Author's Note: Takes place after Season 6's Metamorphosis. S/J, UST.

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1's not mine.

There was nothing but ringing on the other end of the phone until her voice mail picked up the line. He had expected it, but still, as he punched the button to end the call, he had to fight his urge to throw the phone across the room. He'd given up trying to get her to answer his calls in the two weeks following his return from his ridiculous exile with Maybourne. Before today, Jack had let her have whatever space it was she felt she needed. But after the near-disastrous mission to Nirrti's planet from which they'd just returned, after nearly losing Carter yet another time, he really wasn't in the mood for it any longer.

This was how it was between them, and she was breaking all the rules. He'd started it himself, years ago, long before he'd ever had to look her in the eyes under the influence of a Tok'ra lie detector and find a way not to say that he loved her more than he loved his own life. It began after Jolinar, when Doc Fraiser had finally sent Carter home for a week of enforced leave. He'd called her that night. And every night for a week. He was driven, compelled to hear her voice. The shock of her possession by the Tok'ra symbiote, of her near-death at the hands of a Goa'uld bounty hunter, left Jack helpless to his own anxiety for her.

He could laugh now, wryly, at his own inability to understand his concern for her then. He had thought it would end there – that it was simple, specific to the moment. He was worried for her, wanted to be sure that the sadness that gripped her in the S.G.C. infirmary did not blossom into something more dangerous. He was sure that it was something that would never happen again – until several weeks later, when she called him after he'd spent more time than he wanted to think about pinned to the wall of the gate room.

And so it continued. Any particularly harrowing mission, any moment when one of them had to watch the other one suffer just that little bit too much, found them there, tenuously connected, each clinging to the sound of the other's voice. It was never of consequence what they talked about – more than once, they'd spent most of the call in silence. It was never a connection that lasted long – just enough to reassure, never enough to cross that invisible line in both their heads.

Until again, he was the one that broke the pattern first. Because this time, she really had died, in a way, and it had happened at his hands. He'd sat there in the infirmary, trying to will himself to let Fraiser give Sam her freedom from the machines that kept her alive, when a miracle had brought her back. The remote sound of her voice over a phone line would never have been enough.

So he went to her house. She must have seen what was in his eyes, because she didn't give him a chance to speak. She ushered him in, sat him down, and gave him a beer, all while talking at a speed usually reserved for a particularly complicated technical explanation. By the time he could get a word in edgewise, he'd recovered himself. He never said the words he'd planned, never told her that he loved her too much to ever go through that again, that he had to walk away from this job right now, because the next time he'd let her live at the expense of the entire universe.

He'd recovered himself enough to remember that if someone else had stood in his place, they'd have probably pumped her full of bullets long before he made the decision to pull the trigger. In the end, it hadn't surprised him as much as it should to discover that his reasons for denying his feelings had less to do with protecting the universe and more to do with being there to protect her. He knew her better than anyone now, so there was no one better to decide when to stand between her and danger and when to let her fly.

They fell back into form, reached out when they needed to, mostly pretended that they didn't. It took a year and more before they stumbled again. He was finally home again, home after that never-ending hell of Ba'al's creation where he was shown over and over and over again that there were some things worse than death; home after far more time under Fraiser's care than he wished while he shed the imprint of evil left on his mind. He was wondering why exactly home had seemed like the ultimate goal all that time. He wondered it right up until Carter knocked on his door, and then he remembered.

He registered the haunted look and wondered if he needed to summon the energy to stop her from talking herself into the sort of corner he almost had when she had been the one that came back from the dead. But she was wiser than he was, and she hadn't come to talk, she'd come to listen. She forced words out of him, begged, cajoled, pleaded, until he'd confessed the experience. She held his hand while he spoke, then left sometime after he'd fallen asleep, exhausted, on his couch.

So he'd assumed those were the new rules, that when it was bad enough, the protocol changed, and it was necessary to see and feel in addition to hearing. But Sam seemed to have altered the rules without telling him, and as a result, he was quietly losing his mind. He'd been gone for a month, and now she'd almost died, and the echo of no contact between them was ringing rather loudly in his ears. What were the rules now, if she refused the connection that started it all to begin with?

He shut off the lights and headed for his bedroom. Sleep was unlikely, but nevertheless, lying in bed was the sort of thing you did when it was dark outside. He got into the bed, contemplated the ceiling, decided that tomorrow at work he would have to explain to her that if she wanted her commanding officer to go completely nuts she should continue this behavior, and then was up like a shot when he heard the knock on his front door.

He opened the door, grabbed her wrist, hauled her inside, and shut the door behind her, blocking her path of escape. Trapping her turned out to be unnecessary. As soon as he stopped moving, she threw herself into his arms.

As he held her, he felt the pieces of the world snap back together. His anger and frustration with her fell away, and he was left with nothing but Sam in his arms and the strange, inexplicable relationship between them.

"Hey," he said softly, burying his face against her neck. "I missed you."

Her response was immediate. "I thought I'd lost you." And then she wept.

He held her while she cried the weary tears of someone who'd been asked to see far too much. He whispered to her things that he could only say because she really couldn't hear him through the sobs. It didn't bother him that Sam Carter cried, because he knew her well enough to understand that her strength was not of steel, like his, but of fire, and sometimes it consumed her beyond her endurance.

When she quieted, he felt the moment come when he was supposed to step away so as to preserve the bizarre but necessary lines that separated them. He hesitated for a moment, felt her arms tighten around his neck, and was lost.

"Sam," he whispered, then eased her away from him, but just far enough that he could brush her lips briefly with his own. She let out her breath in a soft 'oh' of surprise, and, electrified, he caught the sound in his mouth with another kiss, lingering this time, but still with more sweetness than passion. The third time, he felt her fingers thread upwards into his hair, holding him in place, so he gave in to his need and kissed her deeply, thoroughly, teaching her with his lips what he was not permitted to say with his voice. They lived together in that one moment for what felt deliriously like forever.

Reality seemed to strike both of them at the same time; her lips withdrew at the same instant that he retreated. But he pulled her back into his embrace, not yet ready to sever the connection between them.

"This doesn't change anything, does it?" she asked.

He kissed her neck. "Not really," he said sadly.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Don't be," he answered. "Not for this, Sam."

"I should go," she said, loosing her arms from his neck and stepping back.

He nodded, and she turned away. As she reached for the doorknob, he put a hand on her shoulder. She turned her head back to look at him. He said nothing, but lifted his hand from her shoulder to touch her cheek, then dropped it back to his side. She smiled, and then she walked out the door.