Day 53
Parking Lot
Bismarck, North Dakota

Jack sipped the last of his drink and threw the cup in the trashcan before quickly making his way over to the SUV where Sam, with two coffee cups to go, was already waiting. "You wanna drive?" He asked, seeing she was on the other side of the car.

"We've been on the road for six hours," she replied with a shrug, "well, without the lunch break."

"True," he admitted, glancing back at the fast-food restaurant they'd just eaten. "Okay, you can drive but no speeding."

Sam simply smirked and caught the keys he threw at her, appearing eager to be behind the wheel. Not surprising seeing how she'd been bored out of her mind after her little nap earlier. "Colonel?"

Blinking, he realized she was waiting for him to get in. Okay, she was really eager. Jack couldn't really blame her, he too just wanted this road trip to be over with. They could both do with some time alone after being cooped up in the car for ten to twelve hours a day! "Oh right," he murmured, opening the door and slipping in. "Ow," he winced, cursing under his breath. The lump on his head had been uncomfortable against the headrest during the drive but he'd more or less forgotten about it during their lunch break.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said quickly, rubbing the back of his head. "Just my head," he added when she simply raised an elegant eyebrow.

Sam seemed puzzled and turned fully towards him. "What is wrong with your head?"

"Oh, I bumped it. In the elevator," Jack elaborated, grinning softly when she flushed at the reminder. "Don't worry, it's just a big lump. I just have to be careful with the headrest," he muttered as he adjusted the thing to his height.

"Are you sure? How hard did you hit it?"

"Dunno," he shrugged. "Pretty hard."

She let out an exasperated sigh and stared at him. "Why didn't you say something before? For all we know you have a concussion!"

"Nah," he made a dismissive wave with his hand. "I'm fine, it just throbs a bit. People don't get concussions from bumping their heads in an elevator."

"Actually, I got one like that," she mumbled absentmindedly.

Jack smirked at that, wondering how that could possibly happen. Of course she did have a pretty big brain, so maybe it concussed easier? "A bit clumsy, are we?"

"Have you taken anything for it?" She asked, ignoring his remark. When he just looked at her she rolled her eyes. "Painkillers or maybe just pressed a cold compress against it?"

"For a bump?" He huffed in derision.

Sam gave him her patented stare and unbuckled her seatbelt again. "Well, you did say you hadn't slept well before we left St Cloud and you seem a bit tired. Let me take a look at it."

"Why? I'm fine," Jack argued, even though his head had been throbbing for the past few hours and he had woken up several times this night.

"If you want I can stop by a hospital," she countered. "I really don't want you passing out at me."

"Sam, I'm fine and I don't need to go to a hospital."

She nodded slowly and put the two coffee cups that were still on the center console in their cup holders. "Then let me take a look at it. I have medical field training," she added.

Jack didn't really think she was serious about taking him to a hospital but his head was already throbbing and he wasn't looking forward to her nagging him the remaining six hours, so he gave in and leaned forward. "Fine, do your thing."

Sam sighed at his obvious reluctance but shifted on her seat and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Can you move a bit closer?"

He did as she asked and then she reached out, her hands slowly moving up the nape of his neck into his hair. That actually felt nice, he thought as her fingers ruffled through his hair. "To the right," he instructed.

"It's not a massage, Colonel," she muttered dryly.

Jack smirked and tried to sneak a peek at her from the corner of his eye as she was half bent over him and suddenly realized how close she was. "Ow," he yelped when her fingers came in contact with the lump.

"Stop glaring at me."

"I wasn't…" he trailed off when she canted her head and sent him a look as if daring him to finish his sentence. "Okay, just be careful, okay? No need to give me a bump atop the lump," he whined softly.

Sam snorted and scooted to the edge of her seat to move closer to him so she could examine the bump better, firing off a few standard questions which he reluctantly answered.

Jack sucked in a sharp breath when she leaned into him as she probed the area surrounding the obvious lump, one warm hand resting on his left shoulder and her breasts pressing against his arm. Trying to focus on something else he looked up again, only to see the elegant curve of her neck and trace it with his eyes until his gaze landed on her freckle-dotted shoulder. "What's the verdict, Doc?" he shuddered as her hands slid out of his hair and down his neck before she sat back in her chair.

"You're fine," she replied summarily.

"What, that's it?" He questioned.

Sam looked at him strangely as she buckled her seatbelt and started the car. "It's just a bump, Colonel."

"That's what I said! Some medic you are…"

"Don't worry, you'll live," she said in a placating tone. "You'd think after all your whining you'd be glad."

Realizing she was right, Jack cautiously sat back and put on his sunglasses. "Fine, let's go." As if to reassure himself he ran a hand through his hair and gently probed the bump himself. Of course he was fine, hadn't he told her that himself? Still, it did throb a bit and it was kind of big. More a lump than a bump, he thought to himself. It wasn't that he needed medical attention or anything like that, he was just surprised she was so curt. Especially for someone with medical training! Sara would always fuss over him or Tyler when one of them was injured, even if it was just a scrape. Of course it wasn't fair of him to compare the two women like that, his relationship with Sam was completely different than that to his wife. If anything, he should have probably expected Sam to act like this, he belatedly realized. After all, she was used to dangerous situations and considering her line of work she probably saw a hell of a lot more in the field that needed urgent medical attention. He had just bumped his head. In an elevator.

Jack sighed, feeling strangely upset even though he hadn't even wanted her to look at his injury. Besides, he hated it when people fussed over him. His eyes slid over to Sam and seeing her completely focused on the road, he tried to think of something to do to entertain himself. His thoughts turned back to yesterday and he wondered if his counterpart had a cabin in Minnesota. He was still suspicious about the specifics of Sam's relationship with the other him because of how she had almost kissed him but when he'd mentioned the cabin he hadn't been able to read her, her features had been schooled perfectly. Of course that was presuming his counterpart had the cabin in Minnesota; it was possible he'd sold it before he even met Sam or maybe his grandfather had never built it to begin with because of those changes in the timeline Sam had mentioned… or maybe she had been up to the cabin with her team and they were all friends. Just because he himself only took his family up there didn't mean the other him was the same, especially considering that guy had lost his son and had subsequently divorced Sara…

"Colonel?"

"Hm?" He asked, pulled from his thoughts.

"Maybe you should try and get some sleep. You look like you can use it," Sam replied.

His eyebrows rose at the comment even though he was pretty tired. "Geez, thanks. Wake me up when we get to Montana, okay?"


2014 hours
I-90W
Montana

Sam's stomach was already rumbling and she was glad they were less than twenty minutes away from Billings. Normally she didn't have a problem with irregular eating problems but then she usually had some interesting doohickey or, lately on Atlantis, important paperwork to keep her occupied. This civilian life really wasn't for her, she thought to herself.

She glanced back at the Colonel, who was still snoozing. She'd woken him up when they'd entered Montana but it seemed he really was tired and had gone back to a light sleep. Or maybe he was just out of conversation topics and this was his way of avoiding having to talk to her, or deal with awkward silences. It was understandable and right now she really didn't have a lot to talk about either.

As a matter of fact, she was afraid she might have already said too much when she'd been talking about Janet and Cassie. In the early days of incarceration here she'd decided to keep every single detail about her personal life to herself because it could easily be used against her. Up until a few days ago she had more or less succeeded in that. But the more time she spent with this Colonel O'Neill the easier it was to forget he wasn't her Jack and that she shouldn't trust him. If there was anything she knew it was that this man might not be loyal to the NID – she couldn't imagine any Jack O'Neill being loyal to them – but he most certainly was loyal to his son. She couldn't blame him, not after seeing how devastated her Jack had been over losing Charlie.

There was no doubt in her mind that O'Neill could easily use something against her if he even had an inkling of her plan and thought she threatened his son's existence. Again, it was something she could understand, even a quality she could admire as long as it wasn't directed against her. She might not have children of her own but she cared a great deal about Cassandra Fraiser and if she was in the Colonel's shoes and it was Cassie's life at stake… well, she'd do whatever she had to. In a way that was exactly the situation, Sam thought grimly. Here she was in this alternate timeline without her loved ones and she really was willing to risk it all to change it back.

Of course Ba'al, the consequences his actions had for the universe and the safety of the universe played a part in that too but she wasn't going to lie to herself and deny that her Jack, Cassie and her friends weren't the main reason. If there was no chance to be reunited with them she wasn't sure if she would be this hell-bent on restoring the timeline. Perhaps she would even be able to settle in this new life, like Cam apparently had. But as long as there was a chance, no matter how small that she could undo all this and get her Jack and Cassie back then she would do whatever was necessary. She would deal with the consequences of her own actions once everything was done.

Still, the longer Sam was here the more drawn to Colonel O'Neill she felt. It was easy to tell herself it wasn't just because he was basically Jack, just with different life experiences but in the end she was pretty sure that was exactly the reason. But it didn't help that she didn't have her friends around, or just Daniel to talk to. Soon, she kept telling herself, soon they would meet up if everything went according to plan. However, until then she had no one she could talk to but O'Neill. Obviously he, his superiors or the NID had expected that and she wouldn't be surprised if there were mind tricks involved. Like giving her a fake identity and getting the only man that's remotely close to her the assignment to keep a close eye on her, have him extract the necessary information from her.

Sam snorted to herself, thinking it would probably be easier to just spill all the secrets her mind had. It would be like a sensory overload and the Navy, Air Force and NID wouldn't know where to begin. They'd probably get stuck trying to sift through it all but she couldn't risk everything on that assumption. It was better to remain quiet and not tell them a thing. Yet at the same time it was difficult to resist the urge to talk about everything that was important in her life. The last ten years of her life had revolved around the SGC and the Stargate and she'd witnessed and done so many amazing things, it was almost a crime to keep it to herself. So every now and then she'd give O'Neill some inconsequential information, to get him to trust her more and to make herself feel better. It was a sort of selfishness she wasn't used to from herself but right now she had bigger things to worry about than whether or not she was being selfish in her desires.

From the beginning she'd told herself that Jack and Cassie were off-limits though and yet she'd told Colonel O'Neill about Cassandra. She had tried to be vague and not show him just how important the young woman was to her because if they knew she was like a daughter to her… well, Sam wasn't sure they would have let her roam the streets if they knew she had Jack and Cassie to return to. Still, she didn't think O'Neill had noticed and even if he suspected anything about the bond she had with Cassie her instincts told her he wouldn't share it with his superiors. After all, he was in this for Tyler and she doubted he had agreed to this assignment eagerly, not if her suspicion about its true nature was correct seeing how he was still married to Sara here. It would be just like the NID to use his son to convince him – they had threatened General Hammond's granddaughters in her timeline after all – and if this O'Neill was anything like the man she loved then he wouldn't use a child as a pawn, not unless he thought she was threatening Tyler.

So, she would just have to be very careful and not let him get the slightest hint about her plan…

"Sam?"

She startled at the Colonel's voice, not having realized he was awake and glanced in his direction. "Yeah?"

"What's this Montana Fair thing?"

"I have no idea," Sam murmured. If she were honest, she hadn't even noticed the signs near the roads as she was busy contemplating. "It sure is busy around here…"


2230 hours
Motel
Billings, Montana

"I can't believe this is the only room," Jack whined as he dropped his bag near the closet.

Sam did the same on the opposite side of the room and plopped down on a bed. "Well, at least it has two beds."

"True," he conceded, eyeing the door to the bathroom. "Just… lock the bathroom door if you're going to use it, okay?"

She flushed a bright red and glared at him. "Trust me, I will. You might want to try the concept of knocking too."

Jack smirked and went over to the bathroom to check it. "Looks clean enough," he muttered.

"See, we're lucky, Colonel. At least we still managed to get a room with two beds and a reasonably clean shower."

He nodded slowly and gestured at the window. "Do you want the curtains closed?"

Sam reached out, making a face when dust clouds appeared as she tried to move the fabric. "I don't think anyone has ever closed these," she mumbled tiredly.

"Well, it's not like there's traffic on that side," Jack replied with a shrug. There also wouldn't be anything interesting to steal or see in the room, so he was fine with leaving the curtains open. "I'm just going to brush my teeth and then hit the sack," he announced, moving back to his bag to get his toothbrush. "Oh and Sam? If you decide to go out running again at the crack of dawn like the last time we were here, please leave me a note and let me sleep. I'm beat."

"Don't worry, I'm not planning on it," she replied with a small blush.


Day 54
Motel
Billings, Montana

Sam had never been a deep sleeper and knowing she had to spend the night in a crappy motel room with Colonel O'Neill sleeping in a bed not even three feet away from hers, her body and mind had automatically gone into mission mode, ready to wake up at the slightest sound. It had become a habit after the first few missions at the SGC and allowed her to be alert seconds from waking, ready to defend herself and her team against enemy attack. She had been determined to hone her warrior skills as best she could after being sold like cattle to some Mongolian warlord and never to be caught unawares again, even while sleeping. In her position she couldn't afford to let anyone get the drop on her and luckily for her Jack and Teal'c had instinctively understood this and helped her develop her instincts and a sense of awareness that eventually rivaled their own. Unfortunately tonight it also meant she woke up every time O'Neill was grunting, tossing and turning or struggling against unseen demons.

Of course she knew how haunting nightmares could be, especially in their line of work and she wouldn't wish them on anyone but her enemies. Still, she would have liked to actually get some rest instead of waking up at least once an hour because of his restlessness. Rolling over, she watched him in the semidarkness as he was trashing in bed and felt a pang of sympathy at his obvious distress. His limbs were tangled in the sheets again and his pillows had been discarded and were probably lying on the floor next to the one she'd thrown his way about an hour ago, hoping to knock him out of it when he still wasn't out of it after almost fifteen minutes without coming into physical contact with him – it had worked, but now she only had one pillow left and it was comfortably underneath her head.

It was getting closer to sunrise and she knew REM sleep periods became longer and the accompanying dreams more intense in the second half of the night, so Sam continued to watch him patiently. Occasionally she'd glance at her watch but as time ticked by his terror seemed to increase. His struggle with the covers became even wilder, his limbs flailing and restrained by the sheet his mutterings and grunts became louder until she couldn't stand it anymore. "Colonel!" She called in a loud whisper. "Colonel, wake up!"

Sitting up Sam could see his shape even better and was able to distinguish his facial features and the beginning of a sheen of sweat on his face with the early light of nautical dawn falling in through the window, unobscured by curtains. "Colonel O'Neill," she tried again, scooting over to the side of the bed. The sound of her voice only seemed to agitate him even further so she slipped her leg out from under the covers and kicked at his bed, hoping to jar him awake. She, Daniel and Teal'c had enough experience with Jack to know better than to just shake him awake so she poked at the mattress with her foot.

"Colonel!" She hissed, louder now. "Oh for crying out loud," she muttered, finally getting out of bed and taking a step closer. "Colonel O'Neill, wake up!" Sam jumped back when suddenly one of his arms untangled from the sheets and lunged in her direction, nearly hitting her. Damn but the man had good aim, even when he was asleep! The last few years she had gotten more intimate knowledge about her Jack's sleeping habits and nightmares and she knew what to expect when he was having one of these night terrors. Normally it was a tossup between Iraq and Ba'al when he was like this but obviously this O'Neill didn't have the latter experience so it had to be from Iraq. Evading his swinging arm she placed a hand on his chest, trying to rouse him calmly instead of grabbing or holding one of his limbs down because that would only make him more aggressive.

"Come on, Colonel, wake up," Sam said, jostling his frame. It tore at her heart to see the face of the man she loved crumpled with pain and feel the clamminess of his shirt and pounding heart underneath her hand. "Colonel," she pushed harder, leaning a bit more of her weight on him and the mattress with her other hand as she evaded another blow. It wasn't working and now he was gasping for air, one hand clawing at his neck and shirt while the other seemed to strike randomly in the hopes of hitting his invisible assailant. Instinctively she batted his hand away from his neck before he would hurt himself and rested her knee on the bed, shaking him by the shirt with her free hand. "Jack," she whispered, the name rolling off her tongue with surprising ease, hoping it would get through to him.

Suddenly he hit her shoulder though, making her lose her balance and she nearly toppled over his restless legs. "Jack! Wake up now!" She yelled, warding off his next punch with her arm. Before Sam realized what was happening, his other hand yanked her down by her top and he rolled them over. The unexpected move forced the air out of her lungs and she gasped, suddenly wondering why the hell she'd felt it necessary to try and save this O'Neill some discomfort by waking him as his dark eyes stared at her unseeingly.

Sam managed to block the next hit aiming for her face with her left wrist and using the moment to her advantage, she pushed up with her right shoulder and grabbed his side to flip them. He grunted something incomprehensible as she got atop, her feet now also tangled in the sheets but she hadn't expected his continued hold on her tank top and was unable to counter his following move as he pulled on it. All of a sudden the world turned upside down and they fell off the bed, onto the hard floor with her body breaking their fall.

"Umph!" The breath left her body on impact as his heavy frame crushed her to the dirty carpet and he shifted himself over her in a move she recognized. He had her legs immobilized, pinning her hands above her head with one hand on her wrists and leaning his weight on it, the other moving to her neck. She had just enough time to fill her lungs with air before she felt his calloused fingertips against her throat. "Jack, don't!" She gasped as he wrapped a hand around her neck but his brown eyes were devoid of any recognition or even simple awareness of what he was doing as he loomed over her. Instead of panicking Sam forced her body to relax, knowing it was the opposite of what he would expect just as his fingers tightened their grip and dug into her skin.

The Colonel seemed thrown when she stopped struggling, his lower body suddenly pressing her down into the floor when her taut frame unexpectedly went slack making him lose his balance and fall forward on top of her. Sam couldn't help but gasp as it caused more of his weight to lean on the hand around her neck but forced herself not to tense up otherwise as O'Neill suddenly pushed himself back up with his other hand. He blinked rapidly as if he just woke up. "Sam?"

"Colonel," she uttered, grateful for his excellent timing and his hand releasing its hold on her throat. Something like this had only happened a handful of times with her Jack so she had known how to react, but for a minute she feared maybe she had misjudged the situation and that she'd done something unbelievably stupid by trusting him not to hurt her – after all, this Jack O'Neill didn't know her or her voice as well as her Jack did. If it had been necessary she probably could have fought him off and caught him unawares with another move this man wouldn't see coming but Sam was smart enough to know how close it had been.

"Oh God," O'Neill muttered, staring down at her in horror.

She managed a feeble smile as she saw the realization wash over him. "Come on now, my bed head isn't that bad, is it?"

"That's not funny," he growled, with a scowl on his face. "Oh god," he repeated. "What the hell happened?"

"You, eh, had a bad dream," Sam replied, thinking how ridiculous that sounded as she said it aloud.


Jack looked down at her pale face and big blue eyes in the dim light, wondering what had happened for the two of them to end up on the floor with him still half asleep. He didn't need her to tell him he'd been having a bad dream with the images still vivid in his mind. Cromwell, his former friend and fellow soldier, leaving him behind in Iraq had left him with enough nightmare material for the rest of his natural life atop of memories of some of the damn distasteful things he'd done for his country that occasionally haunted him in the darkness of night. Tonight he'd been back in that Iraqi prison, being tortured for information and guards tauntingly calling out his name, but just when the burly interrogator was strangling him he'd managed to reach out and grab one of the guards by the arm. In the ensuing chaos the others had released his limbs and suddenly he landed a hit on the man, even managed to tackle him to the ground.

It wasn't until his fingers were wrapped around a throat and the body beneath him suddenly going limp that he realized something was wrong. He had hardly squeezed and yet the struggling stopped and he'd nearly toppled over in surprise. All of a sudden he seemed to come out of his daze – or nightmare as he now knew – and his surroundings had registered with him; he was in the crappy motel room, not a smelly or dank interrogation room and the feminine body beneath him definitely didn't belong to an Iraqi guard. Jack shuddered in realization at the feeling of Sam's toned yet curvy body under his just lying there completely defenseless and he briefly wondered why she hadn't done anything. Surely someone who claimed to fight evil aliens on a daily basis could give him a run for his money?

Seeing sympathy appear in her eyes he quickly averted his gaze, silently chastising himself for letting his emotions show on his face; the woman had already proven several times that she could read him like a book, he didn't need to give her an even closer look into the depths of his mind and soul. A shiver ran down his spine as he stared at her golden locks resting on the dark carpet, making him aware of the cool temperature, his sweaty clothes and the damp sheet still tangled around one leg. Jack knew he had to pull himself together and get away from her because he couldn't afford for her to realize how vulnerable he was after waking from a nightmare, so he tried to calm his pounding heart and get his breathing under control as he lowered his head. Resting it on her shoulder with his eyes closed he became aware of the faint scent of her skin, still warm from the sleep he'd no doubt woken her up from when trashing in his bed.

"Colonel?"

Jack was still panting slightly and noticed the quick rise and fall of her chest as he looked up at her face. Her feeble attempt at a smile had long disappeared and now she was biting her lip in indecision. "I'm sorry, Sam," he apologized. "Did I hurt you?"

"No," her answer was too quick and he narrowed his eyes at her. "It's just… do you mind?" She gently tugged at the hold he still had on her wrists, pinned above her head, and experimentally squirmed beneath him.

He suddenly realized he was practically stretched out over her, their bodies touching from chests to feet and how uncomfortable she had to be with him looming over her, immobilizing her after nearly strangling her in his sleep. Still, she showed no signs of fear and seemed rather resigned to just lie there for the moment, although she hissed softly and even let out something sounding suspiciously like a low moan he chose to ignore when he moved to sit.

More morning light from the window fell over her now and he could see a slight blush on her face as he released her wrists and took a good look at her. For obvious reasons she was still dressed in her pajamas but her gray tank top had ridden up her stomach a bit during their struggle, just like his shirt was twisted around his torso, and her hair was slightly wild from sleep and fanned over the carpet. He scrubbed a hand over his face to stop himself from staring at her heaving chest at the same time she rubbed at the marks he'd left on her neck. "What's that? Let me see!" He demanded, as he caught sight of the movement and pulled her hand away.

"It's nothing, I'm fine," Sam replied defensively, as if he wasn't the cause for the marks on her skin.

"No, you're not," Jack argued as he examined the red spots in the shape of his palm and fingers. "God Sam, I could have killed you! What the hell were you thinking?!"

She looked at him as if he was three fries short of a happy meal, which made sense considering she'd only been trying to help him and hadn't asked to be strangled. "I always like to get some hand-to-hand combat in first thing in the morning, Colonel," she replied sarcastically. He rolled his eyes and was about to say something when she continued. "Trust me, if I could have ignored your trashing I would have but after being woken up for the fifth time this night, I had enough. Obviously I should have known better," she added with a hint of accusation.

He groaned, mentally slapping himself for berating her when he was the one who'd hurt her. He knew what he was capable of and usually he could keep it under control but lately the nightmares seemed to be more frequent than usual and out of control. After returning from Iraq it had been pretty much the same only then it had been more violent and traumatic and when he was finally released from the hospital after a few months and got to go home, it had been difficult to sleep through the night. Sara had objected to him sleeping in the guestroom at the time but he didn't trust himself and when he returned to the master bedroom he had hurt her. Seeing his patient and caring wife with a black eye had been enough motivation for him to try and get a handle on it. These days he hardly struck out unless the dream was really bad and he usually managed to wake himself from it without hurting or even disturbing Sara.

Now though, he'd done worse than just striking out and his fingers had actually been wrapped around Sam's delicate throat! God, he really could have killed her if hadn't woken up at the right time and she wasn't even blaming him or upset! Reaching out he gently caressed the marred skin, silently wondering why she was even letting him and angry about her earlier lighthearted response. "I'm so sorry for hurting you," he apologized again when she visibly swallowed under his fingers. "You shouldn't have come near me but I should have warned you I could become violent. Just, promise me, that next time you won't do something so stupid and just yell at me or throw something in my direction. That usually helps, just don't get close or physical."

"There's going to be a next time?" Sam retorted with a cheeky smile, her body shaking slightly with silent laughter. "I think you're being a bit presumptuous here, Colonel."

"Oh for crying out loud, that's not what I meant," he huffed, sitting back on his heels. It wasn't until he ran his hands through his hair and registered the warmth of her skin against his legs that he realized he was practically straddling her hips and that he should probably get up.

The laughter disappeared from her face and her eyes turned serious. "Don't worry; I'm not planning on sharing a motel room with you again any time soon."

Jack belatedly realized this was their last night on the road if they could manage the last nine hundred miles or so in one go after sunrise and nodded slowly. "Just… be careful if-"

"I know," she replied earnestly. "I think my extra pillow is still around here somewhere."

"Oh," he murmured after spotting it on the floor. Obviously she'd already tried everything short of shaking him and when she had gotten up, he'd most likely grabbed her as soon as his hand came into contact with her. Even though he was embarrassed about her apparently being aware of this already, he was also curious as to how she'd gotten to know these methods… Of course he'd caught her in a nightmare once but she had simply seemed tormented and not aggressive like he usually became so he doubted it was from her own experience.

Sam colored a bit when he narrowed his eyes at her and shrugged awkwardly. "I knew what to expect."

"How would you know?"

"Eh," she stammered slightly before something, perhaps determination, flashed in her eyes. "I've been going on overnight missions for seven years with, eh-"

"The other me?" He supplied helpfully, which caused her flush to deepen.

"Yes and we were all aware of how volatile he could be when asleep," she added.

"You're aware of all your teammates' sleeping habits?" He questioned, finding that hard to believe. Even he didn't know everything about the people he'd worked with in the field for years, or at least not to the same extent as she obviously did. When she simply nodded again he decided to leave it be for now and filed it away under the rest of his suspicions. "In that case you really should have known better," he couldn't help but add.

Instead of replying Sam squirmed under him, catching him off guard but before he could make a move, she shifted her leg and used her hip to flip them over with her hands pressing against his chest. "I told you I'm fine," she said with a triumphant grin, looming over him.

Jack suddenly became aware of not only his hands that had automatically gripped her top at the move but also the attractive picture she made straddling him and how the soft skin of her thighs pressing against his sides where his own shirt had twisted around his torso was a sharp contrast against the rough carpet scraping against his skin. Sam was breathing heavier than usual and because of her usual ramrod straight posture – as if she was sitting at attention – her breasts were thrust forward almost proudly. He couldn't help but notice her nipples straining against the gray fabric bunched in his fists on her back. Tearing his gaze away he locked onto her blue eyes, their pupils dilated and saw the heat in them.

He was unsure of what to do next, feeling his body already responding to her and quickly released the hold he had on her top, making sure to smooth it down her hips to cover up temptation. His hands moved of their own accord though, slipping lower to rest on the swell of her ass and he could feel her muscles tense at the touch. The urge to grab her hips and push her a few inches lower on his body or slide his fingers around her six was almost irresistible and he barely refrained from doing so until he suddenly spotted the rapidly forming bruise on her shoulder. All thoughts about perhaps enjoying this a bit too much were replaced with concern when he realized he was the one responsible for the contusion.

"What?" Sam murmured, before following his line of sight. She must have realized what he was looking at because she brought her hand up self-consciously to cover it. "It's nothing."

"That's not 'nothing'," he growled. Sitting up without warning he nearly knocked her over but quickly slid an arm behind her back to steady her. Guilt and shame at his actions filled him and he hesitantly reached out to her shoulder with his free hand. "Let me see," he batted her hand away and gently probed the bruise. It looked dark and angry and, knowing his own strength, he was well aware that it was anything but nothing. He'd hit her hard, lesser soldiers than her had yelped at one of those punches.

She pulled back but his arm behind her restrained her so she tried to shrug his hand off. "You said it yourself; I should have known better, it's my own damn fault for not ducking."

"It's my fault, not yours." Jack looked her in the eye for a moment, her face only inches away from his. Their loud breathing being the only sound in the room added to the intimacy of the moment and it drew his attention to her half parted lips, before shaking himself. She was gazing at him intently and he narrowed his eyes, trying to read her. Failing miserably, he turned his attention back to the bruise and only just caught himself when he wanted to lean in and kiss it better, like he would have done with Sara. Shocked at his own thoughts and realizing that for all intents and purposes Sam was sitting in his lap, he tried to summon some professionalism. "Does it hurt?"

"Only when you probe it like that," she replied dryly, but hoarsely.

He tightened his grip on her automatically at the tone of her voice but that made her squirm in response, only making both of them even more aware of their precarious position. "Maybe we should, eh…"

Sam cleared her throat awkwardly and looked away, nodding slowly. "Yeah," she muttered, her hands sliding to his shoulders to push herself up on her feet. For a moment it looked like she wanted to give him a hand to pull him up, but then she turned around and walked over to her bag. "You should probably take a shower."

"Um, yeah," he agreed awkwardly, smoothing his shirt down as he stood. He was glad her back was towards and tried to straighten his boxers somewhat before moving towards the bathroom door. "We might as well hit the road as soon as possible."

"I'll just, eh, get dressed while you shower," she replied, rubbing the back of her neck. "I'll go across the street to get us some breakfast and then we can leave. I feel pretty rested so I might as well drive the first half and then you can try and get some shuteye in the car."

Jack nodded and slipped into the bathroom, closing the door behind him and making sure to lock it. He doubted he would be able to sleep with her only a feet away, not when he was already this wired and aware of her, but she didn't need to know that.


2106 hours
I-5S
Washington

Jack was tired and didn't even bother to suppress a yawn, knowing Sam was still asleep next to him and that they were almost home. Well, not really home but it wouldn't be long now until he could drop her off at her place in Rainier and then he would just have to make sure to stay awake long enough to get to McChord so he could crash in his base quarters there. Due to his temporary assignment there and his rank he had relatively nice quarters there but right now he was pretty sure he could sleep anywhere, especially after the crappy night – and strange wakeup call – he'd had.

They had left Billings around sunrise after finishing off the breakfast Sam had gotten them and hadn't stopped until they'd reached Missoula to have lunch. Unsurprisingly Sam had insisted on driving a few more hours, both of them well aware of the long ride they still had to go and she seemed determined to divide the time equally between them. He didn't have a problem with that and had even managed a two-hour nap and had woken up feeling rather refreshed. After convincing her he was wide awake and ready to take over the wheel they'd stopped in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho where they'd used the bathroom and gotten themselves a coffee before hitting the road again. They had been a bit ahead of schedule at that time already, thanks to Sam's need for speed and he'd quickly found himself a little over the speed limit as well as they drove down the interstate.

He had more than one reason to step on it and while he wouldn't mind getting a ticket – the car was registered to the NID after all and he would love to see the look on Maybourne's face – Jack had made sure to be careful since he not only wanted to be back on base and away from Sam right now, he also wanted to get there safely. It wouldn't do either of them any good if they'd get in an accident, after all. Not to mention it would kind of defeat the purpose because they would probably both end up in the same hospital, sharing a room yet again! He wasn't ready for that yet, not after what had happened this morning or the tensed silence from the last fourteen hours in the car. His nap had been a reprieve and luckily for him she had followed his example and had fallen asleep about an hour and a half after changing seats.

Sam hadn't even woken up when Jack had detoured Ephrata to pick her up some groceries in Walmart. One of the few good things about the NID's detailed surveillance reports was that he basically knew most of the stuff she bought during her trips to the grocery store, down to the specific brands. He'd gotten her some perishables and other stuff she might need after being away from home for two weeks, the rest she could get on her own. After all, he didn't want to arouse her suspicions by buying exactly everything she needed because that might alert her to the fact the NID was keeping close tabs on her. If she didn't already suspect as much, he thought to himself. During their road trips and stay in Atlantic City he'd gotten to know her better and he wouldn't be surprised if she had either already found out about some of the surveillance or simply expected it despite not having any proof. She was probably too smart to hope that would go right past her.

As he glanced at his sleeping passenger his eye fell on the bruise on her shoulder, half covered by the jacket Sam had taken off to use as a blanket and was now snuggled into. During lunch he'd already seen the large bruise on her wrist too, a clear sign of another hit from him she'd blocked so he hadn't asked her about it, knowing she would just shrug it off. It still bothered him though.

Jack wasn't stupid and he knew that while there wasn't a precise trigger for his nightmares, there certainly were factors in his life contributing to the frequency of those dreams occurring. Often it was just simple stress from an intense mission, which didn't express it itself until he got home and everything went back to normal with the exception of the nightmares that would accompany him a night or two. Sometimes he could feel them lurking in the recesses of his mind, waiting for him to lower his guard so they could come out and taunt him and those nights he would usually sleep in the guestroom. It wasn't ideal, certainly not if it was the first night and he hadn't been home in weeks but he'd rather take the precaution than risk hurting Sara. She had never said as much but he knew she was terrified of that dark side of his and he couldn't blame her, because he couldn't control it completely when he was asleep – not for lack of trying though.

This however wasn't a life or death situation, or even an intense training mission under harsh circumstances. These past two weeks he'd had far more nightmares than usual; he doubted he could function properly if they happened this frequent. So obviously there was something else at play here. There was definitely tension between him and Sam but as far as he could remember that sort of tension usually led to more… pleasant dreams, not the kind where dark memories from dank prison cells and crude torture played a role. Of course a lack of sleep could lower his defenses as well and seeing how the nightmares and the long days on the road had affected his usual sleeping pattern there was a good chance he'd somehow gotten stuck in some vicious circle, where the lack of sleep from the nightmares caused even more.

His experiences in Iraq had obviously left invisible scars and while claustrophobia wasn't really one of them, Jack still preferred wide-open spaces and when he thought about it he realized it was possible that being cooped up in a car for over twelve hours a day had contributed to his sleep problems as well. Not to mention his need to be in control, something that had been taken from him as a POW and Sam certainly seemed to have a knack for throwing him for a loop and he never knew quite what to expect when it came to her. Despite his assignment and her basically being his charge, he most certainly wasn't in control when it came to her. On top of all that she and the attraction he felt towards her were messing with his mind, especially in combination with his assignment, his family and the knowledge that if he failed and Sam turned out to have something up her sleeve to fix the timeline his son would be paying the price…

"Crap," Jack muttered darkly, scowling at the road in front of him. No wonder his nights had been plagued with nightmares. Hopefully he could get a good night of sleep tonight, after dropping Sam off at home. Perhaps he should take some leave and visit his own home as well. Maybe seeing Tyler and Sara would knock some sense back into him. Hopefully spending more time apart from Sam and not having to watch her every move would help clear his mind and he wouldn't end up doing something stupid as to kiss her.

Then again, considering her own behavior towards him he might not be safe from her at all. She hadn't exactly gone out of her way to avoid him or make him feel more comfortable with her. No, he was pretty sure she'd actually been flirting with him a few times back in Atlantic City. There had definitely been signs she was just as attracted to him as he was to her, but unlike him she seemed to be a lot more open to it. Probably because she wasn't married with a kid, he thought to himself. Not that he'd shown much resistance to some of her advances, Jack thought, feeling ashamed for his lack of self-control.

The problem was that Sam had the ability to throw him off balance, something she was probably aware of and not afraid to use it at times. Again it made him wonder if her relationship with the other him had been as platonic as she had claimed. From what he'd seen of her so far she seemed to be a by-the-book kind of officer and he found it hard to believe this was how she would act towards her commanding officer – or his counterpart. Granted, she wasn't the guy's second in command anymore but he'd been her CO for what, eight years? That had to be pretty hard to overcome. Not to mention feelings like that, even if it was just pure attraction, didn't come out of the blue or after eight years. It would be pretty hard to work closely with someone if the attraction was that strong, especially in the military.

If Jack found her attractive then surely his counterpart – who hadn't been married – would feel the same way? Or was he oversimplifying things and it didn't work like that? He couldn't imagine not giving in to the attraction if he and Sam were both single and they had met under different circumstances, which wouldn't make him so damn suspicious of her. Obviously that wouldn't be allowed in the military, not when they would be in the same chain of command so how come she and his counterpart had managed to work together for so long without either one of them being reassigned if the attraction was similar? Hell, it was probably even stronger if they trusted each other with their lives, plus life and death situations tended to bring people closer.

On the other hand if Sam was merely playing him then she had missed her calling and would be an excellent actress. It might be a waste of her brain though, on second thought. Still, it was hard to believe she was somehow faking it when it came to physical responses, like her racing pulse, dilated pupils, shortness of breath and the goose bumps that had appeared on her skin when he touched her. What did it all mean? Confused, Jack decided to stop thinking about it until he had a good night's sleep or two. Besides, they were almost in Rainier, he thought with a tired smile. Finally!

The last ten miles flew by and before he knew it he was driving down her street and turning into her driveway. Jack gently shook Sam awake, careful not to touch the bruise on her shoulder as he did so. "Sam, you're home. C'mon." When she simply blinked he undid his seatbelt, opened the door and slipped out of the car. There was a cold breeze and he heard a soft moan of protest coming from inside the SUV as he left his door open and went to get the groceries he'd gotten her from the trunk. "Sam!"

"Colonel?" She questioned sleepily as she came around the car. "Where's my bag and what are those?"

He gestured at the backseat where her two bags were lying and picked up the smaller ones from Walmart. "I got you some groceries while you were asleep. I figured you'd need to eat something tomorrow and I wasn't sure when you were planning on a trip to the store, so…"

"Okay, thanks." Sam nodded slowly, still looking half asleep and slipped her gym bag over her shoulder and carried the larger one in her hands as she walked up to the house.

Jack followed her inside and placed the groceries on the kitchen island as she headed towards the utility room, no doubt to throw her clothes in the laundry. He started putting the perishables away, pleased to see they'd survived the hours in the SUV without refrigerating them and smiled at a tired-looking Sam when she plopped down on a barstool. "You look ready to collapse."

"Just tired, I'll be fine."

"Go get some rest," he insisted, waving at the corridor leading to her bedroom. "I'll just put all this away and leave."

She surprised him by gnawing her lip, a clear sign of indecision, because he'd expected her to dismiss his offer and insist on kicking him out. Obviously she was more tired than he'd thought. "I don't know… I'd still have to lock up."

"You lock up the doors and go to bed, I'll leave via the garage door," Jack suggested.

"Okay," she finally relented, barely suppressing a yawn. "Thank you, Colonel."

"Think nothing of it," he replied with a small grin. "I'll see you later. Good night, Sam," he added as she headed into the direction of her bedroom. Ignoring the fact that she was now getting dressed for bed or that she had two perfectly fine guestrooms he could crash in, Jack put the last few things in the fridge. It would be a bad idea to stay – not that she'd even offered – especially seeing how he'd been so intent on getting here so they could both have some space. It seemed odd that he suddenly felt reluctant to leave.

Rolling his eyes at himself, he picked up the box of Frootees he'd gotten her and checked the cabinets to see where she usually kept her breakfast cereal. He was surprised to find an unopened box in one of them considering how she bought at least one every week, but shrugged it off and went down the same corridor as Sam had minutes ago. There were no sounds coming from her bedroom as he passed the door and he figured she'd probably fallen asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. Feeling a sudden longing for his own pillow he quickly went to the pantry to store the box of sugary cereal before leaving. Jack was stunned when he opened the door and saw an entire shelf full of old, unopened boxes of Frootees. The dates suggested they'd been bought about a week apart from each other and were just… sitting there.

Now that he thought about it, he'd never actually seen her eat Frootees and the few times these past two weeks he'd offered to get her some – either on the road or in the hotel – she had declined. At the time he'd figured she didn't want to bother him with it, make him go out of his way for her. Did she even like the cereal? Why religiously buy a box a week if you had no intention of eating them?