Title: Pocket Full of Posies
Author: Annerb
Summary: The Ori have gotten to Sam in a way the Goa'uld never did. It scares the hell out of Jack. (Season Nine, 'The Fourth Horseman')
Rating/warnings: Older teens, occasional geographical inaccuracies (verisimilitude, wut?)
Categorization: Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Sam/Jack
A/N: Number eight in the DC Series. Follows 'Status Quo'. As always, this entire series is katcorvi's fault, without whom, I would probably write half as much fic. :)

Pocket Full of Posies

Bill Lee is hovering in Sam's office. He's not trying to be annoying; she knows this. He's just nervous about his latest designs for the Prior inhibitor device, but the hovering as she looks them over is making her a little crazy. So when her phone rings, she takes it as a gift.

"Bill," Sam says, already guiding him towards the door. "I need to take this. I'll just pop down to your lab when I'm done looking these over."

"But-," he protests.

Sam just smiles and shuts the door on him. Spinning back around, she grabs for the phone. "This is Carter."

"I hope so," Jack answers. "Otherwise I've been dialing the wrong number all these years."

Uh-oh, Sam thinks. He's in one of those moods. "Hi, Jack," she says. "Let me guess, you're bored."

"I'm offended, Carter. Can't a guy just call for no reason?"

"I'm sure a guy could, but this is you we're talking about." Not to mention that he was calling her at work. That just never boded well, even if his tone is playful.

He sighs as if terribly put out. "Maybe I'm just calling to make sure you go home at a reasonable hour tonight. You know, get a full night's sleep and all."

Sam has a pretty good idea where this is going, but she still can't resist giving him the opening he's looking for. "And why is that exactly?"

"Let's just say I have a feeling you're going to need your strength this weekend." She can't actually see his eyebrows, but she can imagine the suggestive waggling that must be going on. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

"Oh, God," she says, and, dammit, she should really be able to resist laughing at his awful innuendos by now.

"I'm just thinking of your health."

"Of course you are."

"I'm a nice guy like that."


"So, my plane lands at eight-thirty," he says as if he hasn't told her this information fifty times already. Not that it isn't flattering that he's in such high spirits over the prospect of a weekend with her. She's fairly eager herself. Oh, who is she kidding? She's going to be completely useless all day tomorrow.

"I will be there," she promises, if not with actual bells on, well, then at least wearing something equally celebratory. Looking down, she notices she's twined the phone cord around her fingers like some thirteen year old with a crush. Thank God the guys aren't around to see it.

Only then the klaxons sound, casting her office in red light.

"Carter?" Jack asks.

"I don't know," she says, pushing back from her desk just as Daniel sticks his head into her lab.

"Sam," he says. "It's SG-6."

His face tells her everything she needs to know. "I have to go, Jack," she says and she can hear him curse on the other end of the line. She couldn't agree more.

Life is damn unfair sometimes.

Ten days later…

Jack looks up when the door opens, Jenkins poking his head in. Jenkins knows by now what is worth interrupting and what isn't. Deciding the stalemate and bickering can do without him for a few minutes, Jack nods at Jenkins and pushes back from the table.

"I'll be right back," he says when everyone looks up at him as he stands. "Feel free to keep arguing amongst yourselves. God knows you don't need me for that."

It's possible that was a little too arch, but Jack is beyond caring. One would think external threat of doom would bring people together, but as always, it's just another excuse to throw blame around.

Sometimes he has a hard time remembering why he's spent so many years trying to save this planet.

"I thought you might want to take this," Jenkins says, handing him a phone.

Glancing at the number, Jack nods. "Yeah, thanks."

Ducking into the closest empty conference room, he puts the phone to his ear. "Carter?"

"Hi," she says. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"Nothing that matters. How are you?"

There's a brief pause before she says, "Fine."

In the last week they almost lost their entire planet to an Ori plague they had no hope of curing. Added to that, she's been reacquainted with a former…hell, admirer who's given up everything to help them and even now sits in an institution somewhere trying to figure out the right end of a crayon. Jack really, really doubts Carter is fine.

But before Jack can think of a delicate way to call her bluff, she pushes on.

"I'm on downtime."

Ah. "Landry ordered you off base?"

"Yeah, something like that," she admits, sounding grumpy about the whole thing. "I'm not allowed back until Monday morning."

Wow, Landry wasn't messing around. She must have worked herself even more ragged than Jack could infer, reading between the lines of her reports.

"Anyway," she says, "I was wondering if I could come stay with you."

"Of course," he says, a bit thrown by the request. If she's intent on hiding things from him, she must know it would be a hell of a lot easier from two thousand miles away. "Though if you can give me a few days to deal with the fallout, I can book another flight and come out like we planned."

"I really don't mind," she says. "We'll get more time this way."

Her voice is steady, sounding even and sure as always, but Jack can't help but think there is something more at work here. "Sure. Of course. When do you think you'll fly out?"

"I have something I need to do tomorrow morning, but then I'll catch an afternoon flight."

"Ok, gotcha." There's a knock at the door and Jack looks up to see Jenkins stick his head in the room. Jack sighs. "Sorry, Carter, but I've got to go. Send me your flight info when you get it?"

"Sure. Of course." There's a beat of silence and then she says, "Jack?"

Jack pauses, gesturing for Jenkins to give him another minute. "Yeah?"

"I…" She falters for the first time then, Jack's stomach dropping with her voice.


"Never mind," she says, obviously backtracking, but he can hear it now, how exhausted she sounds. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

He considers trying to weasel it out of her, but Jenkins is starting to look panicked. "Yeah, Carter. I'll be here."

She hangs up.

Sam's never been able to sleep on planes. Give her a hard rock or a damp marsh off world and she's out in a moment. But something about commercial planes just doesn't lend itself to slumber. Maybe because being a passenger is too unfamiliar, a bit too passive for her taste. Or maybe she's just past the point of being exhausted now.

Jack isn't there when she makes it out into the baggage claim and she's not surprised, disappointed maybe, but the world almost went up in ashes this last week so it's understandable at the very least.

Her fellow travelers bunch up tight around the revolving belt as if their very lives depend on getting to their luggage first. Even though Sam can see the distinct green of her bag swing past, she doesn't have the energy to push her way through, to make that desperate grab that inevitably takes out a nearby grandmother or young child.

Sam leans back against a pillar and watches the crowd. There are reunions and children hyped up after too much time in close quarters getting reprimanded by harried looking parents. Businessmen wearing generic suits in need of pressing and tourists beginning to look a little panicked at their unfamiliar surroundings. Out of the corner of her eye, Sam catches sight of a bank of wall-mounted TVs, the local news channel flashing images of people wearing white masks, children lying in medical cots.

She lets her eyes close, listening to the shuffle of bodies around her, wondering at the human ability to panic one moment and seamlessly slip back into their routines the next as if nothing happened. They are lucky to have that chance.

Eventually the baggage claim thins out and Sam pushes off the pillar to grab her bag, now circling with a sad looking duffel and a single shoe orphaned from its mate. Hefting her bag over one shoulder, she pushes out into the concourse, the transition to cold night air a bit like a slap to the face. It keeps her moving.

She's about to fight her way over to the taxi stand when she hears someone call out her name.

"Colonel Carter!"

She turns, seeing Mike striding towards her, the sleek black car that brings Jack to and fro around the city pulled up to the curb behind him. He takes her bag and carryon and stows them for her and she must be at a useless stage of exhaustion now because he's back and opening the door for her before she can reach for the handle.

"Thanks," she says, sliding gratefully into the back seat.

Mike nods, jogging around the car and getting behind the wheel. "The General asked me to tell you he's sorry for not being able to come himself," he says, looking at her in the rear view mirror. His eyes dart to the left, his lips pressing together. "He's been detained."

The polite words sound nothing like Jack O'Neill and Sam feels her lips twitch. "That's not at all what he actually said, is it?"

Mike turns all the way around this time to consider her. "No," he admits, one shoulder lifting. "He was…a bit more creative."

Sam huffs a laugh. "I bet."

Mike flashes her a smile and pulls the car out into the flow of traffic.

Sam leans her head against the cool glass and stares unseeing at the lights of the city. Her fingers are dancing a silent staccato against the sill, anxiety building through her exhaustion because she just wants to be there.

It's weird to have someone to run to for once. She hadn't even been tempted to jump on her motorcycle and disappear among strangers for a few days. Maybe because with Jack she doesn't have to pretend everything is okay, or try to find some vague way to describe what she's been through.

It's strange, but nice, knowing that he'll just understand without even having to be told.

She must have actually managed to nod off for a moment, because the next thing she knows, Mike is popping the trunk and carrying her bags up the front steps of Jack's townhouse.

Pulling the car door open for her, Mike pulls something out of his pocket and holds it out for her. It's a single key with a small sticker on it that says, "Carter's key."

Sam reaches for it reflexively, but her mind is uselessly churning a few moments behind. Holding up the little piece of metal, it catches light from the streetlamp. Like everything else in this rollercoaster relationship, the momentous key is presented with little fanfare, but still manages to come across loud and clear.

"Ma'am?" Mike asks and Sam shakes herself out of her thoughts, giving him a smile.

"Thanks for picking me up, Mike."

"Have a good evening, Colonel," he says with a nod.

"You too," she says, heading up the steps.

She's so distracted by the implications of the key that it's not until she's closed the door behind her that she notices the keychain. It's Marvin the Martian.

She smiles.

Shrugging out of her coat, she hangs it in the closet, places her little key on the hook by the door, and it feels a lot like coming home.

It's nearly ten by the time Jack lets himself into his house and needless to say, he is not in the best of moods. It's amazing the things people can consider dire emergencies. As far as Jack is concerned, the plague was the dire emergency; the cover stories and panic of their allies after the fact were just collateral pains in the ass that should not require all night meetings.

Of course, many did not happen to agree with that statement, which is why he is getting home so late.

A few steps into the hallway Jack comes to a stop, spying Carter asleep on his couch, and just like that his foul mood doesn't stand a chance. She's got a blanket half dragged over her legs and he's pretty surprised she hadn't woken at the sound of the door opening.

Moving closer he can see that she's pretty dead to the world. There are dark smudges under her eyes, her skin pale and drawn. He's seen her like this a lot over the years—worn down to the bone—usually right before SG-1 was sent off on forced downtime that she actually took. She always showed up on base a few days later looking bright-eyed and ready to take on the universe. He never allowed himself to think about the days in between. Not until now.

Sitting on the edge of the coffee table across from her, he reaches out and brushes her hair back from her face. She stirs under the touch, looking up at him.

"Hey," she says, giving him a sleepy grin.

"Hey," he echoes.

Pushing herself up to make room for him on the couch, she reaches for him, giving him a welcome home kiss with the power to banish any bad mood, no matter how dire.

"I have to say I like coming home to you," he quips when she eventually pulls back.

"Yeah," she says, smiling softly, but he thinks there's something not quite right in her voice.

"What?" he asks.

He can tell she's ready to shake her head and say nothing, but something clearly changes her mind. They had promised to do more of this honesty stuff, after all. She peers up at him. "Do you ever wonder what it would be like, to actually be a part of each other's lives like this? On a daily basis?"

Jack blinks back at her, a little thrown by the comment, and she seems to regret opening her mouth, already shaking her head and looking ready to take it all back.

"Yeah," he says, before she can recant. "Only, usually I picture it as you coming home to me."

It's her turn to look surprised, but he doesn't miss the smile curving her lips. "Why is that?" she asks.

"Because God knows I'm not going to be able to handle this job for long." Her brow furrows and he knows she wants to argue that he's good at his job, but that's not the point. "No thank you," he says. "I am definitely looking forward to retirement."

"Yeah," she says, trying to smile up at him, but he can tell she's still bothered by something, her eyes not quite meeting his. Apparently his attempt to bolster her mood is missing the mark, which is annoying, because he sort of considers this his specialty.

"Sam?" he asks.

Her eyes latch on to his and he's struck yet again how much a simple thing like a name can mean between them. She fidgets a bit, ostensibly trying to get more comfortable on the couch, but he knows she's just buying herself time to come up with the right words.

"It's just…sometimes I look forward and all I can see is this war," she admits. "And I can't believe I'm back at this point again."

She closes her eyes, rubbing at them and he's not sure he's ever seen her quite this tired, not even after she spent weeks trying to rescue his sorry ass. And Jack knows then, knows that the Ori have gotten to Carter in a way the Goa'uld never did.

It scares the hell out of him.

She shakes her head then, looking a little embarrassed. "God, listen to me. Just ignore me, I'm obviously sleep deprived."

But he doesn't want to ignore this. "Sam," he says, wrapping an arm across her back and she leans into him, resting her cheek against his chest.

He has no idea what he can say because she's right. He knows they were insanely lucky to get rid of the Goa'uld in only eight years' time. This new war may take far longer, and if this recent brush with the plague teaches them anything, it's that with the Ori, the odds are stacked even steeper against them. It might even be an unwinnable war. Not that he will ever say as much out loud, and certainly not to Carter.

But he understands why the idea of some rosy future for them is so hard to see. This here, these stolen moments between crises and plagues and near misses, will have to be enough. He just hopes they can be.

She sighs, snuggling further down into the couch. "You have no idea how happy I am to be here."

Jack rests his chin on top of her head, tightening his arms around her. "I missed you too, Carter."

Sam reluctantly rolls over, finding the other half of the bed sadly empty. She's a little surprised she hadn't even heard Jack leave for work. Rolling on to her back, she winces a bit as her muscles twinge as if she's been lying in the same position for far too long.

Catching sight of the clock, she stares uncomprehendingly at the numbers. That can't possibly be right. She grabs for her watch on the bedside table.

Wow. Apparently she has managed to sleep half of the day away. Falling back down against the pillows, she considers just powering through to the next morning, but she's never really been a laze in bed all day kind of person, no matter how tempting that sounds at the moment.

Instead, she shoves back the covers and drags herself into the shower.

Twenty minutes later, a showered, dressed, and starving Sam wanders into the kitchen. There's a note waiting for her on the counter.

Call me if you need anything. Meanwhile, mi casa es su casa.


P.S. Do not, under any circumstances, touch my CD collection. I have a system.

P.P.S. I mean it!

"Do not" is underlined four times.

Sam shakes her head, glancing at Jack's haphazard stacks of CDs with disinterest, and pulls the refrigerator door open. She cobbles together a meal that's not quite breakfast, but seeing as it's past lunchtime anyway it doesn't really seem to matter. Then she wastes some time checking her emails, ignoring a not so subtle 'How are you doing?' one from Daniel and a 'Landry threatened me with diplomat escort duties, so don't think I'm going to help you sneak back on base' one from Cam. She doesn't even bother to open the one from Bill.

She half-heartedly considers looking up some old friends while she's here in the city, but that seems like a lot of work and it's not like she's ever been particularly good with keeping up with her pre-SGC acquaintances anyway. Instead, she drops down on Jack's couch in front of the TV.

She feels a bit like a zombie and twenty minutes of channel surfing daytime TV does nothing to dispel the feeling. She entertains the idea of taking yet another nap, but instead decides to go for a walk, just to get out of the house and find some fresh air.

She's grabbing her coat from Jack's closet when she sees a worn green scarf on a peg. It looks handmade and well loved and she's never seen it before. Without giving it too much thought, she grabs it and wraps it around her neck, her chin burrowing down into it. It smells slightly of wood smoke and spice and something inherently Jack.

Grabbing her shiny new key, she ducks outside into the cold. She wanders the streets with no real destination, circling around the blocks and keeping her pace brisk against the chill seeping in through her wool coat.

The rasp of cold air in her lungs feels good, scattering the hazy fuzz in her mind. After about fifteen minutes, she turns the corner of a block to find herself standing in front of an elementary school. As she watches, a bell peals, the doors of classrooms slamming open and kids swarming out into the grey afternoon.

It feels like an assault on her senses—that much swarming life when all she's been stuck with for days on end is the image of people laid out on infirmary beds, fading from a disease they couldn't get ahead of.

Lowering herself to a bench in front of the schoolyard, she watches parents circle into the school on foot and by car and by bicycle, bundling their kids off home.

This is what Orlin deserved, she thinks, catching herself off guard. And maybe it's not the anonymous child in scrubs that's haunting her, but the image of a boy and his puzzle pieces and the way he stares and doesn't know her. Doesn't know anything.

She feels guilty that Orlin sacrificed everything for them. Guilty that she hadn't been able to convince him to just let go of the knowledge and save himself because maybe part of her knew how important it was that he didn't, knew that he wouldn't say no to her, that she had that power over him, even if she didn't want it.

She remembers him sitting across from her in the commissary, so apologetic that his age would be a barrier between them and all she'd been able to feel was relief. One less thing to deal with, these complicated affections that conjured embarrassment and familiarity and warmth, because he knew her as few ever will and a part of her misses him, misses that complete understanding.

Only he doesn't, not anymore, and her relief just makes her a coward.

A kid in the schoolyard screeches and Sam nearly jumps out her skin, her panicked eyes searching out the source of the noise.

Whatever disaster she expects to find isn't there though. Instead it's a father who's swung his daughter up into his arms, high enough for her to float free of gravity for just a moment before landing solidly in the safety of her father's arms. Sam can just make out the little girl's demand for him to do it again, all youth and fearlessness and vibrancy.

Sam just feels ancient—used up with another war gaping at her feet.

Maybe she was comfortably ignorant when everything started back with the Goa'uld, but she's not a starry-eyed child anymore. She knows where this goes.

Pulling her coat tighter around herself, she burrows her face down into Jack's scarf and watches the emptying yard until the sky begins to fade, the cold seeping into her bones.

"Honey, I'm home," Jack announces as he walks in the front door, kicking it shut behind him. He hefted the bag in his hand. "And I even brought the bacon. Well, metaphorical bacon at least."

He realizes he's sadly lacking an audience when all he gets is silence in return. Shrugging out of his jacket, he looks around the empty room in disappointment.


Hearing a weird thump from upstairs, he dumps the food in the kitchen and goes searching for her. He pauses in the doorway of his bedroom, taking a moment to admire the casual disarray marring his usually tidy space. Carter's suitcase is bulging open in the corner, her sweater slung across the headboard of the bed.

It's a little known fact, but Carter is a slob.

She goes to great lengths to hide it, mostly through hard learned discipline and pure stubbornness, but it's still there right underneath, like some great cosmic balance for how together she is at work. He never would have suspected it before, particularly in light of her compulsive need to alphabetize things. But her inability to put clothes in the hamper and her general disregard for folding things or hanging them up, it makes her charmingly human. He never would have thought to be the more fastidious half of the relationship.

He picks up her shoes and puts them in the closet next to his own, where they are less likely to break their necks tripping over them.

The door to the bathroom is ajar, soft light and steam escaping out into the bedroom. He knocks, pushing to door open a bit more and sticking his head in. "Carter?"

"Hey," she calls out, waving him in.

She's in the tub. Carter. Naked. In his bathtub.

It's one of those old-fashioned tubs with the feet and enough space for even Jack to submerge his entire frame with room to spare. It had seemed a bit of an overly indulgent luxury at the time, but he is completely rethinking that now.

Buying this place may just be one of the smartest things he's ever done.

There's a thin layer of bubbles on the surface of the water (and where the hell had she found bubble bath?), obscuring her submerged body just enough to provide tantalizing glimpses. Her skin is flushed pink from the heat, her hair lying against her neck in damp curls, and it is very possible that she's never been sexier.

He only realizes he's staring when she lifts one eyebrow at him. "Huh," is all he manages to say.


"Never had you pegged for the bath type." This is Carter of the three and a half minute shower, after all.

She drops his gaze with what might be embarrassment. "Hey, even I have been known to pamper myself upon occasion."

"Good to know," he says, crossing over to lean against the counter. She's got a chair pulled up to the tub's edge with a mostly empty glass of wine sitting on it.

Carter's eyes dart to the drink and she looks almost guilty, like she's been caught doing something wrong. He thinks she isn't quite so good at giving herself a break as she might like to pretend. Besides, he can see the bottle sitting on the floor and it's still nearly full. Not that her restraint really surprises him. She's not the drinking type, neither of them are. Too much of a loss of control.

"I think I killed your water heater," she confesses.

"Impressive." Cold showers for a week would be a tiny price to pay for this.

She shifts forward then, her knees pulling into her chest and somehow she manages to look small there in the oversized tub as the water surges around her.

He steps closer to the tub. "You okay?" he asks.

A smile flashes across her face but doesn't stick, her fingers flicking at the surface of the water, sending up a soft spray. For a moment she looks like she's going to give him the automatic answer before changing her mind. "I'm…working on it."

He nods, moving her wine glass and claiming the chair himself. "Anything I can do to help?"

She smiles, this time something warm and slightly wicked. "Are you offering to scrub my back for me?"

"You know me," he says, shoving up his sleeves and grabbing the washcloth. "Always willing to take one for the team."

"Jack," she says with a huff of amusement. "I'm pretty sure that's not my back."

He grins at her, the washcloth slipping even further off course. "What can I say, I've always sucked at anatomy."

She leans over and pulls him closer, one wet finger slipping along the edge of his collar. "I beg to differ," she counters, her voice husky as she pulls him in for a kiss.

Jack slides his hand across her shoulder, the warm skin slick with a thin layer of suds. "Have I mentioned that I love this bathroom?"

She smiles up at him. "I'm getting pretty fond of it myself."

He trails his finger down her back, following the curve of her spine. "I just hope the rest of the house doesn't get jealous."

"We can see about the rest of the house later," she promises.


"Yes. But for now," she pauses, peering speculatively at the tub, "are you getting in or am I getting out?"

Like that's really a decision he needs to think about. He reaches for his buttons. "Move over."

He can worry about pesky things like water damage much, much later. After all, it would be a shame to waste all that hot water.

The food is long cold by the time they get back downstairs, so Jack's tossing it all in the microwave when Carter appears wearing floppy socks and thick sweats like she's having a hard time staying warm.

She steps up next to him and peels back one of the lids to sniff at the food suspiciously. "Where did you get this?"

"Jimmy," Jack says. He would have thought that would be obvious. He figured she might appreciate something familiar, even if she wasn't up for a night out.

But Carter doesn't look convinced. "Jimmy gave you take-out?" she asks, poking at the food as if expecting it to bite her back.

"Yeah. Why?"

"He thinks take-out is the first sign of the Apocalypse."

Jack laughs before he realizes she's serious. "Really?" he asks, looking at the collection of containers in a new light. It had seemed weird that the food came in nice Tupperware containers rather than Styrofoam.

"Exactly what did you say to him?" she asks.

Jack shrugs, his eyes a little wide. "I just told him I wanted to cheer you up."

"Yeah?" she says, nudging him with her shoulder.

He has no idea if he's doing any of this right, but when she smiles at him like that he thinks he may just be on the right track.

Jack is awake. It takes him a moment to figure out why, because as far as he can tell, the house is perfectly quiet and still shuttered in darkness. He shifts onto his side and now he knows why.

Sam is on her side, facing away from him, but he knows she's awake no matter how still she is or how even her breathing is.

He scoots across the bed until he's tucked up behind her, her back pressed against his chest. "Sam," he says, pressing a kiss below her ear. "I can hear you thinking."

"No you can't," she argues, mostly on principle, he assumes, because there's no heat in the words and she doesn't hesitate to pull his arm tight across her body, taking his hand in both of hers.

"Orlin?" he asks.

She winces a bit just at the sound of the name, so Jack knows he's right. She's quiet for a while and he forces himself not to push. Her fingers are working almost methodically across his knuckles and he's pretty sure she isn't even aware of doing it.

"It was awful, seeing him that way," she eventually says, her voice barely above a whisper. "And I can't help but think it's my fault somehow."

Jack tightens his arms around her. "It was his choice, not yours. You know that."

She breathes in deeply, nodding her head. "But I keep wondering, what if he only did it because…" Her voice trails off.

"He knew what the risks were and thought it was worth it," Jack says. He pretty much thinks it's about time one of the Ancients actually manned up and helped. Non-interference sounds noble, but not when it's stacked up against the reality of a planet-wide body count. The fact that the others feel fine with leaving Orlin as he is, well, that's just one more bit of damning evidence against them in Jack's book.

"It's looking pretty damn dangerous to have feelings for me," she says with a hollow laugh.

Jack props himself up on one elbow so he can see her face. "That's just stupid, Carter."

She looks startled, like she's trying to decide if she's offended, but this is one kind of crazy he absolutely refuses to let her get away with it.

"Besides," he says, kissing her shoulder, "I think I've faired rather well."

"So far," she says, shifting onto her back to look up at him. He can tell she's only half-joking.

"Yeah, well, I promise to always look both ways before I cross the street."

"Jack," she chastises.

"Sam," he counters, refusing to budge. Maybe he's not taking this as serious as she'd like, but neither of them can live their lives like that, perpetually worried about the next unseen danger. Risk is way too much a part of who they are, who they've always been. And if he has to start thinking about that now, he knows he's going to lose his mind.

She stares up at him for a moment before lifting a hand to her forehead, nodding. "You're right. I know you're right," she says. "It's just--," she begins to say, clinging to conditionals, but Jack's had enough of Carter trying to carry the weight of the entire galaxy. He cuts off the rest of her words by leaning down and kissing her.

Pulling back, his fingers trace along her cheek. "Not your fault," he repeats, because, really, he'll keep saying it as long as she needs to hear it.

She looks up at him and he can tell she'd really like to believe him, even though she doesn't, not quite yet. But he thinks she will. "Okay," she agrees, rolling in to him, her face pressing against his neck.

He pulls her closer, one hand rubbing soothingly on her back. It's not long until her breathing evens out, sleep finally claiming her.

Jack closes his eyes.

Sam gazes up at the command module from the Skylab 4, trying to imagine what it would be like to live inside that thing for 84 days with two other people. Jack is a few feet away staring at the Lunar Rover, no doubt trying to figure out what its top speed might have been. It's only the two of them in the exhibit space, having found a rare moment between school groups. She can hear the rumble of excited voices a few rooms over, but it's little more than white noise that doesn't mar the hushed, almost reverent quality of the Apollo exhibition.

It had been Jack's suggestion to come, and she's not sure how he wrestled a free afternoon, or why coming to the Air and Space Museum had seemed so important to him. She just knew that one more day stuck in his house with nothing but her thoughts was going to push her over the edge.

So here she is, staring at the objects that had so entranced her as a child, driven dreams of one day following in her heroes' footsteps. They seem smaller today and she doesn't know if that's the artifacts or just her. She understands how fragile they are now, how much danger lurked in each object, the things she couldn't see as a child.

It still means a lot more than she expects, standing here staring at the inventions that took Earth so far on its own. NASA didn't use technology stolen from aliens, not information handed down by benevolent allies, not a single hint or clue. Just humans strapping themselves to rockets and firing off into space, fueled by tenacity and possibility and the chance that the next thing on the horizon might just change everything for the better.

And maybe it's that tenacity and hope that really matters, the same ideals that drive the SGC. She thinks maybe they aren't really any different at the core, alien allies and technology or not.

"Do you think it's all been worth it?" Sam asks, her voice hushed in the dim light of the exhibit.

Jack moves back to her side. He doesn't answer right away, taking a minute to stare speculatively at the collection of mylar and aluminum alloy and plastic composites.

"Yeah," he says, his voice equally soft. "I have to believe it is."

Looking up at him, she doesn't really know if they are talking about shuttles or Stargates or even their relationship. But maybe it doesn't really matter.

She nods, slipping her hand into the bend of Jack's arm, feeling him squeeze her hand against his side.

"Me too," she says.

They stand there for a while in silent contemplation until the school group rounds the corner, excitement and color and shrieking voices transforming the space into something vibrant and living.

"So," Jack says, stepping aside to let two girls holding hands skip past them. "Wanna go to the planetarium?"

She slides him a look. "So we can sit in the back and make out?"

Jack grins. "Either that or we go to the scifi exhibit so you can mock the bad physics."

Sam holds in a laugh, instead pretending to give the choice serious thought. "Tough decision."

"Well, the afternoon is young," he says, dragging her out of the room. "We can do both. And if you're very lucky, I might even buy you an Einstein bobble head."

Sam laughs, quickening her steps to catch up with him. "You'd better not be teasing me, Jack O'Neill."

Jack presses a hand to his chest, looking scandalized. "I wouldn't dare."

She glances back over her shoulder at the kids pointing and asking questions and arguing over whether or not a pile of dried up Styrofoam pieces could really be astronaut ice cream. She breathes out, feeling something relaxing in her spine.


She turns back to Jack, reaching for his arm. "Let's go see that planetarium."

Jack gets home early on Friday to find Carter sitting on the floor with his CDs spread around her in careful stacks. He feels the tension finally leave his shoulders.

She's going to be okay.

For three days he's given her as much of his time as he could, holding her at night, not asking too many questions and at the end of it, he thinks she looks like her skin isn't strangling her quite as much. She's settled, that Carter he recognizes so well once again.

He hates to think how many times she's had to recenter like this over the years, how many times he wasn't there for it, wasn't allowed to be there. He doesn't know what she did all those years during those imposed downtimes after bad missions. Doesn't know where she went. But this time, this time she came to him.

"Hey!" he says with as much umbrage as he can muster through his relief, dropping his coat on the back of the couch. "What did I say?"

She looks unapologetic. "Chaos is not a system, Jack."

"Sure it is!"

She ignores him, picking up Johnny Cash and dumping him unceremoniously in the 'C' stack.

He sits down behind her, leaning back against the couch. "Now I'll never be able to find anything."

She turns to look at him, one hand sliding up his shin and her eyes practically sparkling if such a thing were humanly possible. "Because the alphabet is really confusing," she mocks.

"Yes," he says, his hand catching hers. "Exactly."

She laughs. "Well, in that case, I guess I'll just have to come out here anytime you can't find a CD."

He tugs on her sleeve. "Promise?"

She does one better than that, scooting closer and kissing him, the CDs temporarily forgotten.

She's going to be okay.

When Sam asks to walk to the neighborhood restaurant instead of driving like any normal person would in the middle of a January freeze, Jack doesn't seem to think it's odd. He just helps her bundle up, wrapping his green scarf around her neck himself, tucking it into her coat just so and instead of feeling annoyance at being treated like a seven year old on her way to school, she just smiles back at him, feeling warmth building in her chest at his complete absorption in the simple task.

"Warm enough?" he asks, his voice a soft rumble in the frigid night air.

She grabs his ridiculous black beanie from his hands and pulls it down over his ears, already looking forward to staring across the table at his tousled hair all through dinner. She knows it will remind her of long briefings and secret smiles and his snark fests with Daniel.

"Yeah," she answers, slipping her hand into his, letting him pull her gloveless hand into his pocket with his own.

At the end of the next block, the street widens out into a small plaza, the trees thinning out and Sam's eyes are caught by the brave sparkle of the few stars visible in the crisp winter sky.

You can't see the stars in DC, not really. Not like in Colorado or Nevada or on board a ship in orbit. Just over two hundred years after the first cornerstone was laid, the luminescence of the American capitol has banished the wonder of the night skies. To think of Jack O'Neill, of all people, living in such a place should be painful. It should make the whole world seem just a little off-kilter. As a man who has flown through the galaxy as little more than light himself, it seems a sort of prison rather than a reward for services rendered above and beyond the call of duty. And that's what she saw when she first came out here to see him.

But he's okay here, okay in a way she might not have expected. He looks better, barely any trace of that grayed out man he'd been five months before.

She tips her head back, picking out the few constellations struggling through the light pollution. Feeble maybe, but stubborn, hanging on.

Jack squeezes her hand, stepping close behind her and following her gaze up into the sky. "How would you like to make plans to go back to the cabin this spring?" he asks, his breath warm against her cheek.

Sam doesn't know why it feels so important to make definite future plans. Maybe he's trying to remind her that there is a future. Or maybe he's just hedging his bets and trying to convince himself. She doesn't know.

Closing her eyes, she leans back against him and for a moment tries to imagine that future—a creaky dock, the soft lap of water, and on her face, the warm glow of sunlight.

She can see it.

She smiles, and it finally feels right, warm and real there on her face. "Yeah," she says. "We should definitely do that."