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Next To You

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“Something about the way that you walked into my living room
Casually and confident lookin' at the mess I am
But still you, still you want me”

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Four weeks ago, a lot of things changed for Samantha Carter.

Four weeks ago, she thought the world was going to end. Again.

It had been four weeks since her father had died and she’d called off the wedding to former fiancé, Pete Shanahan. Four weeks since Daniel had returned from the dead (again) and Teal’c announced he was leaving for Dakara soon.

Three and a half weeks since Jack O’Neill had invited her to his cabin, and she had finally said yes. 

And exactly two weeks and five days since one Brigadier General and one Lieutenant Colonel sat on the side of a fishless pond, beers, and sandwiches between them, confessing their feelings for each other out loud for the first time in four years.

Not that she was counting or anything.

In the two weeks since their return from the cabin, Sam and Jack had spent more time in each other’s company (and each other’s beds) than they had in anyone else’s. When they were not together, Sam usually found a message on her phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night. They had fallen into an easy routine with each other, almost as if they had been like this for years. And in a way, she supposed they had. It almost scared her to think how easy it was to be with him: being with him felt like the most natural thing in the world, but they had a lot of time to make up for, and neither Sam nor Jack had any complaints about letting that happen. 

Having said that, though, she had not heard much from him over the last couple of days. She was not too worried about him at the time as he had replied to a few texts, so she knew he was at least safe, and she assumed this was just a natural part of their relationship. But they had planned to meet at her house three and a half hours ago. Not only had he not shown, he had not answered her two missed calls. Sam considered herself a rational person but given their history of things --sometimes the world just fell apart around them-- she had decided to check it out. It was at that point she decided to take a trip to his house. She grabbed her jacket, keys, and wallet and climbed into her car. 

The thing about Jack, Sam mused as she reached the front door, is that he never remembers to lock his damn door. 

She hoped tonight was no different. Sam pushed the door lightly, and just as she thought it might, it swung open. Instantly she could hear the sound of some kind of video playing in the background. All the lights were switched off, but from the faint glow of the moon through the window, she could see three or four nights worth of take-out boxes lying half-eaten on his dinner table. Quickly peering into his kitchen, she could see a large stack of dishes piled into the sink. He had always been a bit…well… slack when it came to things like this, but she had never seen it this bad in the eight years she had known him...and. And that included the time he thought he was going to die. 

“Jack?” she called softly into the house. She was greeted with the sound of his voice informing her that he was in the sitting room. Some tension left her body as she realised that, physically, he was ok. 

Slowly so as not to trip down the stairs, Sam made her way into the sitting room. The TV was lighting up the scene in front of her; Jack sat on the couch, beer in one hand, remote for the TV in the other, resting on the back of the couch. His feet were propped up on the coffee table in front of him which was covered in empty beer bottles and a pizza box. Jack looked a little worse for wear himself: he clearly had not shaved or probably even showered since she had left him just over three days ago, and he was still wearing the same sweatshirt and pajama pants he had been wearing when she had kissed him goodbye.

He had seemed ok when she had left. He had told her he had intended to spend the next few days to himself --no people and no paperwork-- just him and some Simpson’s reruns while she took a few days off to sort through some of her dad’s things. He had promised though that he was only a phone call away, should she need him, or the world was at stake again. Speaking of which, his phone was nowhere to be seen, either.

Sam moved to stand in front of him, blocking the show he was watching, her hands buried deep into the pockets of her leather jacket. 

“Jack, honey? You okay?” she asked, concern masking her features. Jack looked at her with a small smile on his face. He liked when she called him that, but she did not do it very often and she was not sure when it started. 

His eyes were glazed over, and he almost looked like he had been crying. 

“Heya Carter.” he murmured. The smile he had given her at the sound of his pet name did not quite reach his eyes as he patted the couch beside him. “Come! Join me! I’m learning about dolphins.” He said in his best attempt to sound like his typical, jovial self.

“Dolphins?” 

“Yup. They’re great. Want a beer? There might be one left in the fridge.” he motioned vaguely to the kitchen behind him. 

“No, thanks. Jack…” she said hesitantly, concern seeping into her tone.  “...we were supposed to be having dinner tonight. You were supposed to be at my house three hours ago. What happened?” she asked. Concern seeping into her tone. He had forgotten about her which was something she was not sure he had done in all the years they had known each other. 

“Was that today? Shit!, Sorry, Sam... I lost track of the days.” He looked so mad at himself for forgetting... guilty, even. 

She reached out a hand and touched his face, stubble rough against her fingers, and rubbed her thumb over his cheek. 

He turned to look at her fully, a grin creeping on to his face. 

“You look great!”

She smiled gently, “Yeah well, I thought I had a date.” she smiled. 

His brows knit in confusion. “What happened to your date?”

“He had an appointment with a dolphin.” Sam gestured to the TV. 

A grin spread across his face and a small chuckle escaped his lips. Sam thought there were few sounds she loved more. He hit the mute button on the remote and dropped it on the coffee table, pulling himself into a more upright position. He looked around briefly, horror in his eyes. 

“The place is a mess. Sorry, you had to see this.” he muttered as he went to stand. 

Sam’s hand shot out and grabbed his arm, forcing him back into his seat. He was great at avoiding certain topics of conversation, but something was clearly wrong, and she was not letting him get away with it this time. She knew sometimes he let himself go, that the pressure of his career and everything he had been through got to him sometimes. The whole team had seen him during some of those rough patches...helped him out of them too. But this one seemed different. 

“Jack, what’s going on?” She both felt and heard him sigh as he scrubbed a hand over his face. 

Jack reached across to a side table with a lamp on it, picking up a picture frame and holding it tightly but carefully. 

“He would have been 16 this week.” He swallowed hard, stroking the edge of the photo with a thumb, knuckles white from the force of his grip. “I should have been teaching him to drive... and helping him pick out his first car...giving. Giving him dating advice..., helping him pick colleges…” He broke off, handing the frame to her. 

Sam took it, but her eyes were firmly glued to the man in front of her. His eyes were clouding over with tears again, and a couple of stray tears had fallen, getting caught in his stubble. 

How did I not know it would have been Charlie’s birthday this week? Why didn’t he mention anything? Sam looked down at the photo she had seen a couple of times when she had visited his house. Standing in front of a two-story house was Jack, a woman she knew to be Sara, his ex-wife, and a boy no older than six or seven. 

He looks like his father. 

“Sara called yesterday,” Jack said, pulling her out of her thoughts. “We spoke for a bit... about Charlie and what could have been. I don’t blame her for leaving after what I did... I just wish things could have been different.” Jack said. 

Sam was looking at him, her hand resting on his knee as he stared at his hands, a muscle twitching along his jaw. 

Sam felt her eyes prickling and moved in closer to him, hand moving to the back of his neck and fingers running gently against the base of his skull. 

“Jack, you didn’t DO anything. You had no idea what was going to happen…”

“I did, Sam. I left the gun there, I left it loaded and I should have damn well known better. He wouldn’t be dead if it weren’t for me!” Jack cut her off. The self-loathing in his voice unsettled her. In the field, when his temper flared at her or when it was aimed at another member of SG1, she knew just how to calm him. But this was different. 

“We all make mistakes. You didn’t want any of this to happen. You didn’t intend for him to find it.” She blew out a breath...none of this was coming out the way she wanted. He didn’t need platitudes. She took a steadying breath. “Believe it or not, Dad left his gun out sometimes too. We just got lucky.” Sam tried to emphasise how even the best trained and highest-ranking soldiers screwed up. Everyone makes mistakes. She was not sure it was having any effect, though. 

“Do you know why I took that first mission through the Stargate, Sam?” Jack asked, turning his head slightly to study her. 

She shook her head, a feeling of dread settling in her stomach. She had her suspicions. 

“Because I believed it was a suicide mission. I didn’t see any way I was coming back from that. I took the gig hoping I wouldn’t come back from it.” Jack said so casually he might have been telling her about his childhood home. 

Sam’s eyes widened a little bit and she took a deep breath. She had guessed, of course. And it had been hinted to her that that might have been the reason he wanted to take the mission. But to hear it from him was something else. 

“Jack, I…” 

“Don’t, Carter. I don’t want to hear that you’re glad I’m still here, or that you’re sorry... You didn’t do this... you have nothing to be sorry for.” He stopped her before she had begun. She was sure he had heard those words enough, and they always sounded fake. 

Sam pressed her lips together, watching as he fidgeted with his hands in silence. She knew what she needed to ask, she had gone through all the training on base, but the tight knot of fear burning in her chest made the next step difficult.

“Do you still think that way?” She asked quietly. 

“No.” His reply was barely above a whisper, and he was still avoiding her gaze. “And I’m glad I did make it back. Now at least. For a while afterward... I wondered how else I could… well, you get the idea.” 

Sam drew in a short breath, blinking against the moisture in her eyes. “What changed your mind?”

"General Hammond officially pulling me out of retirement about eight years ago.” He stated calmly. 

Sam was speechless. She had not noticed at the time how low his mental health had been. He had laughed and made jokes at her expense so many times:, images of him flirting with her after they got infected with a virus that made them primitive surged through her brain. 

Had he felt like this then? 

More images of them laughing at their first team night after saving Cassandra’s life appeared in front of her. 

Was he searching for a reason to hold on even then? 

A silence fell around them as Sam simply rubbed small circles on the back of his neck. 

“If it helps at all, I’m sure he knows you loved him and never meant for that to happen. I know he’s looking down at you right now, wishing he could tell you himself.” Sam’s voice was quiet, but she was sure she got the point across. 

Jack shrugged, tears flowing freely again, his head resting in his hands.

They sat like that for a while, silence falling again as Jack silently battled his demons. The light from the TV flickered, changing to the bright colours of a commercial. Sam always knew that Jack still suffered from mental health problems, most likely depression and some PTSD from his time in black ops, but she’d never asked. She had known it for a long, long time. These things were not something anyone just got over... you could not just heal from it like you could a broken bone. It took time and strategies... sometimes even medication for short or long periods of time. It was not an easy journey, but one that was definitely worth making. After all they had been through together --and all that he had been through-- it would not have surprised anyone to hear that he still dealt with the after-effects. Hell, they probably all did. Sam would not deny there were some nights she struggled to sleep due to her persistent thoughts or nightmares. There were days where things just seemed too heavy. But she had kept going because that is what people do: they endure. And she was always glad she did. 

Sam was good at helping people, or so she had been told. Cassandra always told her how great she was anyway, especially after Janet… but she was far from amazing at it, she tended to babble on for too long or put her foot in it...and she had never really been in a position where she had to help someone in this way. Regardless, as she looked at the man she loved, she knew she had to do something. She could not change his past, she could not fix what had been done and she could not cure the nightmares that plagued him, but she could get him up off the couch. She could get him clean and dressed and in bed. She could get him back into a routine to help fight the demons away. She could get him to do the small things he loved or take the small steps he needed to bounce back. And even though she could not help with the really heavy stuff, she would be by his side, holding his hand and supporting him.

Always. 

“Jack?” she questioned softly.

“Yeah?” he responded, wiping his face with his hands, and turning to look at her. She gave him a small smile, moving her hand from his neck to his back and rubbing with small movements. 

“How about we get you up off this couch, huh? Get you a nice hot shower and some clean pajamas,” she motioned to the ones he was wearing which were covered in greasy spots and food stains. “and then we can get you into bed, okay?” 

“Yeah... yeah that’d be good, actually,” he replied. 

She kissed him on the cheek before standing and holding out her hand for him to take. He grabbed it and she helped him off the couch. She walked with him, hand in hand, to the bathroom where she grabbed him some towels and laid them out near the shower. She turned to him and kissed him gently before helping him shuck his clothes and throwing them in the laundry hamper which, just like the sink, was overflowing with things that needed cleaning. Once he was under the hot spray of water, she moved into his room and pulled some fresh pajamas from a drawer. She took his pajamas to the bathroom and placed them near the towels. She noted that there were several things that needed cleaning between his room and the bathroom:; clothes needed washing, more clothes on the floor of his room, he was out of toothpaste from the looks of things and when she had helped him into the shower she had decided it probably needed to be cleaned... but those were tasks for tomorrow. She would drive him to the grocery store and then she would bring him home and help him clean. Even if they did not get out of bed until late, she was determined to start giving him a sense of normalcy. Beside his bed, she had found his phone which had apparently run out of battery. After a couple of minutes of searching, Sam found the charger and plugged it in.

Walking into the kitchen, she let a few tears of her own fall. She hated seeing him like that, knowing that there was no possible way she was going to be able to take his pain away. At least, she thought, I can try and make things a little easier. Grabbing a garbage bag from under the sink, Sam got to work throwing away beer bottles and old take-out boxes. She put the photo of Charlie back on the side table, threw a blanket over the couch, straightened the cushions, and took some more glasses out to the kitchen to be washed. She stood at the sink, staring out through the window while she let hot water and dishwashing soap fill the sink when he spoke. 

“You didn’t have to do that, you know?” he said. 

She flicked off the sink and turned to him. He was dressed in the new pajamas she had laid out for him and was towel drying his hair. He looked handsome, even with messy hair, unshaven face, and baggy clothes. Dropping the towel over the back of one of the wooden chairs in his kitchen, he moved forward, stopping inside her personal space. When he came to stand before her, he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, holding her to his chest. 

Sam slid her arms around his waist, holding him tight. 

“I know. But I wanted to help in some way.” She said into his chest. They were lightly swaying from side to side. 

Jack rested his head in Sam’s hair, placing a small kiss to the top of her head. 

“I’m sorry.” he murmured against her hair. 

“What for?” 

“You didn’t sign up for this mess, Carter.” he said pulling back slightly to look at her face. 

Sam looked up to meet his eyes. They were the most gorgeous shade of brown she thought she had ever seen. And she was sure it was one of the things that first attracted her to him. Even when their world was burning around them, he had always been able to calm her with just one look. 

She thought about it for a second. He was right, of course, if you took him literally. She had not signed up to clean his house at midnight on a Friday...but she had signed up for him: the late-night conversations about normal things after a long day of alien tech, avoiding each other on base as much as possible because they were currently acting like horny teenagers who can’t keep their hands off each other, the laughter and terrible jokes, the sarcasm, and banter, their arguments that boarded on insubordination. The good stuff came with the bad stuff... and she knew that. If that commitment meant she occasionally had to help the man she loves through a difficult time, well, Sam knew it was more than worth it. 

“There are a lot of things I didn’t sign up for,” she shrugged slightly. “But I signed up for you, Jack... and everything that goes with you. The crying and laughing, the good times and the hard ones.”

“Sounds like wedding vows.” He laughed when she slapped him lightly on the shoulder. 

“Glad to see your sense of humour is intact,” she muttered, moving her head to rest back on his chest. “Seriously, Jack, if you’re feeling this way you CAN reach out. Even if it's not me. If it's Daniel or someone else. You don’t have to suffer in silence.” He nodded against her hair, his hand moving up to play with the short strands at the back of her neck. 

“Stay tonight?” Jack asked, after a short period of silence. 

“Of course.”

“Sam?” 

“Mmm?” 

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Jack.”