When Jack turned for the door after seeing she got into bed, she called after him.

"Jack?"

Moving back to the side of the bed, he asked softly, "What do you need? Food? A drink? A bedtime story?" He threw in the last with a grin.

"Stay."

"Really? Are you sure?"

"Yes. Stay." Jack didn't tempt fate by asking again. Instead, he slipped under the sheets spooned up next to Sam. Daisy jumped up onto the foot of the bed, and seeing that all was well, curled up into a ball and went to sleep.

Sam and Jack lay in comfortable silence, listening to the dog's steady breathing, before Sam muttered with a sleepy smile, "I guess this is one way to watch my back."

Jack tightened his arms around her, listening as Sam's breath evened out in sleep. He knew things wouldn't get better overnight. But this…this he could do.