Title: Back To You

Author: Psalm 136

Summary: "How are you?" always seemed to mean, "I need to know if there is anything hurting you, so I can stop the pain," for Jack and Sam, but fifteen years is a long time to do nothing about a love that is more than love.

Author's Notes: I don't know how old Jack and Sam are supposed to be, so I'm taking a bit of a license here. In season one, at least in my little universe, she is thirty and he is forty-one. Some men go bald or go grey early. Jack, I suppose, is one of them. He's been through a lot, after all.

Disclaimer: Stargate: SG-1 and the entire Stargate franchise belongs to MGM and the powers that be, and not I.

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"How are you?" always seemed to mean, "I need to know if there is anything hurting you, so I can stop the pain."

"I'll see you later," meant "I will think of you every moment until I see you again."

"How's [insert experiment here going?" was a simple way of saying, "I respect how hard you work for the safety of our planet, and even if I don't seem to, I care very much about what you do."

And the ever famous, "I have paperwork to do," meant, "I really would rather be spending time with you, but I do have to earn my paycheck at some point. After a while, saving the world stops counting."

Those four simple phrases are just that: simple. They are barely enough to cover twenty seconds of small talk between two friends, and are insignificant to most people. But to Sam and Jack, who could never be together because of regulations, there was enough room to read between the lines to make the struggle worth it. Sam considered herself too girly, and thought she was reading into things, though she hoped she wasn't. Jack honestly didn't believe she wanted him in the same way, so he contented himself with such thoughts.

It was always something on the outskirts of everything they did together. On missions, they worried for the other. When they were on downtime, they resented the time they spent alone, time that could have been filled with the other's company. Eight years was a long time to love someone and not say a word or admit a thing to one's self.

Sam's reasons for not admitting her feelings was because she had a plan for her life. She joined the Air Force and got top honors at the Air Force Academy, and seemed to be ahead of the rest. She planned to use her brain to help her country, and, as it turned out, her planet. She was transferred to Stargate Command from Area 51 to be apart of Colonel O'Neill's team to Abydos, because she was the leading expert on wormhole physics, and the stargate in general. Her career was on a fast track to promotions and honors galore when she was placed on the premier team, SG-1. It was all laid at her feet, and she just had to do her job.

She didn't expect to fall in love with her commanding officer, but it was so hard not to. However, breaking sacred Air Force regulations to fulfill a selfish desire didn't seem worth the effort and repercussions. It would be so nice, though, to finally get to do something for herself as a woman. Even Pete wasn't for herself as a woman. He was honestly a wonderful person, and she honestly liked him, but she didn't love him. At least not in the way that could fully persuade her to marry him. Not in the way she would be content with for the rest of her life. Not in the way she loved Jack. But she could never tell him, because it would be a dirty, sordid affair and it would ruin her career.

Mostly, however, it was because she was scared that he didn't feel the same way for her. He was so much older than her, and had a fuller view of life. He had been through so much, and she was scared she wouldn't be able to understand him. She was scared he would think her a silly little cadet, looking for a quick promotion through a blowjob.

Jack, on the other hand, had no career reasons to prevent him from pursuing Sam. He was getting on in age, and had already retired once. There wasn't much further he could feasibly go, and he didn't have much professional ambition anymore.

He was just terrified. He was old, and his back and knees were on the verge of giving out on him. His hair was almost completely grey, and lines seemed to appear on his face everyday. He was an old Air Force colonel, riding on the good graces of General Hammond, whereas she was a beautiful, intelligent, ambitious young officer who had a bright career in front of her. She was the shining example of what the Air Force Academy could produce from people, and what a human being could be. She was tough and could persevere, but she was still so soft and feminine at times that it made him long to know her deeper than he did as her friend.

He was scared she wouldn't accept him for what he was, and that she had no desire to put up with an old man until he eventually died off.

Eight years was a long time to do nothing with a love that was more than love, but so was ten years. So was fifteen years.

And so, Jack turned fifty-six, and a few months later, Sam turned forty-five. Both were still Air Force soldiers, though Jack was holed up in Washington with his desk job and all of the lovely sycophants he loved to spend his time with, and Sam was leading SG-1 with Cameron Mitchell. Daniel and Vala had been married for three years, and she could still make Daniel blush. Mitchell was dating a girl from his hometown, and all seemed well in the world.

Even to her, Sam mused one night as she nursed down a glass of wine in front of a flickering fire. She was happy with who she was, and her friends and her job. That was more than a lot of people could honestly admit. She was doing something that mattered, and something that challenged her every single day. She saved people with her knowledge of physics and the sciences. She protected her entire planet from harm. Her place in the history books (even if no one would know for many, many years) was secured.

But she wasn't content. She didn't wake up every morning and knew everything was how it should be. She didn't go to bed, surrounded by the warmth of a husband's body, knowing there was someone who would love her and choose her above all others. She had always been a girl who dreamt of being married and having a family, even though now, a family would consist of her and her husband. She could be happy with that, but she didn't have it. She eyed her married female friends with envy, as she was keenly aware of that void in her life.

There was only one man she would have, after all. There was only one man in the entire universe who could make her happy, and that was Major General Jack O'Neill, and he had no idea.

She had been careful, over the years, to be respectable with her feelings and not give anything away. There had been moments on their missions as SG-1 that they were given glimpses into each other's hearts, or when one would be somehow forced to admit their feelings, but neither of them had ever looked the other straight in the eye and said, "I love you."

It would have crossed the line that they had drawn; they were friends, and could never be anything more, and some days, it was enough. To hear his voice comforting her and to feel his arms tighten around her as he greeted her warmly or when she needed it was very pleasurable, a sort of pleasure that went beyond physical touch. She needed him as her friend, but she also needed him as a lot more.

Her musings and interesting contemplations continued as she finished off her glass of wine and stood up, walking the empty glass to the kitchen and sat it in the sink. It was late, nearly midnight, and she should probably get some sleep. She had, in light of the fact she'd nearly collapsed in her lab, decided to take two weeks off, and was not to be disturbed unless the world was about to be attacked by the Ori. She probably owed it to herself to live a little, and to stay up and watch bad TV all by her bad self, but she was an adult, and felt compelled to go to bed.

Already in her pajamas, she headed for the stairs, and then reconsidered. She had a proud little smile on her face as she sat down in front of the TV and flipped it on. Right when she found a rerun of the second season of Scrubs, the doorbell rang. She furrowed her eyebrows at the time, and went to the door anyway, grabbing a zip-up jacket to cover her camisole. She peeked out of the little window, and nearly reeled in shock. She opened the door in a hurry.

"Sir, what are you doing here?" She asked incredulously, unable to believe it was actually him. "It's late. Aren't you supposed to be in Washington?"

"Dispense with the 'sir', Carter, I didn't come to exchange pleasantries, though I'm absolutely in love with them, as you know." Jack O'Neill began in his dry manner, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his leather jacket. "I need to talk to you."

Sam looked at him questioningly, but nodded and moved aside, inviting him in. "Take a seat. Would you like something to drink?" She asked.

"No," He decided with a slight smile. "I don't need anything."

Sam nodded once more, and then led him over to the living room, and waited for him to take a seat. He lowered himself onto the couch at one arm, and so she sat down a friendly distance away. She clasped her hands in her lap, and waited for him to speak. Her heart was still pounding; fifteen years later, and she was still so affected by him. She watched him as he tried to decide what to say, or how to articulate it.

"I needed to see you… Sam."

It was almost delicious how naughty it seemed to be to hear him say her first name. She suppressed the urge to interrupt him, and allowed him to take all the time he needed to gather himself. It was completely unexpected. He was supposed to be in Washington until his summer visit to Colorado, along with any time he could spare when he flew to his Minnesota cabin. The original SG-1 didn't see him very often, and so this visit allowed her to hope that maybe something could happen. They were no longer in the direct line of command, and hadn't been so for many years. Maybe something had changed, or maybe they were finally ready for the love of their lives.

Jack took a deep, shuddering breath, and looked her directly in the eye. "I needed to see you because I've been dancing around this for fifteen years, and it couldn't wait any longer. Not one minute." He refrained from reaching out to her, because it seemed it would cheapen the moment. No, this had nothing to do with sexual desire, though there was much of that present. This had to do with the fact he loved her, and she needed to know that before another day passed.

"You see, Sam," He took another short pause, and then found the courage to continue. "I've been so terrified," His voice was husky, and almost breathy, because of all of his emotions bubbling underneath the surface. "I've been so scared since we had the... opportunity," She knew what he was talking about. "And I'm sorry if I've wasted years of your life, if you've waited for me to say something."

Sam was transfixed with the depth of his voice, and how every good emotion he felt for her was evident in the contours of his face and the delicious light of his brown eyes. Her eyes were dry, though she knew a confession was inevitable. She could only sport a small smile on her face, as though she were a child with a great secret to tell him.

"What did you want to say to me… Jack?" She struggled with his name, knowing it was no longer wrong, but the lingering notion that he was her commanding officer made the moment so much more heated.

Jack met her eyes and measured what he saw there. He had waited long enough to admit this to her, and even if she did not feel the same way, she needed to know, or life would mean nothing. "That I care about you… that I love you, and I've been too much of a coward to say so. Fifteen years, Carter, and I didn't say a word, and I know we're so wrong for each other!" He exclaimed, shocking her. "I'm too old, too beaten up, and I have too much baggage. There's every reason for you to kick me to the curb, but I'm wondering if maybe…" He trailed off, and looked down. "If maybe you could give me a chance."

Sam's entire being throbbed as he finally admitted his feelings. There was a great wash of happiness and a sense of relief that screamed, "Finally." However, she was also confused, and she didn't know what to make with half of his small speech.

"Wrong for each other, simply because of our age, and your ACL, and the fact you've suffered?" She asked him, giving him a look that clearly said he had no idea what he was talking about. "Jack, I don't care that you're older than I am, and I don't care that you have a bad back and bad knees. I care that you've been through so much, because I want to help you through it, because I love you too."

Her voice became ardent and fevered. "Jack! I love you. I've loved you for so long, and you have no idea how much I've wanted you to come to me and say that you love me too. I'm so ready to be with you that none of the other stuff matters. What matters is that you're a good man, with so many admirable qualities. That's what matters to me, because I love you." She reiterated passionately, refraining, however, as he was, from touching him.

"Jack, I love you." She repeated once more, looking up into his wondering eyes.

Jack slowly eased himself towards her, and then gathered her up in his arms, nestling her face against his shoulder, and closed his eyes. She wrapped her thin arms around him in return, and whispered into his shirt how much she loved him. His throat was stuck; he couldn't reply even if he wanted to because he could finally breathe again (the fear of telling her had been too great) and he was overwhelmed.

"I can't believe we were so stupid and didn't say anything before." Sam muttered into his neck. "I'm sorry I didn't."

"Me too." He agreed. "Me too."

So it was that Jack O'Neill visited Sam Carter one cold fall night and, finally, they admitted they loved each other. It was an event fifteen years in the making, but it was more than worth it. Their courtship was short, for their hearts had been decided for years without any commitment, and they agreed to be married before two years had passed.

Their ceremony was small, and in the Air Force chapel. It was closed to a few people; one of Jack's brothers, Sam's brother and her nephews and nieces, SG-1 and some of the SGC, along with Generals Hammond and Landry. Their vows were traditional, but the way Jack kissed her and carried her out of the chapel was not. They were sent congratulations from Thor and a few of their other alien allies, and it was indeed a blessed day.

Jack and Sam were no ordinary married couple. It was difficult for them to break fifteen years of habit and publicly show their affection for each other, so they refrained except for holding each other's hand. Sam did, however, change her name, and was referred to as Lieutenant Colonel Samantha O'Neill, much to Jack's chagrin, muttering how he couldn't very well call his wife "O'Neill", so he continued to call her Carter. Sam only referred to him as "sir" when she wished to be paid back for such an 'offense'.

Their marriage was long and fruitful. They continued to fight for their galaxy, Sam out on the front lines and through the stargate until she retired at fifty, claiming she was more than happy as a lieutenant colonel. She enjoyed a healthy pension for her service. Jack eventually and proudly retired five years after Sam as a three star lieutenant general. Because of their service, they continually received various awards from the military and the President himself, and, they decided, it was nice to get some credit for saving the world's butt every few months.

When both Jack and Sam had retired, they moved to Minnesota and enjoyed a quiet life together, visited regularly by SG-1, especially Daniel and Teal'c. The original SG-1 would fish and relax about for hours, as Jack had always tried to get them to do during their active service.

Twenty years of marriage had been good to Jack and Sam O'Neill. Though they were not so lucky as to be blessed with children, they were happy. Long conversations under the Minnesota stars and in front of roaring fires, over hot chocolate and beer, and even the mundane chores had changed them. Jack's wit had softened, whereas Sam's had sharpened. Sam had learned to turn off the technobabble and speak in words Jack (or any other normal human being) could understand. Together, they enjoyed the Simpsons and long nights of various movies.

One night, two months after their twentieth wedding anniversary, Jack and Sam were lying in bed together, and Jack's arm was over her waist as they simply breathed in each other's presence. It was one of those clear, cold nights when Sam could remember the day Jack had told her he loved her as though it was yesterday. She settled into his warmth, and he chuckled quietly.

"What are you thinking about, Carter?" The habit would never die.

"When you came to my house and told me you loved me." She whispered, leaning her head back to peer up into his eyes. "Even though we wasted so much time, I can't be gladder that you told me when you did. Then, we were finally ready. At least I think so."

"And you're right." He agreed, kissing her nose. "I love you, Sam. I always have, and I always will." Her smile and the way a few tears glittered in her eyes was enough to convey what she wanted to say. When it was night and all was quiet, words were even more profound to her.

She relaxed against him, and closed her eyes, preparing to fall asleep. She was sixty-seven years old, and she was truly happy. She loved her husband deeply, and knew without a doubt he loved her in return. They lived in a beautiful place where they could be an old married couple without being the saviors of the world, and Jack truly loved her. He was a good man, and sometimes, even though it had been so long, her love for him could overwhelm her at the oddest times and make her smile and cry happily. Life would never be perfect, especially not with the looming terrors that threatened the world through the stargate, but life was still good, and when she was in Jack's arms, it was very good.

Sam, acutely aware of Jack as usual, felt his breath even out, and then stop completely. She was suddenly very weary of her own breath, and how it almost ached to breathe. She blinked away tears as she knew by the way Jack's warm breath no longer caressed her neck that he had slipped away. She pushed herself closer to the fading heat of his broad body. She found his hand underneath the covers and squeezed it.

"I love you, Jack. I always have and I always will." She promised him, her voice wobbly. "The time we had finally made me realize that you were what my life was culminating too. Not my work, not the SGC, but everything was to get to you. And it was worth…"

However Samantha O'Neill had planned to say would never be known because she sighed her last breath, and died quietly in the arms of her husband.

The battle with the Ori would rage on, and the Wraith in the Pegasus Galaxy would seem more frightening, and all seemed darker on the day that Jack and Sam O'Neill passed away from the Earth. It was not in defense of their planet, but softly and silently, in each other's arms, the way they were meant to be.