Sam looks up from the stack of papers spread in front of her to see Kawalsky entering the infirmary. She's just finally won the right to sit up in her bed and do some minor work for a few hours a day.
"Sir," she says, smiling at him.
"Is this a good time?" he asks, gesturing at the paper.
"Of course, sir," she says, putting down her pencil. "I'm just trying to wrap my mind around this Goa'uld technology."
"Yeah?" he asks, glancing at the schematics. "Any luck?"
Sam makes a face. "Not yet. But I've just started."
He gives her an appraising look that she isn't sure how to interpret. "Something tells me you'll figure it out."
There was a time she might have assumed he was razzing her, yet another military man with little belief in the value of science in the field, but something about facing alien fire together stifles those kinds of nagging thoughts. She likes to think they've come a long way towards understanding each other since that first disastrous briefing.
"I'll do my best, sir," she says.
He smiles, looking around for a chair. "Did you hear that the President has okayed the formation of nine SG teams to start exploring all those addresses Daniel brought back?"
In the face of what they've discovered, it seems the most logical move for the President to make, but given man's ability to stick his head in the sand, she's still relieved. "That's good news, sir."
He nods. "As a result, there's been a little shuffling of personnel the last few days."
Sam thinks 'shuffling of personnel' sounds ominous. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," he confirms, his eyes darting away from her. He betrays himself, just the slightest bit, and she knows in that moment that Jack has already had her removed from his team. She has no doubt that Kawalsky knows why too, especially after what Dr. Jackson hinted earlier.
"Hammond asked me to put together my own team," Kawalsky continues.
Sam refocuses on him, giving him a warm smile. "Congratulations, sir."
Kawalsky shrugs, but she can tell he's pleased. She's happy for him, but not quite sure why this news necessitates a visit to her bedside.
"I find myself in need of someone who knows their way around a firefight and can explain complex things to me, preferably with fruit."
Sam blinks at him, trying to decide if she's hearing him right. Is he honestly asking her to join his team?
"So what do you say? You up for it, Captain?"
Despite herself, she can't help but be suspicious of his motives. On her first mission she'd been captured, killed, and caught out in what must look like an inappropriate relationship with her commanding officer. Not to mention her rather juvenile beginnings with Kawalsky and Ferretti.
She forces herself to remember that this is not going to be an easy fight, this battle with the Goa'uld. Kawalsky wouldn't risk asking her to join his team if he didn't trust her, if he didn't think she was up to it.
You have nothing to prove. You wouldn't be on this mission if you hadn't earned it just like the rest of us.
"I know we didn't quite get off on the right foot," he says when she still hasn't answered.
For all their rocky start, he's a good man, and a competent officer she knows she can learn a lot from. She's also aware that he didn't have to ask her to join his team, could have just as easily ordered, and it says a lot about him that he did.
"It would be an honor, sir," she says.
He regards her for another moment before nodding. "Good,'" he says, pushing to his feet. "I'd better let you get some rest then, so we can get you back to 100% as soon as possible."
"Yes, sir," she says.
She watches him head for the door, but something's still bothering her. It's like a giant elephant in the room, and she doesn't want this relationship starting off anymore rocky than it already is.
"Yeah?" he says, turning back to look at her.
"About Colonel O'Neill," she says carefully, feeling the need to explain, to justify what it must look like to him.
Kawalsky cuts across her. "Did you know that the Colonel and I have served together for ages? Since we were young and stupid and full of grand ideas."
"No, I didn't," she says, wondering why Jack never mentioned him. Had he really cut himself off so seamlessly from his former life?
Kawalsky's expression sobers. "You know about the first mission to Abydos."
She nods, knowing he doesn't mean the official version from reports.
"Why he got picked for it?"
"Yes," she says. She had front row seats, wandering across Jack's path at his lowest moment, right as she was suffering one of her own. If she actually believed in fate, she might have had to wonder at that coincidence.
Kawalsky nods. "He's different now. I mean, not 'skip to my lou, isn't it a wonderful life' type different. But…better in a way I wasn't sure he would ever be. And I think some of that has to be because of you."
She automatically shakes her head, thinking of Dr. Jackson, and Skaara, and everything that happened out there on Abydos that first trip. She wants to believe she had nothing to do with the change in Jack, but she still has his voice in her head, soft and confessional.
And if you did?
What they'd had was messy and tenuous and maybe even impossible in the long run, but she can't pretend they didn't make each other better people. That was the sticky glue keeping them together no matter how many times things worked to pull them apart.
Kawalsky clears his throat. "I guess what I'm trying to say is…that getting tangled up in all of this was just rotten stinking luck in my book."
Sam searches his face, finding nothing but sincerity there, and feels some of the tension leave her shoulders. There are a lot of people in the Air Force who would love to use this as just another reason women don't belong on the front lines, see it as evidence of their weakness, their propensity for eroding morale. She hates more than anything that this might be used to define her as an officer.
"I just wanted you to know that we're not-." She stops, clearing her throat and lifting her chin. "What I mean is, it won't be a problem, sir."
He gives her a sad little smile. "I never thought it would be, Captain."
Jack stands outside Hammond's office, not particularly looking forward to this meeting. His reports are all written now, every impaired judgment down in ink for anyone to see. That might explain why Hammond had sounded less than happy on the phone when he ordered Jack down to his office.
He hasn't done anything too stupidly criminal since he got back from Chulak after all. He likes to think he's improving. Unless, of course, one stupid moment of weakness in the infirmary a few days before counts against him. Is one kiss really going to get him tossed back in jail? Hell, at this point he doesn't really care. That alone should alarm him.
He hasn't gone back to see Sam and maybe that's cowardice or just his common sense finally kicking in. When she looks at him that way—sad, regretful—it makes him want to do crazy things. Crazier things.
He grimaces, rapping his knuckles against the door. Might as well get this over with.
Hammond calls him in and Jack steps inside, closing the door behind him. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Hammond is seated behind his desk with an alarming amount of paperwork spread around him. "Colonel O'Neill," he says, waving him closer. "Thanks for coming down."
It's a surprisingly genial greeting considering how he'd sounded on the phone. Maybe this means Jack isn't heading for a court martial after all. Or maybe the guy is just playing with him for fun.
"What can I do for you, sir?" Jack asks, watching the general for any tells.
"Well, Colonel, mostly I'd like you to rebuild your team."
Jack's eyebrows pop up. So not the brig then. Nice.
Hammond smiles. "There are just two members that must be considered mandatory."
"Sir," he complains, wanting to point out how well that worked last time.
Hammond raises a hand to stop him. "I've spoken with the President. He has agreed to keep the program running not only as an offensive to discover ways to protect our planet from this new threat, but also in the name of exploration and cultural discovery."
Jack grimaces. He feels sorry for whatever schmuck they stick with scientist babysitting duty. Give him a dozen snake guards any day.
Hammond smiles, almost as if he's heard Jack's thoughts. "Dr. Jackson and his wife have requested to be put on a team."
Oh, hell no.
"Seeing as how you have a good rapport with both of them already, I thought of you as an ideal choice as their commander."
Hammond is punishing him. It's the only explanation he can come up with. This must be the one thing he could think of worse than jail. "You know, sir, retirement is sounding nicer by the moment."
Hammond gives him a patient grin that says he isn't buying that for a moment any more than Sam had. There are far too many reasons for him to stay now and they both know it. Sam, Skaara, the fact that the gate gives him more direction in his life than he's had in years. Only now can he admit that his makeover into a handyman never would have lasted.
Jack admits defeat and drops into a chair. "Damn."
Hammond doesn't seem to mind the lapse in protocol or the profanity, and it's just not fair, finally finding a commander who might actually get him. Fate really is a perverse son of a bitch.
Hammond flips open a file on his desk. "You may also wish to know that I took your advice and gave Kawalsky a team of his own, along with a long overdue promotion."
Jack feels a beat of pride, knowing Kawalsky deserves his own command. And a Lieutenant Colonel to boot. "Can't he take Daniel?" Jack asks hopefully.
Hammond smiles. "He has already requested Major Ferretti and Captain Carter. And Teal'c has requested to join her."
Damn. He tries not to feel like the last one picked for kickball. Getting Kawalsky promoted and Sam off his team had been his choice, after all. "Do I at least get to pick the military contingent of my team?" Jack asks, plans already building in his mind despite himself.
He'll need two additional soldiers minimum, so they can outnumber their sure-to-cause-as-much-trouble-as-possible civilian contingent. At least one to do nothing but follow Daniel around and make sure he doesn't fall into open pits, and another to listen to Jack complain, and agree with him all the time. That might make it livable.
Now if only Sha're could actually be intimidated.
He is so doomed.
"I'll have the personnel files of possible candidates sent to your office, Colonel."
Office? Oy. This keeps getting better and better. Jack pushes to his feet. "Thank you, sir."
He's almost at the door when Hammond speaks again.
"Oh, and Colonel O'Neill?" he says, voice suspiciously casual. "I thought you might want to know that I've been reconsidering my earlier order to you and Captain Carter."
Jack comes to a stop, turning back to look at Hammond. "You have, sir?"
Hammond nods, flipping a file open and reaching for a pen. "Would you inform Captain Carter that I have, in fact, remanded it?"
Jack thinks pinching himself might be a bit unprofessional, but he's still damn tempted. "Excuse me?"
Hammond doesn't look up from the file he is adding notes to, just waves one hand. "Different teams, no direct line of command. By definition professional and well within the bounds of propriety. If anyone were ever to ask my opinion."
That sounds a little convenient, even to Jack's ears. The Air Force's position is pretty clear because nothing says careers and positions and teams won't shift in the future, that they won't land in this same awful place again some day. And down the road it could be much, much worse.
"Sir," he says, regret clear in his voice.
Hammond finally looks up from the papers on his desk that seemed to so absorb his attention. He waves one hand around the room. "This isn't exactly the quiet last command before retirement that it was supposed to be. Now I'm standing at the frontline in a war against an enemy that, frankly, gives me nightmares."
Jack doesn't see the connection, but waits, knowing Hammond will get there eventually.
Hammond leans back in his chair. "Something tells me this place is going to require a hell of a lot of all of us just to keep our heads above water. We will honor the rules, stick to them with good faith. I won't break them, but we may have to see how far they bend every once and a while just to stay sane."
Like, say, not throwing Jack in the brig for doctoring his mission reports, and leaving the gate open just five extra minutes past deadline to give your rescue team time to get home. It's a fine line, and a rather dangerous precedent to be setting.
Hammond's brow creases. "To be clear, I'm not encouraging you. I'm not even saying it's a smart idea, because we both know it isn't."
"Then what exactly are you saying, sir?"
"I'm saying that it's none of my business unless you make it my business. The rest is up to you two. Are we clear?"
Jack gets the message. Hammond is stepping back out of their personal lives with obvious relief. It's up to them to decide if it's worth the risk. If discouragement is enough to keep their hard won distance as it stands.
Jack knows what he wants to do with this information, knows exactly where to find Sam. But he's still standing in the doorway because Hammond's right; the smart thing to do is something else entirely.
The only problem is that Jack has never been very smart.
But maybe it's well past time he started trying.
Sam is in the middle of getting trounced by Kawalsky in a surprisingly cutthroat round of gin rummy when Jack stomps into the infirmary. "Kawalsky," he barks.
Sam spills a few cards (and not at all because she is losing), but Kawalsky simply looks like he's been waiting for Jack to show up.
Jack comes to a stop at the foot of her bed, his arms crossed over his chest. "A guy turns his back for five minutes and you pinch his entire team? What's that about?"
There's a brief moment where Sam thinks Jack may actually be angry, but then she catches the twitch of Kawalsky's lips and she realizes this sarcastic rough and tumble is standard operating procedure between the two old friends.
Kawalsky shrugs, stretching his arms up behind his head and looking smug as hell. "Some guys are just slower than others."
Sam's eyes widen, looking back and forth between them. Jack scowls and steps forward threateningly, but rather than throwing a punch, simply thrusts his hand out. "I hear congratulations are in order."
Kawalsky gets to his feet, taking Jack's hand in a hearty handshake. "I guess they are."
Jack smiles, slapping him on the shoulder. He leans into Kawalsky conspiratorially. "Lt. Colonel Kawalsky, huh? Has a nice ring to it."
You'd have to be a fool not to see the pride in Jack's eyes.
"Thank you, sir," Kawalsky says, looking genuinely touched.
Jack steps away, shifting back to Jack the clown in the span of a moment. "Don't thank me, I told Hammond you were way too green. Apparently he doesn't listen."
Kawalsky rolls his eyes, clearly not believing that for a moment.
Jack shoves his hands in his pockets, surveying the room. "I can't help but notice that half your team is already in the infirmary. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come."
The natural response would be to point out that it was actually under Jack's command that they all landed in here, but Kawalsky is way too sharp to walk into what Sam can only assume is a sick sort of self-flagellation on Jack's part. If you can't talk about it, might as well make an asinine joke out of it.
Kawalsky gives Jack a knowing look. "I like to think we're just getting some of the kinks worked out early."
There's understanding laced into that careful statement, acknowledgment that Jack may have screwed up, but that it just makes him as human as everyone else. That his mistakes can be forgiven.
Jack shifts, finally looking over at Sam. She hasn't seen him since she first woke up four days earlier, but she doesn't blame him for that absence, not really. She has no doubt he's been getting regular updates about her condition either way.
"Hey," he says.
"Hey," she echoes.
Kawalsky doesn't miss a beat. He bumps his fist on the foot of Sam's bed. "I'm going to go distract Ferretti for a while before the nurses gang up and lock him in a closet or something out of sheer annoyance."
Sam smiles, grateful for his tact. "Sounds good, sir."
Kawalsky darts a glance at Jack. "Give me a shout if this guy starts making you crazy."
"Starts?" Sam quips before she can stop herself.
Kawalsky just gives her a grin and retreats to the far side of the infirmary where Ferretti is still laid up after surgery to fix his arm.
Jack looks a little lost now that Kawalsky is gone, shifting from foot to foot before finally claiming the chair next to her bed.
"So. How are you?" he asks carefully.
"Good," she says. "They may actually let me out of here tomorrow."
"Nice," Jack says. "I imagine you're getting a bit stir crazy at this point."
"You have no idea." She's fairly certain the first line of her mission report is going to read, 'Rule #1- do not get shot by a staff weapon.' But number two will be, 'Always have a laptop on hand.' Too much more downtime like this is going to push her over the edge, no matter how much her new CO tries to do his part to entertain her by kicking her ass at cards.
Jack picks up something from the table next to her bed, his attention on the task complete, and she takes the opportunity to observe him. Her eyes graze his familiar features, trying to gauge how well he's been dealing with everything, but it's the ache building inside her that catches her off guard, the nearly irresistible urge to reach out and touch him. It's been four days since she's seen him, and she's missed him, way more than she should allow.
He smoothly catches her eye, clearly aware of her scrutiny. She doesn't bother trying to pretend otherwise.
"You had me removed from your team," she says.
"Yes," Jack says, blunt and unconditional, and she knows he's not going to apologize for it.
He looks at her, expectant. She's pretty sure this is where she's supposed to argue that he didn't need to do that, that they shouldn't let the tangle of their personal lives impact their professional responsibilities. But clinging to that conviction with the stubbornness of an ostrich with its head shoved in the sand hadn't changed anything. Maybe it never would have.
She's been terribly naïve. About a lot of things. She'd been overly stubborn, thinking she could just flip a switch somewhere, that she could simply choose to not feel anything.
"I understand," she says, trying to ignore the burning in her stomach. He did the right thing, but all she can think now is that without the team they will have little to no reason to ever see each other. There's no part of him left that is allowed to be hers.
Jack shifts forward in his chair, leaning his elbows on his knees. "You did great out there, Sam," he says, and just once she wishes he couldn't read her quite so well. "You kept your head, saved Ferretti's ass, among other things." He touches her arm. "Kawalsky lucked out and he knows it."
She looks away, swallowing back against the strange swell of emotion rising at the praise. She hates that on top of everything, part of her mourns the professional relationship they could have had, how much she would have learned under his command.
"What about you?" she asks, trying to keep her voice casual, conversational.
"Me? Hammond has decided the best way to punish me for all eternity is to get civilian archeologist babysitting duty."
"Dr. Jackson?" she asks.
Jack nods, the look on his face somewhat like a man facing the gallows. "And his wife."
Sam smiles, thinking he's going to enjoy complaining about it almost as much as he enjoys doing it. "Lucky you," she says, patting the back of his hand.
She really doesn't mean for it to be anything more than a brief touch, a patronizing tease between friends, but his hand twists and hers ends up clasped in his like it belongs there. She's got a death grip on his fingers now, because she's got it in her head that maybe he's come here to say the final goodbye, that this is really it, nothing left between them but random meetings in a hallway and a few weak moments like this when one of them inevitably ends up in the infirmary.
"Maybe," Jack says carefully. Something's shifted in his expression, and he's regarding her closely, the kind of scrutiny that makes her chest feel tight. "I haven't quite figured out just how lucky I am yet."
Her forehead creases. "What do you mean?"
He looks like he's trying to make a decision about something, his thumb rubbing absently across the back of her hand.
"What is it?" she asks, tension building in her shoulders.
Jack stares down at their hands. "I had an interesting talk with Hammond yesterday."
Not a strange incident in and of itself. "And?"
"And…" Jack looks up at her, taking a breath. "He's decided that because of our new positions, his earlier order no longer applies."
Her eyes widen. He can't possibly mean… "His…earlier order?"
Jack nods. "Apparently he wants nothing to do with our personal lives. And unless issues of direct command crop up again…"
Before she can summon any coherent words in response to this startling revelation, Jack launches into a rapid and muddled list of all the reasons why resuming their relationship is a bad idea. He practically cites regulations by route and letter.
For about ten seconds she's taken in by his words, the excuses that on the surface seem to be him trying to talk her out of it—a guy scrambling away as best he can. Then she notices his grip on her hand that could be called desperate, and the look in his eye that tells her what this is really about is him preparing himself for her to walk away.
She stops listening then, her mind latching on the relevant details and ignoring the rest—discouraged, but not prohibited.
She's not stupid, she gets that this thing between them is a risk on many, many levels, and maybe not so long ago she never would have even considered it. Maybe she still shouldn't, but when it comes to Jack O'Neill, she left smart behind a hell of a long time ago.
Jack is still going full tilt. "We both know what people will say, and that you will take the brunt of that speculation. Your career…" He trails off, no doubt to let the hypotheticals grow large in their imaginations. "And God knows I'm no picnic to begin with."
She's sat patiently through his recital, but this last bit is just too much. "Are you finished?" she asks.
His eyebrow lifts at her brisk tone, and he takes a moment like he's mentally going through a list to make sure he hasn't missed anything. "Yeah, I guess so."
Planting one hand against the bandage on her side, she struggles up in the bed and makes a grab for his lapel, pulling him close. Her grip forces him to his feet until he's half-leaning over the bed, his face not far from her own.
"Good," she says. "Because I don't have a lot patience for stupid stuff today."
He blinks, looking down at her hand fisted in his shirt. "Am I the 'stupid stuff' in this scenario?" he asks, still looking confused.
"No," she says fondly. "Just the stuff that comes out of your mouth sometimes."
His lips twitch. "I think I should be offended."
She shrugs. "Go ahead. But don't think you can tell me what I'm willing to risk and what I'm not."
He swallows. "Are you saying…you are willing to risk it?"
She's pretty sure she made that abundantly clear the first day in Hammond's office. She touches his face. "I take it back. Maybe you are the stupid stuff in this scenario."
He touches her hair, his fingers carefully smoothing a lock behind her ear. "You should know, if we do this and things change again…if there's a next time, I won't be able to walk away again."
She's fairly certain that is supposed to be a warning, but the way he's looking at her, it feels much more like a promise. She bites her lower lip. "Then I'll just have to bake a file into a cake."
"You can bake?" he tries to joke.
"There are all sorts of things you don't know about me yet, Jack O'Neill," she promises. She has every intention of letting him take his time discovering all of them.
"Sam," he says, a question there as his hand cradles her face.
She wraps her hands around his wrist. "I'm all in. You?"
He spends another moment struggling against it before he says, "Oh, hell," and carefully gathers her into his arms. "I'm definitely in." His face lowers to her hair. "Just no more trips to sarcophagi, okay?"
She nods against his chest. "I'll do my best."
There aren't any promises. They both know that.
His voice is muffled slightly, his arms tightening around her. "I don't know what I would have done…"
She hates the terror in his voice, the fact that it's just going to be an unavoidable part of this messy, messy leap they are taking. But most surprising of all is the absolute certainty she feels that it's the right choice, terror or not.
That's when it finally hits her, what she probably should have seen before now.
"Jack?" she says, surprised to hear the waver in her voice.
"Yeah?" He tries to pull back to look at her, but she holds him firmly in place, her fingers gripping his shirt.
She turns her face into his neck, her voice lowering. "Now that I'm allowed to say it…I think you should probably know that I very well may be in love with you."
He stiffens for a moment with what she hopes is shock and not sheer terror, but then his body softens. He pulls back, and she makes herself look up at him. "Yeah," he says, nodding as his hands cradle her face, his thumb brushing across her cheek. "I know exactly what you mean."
She smiles. "Not really where I would have pegged this going, that first night."
"No, not really," he says with a huff of amusement. "But thank God it did."
They grin at each other like stupid idiots for a while, until there's a loud sound of annoyance from the other end of the infirmary.
"For God's sake, would you just kiss her already?" Kawalsky calls out.
Jack leans around Sam to glare at him, but she just pulls his face back down and does the honors herself. There'll be plenty of time to make Ferretti pay for the catcall he lets out as the kiss deepens.
Jack wanders into the infirmary, finding Sam standing near her bed, packing a small bag.
"I heard you were making a break for it today," he says. "Need an accomplice?"
She turns, smiling at him. To his eyes, she looks practically giddy to be getting out of here. "You volunteering?"
He holds up his keys. "I've got the getaway vehicle gassed and good to go." He eyes Dr. Fraiser as she walks up. "We just need to deal with your prison guards."
Dr. Fraiser rolls her eyes, but otherwise ignores him, instead holding up a bottle of pills. "Take these as needed for pain. There should be enough for at least a week."
Jack doesn't miss the look of distaste on Sam's face, or the way she's still holding herself a bit stiffly. He reaches out and takes the pills, slipping them into his pocket. "Thanks, doc."
Being stuck on base since the mission, Sam hasn't had a chance to look for a place, so she'll be staying with him until she gets back on her feet. He'll have plenty of opportunity to make sure her stubbornness doesn't get in the way of her recovery.
Sam seems to realize that too, narrowing her eyes at him.
"I don't want you driving, Captain. Not at least for a few more days. And no strenuous activity," Dr. Fraiser continues to lecture.
"I'll keep an eye on her, Doc," he promises.
"Great," Sam mutters. "I'm trading one prison guard for another."
An orderly walks in then pushing a wheelchair.
"No way," Sam protests.
"Oh yes," the doctor responds, both hands on her hips as she tries to stare Sam despite the disparity in their heights. "Wheelchair, at least to the checkout point."
Sam's face presses into a mulish look that frankly frightens Jack, but the doctor seems made of sterner stuff than he, because she just stares back, equally unmovable.
"Or maybe you can just stay for another night of observation," the doctor lobs out.
Despite the blatant threat, Jack still can't believe it when Sam drops the doctor's gaze. "Fine," she says with nothing close to grace, plopping down in the offending wheelchair.
"All good to go?" Jack glances at the doctor and upon receiving a nod, grabs the handles of the wheelchair and maneuvers Sam out. He swears the doctor lets out an audible sigh of relief as they go.
Luckily Sam seems to perk up a bit when they get out into the hall. "Freedom," he hears her mutter under her breath.
They get her checked out with relative ease. Once up top, Sam abandons the wheelchair with obvious joy. She's still not completely steady on her feet though, and he's relieved when she reaches for his arm rather than brazening it out on her own.
He takes her bag, slinging it over his shoulder. Sam doesn't protest, just leans against his arm, something so inherently trusting in the gesture that Jack can't help but remember a very different day they walked out into this same parking lot together. A time she was less willing to let him, or anyone, help her carry her burdens.
Had he really been any different?
It feels like a lifetime ago, and maybe it was.
He's been staring at her for a little too long because she squeezes his arm, sliding him an uncertain look that says maybe she's remembering too. "Jack?"
On a whim, he leans down, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
She stills, leaning into the unexpected gesture. "What was that for?" she asks, looking bemused and maybe a little pleased.
Jack just smiles at her, pulling on his sunglasses and guiding her out into the sun. "What's our destination?" he asks.
Sam's steps slow, her cheek brushing his shoulder as she turns her face up to the sun, a look of contentment stealing across her features. "Home," she says, her fingers squeezing his arm. "Just take me home, Jack."
He can do that.