This is my first ever fanfic... I'd love your reviews!

Warning! Sam and Jack ship ahead.

Disclaimer: Alas, none of the characters are mine. I also know this has been done many times over, but I had to do it... the muse called to me.

He'd loved her for 10 years

He'd loved her for 10 years. He'd known he loved her for at least 7 of those. When exactly it had happened, he didn't know, but somewhere in there, he'd become aware that she meant more to him than she should.

When Charlie died, so had Jack. It was as simple as that. He was a corpse sitting on his dead son's bed fingering his handgun like it was his salvation. But he didn't deserve salvation. He deserved to suffer. So he continued to sit with the pistol in his lap wondering at each breath how it could be possible for a dead man to breathe in and out like he did. Sara hadn't been able to take it. He hardly noticed when she left.

And then his opportunity came. He was given the chance to end his misery. A mission. THE mission… with a very clear and very final conclusion. He told himself that if he was killed in the line of duty, it wasn't like he'd had any control in it. It wasn't like he'd robbed Charlie the revenge of his dismal existence. The good U.S. of A will have been responsible.

That first trip to Abydos had failed to result in what he'd wanted. It had, however, pulled him out of his stupor. After watching the people of the planet rise up against someone like Ra, led by nothing but children… if they could stand up like that, he figured maybe he should, too. Especially since he hadn't actually, well… died. And so he did. Stand up. He became a dead man walking. He didn't know the reason he continued to draw breath, but he went about the tasks of getting out of bed every morning, going to his cabin in Minnesota, and even repairing the run-down deck at his back door. It became a ritual. It didn't mean life, but it was something. One day he found himself sitting up on the roof of his home, having pulled the telescope he'd bought Charlie for Christmas that last year out of the closet. He found that staring up at the stars took him away from Earth and his reality. His mind often wandered to a small desert planet and the smiling face of a kid who'd found wonder in his simple lighter. The next day he built a permanent ladder to the roof. He'd discovered a new addition to his ritual.

Then they'd come for him. A return to active duty. Saving the world type stuff. Hey, just because he was dead, didn't mean he wanted the whole world to join him. It happened very quickly. Before he knew it he was in full dress uniform sitting at a briefing that would lead to his return to Abydos.

And then in walked the Captain. Armed with a huge chip on her shoulder and words that bordered on insubordination… somewhere between her bluntly quipped anatomy lesson and the challenge to arm wrestle (a challenge he wasn't 100 sure he'd win), he found his reason.

Every day spent with her was like a day spent on life support. Slowly he could feel his body coming back to life.

A smile. A stubbornness driven by the need to be taken seriously in a world of men, a brain that looked at things in a way he couldn't even begin to understand, an impressive knife fight with an extremely ugly Mongol, saving his butt from Hathor, and a cute little halter top number that he'd never be able to erase from his memory… as if he'd want to.

Sometime in those first three years, the atrophied muscles of his heart had kicked into gear, too, and begun to work themselves back into shape. Antarctica, Jolinar, her father's cancer, his slow descent into rich mindlessness resulting from too much information crammed into his simple mind, Hathor again; imminent death followed by a much needed but equally forbidden embrace…

After that he'd known. His heart had mended. It beat his life's blood in and out… a perfect tribute to a life that had been resurrected. After all, how could something that was dead be engulfed in so much pain? Rules, regulations, her damn sense of honor… and his, Laira, Martouf… all of it simmering under the surface until it had no choice but to bubble over and scald them in "the room," where they would agree to cover their burns; pretend they didn't exist and move on. But they couldn't… not really.

Their fate had been set that day, he realized now.

They'd tried their hardest to leave their words in "that room." They really had… sometimes it had taken all they had in them to push past the reality of what had to be, but could never be… emotions that could destroy who they'd become. At the time, he'd figured it would only be a matter of time before they'd have their day. He'd retire and she'd be there.

But there was always another day, another mission, another disaster.

Days piled into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years… until he wasn't sure anymore that there'd ever be a chance. So many times within that span, he'd stumble on moments of despair… usually when faced with the reality of his own mortality… or hers.

Sitting in the infirmary watching her chest rise and fall to the soft whisper of the respirator. His hand had done it. One shot stuns. Two shots kills. Janet's words, echoing in his mind… "I don't know if Sam told you, but she has a living will. No extraordinary means." He knew. He couldn't let go. His quiet response… "Just give it a minute ok?"

Quiet moments stolen from them by two other people, Jonah and Thera.

Her smile at his memory of "feelings for her." God, he loved her smile. The soft weight of her head on his shoulder… the heavy hammer of reality as they turned and walked out of yet another room, headed back up to the surface and then home, their walls of propriety erected securely once again.

Sitting in the cockpit of an alien ship as it hurtled him further and further away from her…

Her determined voice assuring him she wouldn't give up looking for a way to get him home

Listening to her through bugs planted in her house without her knowledge as she spoke intimately with Orlin, the ascended being in her living room (how could he ever compete with that?) and then watching her mourn his death, wondering if she was somehow moving past him.

He thought maybe it would be better if she did. Better for her, anyway.

But he was selfish. He couldn't wish her away. He wouldn't. She wouldn't either. She spoke to him in a code only he understood. Her words were for him and him alone. One word spoken over and over, but meaning so much more than its simple letters were meant to… silent, but understood.

"Sir." Whispered frantically through a force shield. Please go. I can't be the reason you die.

"Sir." Spoken purposefully across the room as Thera becomes Carter and Jonah becomes O'Neill. We can't be what we want to be.

"Sir." The sky is red. It's her fault. Please don't make me live with what I've done.

"Sir!" Yelled across a battlefield as she ran to his side. He'd been hit. Don't be dead. Please don't be dead.

"Yes, sir." Short, clipped. An order she didn't agree with. She'd build the bomb, but she wouldn't like it. You're wrong.

Finally, "Jack." Waking up in the infirmary, he'd been waiting for her eyes to open. He had no idea she'd had doubts. Is there really a place for us? Or is it time to let you go?

"Jack?" She bent down over him as he sat dying in a chair… her face so close he could feel the soft brush of her breath. Please don't leave me.

So many times he sat and looked across at her, frustration bubbling in his chest, wishing to God that what he had to do and what he wanted to do weren't in such conflict.

And then, just like that…"the room" simply wasn't big enough anymore. All the pent up emotions and stolen moments refused to be contained.

A deathbed, her father's. Her tears broke down his resolve.

They sat staring through a window… together. Their eyes fell on the reality of life and death. The man in the bed was frail and weak. Carter's family. His family. He put his arm over her shoulders. "C'mere." She leaned back into the shelter of his shoulder and reached up to grasp his hand, her thumb making small circles across his skin. She didn't even know she was doing it, but he noticed. Her eyes met his. "Thank you, sir."

"For what?"

"For being here for me."

A realization. Followed by a decision. The word he'd wanted to say for so long fell from his lips so easily. "Always."

And he meant it.

Two weeks later he transferred to Washington. Her, to Area 51. No longer in his chain of command, they were finally free.

Bliss. After all the years of waiting, they'd finally made it. Together. And it was right. It was good. It was perfect.

Six months was all it took for the Air Force to realize they needed her.

Another day, another mission, another disaster.

But they couldn't have her, she told them. She'd resign if going back meant giving him up.

And just like that, she could have him and the Stargate, too.

They spent weeks apart, but they could both handle it as long as they knew at the end of the day, he was hers and she was his. After all, each was only a short flight away.

She called him that morning before she stepped through the gate. He knew she was nervous. She wasn't sure she could do it, but they hadn't given her a choice. She had to make the device work. And she had, but it had cost her.

He was ripped out of his sleep in his bed in Washington by the shrill ringing of the phone. A sick feeling crawled across his skin and he knew. "Jack." Hanks voice on the other end of the line. Heart in his throat, he felt his eyes close, and his head fell into his open palm.

"How bad is she?"

"You need to get here."

He was on a flight within the hour, his mind playing back all the times he'd left his words unspoken… the could've beens. The short time he'd had her wasn't enough. They'd robbed each other of so much. Not enough time.

He sat by her bed, Teal'c standing beside him, a quiet strength. His friend. If anyone in the world knew… he knew what it took for Jack to wait for her to awaken. Eventually, she had.

Now she was home. Finally. They lay under the covers, face to face, inches separating them.

Their fate had been set that day in "that room" he realizes now.

The words he spoke then ring just as true now as he lays there, gazing on her sleeping features. "I'd rather die myself than lose Carter."

And he meant it.

He knew what it was like to be dead… and he'd do it again a hundred times over if it meant she was there.

His sigh stutters in his chest as he reaches out carefully to brush back a lock of hair from her forehead. He chuckles to himself at his irrational fear that she could break beneath his fingers were he too clumsy. Her forehead is still too warm from the fever she carries while her body works to repair the wound in her side. He doesn't want to stop touching her. The contact is proof she's still here beside him. Will be here in the next moment and the one after that. He runs his fingers down her arm and wraps them around her small hand. She smiles and then opens her eyes. Their deep blue settles on his face, tinged with sleep and a little pain.

"Hey," she whispers.

He doesn't answer. He just drinks in her features, his mind stuck somewhere between the present and the past. She reaches up and runs the pad of her finger across the scar that bisects his eyebrow. "Where are you, Jack?" She asks.

"Right here," he answers.

"You look sad."

"You went away," he says.

"But I came back."

He smiles then. "You did." He pulls her into his arms, and she sighs as she nestles into his chest. "Just promise me you always will. I don't know if this old ticker can take another one of these."

She chuckles. "Yeahsureyoubetcha."

He squeezes her shoulders and they lay silent for a while until he feels her shift slightly.

"You want your pills?" he asks.

She shakes her head. "Don't want to move."

"I'll get them."

She shakes her head again. "Don't want you to move, either."

He laughs. "Then try to go back to sleep."

"Think I might do that." He feels her breathing gradually grow deeper.

He's loved her for 10 years. Not nearly long enough.

As he feels himself drift to sleep, he smiles at another day, another moment.

Her eyes are wide with wonder, a grin on her face, as she steps up to the event horizon of an open wormhole in the gate for the first time. "You know, Sir, you really will like me once you've gotten to know me."

"Captain," he tells her with a smile. "I adore you already."

And he meant it.