That secret that you know
But don't know how to tell
It fucks with your honor
And it teases your head
But you know that it's good girl
Because it's running you with red

Blood Bank - Bon Iver

oooo

Sam throws her back out the same week the Colonel is scheduled for his third knee surgery. Or is it fourth? She can't even remember now. All she knows is that he and Daniel had to half carry, half drag her through the gate and that Jack had been groaning and gritting his teeth through the whole thing. She hadn't even been hit, that was the embarrassing thing. Sure, there were Jaffa and yes, everyone was dodging weapons fire as they made a mad dash for the gate, but she hadn't been shot. No, she'd tripped.

It had been dusk and she simply hadn't seen the rock or tree root or whatever her boot had snagged on and she went ass over tea kettle. She'd hit the ground wrong, that much had been immediately clear. Jack and Daniel had been hot on her tail and she'd even heard Jack shout "Whoa!" as she went flying but then they were right there, both grabbing an arm and pulling her back to her feet.

"Let's go!" Daniel was yelling. Teal'c had the gate activated and was providing cover for them.

"Carter," Jack yelled, an order for her to get moving she knew, it's just that the pain was so searing and intense. It felt like a muscle was tearing apart. She doubled over, trying to find a place where the pain would cease enough for her to get her legs moving, but instead it was only white hot pain, so fierce she was worried she might vomit all over her boots. "Carter, let's go!"

They weren't far now and she was trying but Jack must have realized that something was actually wrong because it got to the point where he was mostly carrying her while trying to fire his gun and pick up whatever slack he could to get his team through the gate.

Everyone had tumbled down the ramp after entering the gate as such a speed and that hadn't felt right either. The last thing she remembered was Jack pulling his hat off and looking down into her face, his eyes concerned. "Carter, what the hell happened?" he'd asked. She hadn't answered. She'd passed out instead.

oooo

Now she is in the infirmary, an ice pack shoved between the mattress and her back. They'd given her a mild muscle relaxant and the ice helps, but it still hurts like hell. She's thinking about calling the nurse for some better drugs when Jack limps in to check on her. He's showered and in clean clothes but he looks tired.

"Major," he says. "They tell me you-" and here he smirks a bit, "you threw out your back?"

"I don't find it quite as amusing as you seem to, sir," she manages.

"It's just... I'd thought you'd been shot, you know?" This sobers him a little, but mostly he looks relieved.

"Getting shot hurts less," she says.

"They withholding the good stuff?" he asks.

"I hope so, because otherwise I'm in some serious trouble," she says.

"Yeah, they'll dose you up good for the night though so you can get some sleep," he says, dragging a stool over and perching by her bed.

"I'm sorry, sir," she says now. "I was clumsy and it almost got us killed."

"No one got killed," he says. "And we learned that, apparently, you're no spring chicken anymore."

She narrows her eyes. "A little like the pot calling the kettle black, don't you think?"

He raises his eyebrows as if surprised by her tone but doesn't scold her. She can't tell if he is simply in a good mood or if her drugs are working better than she originally thought, but she likes the way he has come to check on her and is teasing her. They have had a rough few months, but slowly things have been thawing between them.

"Yes, actually," he concedes. "Since you're bedridden, they scheduled me for another knee surgery."

"What?" she asks, worried now. "When?"

"In the morning. They're flying in some hotshot surgeon to do it here," he says. For a moment, they're both quiet. This is the first time either of them have had to stay for any extended amount of time in the infirmary since Janet has died but then, he continues. "I've been putting it off for awhile now."

"I see," she says.

"Daniel already asked Hammond if he could spend a few days at some dig in Peru so he's taking off tomorrow," Jack says.

"And Teal'c?" she asks.

"Rya'c," he says. She nods. "So just you and me, kid, convalescing," he says with a forced grin.

"How long will you be out of commission?" she asks. After all, he's done this before. He's favoring his right knee now, she can see the way he has it propped out in front of him.

"Couple weeks, maybe," he says. "We could... use the break, probably." He means SG-1, the team, but she thinks that he maybe means the two of them, too. She's been trying so hard to figure out what exactly has been causing this strain between them and she'd almost convinced herself that he'd been pushing her away to spare her - that her feelings were completely inappropriate and one sided and he just didn't want to embarrass her but then, he'd draped his arm over her shoulders or pressed his face into her neck and she got unsure all over again.

"Probably," she echos faintly. "Do you have to spend the night?"

"Yep," he says. He looks around - she's the only patient. It's dinner time so most of the SGC is up in the cafeteria. She'd refused her tray, still nauseous from pain and his early surgery means he probably can't eat dinner at all. "I have a nice pair of infirmary scrubs with my name on them."

"The company will be nice," she manages as he stands. "Think they'll let us be neighbors?"

"I think I can pull a few strings," he says. "I'll be back in a bit. Try to get some rest, Major?"

"Yes, sir," she says. She does try. She manages to doze for a little while. It takes time to find a spot that doesn't hurt and if she doesn't move, she can sleep in fits. She wakes up to a nurse setting a paper cup of pills and some water next to her bed.

"These will help you sleep," the nurse says. "Do you want a fresh ice pack?"

"No," she says, easing the now warm one from under her and handing it over. The movement proves costly, though, and she grits her teeth against the pain.

"Carter?"

She is startled to hear his voice - how long has he been there? She doesn't open her eyes, though, and has to ride out the waves of spasms and pain before she can do anything else, even acknowledge her superior.

She feels something cool against her forehead and when she manages to open her eyes he's standing there pressing a damp cloth to her brow, his forehead creased in concern. It's odd to see him in the same light blue scrubs that she's wearing.

"I'm really not this big of a wimp," she manages, trying to force her body to relax.

"I know," he says, softly. "It's a different kind of pain than a staff weapon burn or a broken bone. More insidious."

"Much more."

"Just wait until it turns chronic," he jokes.

"I don't know how you stand it," she says with a sigh.

"Years of practice," he says. "Come on, take your drugs. You finally got the good stuff." He hands her the cup with the pills and she very carefully and very warily manages to navigate them into her mouth. The water cup has a straw in it and she doesn't argue when he simply holds it up to her mouth.

"Thanks," she says.

"You'll feel better in the morning," he promises. "And when you wake up, I'll have a new scar to show you."

"Are you nervous?" she asks. He pulls the cloth from her head and sets it next to her bed.

"No," he says. "Been there, done that."

She smiles softly at him, at his bravado. He might not be nervous about the surgery, but she knows him well enough to guess that the thing that does scare him is that idea that one day, he won't pass his physical.

"Yeah," she agrees.

"Carter," he says. "Before you slip off into la-la land, I wanted to ask you something."

"Sure," she says.

"Daniel said... and take this with a grain of salt, because it's, you know, Daniel, but Daniel said that maybe the reason your back hurts so much is as much... I don't know, psychological as it is physical. That people carry... stuff... in their muscles. I don't know. You think there's any truth to that?" he asks.

"What?" she asks. "You think I don't want to be in the field? That's not true, sir, I'd never fake an injury."

"I know you wouldn't," he says quickly. "But you've been carrying a lot around with you. The Prometheus, Janet, your dad going AWOL for a while. No one would think any less of you if you just needed a break."

"I'm not lying," she says firmly. "I just had a hard fall."

"Okay, okay," he says, holding up his hands. "I promised Daniel I'd ask."

"Maybe Daniel pushed me so he could go to Peru," she says, her face straight.

"I'll have to note that in my report," he says. She breaks first, letting her mouth curl up at the corner. "You feeling better?"

"I feel... kind of far away," she says, realizing her vision is beginning to blur at the edges a bit.

"Oh yeah," he says, touching her elbow lightly. "The good stuff. See you in twelve hours, Major."

She stays awake long enough to watch him walk back to his own bed and climb in and then she allows her eyes to slip closed.

oooo

When she wakes up, she feels better. Enough to sit up in her bed by herself and push her hair out of her face. She feels dirty and groggy, but the excruciating pain has been at least replaced by a dull ache. She tries to stand but there is a definite lag time between her brain issuing the command and her limbs obeying. She's afraid of the lack of coordination that might ensue if she tried to stand. It's a little like being hung over - whatever they'd given her had seriously knocked her out.

The General stops by to check on her.

"How are you feeling, Major?" he asks.

"Better, thank you, sir," she says. "Have you heard any news about Colonel O'Neill?"

"He's out of surgery," the General said. "He'll be in here any minute. I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and visit you both."

"I'm fine," she says.

"Of course," he says with an expression that says she looks anything but 100 percent.

"I'll be fine," she amends and he chuckles.

"Dr. Jackson won't be back until next week so take your time," he says. They're interrupted by two nurses wheeling Jack's bed back into the main room. He's clearly still out of it and his knee is swollen and bandaged up on several pillows. He's awake but his eyes don't stay open for more than a few seconds.

"Um, I'll tell him you stopped by?" Sam offers. Hammond nods.

"Please do," he says. She smirks.

It takes a while for Jack to really come to. Sam's back on the easy muscle relaxant and she has managed to get from her bed into a wheelchair so she's there when his eyes finally open and stay open.

"Hey," she says. "How you feeling?"

He blinks at her slowly, like a lizard who has spent too much time in the sun. She has to grin, he looks so befuddled.

"Your surgery went fine," she says. "How does your knee feel?"

His head lolls around until he looks at his knee, wrapped and huge. His eyebrows shoot up and then he looks back at her.

"Sir? Do you know where you are?" she asks.

"Shut up, Carter," he says finally before his eyes close again. She doesn't take it personally - he's always been a grouchy patient. "Just... shhhh."

"I'll let you rest," she says and starts to wheel away but he manages to fling his arm over the edge of the bed and it dangles there. She looks at it and then his face and then slowly touches his fingers with hers. His fingers curl around hers and offer a very little squeeze. He doesn't let go. "Feeling a little loopy, sir?"

"Little bit," he says.

"You can sleep," she says. "We're neighbors, remember? I'll be right over there."

"Okay," he sighs. It takes a few more moments for his fingers to unclench and she draws her hand away.

When Jack wakes up again, she's setting up a chessboard on the tray that slides over his bed for meals. He blinks at her and lifts his hand to rub his face. He has at least two days worth of beard growth.

"How long?" he asks.

"Most of the day," she says. "But they're keeping me until morning and I'm bored now, so I'd appreciate it if you'd wake up and play with me, sir."

"That's Daniel's board," he mutters, his throat dry. She pauses in her set up and carefully leans over to snag the cup of water that has been left for him. He can see her face twitch with pain as she presses it into his hand. She's feeling better, has a lot of mobility back, but she will simply be sore for days. "Thanks."

"Daniel's in Peru, remember?" she says. "He wasn't using it."

"Your hair is wet," he says, looking over her. She does seem cleaner, happier, better.

"They let me shower with a nurse just outside and a stool to sit on," she grins. "Not my finest moment, but totally worth it."

"Jealous," he says.

"Yeah, you do kinda stink of hospital," she teases, and then adds hastily, "Sir."

"My knee hurts."

"I'll bet," she says. "Light or dark?"

"Dark," he says and she spins the board around and then hobbles away to drag the stool from her bedside to his. He watches her ease herself onto it. "That stool is gonna kill you."

"I'm fine," she says, sliding her first pawn forward. They are surprisingly well-matched in the game of chess. She is good at seeing the big picture, but he has such a keen eye for tactics and strategy. She wonders if the fact that he's still groggy will give her an unfair advantage but then, she's still a bit drugged up too.

Ultimately, he's right, though. The stool is too low and she has to lean to reach the board and finally she gives into his gentle suggestion that she just sit on the bed, careful of his knee. She sits cross-legged and keeps her posture straight. Her knee rests on top of his good one under the blanket, but the angle is much better and it feels familiar and nice. She wins the first game and he just silently resets the board.

They're halfway through the second game when dinner arrives, but she doesn't bother to preserve the game. She can see already that he has won. She starts to move off the mattress but he subtly shakes his head and so she stays, their dinner trays squished side by side. He doesn't eat much and they both start with the jell-o. It's the green kind and she wrinkles her nose at it.

"I just... this is kind of freaking me out, Carter," he says, staring at her. Her eyes widen and she feels a jolt of what seems like it could be panic. Maybe he's tired of her, maybe it's too much closeness too fast after a year of pushing everything to arm's length. Has she totally misread the last hour?

"I'm sorry, sir," she says.

"I have never, in my life, ever seen you eat jell-o that wasn't blue and I can't say I'm dealing with the change well at all," he smirks. The relief is immediate and she feels her heart start to slow back down to a reasonable rate.

"Well, if it's any consolation, I don't like it," she says. After a beat, she says, "The General stopped by right when you came out of surgery."

"What did he say?" Jack asks.

"Nothing, really," she says. "I think... he feels badly about the year we've had."

"About the seven years we've had?" Jack says.

"Maybe," she says. "Sometimes he looks at me and I get the feeling he wishes he could just shut the whole mountain down and send us home."

"I do not envy him his job," Jack agrees.

Their conversation is interrupted when Cassandra comes into the infirmary.

"Hey, baby," Sam says, sliding carefully off the bed. "When did you get here?"

"Just now," she says. "Is it okay that I came to visit?"

"Better than okay," Jack says. "How you doing, kid?"

Cassandra shrugs, drops her purse to the ground and slides onto the stool that Sam had long ago abandoned. Sam comes around the bed and hugs her carefully; drops a kiss onto her head.

"I'm okay," Cassandra says. "Better than the two of you, apparently."

"Nah, we're fine," Jack says.

"Everything okay alone in the house?" Sam asks, worried. Cassandra is 18, going to college soon, old enough to take care of herself, but still, Janet's death is fresh and painful and Sam had insisted that Cassandra move in with her. Not that Sam is home often enough.

"I'm fine," Cassandra says, rolling her eyes. "I'm the one worried about you, remember?"

Sam strokes her hair until Cassandra shrugs her off. Sam is about to get back onto the bed with Jack when Cassandra speaks again.

"Pete called," she says, conversationally. "You didn't tell him you got hurt?"

"I, uh, didn't want to worry him," Sam says.

"I just told him you were working," Cassandra says to Sam, though she's watching Jack who is picking balls of lint studiously off his blanket.

"I just didn't want to call him loopy on pain meds," she explains.

"Sure, sure," Jack says. But the damage is done and all the intimacy they've built up over chess and dinner rapidly dissipates from the room. Sam walks back to her own bed and gets back in. Cassandra looks torn for a moment, but decides to stay by Jack, though she turns a little so her back isn't to Sam.

"So, Cass, I was thinking that you could spend Christmas with me," Jack says. Sam tilts her head, surprised and confused. This has come out of absolutely nowhere and she feels a little like someone has taken her out at the knees. Cassandra, for her part, looks unflappable.

"Sure, Uncle Jack," Cassandra says like she's still a little girl. Jack does that to her, somehow. With Sam and even with Janet at the end there, it had been all about how she was eighteen and a woman, but with Jack she was perfectly happy to be the child she was when they found her. "Sam too?"

"Well, sure," Jack says, braving a glance at Sam. "I thought you might want to spend it with Pete, though."

Sam lifts her chin slightly and thinks of all the things she could say - like Pete has his own family, or that Mark has decided to stay in San Diego and Sam doesn't feel like leaving the base for that long, or that she'll never, never leave Cassie alone the first Christmas after her mother has died, but she decides to say none of it. "Nope."

"Oh," Jack says. "Good. Then yeah. You and Sam. How's that sound, princess?"

Cassandra dips her head slightly, embarrassed at the old nickname, embarrassed that she still likes it. Jack doesn't get so mushy with anyone else and Cassandra always basks in the fact that she is uniquely special in this regard. Sam feels the sting of jealousy and then shame that she should be jealous of what is such an important relationship to two people she really cares about.

"Good," Cassandra says, looking at Sam who nods her approval. "Can we get a tree?"

"Yes," Jack says.

"Will Santa know where to find me at your house?" Cassandra asks teasingly.

"Aren't you a little old for Santa?" Jack asks.

"No one is too old for Santa," Cassandra says confidently, like she's always known about Santa, like she has spent her entire life on this planet, like they didn't find her surrounded by the corpses of everyone she had ever known.

"Oh, is that a scientific fact?" Jack says. Out of habit, they both turn to Sam for confirmation.

"Oh yeah," she says, forcing herself to play along even though she feels a little left out of this easy banter. "There's an equation for Christmas magic, I'm sure of it."

Cassandra grins and rolls her eyes. Then her face sobers a little. "When can you come home?"

"In the morning, probably," Sam says.

"Spend the night on the base," Jack says quickly to Cassandra. "Keep an old man company."

This stings a little too. Sam had been keeping him company pretty well but now, the chess board is being reset with Cassandra in charge of the light pieces and when the nurse comes and offers to allow Sam to sleep in her base quarters instead of the infirmary, she accepts.

oooo

She's dozing when Cassandra slips into the bed with her. It has to be the middle of the night, but Sam has slept so much in the last couple days, that she's not sleeping very hard. Sam knows they set Cassandra up in some VIP quarters, but she's glad for the company and Sam finds Cassandra's hand beneath the covers in the darkness.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Cassandra says.

"It's okay," Sam says.

"I stayed until he fell asleep," she says with a yawn, explaining away the late hour.

"I'm sure he appreciated the visit," Sam says. "I've been his only company for a while."

"Oh yeah, like he'd get tired of that," Cassandra says, that hard edge of teenage sarcasm still so present in her voice. Jack is not something that she and Cassandra talk about and now they seem to dance around the subject even more since Cassandra moved in.

"Cassie," Sam says, her voice a soft warning.

"I know, I know," Cassandra says. "It's just... can't we have one day as a normal family?"

"Christmas will be good," Sam promises, squeezing Cassandra's fingers.

"Real good or us good?" Cassandra asks petulantly.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"I mean is it going to be us getting along or is it going to be you and Uncle Jack grinning at me but the second I leave the room it's all awkward silences and smoldering looks?" Cassandra says.

"Colonel O'Neill and I are friends!" Sam says even as her stomach falls into feet. "There's no smoldering."

"Oh please."

"Cassandra, you know that things are complicated," Sam says, dropping the pretense and the light tone of voice fooling no one. "You are old enough to understand why."

"I know," Cassandra says after a moment. "I was just asking for one day."

"We'll try," Sam says, speaking for both her and Jack though she has no right. "We can invite Daniel and Teal'c, it'll be fun."

"No," Cassandra says, rolling over so her face is in the pillow. She lets go of Sam's hand and tucks her arms under herself. "Just us."

"Just us," Sam parrots back. "Sure, honey."

oooo

Sam offers to have Christmas at her house, but Jack shakes his head no.

"I invited you," he says. It's not exactly true. He invited Cassandra and Cassandra had insisted on Sam, but she doesn't bother to correct him now. They're walking the perimeter and Daniel and Teal'c are out by the ruins. It's their first off world mission since his surgery. He's walking without the cane, now, and her back feels fine. She shifts her P-90 slightly and it snags on a zipper. She has to close up the pocket again.

"All right," Sam says. "If you need help, though. You know, tree, stockings, stuff like that I could help."

"Do we have to talk about this now?" he asks. She can't see his eyes from behind his sunglasses and his old, faded cap. This planet is warm and humid and they're both sweating through their clothes. It had been snowing in Colorado Springs.

"No, sir," she says. "Ir's just Christmas is in a week and a half."

"Carter, I know the date," he snaps. "You think I'm such a Scrooge I don't know how to put up a damn tree?"

"Sorry, sir," she says. She makes to move away from him but his sigh stops her.

"If I need something, I will call you, okay?" he mutters.

"Okay," she says. "Cassie's had a hard year, I want Christmas to be good for her."

"It will," he promises. "And you know Carter, she's not the only one who has had a hard year. Maybe you could cut me a little slack too? And yourself?"

She offers him a small smile. "I could try, sir."

His radio crackles for a moment and then Daniel's voice requests Sam's help. Jack cocks his head and she runs up the hill toward the ruins. She doesn't check, but she knows that Jack watches her go.

oooo

Maybe it's a Christmas miracle that they get to go home on Christmas eve at all. Sam has worked through her fair share of holidays and birthdays, but Hammond gives them the okay for three days off and she doesn't wait around for the other shoe to drop. For Christmas eve, everyone is going to Daniel's for dinner. Sam had felt guilty about excluding Daniel and Teal'c from Christmas day, but once Daniel issued a Christmas eve invitation, that guilt was lifted.

"Cassie, too, of course," Daniel had said. Cassie, however, was spending Christmas eve with her boyfriend's family and Sam was going to pick her up once she was done with her team.

"Wanna go together?" Jack's head pops into her lab just as she is lifting her bag onto her shoulder.

"Huh?" she asks.

"To Daniel's," he says. "One car. Two people."

"Oh," she says. "Well, I have to get Cass after."

"We can do that," he says. His face is open and kind and she thinks he's as ready for the break as any of them. She doesn't want to say no and, maybe because it's Christmas, she doesn't.

"Okay," she says. She has gifts for Daniel and Teal'c in her bag. She was going to go home and change first, but it's already getting late and Jack is bouncing on the balls of his feet, so she follows him dutifully into the elevator.

"I was gonna stop and pick up something on the way," he says, pulling his gloves out of his pockets in preparation for the surface. She does the same, sliding each finger into leather easily. "Wine, or something."

"That's a good idea," she says.

"I'll write your name on the tag," he teases.

"You think I'm as unprepared as you?" she asks.

"Of course not," he says. "Carter? Unprepared? Impossible."

"Yes, well," she says, as the doors part. "My mother always taught me never to show up empty handed."

The conversation pauses as they swipe through various checkpoints and then emerge into the snow.

"Do you miss her this time of year?" he asks and it takes her a moment to pick up where they left off - her mother.

"I miss her all times of the year," Sam says.

"Yeah," he says. "Me too." She knows he means Charlie and maybe even Sara but she doesn't ask for clarification.

"Christmas can be hard, though," she offers. "My only family is in San Deigo or, you know, another galaxy so it's easy to feel alone." Jack doesn't have family, neither does Daniel, and Teal'c only sees his son a few times a year so she knows he understands. They all do.

"We're your family," Jack says sounding certain, sounding like he's issuing an order that she can't refuse. "I'm your family, Carter."

"Yeah," she says, feeling heat crawl up her face despite the cold. "You are."

Together, they push the snow off his windshield and what they can reach of the top of the truck. Her own car is a few spaces down but they both ignore it. They have to sit for a few minutes while the engine warms, while melting snow drips off their boots.

"I haven't played Santa since Charlie," he says into the quiet cab.

"I've never done it," Sam offers. "Do you think she'll know it's us?"

"That's the magic of Christmas," he says, feigning exasperation. "It doesn't matter where it comes from, just that you wake up and it's happened."

"I didn't know you were so sentimental, sir," she says. He shifts in his seat slightly and puts the truck in reverse.

"You think maybe we could drop the sir until at least after the birth of Christ?" he asks.

This is surprising. What to say to such a request? After all, hadn't she called him Jack, once, accidentally not so long ago and he'd snapped at her? Excuse me?

"According to star placement, it's actually much more likely that Jesus was born sometime in the spring," she says.

"I just meant..."

"For Cassie's sake," she says, offering safety and neutral ground.

"Yeah," he nods, easing the truck out and heading for the exit. "I'm not saying you have to call me Mr. O'Neill or anything, but, you know, it's Christmas and we're gonna make it nice for her."

"Let's not get wine," Carter says, suddenly. "Let's get real booze."

"Hard?" he asks. She nods. "What ever you say, Major."

"Hey," she says. "I'm not saying you have to call me Miss Carter, but..."

"Oh ha ha," he says, pulling into the traffic. It's already getting dark. The grocery store is surprisingly crowded for the hour but all the shoppers look last minute and frenzied and all the employees look bored and apathetic. Jack and Sam stand together in the liquor aisle, studying the bounty there.

"Whiskey?" he asks. She scrunches her nose. There's a time and a place but Sam's not sure that Christmas eve is one of them.

"Brandy," she says, reaching for a bottle.

"Classy," he says. He pays for it, wishes the kid at the register a Merry Christmas and the kid says nothing in response. "Ah, shitty teenage jobs. They don't know how good they have it."

"Wanna go back and swap with him?" she asks, pulling her coat more tightly around her now that the sun has set. The wind is biting and seems to cut right through her.

"And doom the Earth?" he asks.

"Maybe that kid is the next Colonel O'Neill," she says with a grin.

"Maybe he's the next Samantha Carter," Jack says, like this is the much better option. "Guess we'll never know."

Daniel's house is warm and smells like roasting chicken. Daniel and Teal'c had left the mountain long before Jack and Sam and Sam can see now that he has been hard at work. There aren't Christmas decorations, but the place feels cozy and warm anyway.

"O'Neill," Teal'c greets at the door. "Major Carter."

"Hey," Sam says, hugging him. Jack touches his shoulder lightly.

"Come on in guys," Daniel calls from the kitchen. Sam takes the bottle from Jack and moves into the kitchen.

"Need help?" she offers.

"No," he says. "It's almost all done."

"Thanks for having us," she says, setting the bottle down on one of the few empty spots on the counter. "That's from the Colonel."

"And you, judging by the quality." Daniel grins.

"I helped," she says.

"You guys come together?" Daniel asks in a way she thinks is supposed to be casual.

"Truck," she offers. "I didn't even bother to dig my car out."

"Convenient," he says.

"Something you wanna say, Daniel?" she asks.

"Beer in the fridge," is all he offers. She grabs two and then makes a face and gets a third before going back out to the living room. Teal'c takes his even though she can see he already has one half full on the coffee table. Jack takes both of the other bottles and twists the caps off before giving her one of them back.

"Thanks," they both murmur to each other.

Dinner is good. Daniel is a better cook than any of them combined, so they eat well. Sam's just happy to have something other than base food for once. After dinner, Daniel cracks the seal on the Brandy and they all have a little taste. Sam doesn't forget about having to get Cassandra so she doesn't have more than a mouthful. When it's time to go, Jack is flushed and smirking and she tilts her head as they stand at the door.

"What?" he grins. She says nothing, just reaches into his coat pocket and takes out his keys. "Hey!"

"Yeah," she says. "Hey."

"Give my love to Cassie," Daniel says, kissing Sam's cheek. "You two try not to kill each other."

"I would never kill Carter," Jack says. "Then who would save us?"

"Thanks," she says, dryly. "Come on, Colonel."

There's an awkward moment in the car where she has to figure out how to move the seat up just a fraction to be comfortable.

"You know, I don't let tons of people drive my truck," he says, his head leaning against the window as he watches her.

"Am I tons of people?" she asks, starting the engine.

"You're Sam," he says. She grins at him. It's rare that he's in this mood, this sweet, affable mood fueled by friendship and good company and alcohol instead of life-or-death peril.

"Let's go get our girl," she says. "Then I'll take you home."

Cassandra is tired when they arrive and clambers into the small back seat sleepily.

"It smells like a distillery in here," she says.

"That would be your Uncle Jack," Sam says.

"I'm not drunk," he says too quickly. "It's just Carter has a higher standard of alcohol than I'm used to."

"Patrick's parents offered me a glass of wine," Cassandra says. "I said no."

"Just say no!" Jack says and Sam snorts. "Good girl."

"I don't like wine," Cassandra says. "I'm not a saint."

"Did you have fun?" Sam asks.

"Yeah," she says. "Patrick gave me gold hoops. They're pretty."

"Jewelry," Sam says with a grin. "Nice."

"Wait," Jack says, furrowing his brow. "What happened to Matthew?"

Sam reaches out and smacks his arm.

"I like Patrick better," Cassandra says, a icy note creeping into her voice. Sam shoots him a dark look and he holds up his hands.

"He seems great," Jack tells Cassandra.

"You haven't met him," she says, but the hard edge in her voice is gone.

"Not yet," Jack says. "But if you like him and Carter likes him, then I like him."

Sam pulls into Jack's drive and looks at him. "We'll bring the truck over in the morning. You going to be okay, Colonel?"

"I'm fine," Jack says. "I need the keys to get in."

"Cass?" Sam says. "Go with him please, make sure he gets in."

"Ugh, Sam, I'm so tired," Cassandra whines. Sam sighs, rolls her eyes, and kills the engine. Outside is cold and their boots crunch on the snow. She gets the door open while he leans against her slightly.

"Just how much did you drink, exactly?" she asks, softly.

"Enough," he says. "Don't crash my truck."

"Wouldn't dream of it, sir," she says.

"Hey."

"Colonel," she offers.

"You'll come over early?" he asks.

"As early as I can get her going," Sam promises.

"0700?" he asks hopefully.

"That doesn't seem likely but we could sure try," she laughs.

"You could just stay," he says, lingering in the open doorway. "You and Cassie could just stay and we could all wake up together."

"Oh," she says, softly. He has such a sweet, hopeful expression on his face that she wants to reach out and touch his cheek but she slips her hand into her pocket instead. "You don't have the space for us."

"Sure I do," he says. "Cassie can have the guestroom. I'll take the couch. You can sleep in my bed."

"Sir..."

"Jack," he says. "After all, it's Christmas."

"Jack," she says, savoring the feeling. "All the stocking stuffers are at my place. Not to mention the stockings."

"It's just stuff," he says. Behind them, Cassie lays on the horn for just a minute, getting impatient.

"We'll be over early," she promises. "I'll make sure of it."

"Before I wake up?" he asks. "So it's like you've been here all night?"

"Goodnight, Colonel," she says.

In the car, Cassandra has moved into the vacated passenger's seat.

"What was that all about?" Cassandra asks.

"The Colonel can get a little sappy when he's drunk," Sam says, starting the engine.

"Or when he's with you," Cassandra says dryly. Sam gives her a stern look but decides it's too late to fight.

"He wants us over early so no sleeping in, okay? I promised him an early Christmas morning," Sam says.

"Fine, but we're doing this in our pajamas," Cassandra grumbles. Mostly it's a quiet drive home and when they pull into Sam's driveway, hers is the only house on the block without lights strung. She winces. Did she really just leave Jack all alone, drunk, on Christmas eve?

"You know what?" Sam says, suddenly.

"We're going back?" Cassandra asks hopefully.

"We're going back," Sam says. "Ten minutes. Get the presents, pack a bag, and back in the truck, got it?"

"Yes!" Cassandra says, jumping out of the car and heading for the door with a grin.

oooo

When they knock on the door, Sam is afraid Jack might already be asleep, but instead he opens the door with a beer bottle in his hand and a shit eating grin.

"I knew you'd be back," he says.

"You did not," Cassandra says, pushing past him into the warm house. Sam just smiles and tilts her head.

"You were sort of pathetic," Sam says. "I just..."

"I know," he says.

"We brought all the stuff," she says, pointing to the box at her feet. "What do you say we put our girl to bed and get down to some Santa business?"

Cassandra may be legally an adult, but she goes to bed without complaint. She's both tired and excited for morning to come. Sam sits on the edge of the guest bed and pushes Cassandra's bangs away from her heavy-lidded eyes.

"In the morning, presents," Sam promises.

"I'm not a little girl, Sam," Cassandra says.

"No," Sam sighs. "Not anymore."

"But... I wish Mom was here," she says in a small voice. Sam has to swallow the lump that forms in her throat.

"So do I," Sam says. "We're going to try to make it okay. The three of us are family, after all. We'll be okay if we just stay together."

"What about when I start college?" Cassandra asks. She was supposed to have started in the fall, but with Janet, they'd all decided to postpone moving her until the spring semester. In a month, they'll be packing up the car and moving her into her dorm room. Sam tries not to think about that.

"We're family no matter where you are, you know that," Sam says.

"No, I mean when I'm gone, and it's just you and Jack. Are you guys family when I'm not here to make you be together?" Cassandra asks.

"Why are you so worried about Jack and me?" Sam asks. Cassandra just grins. "What?"

"You called him Jack," Cassandra says. "And I do worry about you."

"Colonel O'Neill is my boss, Cass, and you know that Pete can keep me company when you're gone," Sam says.

"Pete," Cassandra says dryly. "Right."

"You like Pete!"

"He's perfectly nice," Cassandra says. "In a safe sort of way."

"Okay, listen missy, you think you've got the whole world figured out at eighteen, but you don't understand anything about long term relationships," Sam says.

"Maybe not," Cassandra says. "But I know better enough than to settle for second best."

"Ladies?" Jack's voice from the hallway. Sam winces, wondering exactly how much he heard. "Everything okay?" He sticks his head in.

"Fine," Cassandra says, rolling over. "Night Uncle Jack."

"Night, Princess," Jack says. Sam has little recourse but to follow him out of the room. Jack closes the door softly and they move down the hall. "Second best?" he asks.

"She's just upset," Sam says, feeling her face grow warm.

"Okay," Jack says. "Come on, let's do the stockings."

Jack sits on the couch and watches Sam pack Cassandra's stocking full of candy and small, wrapped packages and then he watches her stuff his stocking, an old knitted sock with 'Jonathan' on it that his grandmother had made long ago and then, after a moment of hesitation, she stuffs her own stocking too.

"Not quite as magical as you remember?" he asks.

"Not quite," she admits.

"It's like when you try to explain to me how something works. I just like that it works, I don't wanna know how," he says. She can tell, despite the Guinness in his hand, that he is not nearly as tipsy as he had been.

Once the stockings are done, she takes the few bigger packages and places them under the tree. It's a real tree - Jack has made good on his promise of having one - but it's clearly not a sentimental tree. There aren't quite enough lights for its size and the ornaments are generic, drug store things - red and silver glass balls that almost clash with the gold star on top. She still loves it. It makes the whole house smell like evergreens. Outside, it has started to snow softly, big flakes drifting slowly to the ground.

"Pete has been talking about requesting a transfer to Colorado Springs," Sam says, still sitting at the base of the tree, her back to him. Jack doesn't say anything. "What do you think that means?"

"He's pretty serious," Jack says after a while. She hears him set his bottle down on the coffee table. "About you."

"Maybe," Sam says.

"You guys talked about...?" But then he seems to lose his steam and doesn't finish. She spins around to face him.

"No," she answers even though she doesn't know exactly what he was going to say. They don't talk about anything, she and Pete, because every time he tries she changes the subject. Its one thing, after all, to date someone in a last ditch attempt to get a life and another thing for that life to stick. A life Sam isn't even sure she really wants. "I just... think having him closer wouldn't change anything."

Closer is relative anyway. Colorado Springs is closer than Denver, but what is 70 miles from another planet?

"I don't know, Carter," Jack says now, tilting his head back to rest on the sofa, exposing his long, tan neck to her. "You've seemed happier in the last few weeks."

"Have I?" she asks. She has been but she knows and maybe they both know that it has more to do with the gentle thawing between the two of them than much else.

"Yeah," he says. "I thought... for a while... that maybe we, SG-1, wouldn't be able to weather another storm together but we've been doing okay."

"SG-1 can handle anything," Sam says firmly. When he doesn't respond, she gets up off the floor and sits next to him on the sofa, leaving about an inch between them. "SG-1 is the most important thing in my life."

He rolls his head to look at her, his brown eyes dilated in the low light. He looks sleepy and honest. She can't help but glance down at his lips before forcing her eyes back up. Pete, she thinks but it's too late.

"Mine too," he says. "But I just want SG-1 to be happy."

"We are happy," she promises. "We've been happy for seven years."

"Good," he says.

"And we'll be happy for seven more, if that's what it takes," she says. She bites her lip, hoping he understands.

"Merry Christmas, Carter," he says, and takes her hand. "Thanks for spending it with me."

The moment is over.

Jack tells her he put clean sheets on his bed for her and leaves her alone in his room. She tried to tell him she'd take the couch, but here she is standing by his bed, shucking her clothes and slipping into her pajamas. She's never been in his bed before and she thinks about how careful they are, how super aware of regulations, how this isn't a break but it's a slight bowing of the spirit of the thing just the same. Cassie downstairs somehow makes everything okay even if when she slides into his bed, she has to let out a shuddering breath. Has to talk herself into sleep like she's talking herself down from a ledge.

oooo

Cassandra throws open Jack's door and Sam wakes up in a panic.

"Wake your ass up, it's Christmas!" Cassandra says, oblivious to Sam reaching blindly for the nightstand. Had she been in her own bedroom, there would already be a gun in her hand. But then everything reorients and she remembers that it is Christmas and she's in Jack's bed and Cassandra is holding something in her hand that looks and smells suspiciously like coffee.

"That for me?" Sam asks, finally. Cassandra hands it over and then sits on the bed. Sam sips it. "You didn't make this, right?"

"Jack did," Cassandra says, furrowing her brow. "Why?"

"It's just a little more Irish than I normally have at..." She glances at the clock. "6:45!"

"Yeah well, today comes but once a year," Cassandra says and the little brat doesn't even seem tired.

"That's true of any day," Sam mutters, drinking the coffee anyway. Coffee is coffee, no matter how spiked. "Did Santa come?"

"It's a Christmas miracle," Cassandra says dryly. "Hey Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Sorry I was kind of a bitch to you last night," she says. Sam wants to argue or at least tell her not to curse but she doesn't.

"Today was never going to be easy," Sam says, instead. "Give me ten minutes and I'll be down."

"Okay. Jack is making pancakes. They're supposed to be shaped like Christmas trees, he says."

"What are they really shaped like?" Sam asks with a grin.

"Pancakes," Cassandra says with a shrug. "If you're not down in ten, I'm tagging him in."

"I will be, " she promises. She brushes her teeth in Jack's bathroom and puts on jeans and a black sweater. She looks out the window and sees that they've gotten a couple inches of snow overnight and she's happy for a White Christmas and tries not to think about the effort finally getting her own car out will be. At least it's safe at the base and hey, she can always order an Airman to help.

Downstairs already smells like coffee and syrup. Cassandra is standing next to Jack at the stove eating a piece of chocolate and giving him pointers.

"That one is burning," she says, pointing to the griddle.

"I have been making pancakes since before you were born," Jack says, and then, "Shit."

"Merry Christmas," Sam offers. "Merry crack of dawn Christmas."

"We thought you were going to sleep all day," Jack says, nudging Cassandra with their little joke and then glancing over his shoulder at Sam. "Hungry?"

"I'd better eat something if this is how the coffee is going to be," she says, leaning in the door jam.

"Just consider that Christmas gift number one," he says. "Cass, babe, set the table will you?"

Again, his easy way with her sends a prickle of jealousy up Sam's spine and Cassandra looks almost smug, as if she knows the pet names bother Sam on some level she could never talk about. Sam sticks out her tongue at Cassandra and Cassandra returns the favor.

"Jack says we have to eat before we can do presents," Cassandra says, setting out plates.

"His house, his rules," Sam says. "How much chocolate have you had?"

"It's Christmas," Cassandra says which Sam translates to mean a lot.

"We could do presents and then maybe go sledding later," Jack says.

"Yeah!" Cassandra says. Jack brings the pancakes over to the table and the bottle of syrup. They all sit down. Jack looks happy, his face scruffy. He has spiky bed hair; he's almost due for a cut, but she likes it a little longer.

"What?" he asks. She's been caught staring.

"Nothing," she says, reaching for the pancakes. "Sledding sounds good."

oooo

Cassandra crashes around three. She just disappears down the hall and they hear the guest room door close. They've all eaten way too much, including candy, and the sledding has tired them out. Jack crouches, stoking the fire, and Sam peels off her gloves and coat until she's left in her socks and the borrowed sweatshirt that she'd put on when they were about to leave. It smells like him, like the inside of his locker on base, like the pillow she'd spent the night with her face pressed into.

"So what do you want to do?" she asks, tucking her hands into her pockets.

"Movie?" he asks.

"Sure, what do you have?" she asks, sinking gratefully onto the couch.

"C'mon, it's Christmas day. If It's A Wonderful Life isn't on somewhere, I've saved this planet for nothing."

She grins at him and he turns on the television, spends a few minutes flipping through the guide before crowing triumphantly. There it is, on Turner Classic Movies, and the station is marathoning it all day long. The current showing is only about ten minutes in. He sits next to her on the couch and pulls the throw blanket from behind him and spends a couple moments laying it over both of their laps.

She tucks her feet underneath her and slants her knees against his. He glances at her, at the intimacy of the action, but she stares resolutely at the screen and he doesn't comment. A few moments later, he lifts his arm and drapes it over her shoulder. She hesitates for only a moment before relaxing against his side.

She's so warm and comfortable that she lets her eyes close. She doesn't really sleep, not exactly, she just drifts feeling safe and content. She hears the movie end, hears him change the channel to football, hears Cassandra come down the hall and softly say something, before tucking herself against Jack's other side.

Distantly, at some point, Sam hears her cell phone ringing from inside her purse, but no one moves and she just lets it ring, her eyes closed. The beep the follows lets her know she has a voicemail and she knows it's Pete. She'd called earlier and left him a message. She doesn't want to talk to him in person, doesn't want to explain to him how she has had a perfect day made even more perfect by his absence. How when Cassandra gets up to take a warm shower, Jack waits until he can hear the water come on before he drops a light kiss onto the top of Sam's head.

"Up and at 'em, Major," he says, his voice low and gravelly.

She blinks up at him, gives him a warm, lazy smile. He smiles back and dips his head to brush his lips over hers for just a moment, pulling away before she can react or deepen the kiss.

"What was that for?" she asks.

"Because you're beautiful," he says. "And it's Christmas."

Which is as good a reason as any, she supposes.

oooo

Jack has to drive them back to the base. It's almost ten and this late on Christmas, the roads are deserted. He'd tried to convince them to spend one more night, but she didn't trust herself to do it. Didn't trust herself not to come silently down the stairs in the middle of the night and press her body against his on the couch. Didn't trust herself, not even with Cassandra so nearby. It has been a long time since she's felt this way around him, the coiling heat in her stomach, the pull she doesn't know if she can resist. He's starting to look a little edgy too, his hands balling into fists when they stand side by side. No, she can't stay. She can't.

They tell Cassandra to stay in the truck while she and Jack dig out the Volvo. Once they brush the snow off, they see the layer of ice that has formed. He chips away at the windshield while she pries her door open, watching an avalanche of snow drift onto the leather driver's seat. She curses softly, and brushes it off the best she can. She sits and starts the engine. It struggles for a moment but turns over. She turns on the defrost and digs out her ice scraper before shutting the door and walking past him to work on the other side of the window.

"You don't have to stay," she offers but he rolls his eyes and they chip, chip, chip away. Slowly, the ice starts to slide away as the windshield heats up, so the move to the back.

"This good enough?" he asks. The tip of his nose is red and their breath puffs out in little, visible clouds.

"Yeah," she says. "Thanks."

"Hey," he says. "Always."

She realizes she doesn't want him to go. She presses her lips together and dips her head.

"I had a good day."

"Me too," he says. "Hey, listen Carter, you and I have been sorta... you know, off, lately, am I right?"

"Off," she says. "A little."

"But today was like... before," he says. She nods. "What do you say we have more of these days and less off ones?"

He's asking her to stop pushing him away. She wonders just how badly she's been hurting him the last few months. Ever since waking up in the infirmary after the Pegasus, ever since she'd called him Jack and he'd shot her down, she's been punishing him. She never really meant to hurt him, she'd only meant to save herself.

"I think we can do that," she says now. He smiles, a real smile, one just for her.

"Okay. Good. I'm freezing my balls off, so I'm gonna go but I'll see you Monday?"

"Yeah," she says. She turns to his truck and waves at Cassandra who stumbles into the snow with their bags. Jack rushes to her aid and helps get everything in the trunk. Jack hugs Cassandra and waves to Sam before getting back into the truck. He waits until they've pulled out and then follows them onto the road.

"Pete called," Cassandra says. Sam can't help but glance into the rear view mirror to see Jack's silhouette.

"Did you answer?"

"No," she says. "I just saw it ring."

"I'll call him when we get home," Sam says, absently. Behind them, Jack moves into the turn lane and then, after a moment, she can't see his truck at all.

"What are you going to tell him?"

"Hmm?" Sam asks.

"What are you going to tell Pete?" Cassandra asks. "About today?"

"Nothing," Sam says. "We had a good day."

"You know," Cassandra says, softly. "My mom explained it to me once. About you and Jack."

Sam swallows and then swallows again. She and Janet had never openly talked about Jack. Sam had always gotten the feeling that Janet hadn't approved and why should she have? The regs are in place for good reason.

"What did she tell you?" Sam asks.

"That you guys just had to wait it out. You know, wait for something to be different but that since you were all so good at your jobs, things wouldn't ever change. At least not for a really long time," Cassandra says.

Sam lets out a shaky breath and neither agrees nor disagrees.

"It must suck," Cassandra says. "Waiting for something that's never going to happen."

Sam sucks in her cheeks, tries to breathe through the urge to tear up.

"But," Cassandra says. "When you talk about Pete, Sam, when you mention him, Jack looks like... like he wants to shoot himself."

"We really don't need to be talking about this," Sam says, stopping at a yellow light. They are three blocks from home. She wants to get out of the car, let Cassandra drive the rest of the way, walk through the cold until her face stops burning.

"Okay," Cassandra says. Maybe she senses that Sam is about to snap. When they get home, Cassandra is lost to her bedroom and her computer, so Sam runs a bath. In the tub, she submerges her face into the water and when she comes up for air, hot, wet drops roll down her cheeks.

oooo

When she finally calls Pete, it's just before midnight so it's still technically Christmas day. She winces at the fact that she'd just tried to convince herself she hasn't ignored him all day.

"Hey," he answers at the first ring. "I was starting to worry."

"Merry Christmas," she says. "My phone was... lost for a while."

Pete hesitates for only a moment. "Well, I've got you now. Did you have a good day?"

"Yeah," she says. "You?"

"Yeah, you know, drunken family shenanigans can always go either way, but the kids loved it, so it was good," Pete says. "What did you and Cassie end up doing? Just lounging around?"

"Yeah," she says. "Um, we actually went to Colonel O'Neill's house. He doesn't have any family besides us, so..."

"I didn't know he was close to Cassie," Pete says, a little carefully.

"Yep," Sam says. "He is."

"Well, good," Pete says and Sam presses her the ball of her hand into her left eye socket, right where the headache is starting. "So hey, I was thinking of driving down tomorrow. We can have our own little Christmas."

"Sure," she says. "If the weather isn't too bad."

"It won't be," Pete promises. "I'll see you tomorrow."

She hangs up, looks at the phone in her hand with a sigh.

In the morning, Cassandra doesn't get up until almost eleven and Sam can't seem to get motivated past putting on jeans and an old sweater so when Pete arrives, they're still sitting at the kitchen counter with their hands around mugs of coffee, sullen and quiet. Sam feels a little hungover - not from alcohol, but from emotion.

Pete lets himself in, which bothers her though he's done it before with her permission so it shouldn't except now it feels rude.

"Hello ladies," Pete says.

"Hey," Cassandra says and then slips off the tall chair to disappear down the hall.

"What's her problem?" Pete asks, bending to kiss Sam's cheek.

"We're just tired," Sam says. "Kinda grumpy."

"I'll cheer you up," Pete offers but Sam gets up too and gives him a look that tells him she is doubtful.

"I'm going to make lunch. Are you hungry?" she asks. Pete nods his consent and she pulls out ingredients. Nothing fancy - tomato soup and grilled cheese. Cassandra reappears when the food is ready and when Pete talks about Christmas, she answers with anecdotes about her dinner with her boyfriend's family and little about the actual day she spent with Sam and Jack. When lunch is over, Cassandra gets dressed and goes out to meet a friend at the mall and Sam and Pete are alone.

"I would've skipped my family's Christmas for you," Pete says.

"That wasn't necessary," she says. They're standing in the kitchen. She has her arms crossed and neither move to sit down.

"Because you spent it with Colonel O'Neill."

"Because I spent it with Cassie." She doesn't add the you jackass, but it's implied. "Because the Colonel wanted to spend it with her."

"Look, I won't pretend to understand the dynamics of your team, but I just kind of feel like you ditched spending Christmas with your boyfriend so you could spend it with your boss," Pete says.

"You really don't know anything about my team," Sam says coldly. Pete looks stricken and she backs down a little. "You know there are aspects of my work I can't talk about but Colonel O'Neill and Daniel and Teal'c aren't just my work colleagues. We are a kind of family."

"So Daniel and Teal'c were there too?" he asks, relieved.

"We spent Christmas eve with them," Sam says. Pete rubs his head.

"Why is it that I don't know anything about Colonel O'Neill?" Pete asks, now. "I know all about Daniel and his archeology and his skill with languages and I even know about Teal'c and his kid and how he always seems to know what you're thinking because you talk about them, but all I know about O'Neill is that he's your boss and I don't think he likes me."

"I don't think he dislikes you," Sam says uncomfortably. "He's just... a private guy."

"You've worked with him for seven years, you're telling me I don't know anything about him because you don't?" Pete asks.

"I don't even know why we're talking about this," Sam says, turning to put their dirty dishes in the sink. "It doesn't matter."

"It does matter," Pete says. "If I'm going to spend the rest of my life with you, Samantha, there can't be whole parts of yourself that you close off from me!"

Sam turns around slowly. "What did you say?"

"That's what I want," Pete says and she has to give him credit for unapologetically sticking to his guns. "You. Forever."

"Pete," she says softly. "I... that's flattering."

"Flattering?" he scoffs. "Ouch."

"I just mean..."

"I thought we were on the same page here," he says. "I thought we had a good thing."

"We did - we do, do," she says.

The doorbell sounds.

"You expecting company?" Pete demands and she walks past him. It might be Cassandra, she may have forgotten something but Sam is telling herself this knowing it's not logical or true. She opens the door and he's there. He gives her a small smile, just the corner of his mouth.

"You forgot this," he says, handing her the power cord to her laptop. She hadn't even realized it was missing. She takes it from him. He could've just brought it to the lab, but instead he is here. "You okay, Carter?"

"Oh," she says. "Yeah, of course, do you wanna?..."

"Sam?" Pete's voice from the other room. Jack's warm expression disappears.

"I'm interrupting," he says. "I just thought you might want that."

"Wait," she says. She steps out and closes the door behind her against the cold. "Sir, I just... thank you."

"Any time, Major," he says turning to head back to his truck.

"Jack, wait, please," she says. "I just need a little time to sort some things out." He looks back at her.

"You know I'll give you all the time that you need," he says.

"I know that," she says. "Maybe you could come back later? For dinner?"

"Tonight?" he asks, his eyes darting to the door, knowing Pete is just behind it.

"Yeah," she says. "We could invite Daniel and Teal'c and do a whole holiday debrief bonding thing. We haven't... we haven't just had a team night in a while."

"No," he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. "No, you haven't really had the time."

"I haven't," she says. "But I do now. I will."

"Okay," he says. "If you're sure. Tonight."

"I'm sure," she says. "No more off days, remember?"

"Are we having an off day?" he asks, lifting an eyebrow.

"I was having one," she admits. "But I think I understand what's causing them."

"Yeah," he says. "I'll see you later, Carter."

"Bye, sir," she says.

In the house, she drops the power cord on the table by the door.

"What was that?" Pete asks from the couch. "What's the matter?"

She sits next to him, tucks her hands between her knees, and starts to tell him about Colonel O'Neill.

oooo

"Jack told me," Daniel says. Teal'c and Jack are playing the X-Box that Jack had brought over with him, so she and Daniel hang back to watch from a safe distance.

"About Christmas?"

"About Pete."

"Ah," she says. "Sometimes things don't work out like you plan."

"Sometimes they do," Daniel says, his philosophical tone just a touch too smug. She rolls her eyes at him.

"We had a good Christmas, thanks for asking," Sam says instead.

"So did I, thanks for asking," he says back. She shoves him with her shoulder and he pushes her back.

"Play nice, kids," Jack calls, though Sam is surprised he has even been paying attention to anything but the massacre on the screen.

"Sam?" Daniel says, sounding a little sappy and wistful. "It'll be nice to have you back."

"Was I really gone?" she asks. He nods. She sighs. "How much damage did I do?"

"Hard to say at this point. There were a few times there that I was sure we wouldn't... but, you know, nights like this are good," he says.

"You should have seen us yesterday, Daniel," she says. "It was like before."

"Hmm," Daniel says. "Must have felt nice."

"Yeah," she says. "I just... there was a reason before stopped working and I know this way was bad too, but I don't know how..." She shakes her head. "Please already know what I'm trying to say."

"What do we do when Plan A and Plan B fail?" he asks.

"Plan C?" she asks. He nods. "But what is Plan C?"

"I don't know," he says. "But we'll find it."

She leans her head against his shoulder and chooses to believe him.

oooo

Daniel and Teal'c have been gone for several minutes, but Jack still hangs around ostensibly, he says, to make sure Cassie gets home okay. But he's just standing in her living room, his coat on, prodding at the things he finds lying around. A remote, a picture in a frame, a plush snowman decoration leftover from her pathetic attempt to decorate for the holidays.

"She called an hour ago, sir, she's fine," Sam says, giving him permission to take his leave.

"Well," he says. "Teenagers lie all the time."

She stares at him blankly for a moment and he gets shifty under her gaze, shrugging and picking up a figurine of a hippopotamus that her mother had given her for her eighth birthday off the side table.

"Hippo?" he asks.

"I think they're cute," she says. "Sir, was there something you wanted to talk about?"

"Yeah," he says, setting the hippo back where he'd found it. "I just wanted to check with you about something."

"Okay," she says.

"But it's not really any of my business," he says. "So I'm reluctant to ask."

"So you don't want to check with me, then," she says, confused.

"No, I do."

"But you said..." She sighs. "Perhaps you ought to ask anyway."

"Okay," he says, "Carter, did you break up with Pete because of me?"

Oh.

"You're right," she says. "That really isn't..." But she trails off. "I mean, there were other reasons..." She tries again. "It's just that you and I... and Cassie has gotten weirdly perceptive lately and she's been saying these things... you know..."

"Carter."

"Yeah," she says. "Yes, sir. I did."

Jack blows out a breath of air and runs his hands through his hair. "Okay then."

"It doesn't change anything," she says.

"I know that."

"So... forget that I told you that, I guess," she says. "And I'll forget that you asked?"

"See, the thing of it is, how it's been now is kind of crappy," he says. "And I think part of the problem is us trying to just forget about stuff."

"Yes, sir, but we can't go back to how we... I mean that was just constantly..."

"Agonizing?" he offers.

"Yeah, that'll work," she says with a hollow laugh. "Constant agony."

"So I think we need to figure something else out," he says.

"That's what Daniel said," she murmurs. "But I don't have any ideas. We can't quit. We can't lie. We can't stay apart and we can't get close so, I don't... I don't..."

"Carter, hey, it's okay," he says, grabbing her shoulders and steering them both onto the couch. She isn't going to cry but she does feel helpless which is one of her least favorite ways to feel. This is a problem she simply can't think her way out of. "Maybe what we're doing now is a good thing."

"What are we doing now?" she asks.

"Talking about it," he says.

"We're not even doing that," she says. "We're talking about talking about it."

"Well, that's what we do best," he says. She rolls her eyes.

"Jack, sometimes I feel like I'm all alone," she says. "Like I'm the only one who... I mean, sometimes with you it's like this and sometimes you look at me and I just don't see anything there and I never know if you feel anything or if I'm totally insane for thinking that you do and I guess..." She swipes at her eyes, damn it, she wasn't going to tear up. "I guess a little reassurance would go a long way."

"Yeah," he agrees. "That's fair."

She waits.

"Well, I mean, you aren't crazy, Carter," he says. "You aren't alone."

"Yeah?" she asks hopefully.

"Definitely not alone," he says. "So, so not alone."

Relief blossoms in her chest.

oooo

"Come on," Daniel says, sticking his head into her lab. "Chow time."

She looks up, has to pull herself out of her own head, blink at him a few times. "Huh?"

"Food. Nourishment. Fuel."

"Right," she says. "Okay, just let me..."

"Sam, come on, they're waiting for us," he says. She nods and closes her laptop. Her notes can wait half an hour. In the elevator, he smiles at her and she absently smiles back. She's still half in her lab, still working through the problem in her mind. Daniel doesn't mind and is used to it, the way it takes her a while to wade out of the fog.

Teal'c and Jack are already at the table when she and Daniel come in. Sam can't decide if she's actually hungry or not, so she lets Daniel go stand in line and slips into the chair next to Jack, snagging the Jell-o from his tray.

"Hey!" he says, but it's all an act. He'd gotten it for her - he didn't even like the blue raspberry kind. He liked red.

"I'll make it up to you," she says and snatches the spoon right out of his hand. He watches her, an expression of mild surprise still on his face, as she puts it in her mouth and sucks the mashed potatoes off of it before digging into the Jell-o.

"I was using that," he manages.

"Now I am," she grins.

"You will eat more than only gelatin, correct?" Teal'c asks her pointedly. She scrunches up her nose at him.

"I'm not even that hungry," she says. Jack makes a big production of sighing and reaching over to take the Jell-o away from her and then sliding his tray toward her.

"Share with me, Major," he says. "You already are."

"Yes, sir," she says and scoops up a piece of his broccoli with the spoon. Daniel sets his tray down and eyes the two of them warily.

"Plan C?" he asks her with raised eyebrows. Jack whips his head around to look at her.

"Do you have to tell him everything about our business, Carter?" he asks.

"It's Daniel!" she says. "You know how he is."

"He is sitting right next to you," Daniel says, dropping into his chair. "He can hear you."

Jack waves his hand in the air dismissively. "This is not an elaborate scheme, Daniel, it's just lunch."

"I like it," Daniel says, watching Sam reach across the plate to go for more Jell-o. Jack swats at her hand.

"Stop it," he says. "I don't know how you eat so much of that stuff."

"You have like nine pieces of cake a day," she shoots back.

"Cake is a necessary part of any healthy diet," he says piously, but hands the Jell-o over to her and she squeals in delight.

"Plan C," Daniel says to Teal'c.

"Indeed," Teal'c responds. "How long will this one last?"

"Well, there's always Plan D," Daniel says.

"What's Plan D?" Jack asks before he can help himself. She can tell, because he winces after he says it.

"New Years Party at Sam's," Daniel says. "Lots of champagne."

"Why my house?" she asks.

"Plan E is we all run away to Mexico," he says ignoring her. "I'm still working on the rest of the alphabet."

It's almost sweet even though Sam knows they're all joking. A whole alphabet of plans just so she and Jack don't have to be miserable anymore. Under the table, Jack's knee brushes hers and she gives him a little pressure back and they stay touching like that, innocently but intentional. His fingers reach across his own thigh to brush over hers and then pull away quickly. She chances a glance at him and he looks slightly deflated.

Well, less miserable.

She thinks about what Cassandra had said, about how waiting for something that was never going to happen must be terrible. But never is a long time and if there's one thinking that the Stargate program has taught her, it's that there's no point in believing in never.

"We can do New Years together," she says now. "It'll be fun."

Maybe Plan C isn't about rigidly adhering to the rules or blatantly disregarding them. Maybe Plan C is about bending them, just slightly. About counting down until the New Year together and then turning into each other for a warm kiss. Yeah. That she could do. It is socially acceptable, expected even.

She smirks to herself, tingly with anticipation.

"Carter?" he asks. He has noticed, of course.

"Just thinking, sir," she says.

"Always a dangerous past time," he murmurs. She nods and they share a little grin, a little moment of understanding. Under the table, his fingers find hers again.

"O-kay," Daniel says, his eyes darting back and forth between the two of them, his expression a mixture of confusion and exasperation. "Teal'c, do you ever get the feeling they're having several conversations at once?"

"You are the expert in linguistics," Teal'c says, his expression foul. "You tell me, Daniel Jackson."

Sam has the decency both to look guilty and feel it, a little, but Jack just looks kind of smug.

"Don't get your panties in a twist, Daniel," Jack says, his fingers still tangled with Sam's. She feels a little squeeze. "We have a man code of our very own."

"You mean that thing you two do where you don't say anything but your eyebrows get all twitchy?" Sam asks.

"Yeah!" Jack says. "See? We have whole discussions that you don't know about. And T and I are brothers."

"A bro code," she offers in a tone that tells him she thinks he is ridiculous but he grins, pleased.

"Indeed," Teal'c agrees.

She wants to kiss the grin right off his face, wants to rather badly in fact. There are days where all she can do is walk around in a haze thinking I can't, I can't, I can't, knowing that she won't make it another day without touching him. That if they pass each other in the hallway, she'll give up anything and everything without him even having to ask.

Today, though, she thinks, Yeah, I totally can and grins back.