Stargate SG-1and SGA and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime / Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money changed hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author.

I wrote this tag to Paradise Lost because Aurora 1101 and I thought the ending left a lot to be desired. It was written to coincide with Ship Day on July 28, 2008, at the Gateworld Forum. It's a fun time and you're welcome to come as you are!

This story is Sam & Jack, of course. Thanks for reading.


"Don't you die on me now,"

"Why not?"

"Because we're about to be rescued."

Colonel Jack O'Neill remained unmoving in his low sitting position near his wounded companion, cautiously observant as the go'auld cargo ship settled down on a grassy embankment further down the lakeshore. He knew that the ship's life-form sensors had led it to their location but didn't want to make Maybourne and himself into a bigger target until he was sure that the craft was piloted by a rescue party- and he wanted to hold back that rising sense of hope just in case he was wrong about everything. In case it was another hallucination, or worse. Raising his hand against the glare off the water, he watched intently as the side door to the cargo bay slid open to reveal Jacob Carter and Malek, closing silently behind them as they stepped out into the wilderness. Jack watched the door for a moment longer and then re-focused on the two grinning men approaching through the swaying knee-high grass, finally standing to walk forward a few steps in greeting. "Jacob, Malek- damn, I never thought I'd be glad to see a couple of Tok'ra," he shook their hands in turn, "I thought you'd given up."

"We did," Jacob replied cryptically as they walked back into the camp. "What happened here?"

"He shot me," former colonel Harry Maybourne explained, incredulous that they could remain so calm when he was so unjustly and severely wounded.

Jacob eyed Jack without a trace of disapproval. "Well. He was overdue."

Jack finally smiled for the first time in weeks. "Yeah. We're all overdue for something." While the Tok'ra began tending to the injured man, Jack glanced back at the ship doors then turned to retrieve his belongings from the ruins of hut that he'd called home for several weeks, stopping short by his small weapons cache. He surveyed the former Eden and suddenly realized there really wasn't another thing he had to bring home besides the guns. He wondered if that was a metaphor for his entire life.

"Colonel O'Neill." Malek's voice signaled their need to leave before a curious go'auld patrol noticed their presence on the presumably uninhabited moon.

"Just trying to adjust to the fact that we're not going to die here." Jack squatted down and swung the P-90 strap over his shoulder, then stood and holstered the semi-automatic, brushing the ubiquitous dirt from its grip one last time before trudging alongside Jacob and Malek while they carried a narrow, footed stretcher laden with Maybourne's mostly quiet form.

"This isn't a bad place to be stranded for a while," Jacob shifted the handles of the stretcher and glanced in awe at the high green mountains and glassy lake that Jack had long since stopped appreciating.

Jack shrugged, taking one last look at paradise. "I guess. It never rained here, but things grow anyway. I never could figure out how they could survive on nothing." He turned to look at Jacob, squinting against the sun hanging low in the sky. "How did you find us?"

"Not everybody gave up." Jacob looked deliberately at the doorway, tapping in the code with one hand while he steadied the stretcher on his hip. Without further explanation, he led the quartet into the cool recesses of the cargo ship and set the stretcher down. Malek moved nimbly to try to help Maybourne get more comfortable while the other two men walked to the bridge.

"That's not much of an answer."

"Ask her yourself." Jacob shrugged. Jack nodded, confirming what he'd thought ever since he'd seen the cargo ship glinting in the cloudless sky- that Sam had to be behind it. After this much time, the Air Force would have listed them as MIA and called off the search, but he knew Sam wouldn't have. Although, for the last couple of weeks he'd thought that was mostly his pride talking, and to find out it wasn't was both heartening and worrisome at the same time. Jack leaned wearily against the side of the bridge console, finally able to identify the feeling that had been dogging the edges of his consciousness from the moment he'd seen Jacob and Malek. He'd wanted Sam to be on the ship, and until he saw her his ordeal wouldn't really be over.

Jacob readied the cargo vessel for lift-off. He had no intention of filling in the gaps and letting O'Neill off the hook that easily. Whatever was going on, they needed to work it out, and Jacob felt guilty for not addressing it sooner. He should have spoken with Sam the day he first met Jack, when he watched Jack play the officer and a gentlemen routine for all it was worth, Sam's eyes trained on him the whole time. But Jacob hadn't, relying on the fact that Sam, and probably Jack as well, were too honor-bound to act and still so new to each other that the infatuation was certain to wear off. As a general, he'd actually come to expect this kind of thing in recent years with more women entering the armed forces, and it usually turned out all right. What he hadn't expected was the tenacity of what they had between them- until the day Sam called him and begged him to check the area one last time. For her.

Human life is short and precarious, Jacob.

"I know." It irritated him that he really did have to listen to his conscience, because it really spoke.

He could have let Maybourne die. It would be fitting.

"I don't think he's like that."

Then perhaps you should not judge him so harshly.

"I'm not!" Jacob gripped the control crystal, perturbed.

"Not what?" Jack looked up as he slid down to the floor at the base of the console.

"Nothing."

"You Tok'ra." Jack feigned annoyance at being able to eavesdrop on only half of a conversation.

"Pain in the ass, aren't we?" Jacob grinned, looking out the fore windshield.

"Not this time." Jack put his head back, bone-deep fatigue finally setting in. "How long now?"

"Well, you're actually on the moon. We'll take you to the planet, and you can gate home from there." Jacob glanced back at Malek and Maybourne. "Maybe we ought to keep Harry. I think we can patch him up a little faster."

"Aren't you desperate for hosts, anyway?" Jack smiled slyly.

"I heard that," Harry's plaintive whine echoed from the rear of the small ship, and Jack gritted his teeth.

"Not that desperate." Jacob arched his eyebrows with a pained grin.

"I heard that, too."

"Shut up, Maybourne." Jack and Jacob said in unison.

--

Jack punched in the address, watching with anticipation as the fluid event horizon formed. "All right, Jacob. I'm officially not your problem any more."

"I doubt that." Jacob smiled dryly and before Jack could quite figure out what he meant, Jacob had turned on his heel and set out toward the ship that shimmered in the faint light reflected back from the prison moon. The unease Jack had felt earlier returned, only this time it had a name- a name and a face and dear God did it ever have a shape. He smiled as he walked up the blue-shadowed steps- damn, he was wreck in more ways than one. The monotony of his isolation had forced him to think about things he'd avoided for years, and the hopelessness of it gave him the freedom to think whatever he wanted to without consequences since rest of his life was surely going to be short and irrelevant. And so he indulged himself, and it was like opening up a sluice gate on his uncle's farm.

Now he was supposed to drop the gate, and he wondered whether it was really possible or whether he was just too tired to try. Jack took a deep breath and stepped into the wormhole, and seconds later was at the top of the ramp with the event horizon disintegrating behind him, a welcoming party only a few yards away.

He suffered a breath-defying hug from one surprisingly strong doctor, worked his way through the guys and finally turned to greet the woman who'd brought him home. Sam stood with her hands clasped tightly behind her back as if to keep from touching him and proving to herself that he was real once and for all. "You're alive," she whispered with wonder and relief.

"Thanks to you, Carter." He shifted uneasily and tightened his grip on the P-90, because that was what he did best.

Teal'c carefully observed his friends and then bowed slightly before he departed, knowing they didn't see his courtesy but it really wasn't for them, anyway. He deliberately and silently took his leave with the rest of the happy crew trailing behind him out of habit.

"I should have seen it sooner, sir."

"Carter…" Jack warned.

"I… it's good to have you back, sir." She blinked quickly a few times and then raised her chin a little in defiance of her emotions. "I hope you're going to take a break for a while."

"I've had all the time off I need. Although a few minutes with some hot water and a razor would be nice." He became acutely aware of what he must look like- definitely scraggly and probably quite a bit thinner than the last time she'd seen him. Then it struck him that she'd lost weight, too, and his throat got tight.

She smiled and started toward the door. "I'll leave you to that, then."

"Carter…" this was not the homecoming he wanted. Not the one he'd imagined a thousand times while he lay looking at the stars through the remnants of the hut roof, the loosened thatch swaying in the cool night air. She stopped and looked back at him, tilting her head expectantly. "Are you gonna be around…" he looked at the 0200 reading on the wall clock and wondered why the whole crew was in the gate room in the middle of the night.

"Tomorrow?" She could see how tired he was even if he wouldn't admit it.

"Yeah." He caught up to her and together they walked out of the gate room together.

"I'll be in my lab all day. I think you should get some sleep now, sir."

"I have to. The warden's locking me up overnight."

"Good." Sam smiled and turned toward the elevators while Jack veered off toward the infirmary. Finding the elevators too slow, she took the steps two at a time, walked quickly down to her lab and stood against the locked door in the dark until the reflected lights of the gauges and indicators stopped swimming and blurring and spilling out in tracks down her face.

--

"Am I going to live, Doc?"

"I suppose so, despite your best efforts." Dr. Frasier flipped the chart pages down on the clipboard and regarded him with an air of fond tolerance.

"Don't look at me like that. I always come back alive."

"Of course. If you didn't we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?" Jack looked at her quizzically and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "This time I really thought you two weren't going to make it." She hung the chart from the hook at the foot of the bed and pushed the curtain aside, setting him free at last.

"I didn't know you had a soft spot for Harry," he teased, picking up a boot from under the chair.

"I don't. I have one for Major Carter." Jack froze, his eyes catching the doctor's for a moment as she slipped the stethoscope from around her neck, folded it into her pocket and walked away without further comment. Jack sat down and put on the boot, jerking the laces tight in frustration, feeling the newness of being home at last struggling against the old routine. Get up, get dressed, attend the briefing, check your gear, pretend that you're not in love with your 2IC.

Well, not today.

That afternoon he found Sam peering intently at her computer, thoughtful pauses punctuated by the soft staccato sound of her brilliant thoughts being poured out onto the electronic page, a sound he never knew he missed until this very moment. Jack wouldn't have minded being able just to watch her for a while, but he didn't want to get caught doing it and so he rapped lightly on the doorjamb.

"Colonel." Sam smiled, a little more generously than she had the day before.

"I can come back if you have to finish that."

"No, it's just the mission report." She didn't need to explain which one. She watched him walk to the lab bench on which her laptop lay, standing just around the corner of the tabletop, close enough to hear the creak of his leather jacket as he leaned against it. He looked like he'd gotten some much-needed sleep and had even managed a haircut as well as the coveted shave and shower. Sam noted he hadn't changed out of his civvies yet and decided that's why he looked so achingly handsome- or maybe it was simply the fact that he was alive and well and standing in her lab. "You look like you're feeling better."

"Ten hours of sleep will do that." He smiled and evaluated her affectionately for a few moments, then said what he'd come there to say. "Carter, I think you should have your own team."

Sam stared at him in stunned surprise then slowly stood, her hand anchoring her to the desk. "Sir? Well… why?" She knew she'd screwed up, but after meeting him on the gate ramp the previous night, she was sure he wasn't going to hold it against her- at least not enough to get rid of her. And he didn't seem angry or disappointed in the least.

Hers wasn't the reaction he expected, either. They stood contemplating each other for a moment and wondered if they really knew each other at all- but since bluffing was one of Jack's best skills in trade he recovered first, reaching casually across the bench to pick up the least dangerous-looking looking object he could see. "Oh come on, Carter. You're more experienced than the other squad leaders."

"They're mostly colonels." She didn't even look at whatever it was he'd touched, her eyes fixed on his face.

"So? What's a rank?" He winced as soon as the words were out of his mouth and Sam watched patiently as he looked down and inspected the gadget, and waited for his momentary stupidity to pass.

"With all due respect, sir, you need me."

"That's kind of the point, Carter." He set the object down gently and looked directly into her eyes, short-circuiting her ability to speak. He'd seen that look before and knew she was just about ready to say she had some urgent data coming in and sorry sir, but it really has to be analyzed now if you don't mind; and therefore he couldn't wait for her response. ""I was pretty much alone with my thoughts. It's strange company, you know."

She managed a weak smile, her mind working overtime to deny what he was trying to say. "Sir, you were just lonely."

"Maybe…" Jack hesitated, and then decided it was worth the risk of being wrong, because he was pretty sure he wasn't. "…but what's your excuse? Dr. Lee gave me an earful before I could even get in the shower." She blushed slightly and he didn't know why, but that didn't prevent him from noticing how beautiful she was.

"We don't leave our people behind." Especially if we're in love with them.

"I see…" he nodded, forcing a nonchalant smile back at her. It didn't matter whether that was her real reasoning or not. What mattered was that she wanted him to think that it was, and that was all he needed to know because in the end it was the same. "You'll be a great commanding officer, then, Carter." He shifted his weight from against the bench and turned to leave.

"Jack-" she admitted everything in a word, halting him before he reached the door. "I don't want it. I want to do science, not strategy." She fervently hoped that a partial explanation would suffice.

But it was plain that he wasn't buying it as he shook his head with a regretful little smile. "I don't know how I'm going to replace you- I'm just glad Hammond didn't do it a long time ago."

Sam stared at him, not buying his explanation, either.

He knew that no matter how much she withheld from him, it wasn't right to keep the whole truth from her since the decision was his to make, and hers to wonder about. "You don't have to see me, Sam." Her eyes grew wide as the words settled in her head. "Either way, it's the right thing to do- you deserve it. And it's too hard for me to keep this up."

She caught her breath as his confession fell into the silence of the lab, tiny beeps and hums echoing around them. After a moment she smiled sadly and shook her head, trying to put into words the conclusion she'd arrived at much earlier. "No, sir," she spoke carefully, "… hard is sitting here day after day trying to figure out where you are, or how to get you out, or how to get you home in one piece- and not just this time. There was Edora, Ba'al's fortress, the 301, Antarctica- twice."

"You were with me then," he pointed out, removing one hand from his pockets in a vague it's-not-my-fault gesture.

Sam shrugged. "You take risks. It's how you are and why you're so good at what you do."

"Calculated risk, Carter." It wasn't as if he normally needed to justify his command decisions to her, but the conversation had shifted into a realm where he apparently did.

"I'm factored into the calculation, aren't I?"

"Yeah, but it's just not your problem."

"Your saying so doesn't make it true." She ran her hand down the edge of the counter, the cool smoothness like a foundation on which she could finally lay out her thoughts. "When I was little, Dad was gone all the time, doing things he still won't talk about. I'm pretty sure it was counterintelligence."

"Great." Jack was starting to put two and two together regarding Jacob's behavior the previous day.

Sam looked up at him, then back to the tabletop where her fingers traced a burn mark on the surface. "And, I guess what happened with my mom… I'm not going back to that kind of helplessness. Not now that I can do something."

"You can't do this," he said quietly. She deserved a medal for self-sacrifice, but was more likely to get a hearing if the Air Force ever caught wind of it.

"Then make it an order. I'm not leaving you to be with you. It doesn't even make any sense to say it."

"I'll quit. I'm too old for this kind of crap anyway."

"You can't. You won't."

"I get the feeling I don't actually have the option." Jack sighed and sat down on a narrow stool next to the bench.

"None of us do. Look at Teal'c." It was clear she'd already worked through every scenario as opposed to his method of not thinking about it at all until he couldn't avoid it any longer.

Jack didn't reply, just shut his eyes against the rising despair that he'd thought was going to be gone forever. "It was all so clear up there." She took a deep breath and stepped a little closer, running the back of her fingers over his deeply tanned face until he turned his head, his lips grazing her wrist and then her palm, the sensation of it causing her to jerk her hand back with a gasp. In one quick movement he caught it and was back on his feet, pulling her to him, his arm closing around her, "Sam…" his voice was soft and shot through with pain.

She didn't move, one arm around his neck, her fingers twisted in the collar of his jacket while her other hand pressed against his chest, fingertips resting at the base of his neck feeling the thump of his heartbeat and the erratic rise and fall of his chest. And then her resolve shattered, the shell of professional detachment she'd worked most of her life to perfect cracked apart by the feel of his life under her hands, in her hands and she knew she couldn't change her mind, couldn't leave him and yet couldn't have him, the cold, perfect cruelty of the situation finally made clear. Her shoulders jerked with her sobs, bittersweet tears running along the strong, taut cords of his neck, and he responded by tightening his grip and turning his face into the fragrant softness of her hair. But he never said it would be all right and that everything would work out in the end, because she was too smart and he was too realistic for that.

After she'd run out of tears, Jack carefully held her back and cradled her face in his hand, drying her cheek with his thumb. "I have to go talk to Hammond now," he quickly laid a finger across her lips before she could protest, "about what I did with Harry."

Sam relaxed and slowly turned back to her computer, his hands reluctantly falling away from her. "I guess I can finish up this report, then."

"You can put a happy ending on it now," he managed to work up a quirky little unconvincing smile.

"Sort of." Sam paused, studying his face. "Is this better or worse than it was before?"

"I don't know. Right now I just feel lucky to have my life so completely screwed up by you, Major."

She finally smiled. "Welcome home, sir."

He liked the sound of that.