All Jack knew was that she was hurt. He stood in the Gate room of the SGC and tried not to fidget. This was worse than when he was in Washington and Carter was on SG-1. She'd been seriously injured a few times then and he had to race across the country to get to her side. This was much worse.
Word came in that Sam was in the infirmary on Atlantis. It had taken a day and a half to get an opportunity to go through the Gate along with new incoming personal and supplies. That had been too long, Jack needed to see her and it was making him crazy.
Colonel Sheppard would be acting base commander until Carter was up and around again able to fulfill her duties. He greeted General O'Neill in the Gate room on Atlantis. Sheppard, of course, had been informed that General O'Neill was coming. Upon hearing the news, Sheppard's immediate reaction was to silently wonder whether he should even bother to order someone to prepare the guest quarters. It was doubtful the General would be anywhere outside of the infirmary– or wherever Colonel Carter was– for the length of his stay.
"General, have a nice trip?" Sheppard asked. He only got a stern look in response. "The infirmary is this way, Sir."
As the two men traversed the halls, Jack asked, "How did it happen?" He'd heard a version of the story, but he wanted to hear it straight from John Sheppard.
"Rodney, Dr. Keller, and Colonel Carter fell into a hole."
"A hole?" Jack tried to fight the growing annoyance inside. She fell into a damn hole? Goa'uld, replicators, wraith, and ori– the woman survives them all only to fall into a hole. Go figure.
"Yeah, well," Sheppard backtracked realizing how simplistic and stupid it probably sounded. "It was an underground Genii mining facility."
They rounded a corner and entered the infirmary. Sam was sitting up in bed and her leg was raised on a few pillows, but a blanket over it prevented Jack from seeing any more. Her face was pale and drawn, and Jack knew the look well. It meant she was exhausted and had been fighting pain.
"Jesus, Carter, you look like hell." Jack sat down on the stool near her bedside.
"Thanks." Sam smiled. "Good to see you too."
Sheppard looked between them. Theirs was a strange relationship, to be sure. How Jack O'Neill could say something like that, and get a smile out of her as a response was beyond Sheppard's understanding. But at least Sam had something to make her smile, and that was a good thing.
"I'll, ah…" Sheppard backed away, "Leave you two alone." He also managed to shoo away several nurses and medical staff so that Carter and O'Neill could have a little privacy. Sheppard knew how much privacy was important to Sam Carter.
"You sure that you're OK?" Jack asked, taking her hand now that they were relatively alone. He was relieved to see Sam all in one piece, and the panic of the last few days started to die down. Jack knew it would the moment he saw her, the way it always did.
"I'm fine, Jack. You didn't have to come all the way here. It's just a broken leg."
"Just a broken leg," he repeated, a little gruffly. Sam smiled again, knowing what that meant, knowing what he was thinking. It didn't matter what it was he would come to her side, always.
Jack believed the desk job was supposed to be taking her out of harms way. Granted, it was Atlantis and anything was possible, but he'd been grateful when she was named Commander for multiple reasons. One of which, was that he'd hoped that the worry he carried with him the last few years would finally go away. He'd never liked the idea of Carter in the field without him.
"Besides," Sam said, "I'm being released."
"Now?" he questioned.
"Well, once Dr. Keller comes back with a pair of crutches."
Jack glanced around, seeing if there were curious ears listening. "Back to your quarters?"
Sam fought to not divulge her amusement. He was trying to hide the eagerness in his tone but she was good at detecting it. And it was just too easy to kid. "I should stop by my office. Check on things."
Jack countered, "Sheppard said he's got it under control."
"Mm," she played that she was thinking about it carefully.
"You should rest," Jack pointed out.
Oh, she was so going to use that comment against him later, she vowed to herself. Sam breathed, "You're right, I should."
"You… wait, what?"
Sam hardly ever agreed to resting, even when the injuries were near mortal. This was just a broken leg, and so it had Jack confused.
"Here you go, Colonel." Dr. Keller appeared with crutches in hand. "Start out slow until you get the hang of it, and keep the leg elevated as much as possible."
"OK, thanks, Doctor."
"No problem," Keller said. Then she turned to the General. "Hi," she introduced herself, "I don't believe we've met."
"Dr. Keller," Sam began, "This is General O'Neill. He's…" But Sam trailed off, not sure how much she was willing to reveal.
"From Washington?" Keller asked with an innocent smile plastered on her face.
"Um, yeah," Sam said. Keller was eyeing the General and she decided that Colonel Carter had good taste. Very good taste indeed.
"Nice to meet you, Doctor," said Jack. "Is she clear to go now?"
Dr. Keller swung her head back to her patient, almost forgotten in the distraction. "Yes."
"Great. Carter, shall we?" The General helped Sam up, and handed her the crutches. It was slow going through the halls. She was awkward, trying to figure out the right rhythm using the unfamiliar crutches. Sam had to stop once and rest for a moment before continuing.
"I could carry you," Jack offered.
"No you can't."
"No I can't," he agreed reluctantly.
Sam looked up into his eyes. Reminding him of his failing knees wasn't going to do much for his ego. She was just going to have to make up for her slip up it in other ways, she decided.
"OK, almost there." Sam steeled her back and went the rest of the way at a good clip.
Once inside her quarters, she made her way over to her bed and collapsed on top of it. Jack sat down next to her.
"So…" he said casually. "What do you want to do next?"
Sam almost lost it to the giggles inside. "Jack, you're the one who told me I needed to rest."
"You don't really have to do much. You could just lay there and I'll do most of the work."
This time, Sam did laugh. She reached a hand out. "Com're. Hold me." Jack crawled over and lay down next to her, putting his arms around her, kissing her once, and then tucking her head under his chin. Sam sighed deeply and relaxed against him.
He whispered, "I'm glad you're OK."
"Wanna talk about it?"
"Not really," she replied.
Sam didn't want to talk, but her mind couldn't help but replay the events again. She had a revelation while lying there in agony, perhaps the pain causing pinhole focus, reducing things in her life down to simple truths.
Sam had felt honored when they named her commander of the Atlantis expedition. She was proud to know people like Dr. Keller and McKay. She respected their ideas and opinions, worked as a team with them out of admiration, never feeling the need to be the kind of commander who barks orders and never listens. Well, other than the occasional, "One hour," when Rodney was being particularly uncooperative. But they were good, all of them. Even Zelenka, who she'd had trouble connecting with, was still someone she would have no qualms about placing in his hands the lives of the people she commanded.
Yet, when Sam was down there, why did it suddenly hit her that this was all a big mistake? She felt that her life was off kilter, just as much as the floor of that facility. Not only one particular mission gone wrong, but so much more, Atlantis, the distance, the command. It felt as though she belonged somewhere else. It was a feeling that had been creeping up on her but until now, she'd been unwilling to acknowledge it.
As Sam now rested her head on Jack's chest, and listened to his steady heartbeat, she could imagine the easy answer was to say it was all about him. But Sam was never the type of woman to be a damsel in distress, needing her dark knight to save her constantly. Well, once in a while was sort of endearing, but really not necessary.
Theirs was a relationship that was strong, they could handle distance if need be, they could handle anything. She missed Jack, there was no doubt of that. But running home to him because of that feeling was not it entirely; she was more complex than that, stronger than that.
So, what was it? Sam really did like these people she served with. Dr. Keller made her laugh and they were becoming fast friends. Out of the blue, Sam snorted a laugh.
Jack asked, "What?" surprised Carter was still awake. He'd thought she'd drifted off.
Sam said, "I was just thinking about… when we were passing the time, Jennifer and I started to play, 'Who would you rather?' and I just realized something–"
"Who would you rather…?" Jack repeated, though he wasn't sure he wanted to know where this was going.
"Yeah, like Brad Pitt or George Clooney…"
"Okay." Jack dragged out the word. Yep, he really did not want to hear this.
"I always pick the older guy." Sam ran a hand into Jack's hair. "A little gray hair helps in the appeal for me." She added mischievously, "Got any clues why I might subconsciously do that?"
"Ah, well…I'm no George Clooney, if that's what you're trying to say."
"No, you're not." Sam waited until that low self-esteem reared its ugly head inside him. Then she squashed it, "You're much hotter. I'd pick you every time."
Jack's heart flopped over as he stumbled for a response. How did she always manage to do that? Make him feel good about himself, special, secure, wanted…? Furthermore, did he ever make her feel those things in return? He hoped.
She smirked. "Poor McKay, Jennifer tried to drag him into the game."
"I'm sure he loved that."
"Yes," Sam said. "He really did good down there and he's growing up. Well, in some ways." There was no way she was going to share some of McKay's more colorful comments. Not unless she wanted Jack running off to maim Atlantis' top researcher.
"But you fell into a hole." He simply couldn't get past that part of it. "Carter–"
"Shut up, Jack." She cut him off playfully with a brief kiss. Sam knew he was going to tease her about this for years. She decided a change in subject was in order. "How is everyone doing back at home?"
"Cassie sends her love, forgot to mention. If she asks you, it was the first thing out of my mouth."
"Daniel and Mitchell have this harebrained plan to find some… whack a mole… thingy they claim has some powers…" Jack shrugged, "I don't understand half of it."
"Whack a mole?" Sam questioned.
"Hey, that's what it sounds like, I swear." Jack dismissed. "The plan is crap and I told them they're not goin' until they come up with a better one. Landry is starting to cave. But Vala was on my side."
The last was said with a bit of pride. She chuckled, knowing that Jack's brain was not why Vala sided with him in the argument. "Do I need to be worried, General?"
"Vala's feminine wiles working on you?"
He looked uncomfortable. "You don't think that's what she…" Jack grimaced at the look on Sam's face. "Ah, hell."
She laughed. "And Teal'c?"
"Got his own place."
"Really?" She was surprised; the last time hadn't gone so well.
"Yeah, we'll see. Daniel and I were over checking up on him constantly. Until Teal'c declared we were acting way too much 'as a mother chicken is to it's babe.'"
"Yep," Jack confirmed.
"Ah." She grinned and Jack couldn't help but kiss her again. Her smile was always his undoing. When he decided they needed air finally, Sam whispered against his lips, "Jack, I'm coming home."
Sam was sure it sounded out of the blue to him. But if he'd been privy to her thoughts as he'd been recounting what their friends had been up to lately and while he was kissing her passionately, it wouldn't have come as a surprise at all.
It was all of it, Sam realized, the people, the bond, the banter about everything between her and Jack. The shared life and experience that she just didn't have here. Here, she was out of place. There, she was among family.
If Sam gave this time– a lot of time– she was sure she'd grow into it and eventually have the same feelings about the people here. But suddenly, Sam felt old, tired, aching, and not just from the broken leg.
Why? Why did she need to work so hard, with years and years stretching out ahead of her? Simply to form something that she already had waiting for her elsewhere?
Jack asked, surprised, "You don't like it here?"
"It's not that," Sam answered. "In my younger days I would've stayed. But now things are different. I decided while I was down in that mining facility that this isn't for me."
"We've talked about this. You were going to give it a year and then decide."
"The year's almost up," she reminded. "When it is, I'm coming home. I miss everyone, all my friends and family, but especially you. I can't stay away like this anymore and no career advancement is worth it. I need you and I need to be home."
"I need you too. But, Sam–"
"Don't. Please. Don't argue with me about this. I know what you're trying to do and I love you for it. But, please."
After a rather long pause, Jack finally asked, "What will you do?" She knew he was still asking about her work. He needed to be reassured that she was being logical about this. Only then he would finally be able to give into the emotion.
"I don't know," Sam admitted, "but I'm sure they'll find a place for me."
"I'm retiring this fall," he said, "you know what that means…" It wasn't the first time for him to suggest that it opened up all sorts of possibilities for them.
"I just don't want that to be the only reason–"
"It's not," Sam cut him off, "it's a big one, but it's not the only one."
Her voice was growing weary. As much as Jack knew Sam hated to give into it because she'd rather be catching up with him, she couldn't fight the need for sleep much longer. She did need her rest no matter how stubborn she could be at times.
"How about we take a little nap?" Jack suggested and Sam gave him a look. It was usually a request he made in the middle of the day when he had decidedly non-sleeping activities planned. He caught the expression. "I actually mean sleep, jeeze, give a guy a break. It's not the only thing on my mind."
"Sure," she said, unconvinced. But she couldn't really argue, exhaustion was sweeping over her. The pain pills probably were helping the process of sleep as well.
Jack got up out of bed and pulled the shades down on the windows. He undressed and climbed back in.
Sam joked, "This is going to convince me to sleep?" while running a hand up his chest.
"Sleep now, fun later," he said. "You're comfortable in that?" The tracksuit she'd changed into after hearing that she was being released from the infirmary was comfortable. But more skin-to-skin contact seemed appealing, even if they were merely going to sleep.
Sam took the top off, and with the help of Jack, she took off one shoe and pants. In her tank top and panties, Sam curled once again at his side. Jack glanced at the casted leg briefly, before she pulled the sheet over them both. He shuttered at the thought of anything worse that could have happened to her.
Sam misinterpreted the shutter. "Not the only thing on your mind," she muttered under her breath.
"Hey, I heard that."
"Sleep now, fun later," she repeated Jack's earlier promise.
The next morning, Sam made her way to her office on crutches, getting a little better at it. She needed to check in on things and do a little work, at least for a few hours. She found Sheppard there. But he was sitting in one of the visitor chairs, not sitting in her chair, while typing away on a laptop. Sam smiled, she remembered being the same way.
"Morning," Sam said as she entered.
Sheppard typed the last few keys and replied absently, "Did you and the General sleep well?"
She blinked a few times. Finally, Sheppard registered what he said and looked up horrified. "I um, I meant…"
"You knew?" Sam questioned, cutting off his embarrassment.
"Did you really think that no one knows?" John Sheppard questioned, with a surprised raise of his brow.
"I had hoped…" Sam began and then trailed off at the look on his face.
He explained, "Some people are aware that when the General comes for a visit he stays in Colonel Carter's private quarters. Everyone that's figured it out is accepting of the fact."
Sam looked dumbfounded and more than a little frightened.
"Hey," Sheppard said, "no big deal."
"No big deal?" She was incredulous.
"Look, it's good. I mean, a few people thought you were cold and distant in the beginning. This is a good thing for your image. Trust me."
"My image?" Why was she repeating everything he said like an idiot? Then another thought registered. "Wait, did you say cold and distant?"
Sheppard had the decency to look a little embarrassed that he let that slip. "I don't think that."
Sam said with a touch of sarcasm, "Well, that's a relief."
She wondered how long she should wait before she prepared Sheppard for the fact that she was leaving. There would be an official reason given to personnel on Atlantis, Sam was certain, but John Sheppard deserved the truth. He was another one of the respected colleagues here who had started to become a friend.
No matter how much Sam was ready to leave, she would miss this place, and these people. She had been proud to serve with them. But they deserved a leader who wasn't always torn, who was here physically, but not always here emotionally.
Sam debated how she should tell Sheppard, and if it was too soon. After all, she would stay until a replacement was found. It would be months, at least.
Finally, she said carefully, "John, I–"
Sam looked up, surprised. "How did you…?"
Sheppard shrugged. "You're different when you're around him. I can just tell." His look changed. "I hope he didn't pressure you?"
Sam knew he was referring to Jack, "No."
"Good. 'Cuz I really didn't want to loose my respect for him."
She allowed a hint of a smile to appear at that. "I haven't let the IOA know yet. But I wanted you to be prepared."
"We'll miss you."
"I'll still be around," she said sincerely, "and I'll help in anything that you need."
"But you need to go home."
"Yes," Sam sighed. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. Its just… does he know what a lucky bastard he is?"
She was a little taken aback. "I'll take that as a compliment?"
"It is a compliment," Sheppard affirmed. "It was tough to come here under the circumstances that you did, and you've done a great job."
"Thanks," Sam said.
"And he knows, right?"
"The lucky bastard part?" Amusement crept into her tone. "I'll be sure to remind him everyday."
"Good." Sheppard rose. "I'll, ah, go and leave you to…" He gestured vaguely at the papers on her desk.
She teased, "Don't want to stay and help with paperwork?"
Sheppard didn't answer directly. Instead, he said diplomatically, "Glad to see you up and around, and feeling better, Colonel."
Jack walked alongside Sam as she made her way. She was getting better at the crutches, he noticed.
They had said their goodbyes in her quarters, and he knew from here on out it would be strictly professional. It's how Carter was. He really didn't think there was anything wrong with one last little smooch in the Gate room, but he did whatever it took to support her and make her happy.
Jack leaned over as Chuck dialed the address. He spoke low enough that only Sam would hear. "I am proud of you. Whether you come back or stay here, either way, I'm proud. But I gotta say, I'm glad you're coming home."
Sam smiled, fighting against the urge to shed a tear. What had she ever done to deserve this much happiness and fulfillment in life? She abandoned her strict sense of duty, and any discomfort about the people of Atlantis knowing what mattered to her. Just as the wormhole was established and the kawoosh died down, Sam took his hand. It wasn't much, but Jack recognized it as a huge gesture from her.
"What changed your mind?" he asked.
Sam knew he meant the public display. But she couldn't help feeling that the question was much larger than that. "Lots of things, Jack. But mostly, the fishing here isn't that great."
He grinned at the mention of their secret password. "It's a date."
"Yes, it is, General."
Jack squeezed her hand one last time. Then he stepped through the event horizon.
Sam whispered to the vanishing wormhole, "I'll be home soon."