Prologue

The tall lithe blonde walked out of the ensuite bathroom, stretching her arms toward the ceiling as she moved gracefully across the bedroom floor. Taken off guard by her beauty, the man on the bed sat up suddenly. Then he told her to stand still and turn around.

The woman put her hand up to her hair, running her fingers through the long strands, and not just for the effect. She liked having him look at her, but sometimes his rapt gaze could be a bit unnerving. In the past few weeks she had seen a weaker more vulnerable side to the man she called her CO, and it was a side of the usually macho man that she liked very much. He was infatuated with her, of that there was little doubt, and the knowledge made her feel more feminine and more powerful at the same time.

But she still followed his orders, no matter how smugly confident she might be feeling.

"Stop, hold that pose! That's it. Just like that. I want to memorize the way you look."

"You planning on going somewhere without me?" she asked, only half joking.

"No, never!" He would never deliberately leave her. He loved her beyond measure, and he was fairly certain that she loved him too. However, he knew from experience that life could be cruel, so he wanted to burn this picture of her into his mind, just in case.

But rather than worry her with his insecurities and fears, he made her a promise.

"I'll always be here for you. Always!" he vowed.

Chapter one

Stretched out on her belly in the dirt, Sam Carter peered through the underbrush, the thick branches the only things hiding her and her injured CO from the hostiles.

She had literally stepped into the hole before she saw it. Then she had dragged him into the shallow place under the bushes just before the group of angry natives came running past. Now she was grateful for the shelter the shallow hole provided, and she prayed it would be enough to keep them safe until help arrived.

As the sound of the footsteps and angry cries faded away, she turned her attention to the colonel's injuries, hoping she would discover that they weren't as serious as she'd first thought. When she looked back at him, he was laying on his back, his left arm across his eyes. And when she touched him just above the blood-soaked trouser leg, he quickly lowered his arm, his hand knocking hers away.

"I should take a look at your leg, Jack."

"No, don't waste your time, Captain. It's busted up real bad," he told her with difficulty. His teeth were gritted against the pain, but he still wasn't going to give in and call her by her first name. He wasn't some boy who needed the comfort of his mommy! He was a decorated officer in the USAF, and he had his pride, damn it!

His leg had looked awful in the light, with blood covering almost every square inch of his lower trouser leg, so she didn't argue with him. Instead she decided to see to his other injury. Shoving aside the bottom right front of his

jacket, she gently began pulling his black T-shirt out of his pants. The soft cotton fabric stuck slightly on the shaft of the arrow which was still protruding from his body. The pain made Jack wince.

"Careful!" he yelped, touching her hand with his. He held on for only a few seconds, trying to calm his breathing.

"Sorry. I need to pull out the rest of the arrow, before I can sterilize the wound," she said as she shined her flashlight on it. Only a few inches of the wooden shaft remained, since Jack had broken off the rest of the arrow right after it struck him.

"No, leave it. The arrow may be keeping it from bleeding. Let Fraiser take it out later," he said as though this sort of thing happened to him every day. The truth was it happened to him much too often, and he was getting tired of always being a target for anything and everything they came across.

"Okay," she replied, although she wasn't feeling as confident as Jack. Would they be found in time? If he didn't receive medical help soon, he'd probably bleed to death from his leg injury, or he'd get an infection from the damned arrow. And there was no telling whether or not the arrow had been dipped in poison. If it had been, he'd most likely be dead in a few hours or less. Thankful that she always kept pain killers and a few other necessities in her jacket pockets, Sam took out a packet containing two pills. She broke it open.

"Here! At least take this for the pain," she insisted, and then she shoved the pills into his mouth. While supporting his head with one hand, she held her canteen to his lips while he drank, washing down the pain relievers.

Bent over him like she was, she could almost imagine they were together under better circumstances. Just a few weeks ago they had been in Washington, DC, where they'd been honored at a banquet at which the President had presented them with awards for saving the planet. New medals had actually been designed just for the occasion, since there were no awards appropriate for their particular type of work. That night after the event Jack had wanted to be with her, but Sam had decided she could no longer continue their illicit affair. Lying and deceiving the people who put their utmost trust in her just wasn't in her nature.

Sam sat back on her heels in the tight hiding space and recalled the day she told Jack she couldn't see him anymore. He hadn't taken it very well, which hadn't surprised her much.

"I don't get it. How can you do this? How can you pretend like what we had doesn't matter to you? Sam, I know you care about me," he argued, as he held her arms tightly, so tightly that she knew she'd be bruised the next day.

"Stop it, Jack! You're hurting me," she complained as she squirmed free. He hadn't apologized, and she hadn't backed down. Then he had gone to his hotel room, leaving her there alone to cry for the love she had lost. And the next day they had sat side by side on the commercial flight back to Colorado, neither one speaking to the other.

The following day at the SGC she had been the one who came to him to plead for his cooperation.

"I'm not going to ask for a transfer, Sir. Although that did occur to me, I feel we're both capable of putting our feelings aside for the sake of the program. Sir?" she asked, when he didn't even look up from the papers on his desk. It angered her some, because she knew his attention wasn't really on the reports; it was on trying to ignore her! As usual he wasn't willing to talk about his feelings or hers!

"Yah, Carter, I heard you. The briefing on P2X-905 will be at zero seven hundred tomorrow. Be on time."

"Yes, Sir."

So that was it. Their affair was over and done with just like that.

Sam had left Jack's office that day knowing that she had destroyed more than just his love; she had ruined their friendship too. On the other hand, she felt certain that she had done the right thing for all concerned, no matter how awful it made either of them feel. They were just two people. Their lives didn't matter when so much more was at stake.

Now here they were fighting for their lives on yet another alien planet, and Sam regretted that she'd never told Jack she loved him. Somehow she had to keep him alive, so that one day she would have a chance to not only tell him but to show him how much she really cared!

"Sir? Sir, I think it's safe for me to try and reach our packs now," she told him, always cognizant that he was the one who gave the orders. When he didn't answer, she realized that he had passed out. Figuring that it was up to her now to do whatever was necessary to facilitate a rescue, Sam proceeded without an order from her CO.

About two hours earlier they had become separated from their teammates, as well as most of their gear, when the hostiles had begun firing arrows into their camp. She had no idea where Teal'c and Daniel were now, but she judged that she and the colonel were situated approximately half a mile directly east of their campsite. Slowly emerging from the shallow hole on her belly, Sam heard nothing but insects and birds in the surrounding forest. And since the sun would be setting in less than two hours, she thought she should go now, before it was too late.

She ducked back under the bushes and knelt down next to Jack's chest. "Sir? Sir, I'm going back to camp now," she said, although she thought he wasn't listening. Was it already too late for him? He looked awfully pale.

"Be careful, Sam," he said, his voice not much more than a whisper.

"Yes, Sir! You hang in there," she told him, giving him an affectionate pat on the arm. She felt a bit encouraged now. Maybe she could save him after all!

Sam not only reached their campsite, but she found Daniel and Teal'c too. And just an hour later the two men were carrying Jack down the gate ramp on a stretcher.

"Get him to the OR stat!" the base CMO yelled to her people, after taking a quick look at Jack's leg. They pushed Jack away on a gurney, while Sam followed him as far as she could with her eyes. Their CO was waiting to speak to her, so she didn't dare leave with the man on the gurney, even though she dearly wished she could.

"Captain Carter, what happened?" General Hammond asked. He was worried about her state of mind. He had spoken to her just now, but she obviously hadn't heard him. "Captain Carter?"

"Sorry, Sir, I'm very concerned about the colonel. His leg looks pretty bad. I wasn't able to set it. Maybe if I had…."

Hammond interrupted her. "Captain, I doubt there's anything you could have done any better," he assured her kindly. "Now go get checked out in the infirmary. We'll debrief at fourteen hundred hours."

"Yes, Sir," she said, and then she walked out of the gate room with Daniel at her side.

"You shouldn't beat yourself up over something you couldn't help," was the first thing he said once they were out in the hallway.

"You're wrong; it'll be my fault if he dies. I blew it, Daniel." Teal'c was a few steps behind them, but she didn't care if he heard. Somehow she knew Teal'c would never repeat anything he heard her say. And besides, she was certain he understood. As First Prime of Apophis he had been responsible for the life of his leader. So it was with her and Jack.

"Sam, it won't do Jack any good for you to second guess yourself. What you need to do now is be strong for him. Be here when he wakes up, just like he's always here for us."

Sam just bowed her head and kept walking toward the elevator. Nothing anyone could say would change her mind. She had failed Jack when he needed her the most. She just hoped he would forgive her for it. As for the other thing….she didn't think he'd ever forgive her for forsaking his love.

Later during the debriefing Dr. Janet Fraiser was there to inform them about Jack's condition. She also did all she could to ease Sam's mind regarding her responsibility in the matter.

"There wasn't anything you could have done, Captain Carter. His leg was crushed."

"Crushed? But it can be repaired, right?" Sam asked, unable to hide her concern. She'd had a terrible time getting him out from under the rock slide the natives had caused. Now she knew just how badly he'd been hurt, but she still couldn't give up hope that he would be alright again! The opposite was unthinkable!

"No, I'm afraid not. I'm sorry, there was nothing I could do to save it. I had to amputate his left leg just below the knee." Janet hung her head for a moment before continuing. "The good news is the arrow wasn't poisonous, and it didn't hit any vital organs."

"Thank you, doctor," George replied sincerely. This was something he hoped he'd never have to hear. One of his best men, and a man he admired despite his idiosyncrasies, had just lost not only his leg but his career. But it's better than losing his life. I just hope Jack agrees, he silently told himself. He knew how self-destructive Jack had been on his first mission to Abydos, and he knew what had brought about his mental breakdown. Now all he could do was pray that this trauma wouldn't send him over the edge, that this was nothing more than a bump in the road of Jack's life, instead of an obstacle that he could not overcome.

"Barring unforeseeable complications, he should be able to be moved in twenty-four hours," Janet added.

"Moved? Moved where?" Sam asked quickly. She kept her hands folded tightly on the conference table, in order to prevent them from shaking.

"Janet gave her friend a sorrow-filled look before answering. "He'll be moved to City General tomorrow, or as soon as he's stable."

"Why not to the Academy Hospital?" Daniel asked innocently. He noticed that the knuckles of Sam's hands had turned white, and he was pretty sure she didn't want Jack to leave the SGC anymore than he did.

"Jack's not military anymore," was all Hammond said on the subject, but everyone knew what he meant. Jack was being issued a medical discharge. His career in the Air Force was over.

TBC