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Sam Carter sat in her car clutching the steering wheel tightly. Her knuckles had gone white, and the tendons in her forearms stood out in sharp shadows. Her fingers would be stuck in a rictus of claws when – if – she finally managed to let go.

It felt like she was trying to keep herself from flying apart.

She had blown past fight-or-flight long ago. Now she was teetering on the edge of breakdown, and she could feel her mind trying to pull away in self-defense. The reality of her world at that moment was too intense, too much… the place her mind wanted to drag her was so appealing. A dark void where she wasn’t functional, but at least the pain would be dulled.

She wasn’t getting all the air she needed. Her limbs were shaking beyond her control.

Daniel had been reluctant to let her drive. In a distant part of her mind, she could acknowledge he was right. She shouldn’t be on the road.

But she couldn’t accept Daniel’s offer of a ride. She couldn’t even admit he could be right. It would be as damning as a confession of caring more than she was supposed to, and she hadn’t toed the line this long to stumble now.

She owed Jack that much.

And she had to pick up his dog.

Sam took an unsteady breath and looked up through her windshield at Janet Fraiser’s house. The doctor, of course, wasn’t home. Anytime disaster struck off-world and a team came back in pieces, Janet stayed in the infirmary to try and snatch people back from the jaws of death. Sometimes she succeeded. Sometimes she failed.

Sam physically recoiled from that train of thought. She’d never get out of her car if she didn’t.

Sam pried her hands from the steering wheel, shook out the stiff curl of her fingers (like rigor mortis), opened her car door, and trudged toward the house.

Cassie answered the front door with tears in her eyes.

So Cassie knew. Janet must have called.

Sam was grateful she didn’t have to put on a convincing act that everything was fine. She didn’t think she could do it.

“Hey, Cass…” Sam offered in an unsteady greeting.

At that moment, Cassie looked so much like that little girl Sam had closed inside a bunker when they thought her chest was going to explode. Sam wanted to grab her and cling to her as she had then, but she was sure if she gave in and showed that much agony she wouldn’t make it back to her car.

Cassie’s breath hitched as she fought off sobs, bit back questions, and ended up gripping the doorknob like she would fall to her knees otherwise. Sam knew how she felt.

Nick shouldered his way around Cassie to move toward Sam.

Nick knew something was wrong. He ducked his head and crept toward Sam timidly. JJ, the shiba inu Jack had given Cassie years ago, cowered behind Nick, swept up in the darkness that had fallen over everyone associated with SG-1.

Nick licked Sam’s hand in a feeble gesture of shared sorrow.

Sam felt tears stinging her eyes as she looked down at the dog Jack had saved from a dead world. The same way they’ve saved Cassandra. SG-1 ran afoul of death a lot.

“I tried to tell him,” Cassie croaked as she handed Sam his leash, the black nylon with ‘Nicodemus Legend O’Neill’ crawling in blue stitching along its length. The threading was starting to unravel on the last L, and Sam felt an irrational terror that the ‘O’Neill’ part of the embroidered name was trying to fall off.

“I tried to tell him,” Cassie repeated in a cracking voice, “but I don’t think he understood.”

Sam hated the thought that Cassie had tried to tell the dog why his master wasn’t coming to pick him up.

“I’ll take care of him,” Sam replied, because she would. If Nick’s care fell to anyone, it undeniably fell to her. It said things about her relationship with Jack that were damning, too, but Sam was too threadbare to care.

When Sam knelt to clip the leash to Nick’s collar, the dog craned up and licked Sam on the cheek. Sam knew she must taste like salt.

***********

It made the most sense to take Nick back to her house.

She went to Jack’s instead.

Stepping into his empty house was the breaking point for Samantha Carter. She closed the front door, leaned back against it, and began to cry. Her walls crashed, and the world came tumbling after. She ended up on the floor, knees pulled toward her chest and face buried in her arms.

Nick wormed his way closer, pressing his body against her and licking her until Sam wasn’t sure if she was wetter from tears or tongue.

When she pulled back from her tucked position and opened up to him, Nick practically threw himself in her lap. He was far too big for it, but Sam wrapped her arms around the dog and was grateful for his weight. It felt like it was the only thing grounding her.

Sam looked down at her hands and felt her stomach lurch when she saw streaks of dark brown on her skin. She hadn’t even considered…

She looked down at a pant leg and found another patch of dried blood on the olive drab fabric.

Sam let out a strangled cry and pushed the dog off, scrambled to her feet, and started stripping off her clothes right there in Jack’s foyer.

It wasn’t like he was going to walk in and catch her.

Sam peeled and shed and pulled until she was standing completely naked in the hallway, a pile of blood-stained BDUs at her feet.

She was starting to shake again.

Had Cassie noticed? Sam could only hope it had been too dark or that it had been mistaken for mud. Anything but the truth.

Sam kicked the pile of stained clothes across the living room with a savage bolt of adrenaline then rushed down the hall to the guest bathroom to turn on the shower.

To wash off Jack O’Neill’s blood.

***********

Part of Sam knew she should be calling into work and letting someone know that she wasn’t coming in. She should be checking in, touching base, following protocol.

But she didn’t.

She lay in Jack O’Neill’s bed instead with his pillow pressed to her face because it smelled like him.

She remembered doing the same thing when her mother died, and she clutched the pillow until her fingers ached knowing his smell would fade. No matter how hard she held on, that scent that was pure Jack O’Neill wouldn’t last forever. Jack would disappear a little more each day.

Nick alternated between being glued to Sam’s side and wandering the house looking for Jack. Every time his search came up empty, Nick came back to Sam a littler sadder for his failure.

Nick had started whining intermittently as he curled against Sam’s side, his head on her hip. The sound of his pain tore at Sam’s heart, and she rolled onto her side and surrendered the pillow a moment to fill her arms with Nick instead. At least he was a living warmth to hold.

***********

Sam lost track of time.

Days bled into each other, a blur of hours that seemed to stretch infinitely.

Normal things, like hunger, ceased to exist.

She left the back door open so Nick could go in and out as he needed, and she was diligent about feeding and watering him. Jack would be counting on her to take care of him, and that became the only thing that mattered. She could wither away to nothing, it didn’t matter, but Nick had to be okay.

Nick had no appetite, either, but Sam put down food every day for him, anyway.

***********

Sam wasn’t sure how many times the phone rang before she finally acknowledged it.

For a moment, she sat on Jack’s couch and stared at the offending object. It was strange to her that the world was still carrying on outside her cocoon. It seemed wrong. The world should stop for Jack O’Neill. It owed him that much.

With a heavy sense of detachment, Sam reached out and picked up the phone, more to stop its screaming than to speak to someone.

There was a moment of silence on the other end, then a tentative, “… Sam?”

Sam closed her eyes and clutched the pillow she’d carried from the bedroom tighter against her chest. Daniel’s voice was a serrated edge cutting her wound open anew. Her last memory of the archaeologist was him wearing Jack’s blood, too.

“Sam? Please, say something.”

“Like what?” she croaked, shocked at how raw and rough her voice sounded. She had done nothing in the last few days but cry, and her voice was wrecked.

“Are you okay?”

Sam snorted. Stupid question.

“Right… dumb question.” Daniel heaved a sigh. “I guess you’ve been at Jack’s this whole time.”

“So?” she challenged, daring him to question her being there.

“I’m not telling you to leave,” Daniel assured her gently. “I’m just worried about you.”

Sam tuned Daniel out as Nick padded into the living room from another search of the house for his absent master and rested his head in Sam’s lap forlornly.

Sam let go of Jack’s pillow to pet his dog.

“Sam, did you hear what I just said?”

Not really.

Daniel sighed and said carefully, “We need to talk about what happens to SG-1 now.”

Everything in Sam balked. “I can’t.” Not now. Maybe not ever.

“Sam….”

No, Daniel,” Sam snapped. Then she hung up.

Nick looked up at her, commiserating.

Sam grabbed the pillow and went back down the hall to Jack’s bedroom. She didn’t even hesitate anymore to climb in and curl up in his sheets, surrounded by his scent (though it grew weaker by the day, slowly giving up his ghost).

***********

“Why didn’t I tell him I love him?”

Nick looked over at Sam as they lay together on Jack’s bed. It was day outside, but which day Sam could not say. It seemed the world beyond Jack’s walls existed in another state of reality. One Sam wasn’t remotely ready to rejoin.

Oddly, besides Daniel’s one call, no one seemed to be trying to drag her back. Maybe they knew. Maybe she and Jack had never been very good at hiding it, after all. They were the worst-kept secret of the SGC.

Nick laid his head on his paws and pricked his ears toward Sam.

She could think of a hundred moments, easily, when she had looked at Jack and thought ‘I love him’. At the beginning, when the thought had been scandalous and terrifying. Later, when it had been dangerous and exhilarating. Toward the end, when it became the bedrock of her strength. At the last, when it became an unshakable truth.

So many times when those three words became a mantra in her mind, echoing so loud she thought she would scream it just to be free of the cacophony inside her skull. Every single time it would have been true. And Jack had deserved to hear it. Regardless of whether or not he knew, he deserved to hear her say it.

“Why didn’t I tell him?” Sam lamented as she reached out and ran her fingers through Nick’s brown and black fur. “It’s been true for years… why didn’t I tell him?”

Nick had no answer.

***********

The trees and leaves were red and orange, and so were the flames around her. All the hues of russet and rust, everything sanguine and sacred, until all the world was blood and fire.

In the angry sea of reds and golds, a lone figure in olive green stood at arms. Olive and tan and silver and brown.

I love him. Even as he turned to face the gaping maw of death itself.

Death came in plated gray armor and the black tattoo of a counterfeit god.

A bolt of yellow, sickly and distressed, and then chaos. The world cracked and splintered under her feet – the Earthquake Planet, he called it, but no, it couldn’t be, there was an autumn explosion of trees and no ocean – and Sam watched her world blow apart.

Smoke roiled and billowed as the kaleidoscope trees burned, choking her.

“Colonel!”

Maybe there was an ocean, because her own voice sounded like it was underwater. The high-pitched ring in her ears from close-range weapons fire was muffling the world.

If he was alive and screaming, she couldn’t hear it.

She fought her way through the world tearing itself apart, fighting to get to him.

But there was fire.

And so much blood.

***********

Sam dreamed of Jack.

That wasn’t new or unusual, but the last hours she’d spent with him on the autumn planet filled her sleep with nightmares. Reality and all the demons a soldier’s mind could harbor thrashed at each other in her sleep and created her own private apocalypse where the world ended with Jack O’Neill.

But the dreams where she watched him fall were not the worst.

The worst were the dreams of him alive and well, when the ache of his presence haunted her. Jack’s smile when Sam caught him before he could school his features as he watched her. That look in his eyes that spoke of secrets kept and rooms they’d left, despite promises. His profile lifting skyward under the bill of his hat as he let an alien sun touch his face.

The sheer mass of him next to her, every inch of him loud and demanding the attention of all her senses until she had none left.

She felt like she could almost reach out and touch him.

It was heartbreaking when she woke up and he wasn’t there.

Sometimes, in the hazy boundary between waking and sleeping, she could swear he was there. A figure in the corner of her eye that became empty air when she turned her head or reached for him.

When Sam opened her eyes and saw Jack looking down at her as she slept in his bed, she just hurt for the torment of her imagination. She wanted to scream knowing the mirage would fade in the next second. She had tried everything she could think of to make the spirit stay, to hold the vision in its place. To keep him.

But it never worked, and in the next heartbeat Jack would be gone. Sam swallowed the heartache preemptively and blinked.

But Jack didn’t disappear.

In defiance of all logic, he smiled. “Hey, Goldilocks.”

Sam’s eyes widened as her mind started to race. She wondered if this was what going insane was like. The specters dancing at the edges of her vision cloying and agonizing until the delusions suddenly just stayed.

Being able to look her hallucination right in the face was a strange kind of madness, but she was ready to embrace it. She had begged the universe for Jack, and beggars couldn’t be choosers.

Then little things started to register. Jack’s unshaven cheeks and jaw, his disheveled hair, the bruise color under his eyes, the gauntness of injury hollowing his cheeks, the ashen pallor to his face, the beads of sweat on his upper lip and brow, an angry line of stitches just below his hairline over his left temple, the stiff and painful way he leaned over her…

Sam propped up onto her elbows and stared. It made no sense. In her dreams of him, he was either hale and hearty or being torn apart. He was never coasting on painkillers and still more broken than not.

Which must mean…

Jack…?”

Jack smirked tiredly. “If I’d known I was going to come home to find you in my bed, I would have harassed Fraiser into cutting me loose earlier.”

Sam swept her eyes down his body. He was dressed in a baggy t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants that were cut off at the left knee. His left knee was a mass of bandages, and propped against the nightstand was a pair of crutches.

What really drove it home, though, the thing that made Sam truly believe she wasn’t dreaming, was Nick. The dog was dancing in place in the middle of the bedroom (no doubt fended off with a crutch before Sam woke) with his stuffed snake Apophis in his mouth that he’d fetched to celebrate. He was a completely different dog from the past few days of moping and mourning. Nick was over the moon happy, and that had to mean it was real.

Not a dream.

Sam’s eyes flew back to Jack as hope swelled to bursting in her chest.

Behind the drugged edge of pain in his eyes was warmth. Affection. That pure, raw essence of Jack O’Neill.

Sam sat up and kissed him.

Jack made a surprised noise, but he didn’t try to pull away or push her off.

Emboldened, she took his head in her hands and licked the seam of his lips. When he opened under her, she swept her tongue into his mouth. She kissed him like she had every right, like he was hers to kiss. She should be worried about the regulations, their careers, her professional reputation, but none of that mattered except that he was alive, breathing into her mouth and solid and warm in her hands.

Sam deepened the kiss, almost testing to see where he drew the line.

He never did. He canted his head to get a better angle, met her tongue with his own, and Sam was soaring. The sum total of her days of heartache turned to alacrity in one fell swoop. She was dizzy with it.

She had to pull away to breathe. She felt like she had the structural integrity of ones of those burned leaves on the autumn planet. The mere thought of the fire and blood had her shaking.

“C’mere,” Jack beckoned softly, and Sam went.

She buried her face in his shoulder and let out a happy sob when she was inundated with the smell of Jack O’Neill. It was buried under the stink of the infirmary, tainted with the acrid hint of medication, but it was there. The scent she had been chasing as it faded day by day. She could get herself drunk on it.

“Hey…” Jack curled one hand around her back to hold her gently, carefully, like she was an unstable explosive device. She certainly felt like one. “It’s okay.”

Sam shook her head against his shoulder but couldn’t speak. She felt too much. If she opened her mouth, she might detonate. She heaved for air, trying so hard not to sound like a beached fish, and anchored herself to Jack’s scent, his touch, his heat. She clung to his shoulders and tried not to pull him toward her, because from the way he braced himself and tensed it was obvious he was in pain, and she didn’t want to hurt him. But she also couldn’t let him go. Not yet.

Jack didn’t pull away. He kept his hand on her back, eventually beginning to slowly rub it up and down her curved spine as she incrementally accepted that he wouldn’t vanish if she loosened her grip.

It seemed like they stayed that way for hours, though it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. Time forgot them in that bedroom, and Sam would greedily suck up all the lost minutes and rogue hours it felt like giving them.

“It’s okay,” Jack whispered roughly against the shell of her ear. “I’m here.”

“For a minute, back on the planet… I saw you go down, and for a minute I thought…” It had been one of the worst minutes of her entire life.

“I know. Guess it’s a good thing Jaffa aim sucks at long range, huh?”

It hadn’t sucked enough, though. That moment, burned into her memory, when she had fought her way to his bloodied figure, prone and motionless on the ground, would haunt her to her dying day. A loud breath escaped Sam, “Shit.”

“I have it on authority it looked worse than it was,” Jack offered.

Don’t… please, just… don’t.” She couldn’t make light of what had happened. No kernels of logic – head wounds bleed like a motherfucker, the Jaffa mostly missed, it could have been worse – could soften the serrated edge of the memory of seeing Jack and for a moment thinking he was dead.

“Yeah, okay,” Jack said lowly in a voice that said he understood more than anyone should. She felt the press of his lips against her hair before he spoke again. “Daniel said you kind of lost it.”

Sam hated the suggestion she was weak as much as she hated that Daniel was right. She felt a stubborn reflex kick in and fisted Jack’s shirt in her hands. “I didn’t lose it on base.” It was important that he know that – she hadn’t fallen apart at work. But god, had she come close. For a moment on the planet she thought Jack was dead, and it had torn her down to the foundation in a way she had not expected. It had terrified her. She realized he had the power to completely destroy her.

The second she knew Jack wasn’t going to die, she fled the base before she fell apart. Before everyone could see what Jack O’Neill did to her.

“Yeah, I didn’t figure you did. You know how Daniel exaggerates.” Or Daniel just knew Sam better than anyone else. That wasn’t surprising.

Sam tried to remember her numb, shell-shocked escape from the mountain and couldn’t recall most of it now. She had fleeting memories of Cassie in tears, of Nick’s leash losing its last name, then just blurry memories of hours, days, eons in Jack’s bed needing him so badly she could barely breathe.

Jack rested his head against her shoulder. “Want to tell me?”

Sam bit back tears and struggled to keep her voice small when it felt like the force of her feelings could reduce the house to rubble. “I almost lost you.”

“I know… I’m sorry.” As if it had been his fault. As if he’d had a choice who got shot, and he’d picked himself instead of her.

Maybe he had, maybe he hadn’t… but she knew, given the choice, he would.

“I’m sorry I didn’t visit you in the infirmary.”

“I’m not going to lie, I was kind of hoping you would… I wasn’t sure you got out of there in one piece until Daniel told me you were okay.”

The firefight with the Jaffa on the autumn planet flashed through her mind like a nightmare. Seeing him go down was the instant she knew they couldn’t keep doing this. That was the moment the Air Force stopped being a good enough reason not to.

“I couldn’t go see you in the infirmary. On the planet… I saw you get hit, I thought you were dead, and then you were alive… and I knew I couldn’t see you without kissing you.”

Jack paused a moment, then he chuckled. “Yeah, probably best you didn’t do that in front of everyone.”

She hoped that meant he accepted her apology. She hoped he could understand how absolutely done with the regs she was in that split second of shrapnel and fire.

But she had no right to make that decision for him while he was unconscious, and she knew it would be made the second anyone saw her with Jack. Jack deserved the chance to wake up and have a say, and so Sam had to stay away.

But it had been one of the hardest things she’d ever done. Jack was no longer a possibility in her future, he was an absolute. A guarantee. He couldn’t be anything less than her partner from that moment on, and she would not suffer anyone to suggest otherwise. Not even the Air Force.

They had both had brushes with death before, they were both walking maps of scars from battle, so Sam couldn’t say why the autumn planet was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

But that camel’s back was snapped clean in two.

“Speaking of Daniel and his tall tales, though…” Jack said, his voice rumbling in his chest where she was pressed against it, “if he tells you I came to in the infirmary calling for you… just ignore him.”

Sam coughed on a startled laugh, worried that it would too easily turn into crying for the mere thought of how close she had come to never getting to enjoy his sense of humor again.

“And what if Janet says you did?” she asked.

There was a guilty silence. “I mentioned I didn’t know at that point if you got out all right, didn’t I? Clearly I’m just a good commander worried about his team. I’m sure Teal’c’s name was going to be the next one on the tip of my tongue. Hey, maybe I said his name first. You know Daniel likes to stir the pot, that gossip-monger.”

Sam laughed again, this time with less threat of tears, and pulled at Jack’s shirt harder.

Jack’s playful air disappeared and he held her a little tighter. “Hey… it’s okay.”

“I’m not leaving.”

Jack brought up his hand and cradled the back of her neck, pressing her hair flat against her nape. “Okay.”

Sam frowned and pulled back to look him in the eye. “I mean it. I’m moving in. I’m not leaving your house. I’m not leaving your bed.”

Jack smiled tiredly. “Do you see me trying to stop you?”

Sam narrowed her eyes, puzzled. After all the years, their storied history of toeing the line, she had expected some token resistance, at least.

The pain Jack was riding etched sharp lines in his face as he looked down at his wrecked left leg. “This was my good knee, and now it’s blown to hell. I’m looking at a couple of surgeries, at least, months of physical therapy, and that’ll probably just get me to the point where I can walk without a cane if I’m lucky. Even when this heals up as much as it’s going to, there’s no way I’ll be able to pass a physical for gate travel again.” He looked back at Sam, and there was sorrow there… but also relief. “I’m out. Done.”

Sam looked down at his bandaged leg. “What about the Tok’ra? They could use the healing device…”

“A busted knee doesn’t really warrant calling in the alien cavalry. And even if…” Jack winced. “Truth is, if we start calling them in every time part of me breaks, they’re going to get annoyed with all the house calls.” Jack shrugged. “I’m not exactly getting any younger here. Even if we patched this… won’t be long before something else lands me in the same situation.”

“Oh.”

“A man has to know when to bow out gracefully. And hey…” he gestured at his wrecked knees. “I can live with this.” Key word being live.

She hated that he was going to be off a front line team, that it would be the end of SG-1 as she’d always known it, but she also knew what it could mean for her. For them.

“Hammond mentioned me possibly staying on at the SGC as a desk jockey, but I can’t see myself doing that. I’d rather retire.”

Sam was afraid to hope that he was saying what she thought he was saying.

Jack leaned forward just enough to press a brief kiss to her lips. “So by all means… stay in my house, and please stay in my bed.”

“Really?”

Jack grinned. “Oh, yeah.”

Sam captured his mouth in another searing kiss.

Jack hummed contently into her, leaned forward as though to lay her out on his bed beneath him… then he hissed in pain.

Sam jumped back. “Oh god, I’m sorry!”

Jack straightened up with a grimace. “Never apologize for kissing me… I just hit an angle that my knee wasn’t happy with.” Though he tried to play it off, she could tell his face had gone even whiter and the perspiration on his brow glistened.

Sam looked down again at his injured limb and for the first time started contemplating the logistics. “How did you get home? Please tell me you didn’t drive yourself.”

Pfft… like Doc was going to let that happen.” Jack placed his left hand on the part of his leg above where the bandages started. “No, Daniel drove me home.” He hesitated then and looked carefully at Sam. “We saw your car in my driveway, so I had Daniel help me to the front door and told him to scram. I figured we needed to talk.”

She’d have to call Daniel later and thank him. Thank him for a lot of things, actually. She had a feeling he’d been running interference for her a lot while she was having a breakdown. “I can’t believe I didn’t wake up when you guys came in the front door.”

“To be fair, it was a long time between when we came through the door and when I hobbled my ass to the bedroom. It took me about half an hour to go twenty feet.”

Sam fought back a sympathetic smile. “You shouldn’t be on your feet, anyway.” She peered at his pain-pinched face. “And knowing you, you’re probably pushing the limits of how long you should go between doses of medication.”

Jack scowled. “I don’t like being drugged up,” he groused.

“I know,” Sam said kindly. “But I hate seeing you in pain.”

After a moment in quiet, mulish stubbornness, Jack grumbled, “Fine.” It was clearly a concession to her, and Sam loved him for it.

“I’m sure you’re not supposed to take your pain medication on an empty stomach, either.” She moved to get out of bed. “Here, lay down. I’ll go get you something to eat.”

“You don’t have to that.”

Sam gave him a fiery look. “You almost died. Please, let me… just, let me.”

Jack studied her a moment, then he nodded. “Okay.”

Jack struggled to maneuver himself onto the bed. Sam did her best to help get him in a semi-reclined position then pulled a throw blanket at the foot of the bed over him. Once, that would have been where she stopped. She couldn’t appear to care too much. But now she carded her fingers through his sweat-damp hair. Just getting situated in bed had taken a lot out of him. She could tell he was hurting from the way his breath hissed through his clenched teeth.

“Where are your meds?” she asked.

Jack rubbed at one eye socket with the heel of his palm – his classic ‘I’m hurting’ gesture. “Jacket pocket… hanging up in the hallway.”

She touched his lips with her thumb just for the sake of doing it. “Okay… try to relax, I’ll be right back.”

Sam wasn’t a culinary wizard even at the best of times, and Jack’s pantry was kind of bare at the moment, so she was extremely limited in what she could make him. She somewhat sheepishly brought him a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of water, the prescription bottle tucked between her elbow and her side.

Jack just chuckled at the rudimentary meal, ate half the sandwich, then he obediently took the pain pill Sam held out for him.

Nick had given up trying to entice anyone into playing with Apophis and wormed his way next to Sam, tap-dancing plaintively until Jack dropped his hand over the side of the bed for the dog to lick. “Heya, Nick… miss me?”

More than Jack could know.

Sam gave the rest of the peanut butter sandwich to Nick, who scarfed it down – his appetite resurrected with the return of his master.

Sam took the empty plate back to the kitchen and took her time cleaning up some of her mess from the last several days. It felt like a chance to regain her equilibrium, to wrap and tuck away that version of herself that had reacted so badly to Jack’s injury. That had treated the end of a stage of life so much like death. Because though it was the end of so many things, and those endings were terrifying, they were also the prelude to something new. Something that might be amazing.

At the time, Jack’s injury had been all about the pain and blood and the end of things – Sam’s ability to keep up the act, SG-1, the status quo – but Jack was home, and he’d brought with him the hint of good things to come from that disaster.

She marveled at the change just for Jack’s presence in the house. She had been drowning in the nearness of losing him, and so quickly on its heels she was soaring on the promise of having him.

She wasn’t even sorry. The Air Force – the god damn planet – owed them this.

When she was feeling less like a stained glass window about to shatter into a thousand brilliantly colored shards of rainbow, she made her way back to the bedroom.

Jack was settling into a medicated doze, and she knew he was grouchy about it, but the furrow of pain between his brows had softened. Knowing he wasn’t hurting as much made Sam hurt less.

She fussed quietly over Jack as the medication took a stronger hold, evidenced by the way Jack was getting that drugged, loopy glaze to his eyes.

Sam pulled the blanket up to his chest then looked into his eyes. He was smiling at her. In pain and weary, but smiling just the same.

“What?” she asked with a return smile of her own.

“You called my house ‘home’… I like the sound of that.”

Sam ducked down and kissed him, tender and slow. His response was a beat late, his reflexes dulled by the medication, but it seemed nothing was going to stop Jack from kissing her back. She was sure she would never tire of that. “Me, too,” Sam replied. She was more than ready to make Jack’s house her home.

Then she remembered something she’d said to Nick in the depths of her agony. Something about regrets, and Sam was done living with them. “Jack?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

The confession seemed to momentarily vanquish any pain he was feeling. Jack grinned. “I love you, too.” He reached up and traced a hand down her cheek, brushing his thumb over the sensitive skin just below her eye. His eyes tracked from her hair to her eyes to her lips and back again. “I love you and all your colors.”

She had no idea what that meant. She’d blame it on the pain meds.

She brought his hand to her lips and kissed his palm. “And I love you and all of yours.”

Jack gave her a goofy smile and waggled his eyebrows. “So… are you getting in, or what?” He patted the bed space beside him. “Plenty of room for a pretty lady.”

Sam rolled her eyes with a small laugh.

But she was absolutely getting in.

END