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Spoilers: "Frozen" and "Abyss"

Notes: This one's for Pat C. Hope it rights some wrongs! ;) And for Sharon, with thanks!

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

With a sandwich tucked under one arm and a soda balanced on top of the books she carried, Janet Fraiser hurried through the crowded corridors of the SGC, oblivious to the commotion around her.

Ever since Colonel O'Neill had stumbled through the gate less than two hours earlier, and the full horror of his ordeal had spilled haltingly from his lips, her only thought had been how on earth she could help him. How the hell *did* you help a man who had been repeatedly tortured to death, then revived by an alien device that slowly, slowly sucked away your very soul? Nothing in her experience, as exotic as it had been, had prepared her for this. Nothing.

She'd only left the infirmary to race to her office and grab some reference books, then a bite to eat, before returning to settle in for what promised to be a long night. And she'd only done that once Sam and the rest of SG-1 were firmly ensconced at the Colonel's bedside. They, more than anyone, were the people he needed. People he trusted implicitly, who he cared about and who cared about him in return. So far so good, but she had no idea what to expect over the coming hours as the mixture of withdrawal from the sarcophagus and post-traumatic stress collided. She was afraid it wasn't going to be pretty, and--


Soda and sandwich went flying as she crashed headlong into someone leaving the infirmary. "Excuse--" Janet began, then stopped. And stared. "Sam?"

"Sorry Janet," Sam muttered, bending to pick up the soda can still spinning on the floor. "I was miles away."

"Where are you going? Has something happened? Did O'Neill--"

"Nothing's happened," Sam assured her, handing her the soda as she rose to her feet. "He woke up and seemed okay. I think he needs some sleep, so I'm heading back to--"

"You're leaving?" Janet couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"It's late," Sam pointed out, stifling a yawn.

Late? For one of the few times in her life, Janet Fraiser found herself speechless. *Late?*

"And it's been a hell of a week."

Janet was dumfounded! Sam was leaving? Leaving! "You did hear what happened to him?" she said at last, fumbling for a reason to explain her friend's behaviour. "I mean, what Baal did to him?"

"Yeah," Sam nodded, her face pinching tight. "I was there when he told you, remember?" Her lips pressed into a pale, angry line as she kicked angrily at the floor with the toe of her boot. "Bastard. If I ever meet that guy--"

"And you don't think Colonel O'Neill might want some company?" Janet butted in at last, beginning to regain her equilibrium. "After everything...?

But Sam shook her head. "I know him, Janet. He'd rather be alone."

Like hell! "Are you sure?" she asked, carefully controlling her rising frustration. "I mean, considering what--"

"I'm sure," Sam snapped, glaring past Janet at the blank wall on the opposite side of the corridor. "And I'm going to hit the sack. I'm exhausted."

"Fine," Janet snapped back, pushing past her and heading into the infirmary. "I'll keep you apprised of his progress." And with that she slammed shut the door, earning a few curious looks from her staff. But they knew her well enough to bite back any curious questions.

He'd rather be alone? Bullshit! Janet was no fool. She knew exactly why Sam was running away, and for the first time since she'd known her she felt a real disappointment in her friend. She'd thought she was braver than this. She'd thought she had more integrity. And she'd never seen her run before, not from anything.

Perhaps it was testament to the power of her feelings, but at that precise moment, Janet couldn't give a damn about Sam Carter's feelings. O'Neill needed her, end of story. Rounding the corner, she slowed as she saw him resting silently with his eyes closed. Sleeping? Perhaps. He was pale, barely himself. And, God, when she thought of what he'd been through...

Her eyes were drawn to a glass of water set on the nightstand, too far away for O'Neill to reach. It betrayed an inept compassion that told her instantly that Sam had left it there. A glass of water. A glass of goddamn water...! Jesus! Was that the best she could offer? Was she so hog-tied by the regulations that she would rather abandon him to his nightmares than dare to show more tenderness than was strictly proper? Is that what Sam Carter had become? Had she lost every shred of human feeling--

"Daniel?" O'Neill was talking. His eyes were open, staring blankly at the ceiling. "Daniel... Don't leave me alone here." Daniel? A hallucination, perhaps? Taking an unsteady step forward, Janet passed a hand over his staring eyes. He didn't respond, lost in the dream. Or the nightmare. "Daniel? I can't go back in there. You have to end this. I can't go back in there..."

Janet's heart stuttered at the utter desolation she heard in that quiet voice. A voice so alien to the O'Neill she knew. Instinctively, her hand came to rest on his shoulder. "Shhh," she murmured quietly. "It's over. It's just a dream."

His head turned, his eyes drifting closed. Softly, sinking back into oblivion, he whispered, "Carter?"

Janet tightened her hold on his shoulder, anger rising along with a wave of compassion. "I'm here, Jack. You can sleep now."

And he did, slowly and hesitantly relaxing into a sleep that Janet knew would be haunted by nightmares more real than anything she would ever have to face. And she felt sick with grief and anger that this man, who had already suffered so much, should have to face this horror. And face it alone. He'd been alone in Baal's torture chamber, and he was alone still. The woman whose place was at his side, helping him endure this nightmare, had abandoned him.

*He wants to be alone.*

What crap! What utter crap. For whatever screwed-up reasons of her own, Sam had decided that walking on the right side of the goddamn regulations was more important than demonstrating simple human compassion towards a man she considered, at the very least, to be her friend! And so she'd run, forsaking him with a single-minded ruthlessness that Janet didn't think she could ever understand.

Or forgive.


Just drive.

Don't think.

Shift into fifth gear, foot on the gas. Drive. Don't think. Just drive.

It was the only way, Sam had discovered. Just block the thoughts from your mind, concentrate on the present and the future. Don't think about what happened. Don't think about how he must have screamed and begged. Don't think about how you hadn't been there to save him when he needed you. And most of all, don't think about how you'd persuaded him to accept a symbiote in the first place, about how this was all your fault and how-


Just don't think.

Sam reached forward, cranking up the music on the radio as she slammed her foot down hard on the accelerator. Her car leapt to respond, but she got no thrill of adrenaline. Nothing to make her feel alive. Outside, the city streets streamed past in a blur of orange and white. Normal. Unchanged. Reassuring. Everything was okay. He was home. He was alive, and Janet said he was going to be fine. Everything would be back to normal soon enough. Everything would be--

"How many times?" Janet's fingers had shaken as she took down his notes.

"Can't remember." Quiet, subdued. So desperately unlike himself. Terrifyingly vulnerable.

"More than ten?"

"Yeah, probably."

More than ten. More than ten deaths at the hand of his torturer. And each time knowing it wouldn't be the last. Or the worst. Her stomach rolled queasily, just as it had done when she'd stood in the doorway, silently listening to Janet question him. Ten times. More than ten. If only she'd--

Damn it! Don't think about it! Just don't think about it. He was home, that was all that mattered. He was home, he was alive and he was going to be okay. None of it mattered. It was over, in the past, and the future was all that mattered.

It had to be. Because if she let herself think about the past, Sam wasn't sure she could bare to face a future where that kind of thing could happen to the man she--

Don't think about it.

Don't think.

Just drive.


Somewhere in the small hours of the night, Janet's head connected with her arms where they lay folded on her desk and she slipped into an anxious dose. And not more than five seconds after her eyes had closed - or so it felt - she was woken by an urgent whisper.

"Doctor Fraiser?" It was Lewis, one of her most experienced nurses.

Janet was instantly on edge "What's wrong?"

"It's the Colonel," Lewis replied, confirming her worst fear as she glanced back into the infirmary. "He's... I'm not sure. Dreaming, perhaps. Or it could be a flashback."

As she rounded the corner a step behind Lewis, Fraiser saw O'Neill. And her heart went out to the man. He sat with his back against the wall, knees pulled up to his chest and eyes staring at nothing. But he was talking, quietly. Almost muttering. She could just make out the words.

"I have another choice... Any minute, they're gonna come. Baal is gonna kill me again.

You can make it the last time."

Janet exchanged a glance with Lewis. "How long has this been going on?"

"He was sleeping, but distressed. When I tried to top up his meds, he just jumped out of bed." She raised her bruised wrist. "I tried to stop him, but--"

"Not a good idea," Janet agreed, returning her attention to O'Neill. "If this is a flashback, he could become violent."

"You can put an end to it," the Colonel muttered to no one, still staring ahead of him. And then suddenly he slammed his fist hard against the floor and barked, "I'd do it for you, and you know it!"

"Who's he talking to?" Lewis asked quietly. "I thought he was alone in there."

Janet shook her head. "That's what he told me..."

Abruptly, O'Neill shot to his feet, back pressed against the wall. "I don't wanna see this cell again, Daniel."

Fraiser exchanged an anxious glance with Lewis. Daniel. Again. Shit.


It was a dull grey day, gunmetal clouds scudded overhead and the tang of snow bit the air. Sam was glad to get into the mountain, to block out the grimness above and to bury herself in her work. She felt safe there, on the edge of the known universe, deep beneath several tonnes of rock. It was her refuge.

She skirted past the infirmary, wanting desperately to go in and check on O'Neill, but fearing it would look suspicious. It was still early, not much past seven. And the last thing she wanted to hear were the whispers that Sam Carter couldn't even make it to her lab without stopping by to check on her CO. She knew how the medical staff gossiped.

And so she strode right past and practically threw herself into her lab. Flopping down into her chair, she switched on her PC and wished she'd remembered to grab a coffee en route. Her mind felt sluggish, though not from lack of sleep. She'd slept well, actually. Better than she had in a week. But it had been that heavy, black sleep that felt more like death than rest. And she'd awoken foggy and listless. She needed something to kick-start her morning and--


The door to her lab slammed open, clanging angrily against the filing cabinet that stood behind it. Janet Fraiser stalked into the room in the wake of the noise. "So, you're back," she snapped, her dark eyes bright, but failing to conceal the shadows that circled them.

Sam just stared. Suddenly she didn't need caffeine. "Are you okay?"

The door slammed. "No. I'm not."

Rising slowly to her feet, Sam was torn between anger, concern and fear. "Janet? What's going on?"

Janet growled. "How can you--" Then she stopped abruptly, holding up her hands. "You know, I shouldn't be here. I really should just get some rest and--"

"It's okay," Sam assured her, coming around the side of the desk. "You're upset. What happened?"

Janet just shook her head. "If you'd seen him--" She bit back the words, swallowing them into silence.

"Seen who?"

Outrage cast her face an angry shade of red. "Who do you damn-well think?"

"The Colonel?"

"Jack O'Neill," Janet snapped. "That's his name, Sam. He's not just a goddamn rank!"

A beat of fear trembled in the pit of Sam's stomach. "Is he okay?"

A small, inarticulate sound escaped from Fraiser's throat and she turned away, pressing a hand against her face. Sam thought she wasn't going to answer, but then, "No. No he's not *okay*. He's been tortured to death more times than he can remember and left alone--"

"I know that," Sam interrupted, hating the images Janet's words conjured. She couldn't think about it. She refused to. "I mean *now*. Is he okay now?"

Janet whirled to face her. "How *can* he be? How can you even *ask* that?"

Sam backed up. Defensive. "Hey!"

"How could you leave him?" she pressed, drilling into her with fierce eyes as she took a step closer. "How could you just walk away and leave him?"

Frowning, Sam sought refuge behind her desk. "On the Tok'ra base?" she asked, shuffling her papers. "I had no choice. I had to--"

"Not the Tok'ra base!" Janet exploded. "Here! Last night! How could you just leave him here alone?"

Every muscle in her body froze. "What do you mean?"

"You heard," Janet snapped, the air between them so cold it splintered. "How could you do it?"

Still Sam couldn't move, her eyes fixing unseeing on the papers below. Hot. Suddenly dry. "He wasn't alone. You were there. Teal'c was on base and Jonas--"

"He needed *you*," Janet cut in. "And you know it."

Reasoned words were alluding Sam. All she could fall back on were threadbare excuses. "It's not that easy."

"A glass of water," Janet all but spat at her. "Was that the best you could do? After everything he'd been through? A glass of goddamn water!"

Sam watched detachedly as her fingers crumpled a page on her desk into a fist. "There's nothing else I *could* do. You know that."

A footstep. Another. And suddenly Janet's voice was very, very close. Angrier than she'd ever heard it. "The hell I do, Sam. I've seen you do more for Daniel when he's been in here with a stubbed toe!"

"That was different."


"You know how!"

"What?" Janet asked icily. "Because back then you weren't such a cold-hearted bitch?"

Sam's head jerked up, furious. Her eyes locked with Janet's, sparking fire. "How dare you say--"

"Because I *saw* him last night!" Janet hissed. "I saw him...I saw him--" She span away, pulling a hand through her hair. "God, Sam. He was so alone." Her voice was faltering, anger suddenly overtaken by heartbreaking pity. "He was so alone there, he imagined--"

"Don't," Sam whispered. She couldn't hear this. "Please, Janet--"

But Fraiser was relentless. "He was hallucinating. He thought--" She stopped, swallowed. "He thought Daniel was with him. Kept asking him to get him out, or to end it. To make sure he didn't come back after...after Baal had--"

Barely aware of what she was doing, Sam sank into her chair, concentrating solely on keeping the lump from her throat and the tears from her eyes. "You don't think I already blame myself?" she whispered. "If I hadn't asked him to take a symbiote--"

"It's not about then," Janet said quietly, her back still turned. "It's about now, Sam. He needed you last night. You should have been there."

Sam shook her head. "You know why that's not possible."

"The regulations." A sliver of anger sharpened Fraiser's words again. "Is that it?"

"You think it's easy for me?" Sam shot back, her own anger returning. "You think I don't *want* to be there for him? To help him? God! But I can't. I *can't*!"

Slowly Janet turned to face her, drained but still as defensive as a cornered tiger. "The regulations weren't written for this," she said quietly. "No one should have to go through this alone. Ever."

"He's not alone," she countered. "He's not--"

"*You're* the one he needs!" Janet interrupted. "You're the one he wants. He asked for you. And you weren't there."

Sam closed her eyes, squeezing them shut against the image. "He'd understand."

"I don't care," Janet conceded. "That doesn't make it right. Doesn't make you any less cowardly."

Cowardly? The accusation hit like white lightening. "I am not--"

"Then talk to him, Sam! Help him through this. And to hell with the goddamn regulations! This is more important. *He* is more important." She paused, staring angrily. "Isn't he?"

Sam shook her head. "You don't know what you're asking," she said softly. "If I let myself feel... It's too hard. It's just too hard to go there."

Janet moved back towards the door, shaking her head. "Just talk to him," she asked quietly. "Sit with him."

Talk? How could she talk, when the only things she wanted to say were proscribed by the very rules and oaths that made them who and what they were? How could she say anything, when all she wanted to do was reach out and hold him, to take away all the horror and the pain? "I can't," she confessed brokenly. "I can't talk to him about this--"

"So, don't talk!" Janet implored, anger and sadness brimming over as tears filled her eyes. "Just be there, Sam. For the love of God, if you care at all about the man, just be there for him."


Patience was not a virtue for which Jack O'Neill was renowned. But today, he found himself curiously calm as Fraiser measured this and that, gazed into his eyes with her favorite penlight, and muttered to herself as she wrote her notes.

Fact was, he was going home. And nothing Doctor Janet Fraiser said would stop him. In fact, nothing anyone said would stop him. Even Hammond. He was going home, as far from the stargate as he could get. He was going to watch TV and forget. He'd done it before, and he'd do it again. This wasn't the first time he'd been to hell and back.

"Are you done?" he asked abruptly, the moment Fraiser turned away.

She eyed him warily. "Colonel, I really don't think this is a good idea. Last night you suffered what I can only describe as a flashback and--"

"I'll take that as a yes," he interrupted, sliding from the bed and striding towards the door. If his legs felt a little shaky, and his head thudded dully, he paid them no mind.

"Sir, the withdrawal from the effects of the sarcophagus are--"

"I feel great!" he lied. "And now I'm gonna--"

"Colonel!" It sounded a hell of a lot like an order, and Jack turned curiously around to see the doctor glaring at him. He hadn't noticed how tired she looked.


She softened. Slightly. "At least let me talk to General Hammond, sir."

He hesitated. She really did look tired. Strung out. "Thirty minutes," he conceded. "Then I'm outta here."

Fraiser just nodded, and he was disconcerted to see something that could only be called pity in her eyes. He shivered, and turned away. Pity was the last thing he wanted. Ever.

It was less than twenty minutes later that Jack heard the slow tread of General Hammond's footsteps walk towards his table in the commissary. Jack sat there staring into the steaming surface of his coffee, willing the General to go elsewhere. But unsurprised when he stopped right in front of him.


He looked up, squinting against the neon light. He shivered, it reminded him too much of the-- He refused to even think it. "General."

"I hear you're heading home, son."

He shrugged, and turned back to his coffee. "Fraiser says I'm fine."

"She says that you've shown a remarkable resilience to the addictive affects of the sarcophagus," Hammond agreed, leaving the 'but' hanging in the air. Jack ignored the bait, and after a moment the General pulled up a chair and sat down. "She's more concerned with your...," his voice lowered, "psychological welfare."

"I know."

"What you went through--"

"I know!" His head snapped up, anger brimming to his lips. He held it back. Barely. "I just need to get out of here," he confessed quietly. "This give me the creeps. I...I just wanna go home."

Hammond met his gaze with a steady look, measuring him. Jack endured the scrutiny, shoulders straight. "You shouldn't be alone."

"I have no choice." And that was the truth. There was no one he could share this with. Just like after Iraq, he had to keep it all to himself. To survive it himself.

The moment stretched, silent in the noisy commissary. And then with a sharp nod of his head, Hammond stood up. "I'll tell Fraiser to release you overnight," he decided, rising to his feet. "But I want you to report back tomorrow morning. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

Hammond nodded and turned away. Then paused, his hand resting lightly on the back of the chair. "Jack, if you need anything..."

"Yeah," he said quietly, meeting his friend's eyes. "I know."

Another short nod, and the General was on his way. Leaving Jack to his coffee and the bleak prospects of the days and nights ahead.



It was a nervous Sam Carter who poked her head around the infirmary door, not sure who she dreaded seeing most - Janet or the Colonel. But the infirmary was unusually quiet, and as she stepped more fully into the room she saw that O'Neill's bed was empty and stripped of its sheets.

A sudden panic seized her, mind spinning with worst-case scenarios as she span on her heel and...

Bumped headlong into Janet.

"Whoa!" Fraiser yelped. "Where's the fire?"

"Where's the Colonel?"

Janet glanced at the empty bed, then back at Sam with an arch look in her eye. "He's gone home," she said, folding her arms over her chest as if daring Sam to be surprised.

"Home? I thought you said he was having flashbacks and--"

"He was," Janet replied, her displeasure evident. "But you know the Colonel. And I had no clinical reason to keep him here. General Hammond agreed. So he's gone."

Moving past her, Janet started shuffling some papers on the small desk at the side of the room.

"So, is he going to be okay...?" Sam asked. "I mean, what about the withdrawal from the sarcophagus? When Daniel--"

"Daniel used the sarcophagus voluntarily," Janet replied, still working on the papers. "And he wasn't...dead. He had a psychological addiction as much as anything else. Whereas Colonel O'Neill..." Janet turned around, leaning back on the desk. "I think it's safe to say that using the sarcophagus is not an experience he wants to repeat."

Sam nodded in understanding, and then fell silent. The air between them was tense, and Sam couldn't forget her friend's angry words from earlier in the morning. Even now, she remained torn between remorse and anger. Janet seemed to be having the same problem.

At length, Sam was the one who spoke. "What you said this morning... Did you mean it?"

Janet's dark eyes looked away. "Most of it," she said, and Sam flinched.

"Is that really how it seems?" she asked softly. "Like I don't care?"

Janet shrugged. "Let's just say you do a good job of hiding what you feel."

"I know," she admitted with a rueful sigh. "I've had a lot of practice."

With a deep sigh, Janet simply said, "Now isn't the time, Sam."

"For what?"

"For hiding. Okay, I admit, most of the time you have no choice. But not now. Not over this." She took a step forward and lowered her voice as she reached out and touched Sam's arm. "Don't let him go through this alone, Sam. Please."

The compassion and sadness in Janet's face was almost enough to bring tears to Sam's eyes as she closed her hand over that of her friend. How could she deny the request? How could she turn her back on him now, when he needed her the most?

"I won't." But her promise sounded whisper-thin in the quiet room, and she felt herself go cold at the prospect of what she was undertaking. It was the most frightening thing she'd done in years. Not dangerous to life and limb, maybe. But to heart and soul, most certainly. And it scared her half to death.


A single lamp illuminated the room. The TV flickered silently in the corner and Jack O'Neill sat slumped on the sofa, staring at the banal images and willing them to soothe the tension he felt in every muscle.

But they had little effect as the evening drew on and he knew that, relentlessly, night was approaching. And with it, the dreams. The horrors. McKenzie might believe that nightmares helped purge the psyche, but to Jack they were just doorways back into the pain, the fear and the terrible loneliness he'd felt while trapped at Baal's mercy.

So alone. With no hope of rescue. And no end. Ever. No escape. Not even in death. Just an eternal cycle of agony and horror stripping away his reason. His very soul.

Even in memory the panic drove him to his feet, his breathing suddenly shallow and shaky. It was over, he reminded himself, sucking in a deep breath and closing his eyes. He was free. Free to live, and free to die.

But as the sun slipped below the horizon, and the shadows of night stretched out towards him, Jack just couldn't repress his rising panic. The dreams would come again. They'd take him back there. To the lonely cell. And there was nothing he could do to stop them. He was at their cold mercy. And it terrified him.

Shivering, Jack forced his leaden feet into motion, angry at letting his thoughts dwell so long on the memories he was determined to banish. Whisky, he decided, would help. And to hell with Fraiser's warnings. If the flashbacks were going to come, he'd rather endure them drunk than sober.

He flicked on the kitchen light and squinted in the bright neon glare. Too bright. Too white. Too much like the sarcophagus... He turned it off, and made his way to the whiskey bottle by the dim glow from the living room. He'd just poured himself a sizeable glass when the doorbell rang. He stayed put, swallowing a welcome mouthful of single malt. Probably just some kid selling door-to-door.


A persistent kid.


A *damn* persistent kid.

The doorbell rang again, and again. Each time longer and longer. Muttering his irritation, Jack carried his whisky into the hallway and flung open the door. "What the hell do you--"

He stopped. "Carter."

She stood there, anxious, in her civvies. With a small pack over one shoulder.

"What are you doing here?"

Intelligent eyes blinked, then nodded in acknowledgement of the question. "I wanted to make sure you were okay, sir."

"I'm fine," he instinctively lied, thrown sideways by her presence. Since when did Carter ever turn up at his house uninvited? Or invited, come to that?

She frowned, her head cocked to one side. "With all due respect, sir. I don't believe you."

Well, that was new! "You don't?"

And then she held up a carry-out bag he hadn't noticed before. "I brought Chinese."

For a long moment he just stared at her. This wasn't what Carter did. It wasn't what *they* did. "Is... Where's Teal'c?" Maybe the rest of the team were there too? Perhaps they'd--

"It's just me," she shrugged, a slight flush stealing across her face. "Do you mind?"

Mind? "Uh. No," he decided, realizing for the first time that she was still standing on the porch. " wanna come in?"

He stepped back and she followed him, closing the door behind her. "I'll put this in the kitchen," she said, heading off into his house and leaving him staring after her in bewilderment. Carter? In his house? *Why?*

When he reached the kitchen, the neon lights were on. But somehow it didn't seem so bad with her rummaging through a cupboard, looking for plates. "I got chicken and cashew nuts, hot and sour soup, chili beef," she turned around to face him, "and Singapore noodles. Sound okay?"

"Sure," he frowned. "Um...Carter, don't get me wrong. Not that this isn't nice or anything, but...?"

"I know," she said softly, turning back to the counter and pulling cartons out of the bag. "What am I doing here, right?" She laughed, not sounding remotely amused. "Truth is, I don't have a clue. I just know..." She stilled, her back towards him. "I just realized that I couldn't *not* be here. I couldn't pretend like this was just one of those things. That what happened to you didn't... Didn't affect me. A great deal."

His breath caught, taken utterly by surprise. Had she really said that? Had *Carter* really said *that*? He almost didn't believe his own ears. It had been so long. So much had happened, and so much hadn't happened... He'd begun to suspect, long ago now, that whatever they'd once shared had turned into something different. Something less dangerous. Less wonderful. And yet here she was, standing motionless before him, staring unseeing at the dusk beyond his window. And for the first time in more than a year, he saw through Major Carter. Saw the woman within, the woman he wasn't allowed to care about. The woman he cared about more than anything.

Taking a step forward he reached out a hesitant hand to touch her, turning her gently to face him. "Thank you," he said quietly, as her eyes lifted to his.

A tight smile tugged at her lips. "I'm not such a great friend," she sighed. "Sometimes, I get so caught up in what I can't do, I forget--"

"I know," he told her, uncomfortable with her surprising openness. "And I mean it. This," he waved towards the Chinese, "means a lot."

Her smile widened, and for a moment he had the insane compulsion to take her into his arms. It had been so long since he'd held someone, or been held in return, and the tortured memories that lurked like ghosts in his mind made him so cold. If he could just feel a moment of warmth, a human touch...

But it was impossible. Nothing had changed, no matter how much he wanted - and needed - her. Before him, she half-smiled and half-grimaced, telling him that she was struggling with the same feelings. The same intentions. In a way it was comforting. In another way it was so frustrating, he could have screamed.

Then, with a sigh, she looked away and the moment was over. "We should eat," she said quietly, "before it gets cold."

Jack took a step backwards, and swallowed another mouthful of whiskey. "Sounds like a plan, Carter."


It was late. Sam curled in the far corner of the Colonel's sofa, pretending to watch the TV while really studying O'Neill. He sat at the other end, fighting sleep. She could tell he was exhausted, his face was pale and shadows darkened his eyes. But he resisted sleep like the Devil himself, downing coffee after coffee in a vain attempt to stay awake.

Her eyes must have lingered a little too long, because his gaze turned from the late-night comedy and came to rest on her face. "What?"

She shrugged, refusing to lie to him. Or play games. "You'll have to sleep sometime, you know."

His eyes narrowed. He hated being exposed. "I'm waiting for you to leave, actually. Wouldn't want to be rude and go to bed."

And there it was. The moment she'd been expecting, the moment she should have addressed hours ago. Clearing her throat, Sam uncurled her legs and stood up, stretching slightly. God, she was tired. "Actually," she said, looking around for her bag and deliberating avoiding his scrutiny, "I thought I might crash here. If that's okay."

He was silent for a moment, and she could almost hear him wondering exactly what she had in mind. To reassure him - and herself - she quickly added, "Teal'c says your sofa's quite comfy, and you know I had a couple of beers with dinner. So..."

"Right." Pushing himself to his feet, he stalked towards the kitchen. Irritated. He wasn't buying it. Damn. "So, what...? You guys going to take turns babysitting or something?"

"That's not it," she replied, following him and leaning against the doorjamb as he rinsed out his coffee mug. "I just... Can you blame me? I don't think you should be alone, that's all."

He didn't look at her. "So, does Teal'c have the early shift?"

"No. I told you. It's just me. It's not a team thing. It's a..."

He turned, dark eyes empty. "It's a what?"

"A friend thing." That was as close as she could get to it. But she knew he understood, she could see it in his face. A beat of emotion flashed to the surface, warm and needy, before it was banished back into the darkness. And in that moment, she saw him make the decision.

He nodded and moved past her. Just close enough that his arm brushed hers, sending little flickers of heat racing into her stomach. But he walked like a soldier heading into battle, through the living room and towards the stairs. "I can make up the spare room, if you like."

"It's okay," she assured him. "The sofa's fine."

Having decided to face his demons, O'Neill didn't pause again until his foot was on the first step of the staircase. But with his hand resting on the banister, he stopped, head down. Contemplating his feet. "Carter?"


"If anything happens...?"

Sam felt her heart constrict. It was the closest thing he'd ever get to admitting that he was afraid. "I'll be right here," she said softly. "It'll be okay."

He nodded silently, and didn't look back as he climbed the stairs towards sleep and the horrors it would bring. To Sam, he'd never looked more heroic.


Something indefinable woke her in the dark hours of the night. A sound, perhaps. Maybe just an instinctive knowledge that she was needed. Pushing the blanket from around her legs, Sam rose from the sofa and padded softly across the room. She paused for a moment at the foot of the stairs, but heard nothing more and so quietly climbed up towards his bedroom.

Moonlight filled the hallway, it's silvery shimmer cold in the night air. She shivered as she slowed and stopped outside his door. It was ajar, and framed again the window she saw him staring out into the night.

He looked terribly alone, bathed in silver light. A hand rested on the glass, his forehead pressing against his fingers. Her heart sank at the way his shoulders were sagging, and she stepped silently into the room. The twisted bed sheets, half falling on the floor, spoke of the nightmares she knew were haunting him. How could they not, after what he'd suffered? What she'd let him suffer.

Stepping over the bedding, she slowly approached the window. He didn't move, and she wasn't sure if he was even aware of her presence. But Jack O'Neill was not an easy man to surprise, his senses were too finely tuned. Even now.

"I didn't mean to wake you," he said quietly, not moving from where he stood.

"You didn't." She took a step closer, unsure what to do. How to play this new game. "Bad dreams?"

He just nodded, lifting his head from his hand and turning towards her. His eyes were black in the moonlight, dark and empty. "I'm okay. Get some sleep."

"I'm not tired," she told him. And it wasn't a lie. "Do you want Or something?"

A thin smile twisted his lips and he looked away, back into the darkness beyond the window. "No."

Indecision curled Sam's nerves. What should she do? How could she help him? She wanted so badly to help, but she had no idea... Then Janet's words came back to her, spat out in anger and sadness. "So, don't talk! Just be there, Sam. For the love of God, if you care at all about the man, just be there for him."

Just be there. But how can you be there for a man who's barely there himself? How do you reach someone who has lived through the pain and fear of countless deaths, each time with the certain knowledge that it would not be the last? Or the worst. How do you reach out to them? How do you--

She stopped, her gaze drifting down to her hands, balled into fists at her side. There was only one way, of course. A way so alien to them that she hadn't considered it until now. A forbidden way, but forbidden by rules that couldn't possibly encompass this situation. Almost unbidden, her hand rose, flexed and reached out until her fingers came to rest on his arm.

He flinched at the contact, his head snapping around with a startled look on his face. Sam offered him a shaky smile as she slid her hand down his arm, coming to rest firmly over his fingers. Squeezing tightly.

Jack blinked, his mouth parting as his brow contracted in sudden confusion. He didn't understand what she was doing. In truth, neither did she. But she knew it was right. She knew it was the only way. "It's okay," she said softly, half to herself and half to him as she tugged his hand and turned him to face her. "It's okay."

He swallowed hard, his hand turning in hers so that their fingers locked. And his eyes... God, his eyes, half-hidden in shadow, bored into her with such a potent mixture of need, hunger and abject fear that she felt herself start to tremble. With a shaking hand, she reached out again and touched the side of his face, tracing over his cheek and into his hair. Stroking, soothing. Comforting.

His tongue flicked across his lips. "Carter, we can't--"

"Shh," she admonished gently, her fingers moving to his mouth. Silencing him. "It's all right. This is all right."

"The regu--"

"I want to help you," she whispered. "Let me help you, Jack."

"Sam..." His voice was thick with emotion, trembling on the edge of control. He looked like he was fighting something, an inner battle for restraint. His breaths were swift and shallow, his eyes as deep as the night, as he lifted a hand and hesitantly reached out to caress her shoulder. She shivered as his finger ran lightly across her collarbone, touching her with a tender reverence that took her breath away. Their eyes met again, his full of unspoken questions, unsure and seeking her permission. Her heart was in her eyes as she brushed a kiss against his cheek in silent reply, and a ragged sigh drifted hot against her shoulder as his head dipped, following the route of his touch, to place a kiss like swansdown against her bare skin.

Sam's whole body melted in response, their entwined fingers clutching tighter, and then suddenly he moved. Sagged. It was as if something inside had snapped, and with a harsh sound in the back of his throat he reached for her in earnest. Roughly, he pulled her into his arms and crushed her there. His breathing was uneven as he buried his face against her shoulder, blazing a trail towards her neck with heated, urgent kisses. But she was shocked to feel warm tears in their wake. His tears. And unable to keep her own from falling in response, she simply wrapped her arms around him and held him tight against the horrors he had suffered. Slowly, his kisses were engulfed by tears. But he didn't move from where his face was buried against her neck.

And for a long time, they simply stood there. He held her so close, it felt as though he were clinging on for dear life. And perhaps he was, for after endless minutes he started to tremble. Bone-deep, silent sobs shook him, and he clung to her if she were the only thing keeping him from drowning beneath his emotional damn-burst. Sam just held on, stroking his hair, his back. Doing what she could. She had no words of comfort, nothing that could come close to what he must have suffered. So she kept silent, saying with her body the only things that mattered. I'm here for you. You're safe. I love you...

At last his tears ran dry, and eventually he moved far enough back that she could see his face. He wiped awkwardly at his eyes with the back of his hand, deliberately avoiding her gaze. Embarrassed. Reluctantly, Sam withdrew her arms from around him, letting her hands slide down his arms until only their fingers touched. She cleared her throat before she spoke, her words unsteady. "You want to be alone for a while?"

He shook his head, holding her hands more tightly. She saw him swallow a couple of times, striving to control his voice. "I need some sleep." Then he looked up, hesitant. Unsure. "Stay?"

Sam smiled as a wave of relief washed over her. She hadn't realized how desperately she wanted to stay. Silently she led him back towards his bed and sat down on the edge, at once nervous, elated and deeply touched. He perched at her side, awkward and obviously still awash with emotion. So she took the lead, straightening the covers, pulling them over herself and curling up in his bed. After a moment he joined her, moving behind her and wrapping himself around her. She couldn't see him, but she could feel his uneven breaths against her neck as he held her tightly against his chest.

Far from sleep herself, she listened to his breathing even, slow and gradually drop into the deep, restful sound of sleep. Her fingers stroked the arm that held her. And she sighed with deep satisfaction, knowing in the depths of her soul that she'd done the right thing. For him, and herself.


Dawn stole through the window, bringing a soft rain that beat a gentle rhythm on the glass. Jack lay awake in the early light, feeling raw and battered from the night that lay behind him. But for the first time in days, feeling alive. Truly alive.

In no small part was it due to the woman who lay sleeping at his side. And he thanked every god who was listening that she was there, and that she'd been there at the darkest hour. The last thing he remembered was the feel of her pressed against him, as solid and comforting as anything in his life. Her warmth drove away the cold brilliance of the sarcophagus, her strong and steady breathing reminded him that he was alive and that he was not alone.

Now, in the pale light of dawn, he could see her more clearly. She lay with her back to him, and his arm rested across her waist, still holding her as he had when he'd fallen asleep. He wondered if they'd moved all night. Her pale arm was free of the covers and the morning sun burnished her shoulder, sending an erotic tingle to the pit of his stomach as he remembered the taste of her skin on his lips.

He'd kissed her. And she'd let him. Her hand had touched his face, caressed his hair, for all the world like the lovers they were forbidden to be. He understood, of course. He knew why she'd done it, why she was there now, and he was more grateful than he could express. She'd been there for him, in a way only she could have been. And, perhaps, in the only way that could have helped him through the dark night. He knew what it must have cost her, what it could still cost her, and he found himself in awe of her. Again.

The question was, what now? His life stretched before him along two distinct paths, and he stood immobilized by indecision at the fork in the road. He figured that at that moment, as he lay there with Carter sleeping in his arms, he had two options. The first, and by far the most tempting, was to tighten his hold around her waist, to pull her closer and kiss the inviting expanse of bare shoulder only inches from his lips. To turn her to face him, wake her with a caress and take the medical retirement that would be almost automatic after the 'experience' he'd just suffered.

God, how he wanted to do that. How he wanted to lose himself in her arms, and forget the terror and pain forever. She could heal him, he knew it. She'd already done so much. And yet...

And yet...

Wasn't that exactly what he'd thought about Sara? Hadn't he run home after every horror he'd seen and perpetrated? Hadn't he tried to lose himself in her and in his family? Hadn't he used her like a balm to his conscience? And hadn't it ended up destroying their marriage when horror had stalked into his house and taken his son? He'd had nowhere to run then, and his relationship with his wife had been exposed as bankrupt. He couldn't give her what she needed, and she had nothing left for him.

He refused to make the same mistake again. He wouldn't use Carter like that, however willing she might be. Because if he didn't learn from the failure of his marriage, then the whole ten years was in vain. And he refused to accept that too.

Carter deserved better than being his emotional crutch. Which left the other option, the other path...

To pull his arm from around her, to slide silently out of bed and acknowledge the previous night for what it had been. Two people, friends - more than friends - giving and taking what they needed in order to get through the darkness. In different ways, they'd done the same for Daniel and Teal'c over the years. They were there for each other. Bonded closer than any marriage. But it didn't change anything. She was still Major Carter, and he was still her CO. And if they were ever to move beyond that - and he hoped to God that one day they would - then it wouldn't be like this. Not as a by-product of his need.

If that day ever dawned, he wanted to be more than a man pulling himself back from the edge. He knew he'd never be good enough for her, but he knew he could at least be better than he was. He owed her that much.

And so, with a heavy sigh he slowly lifted his arm from around her. She stirred as he moved, but didn't wake as she rolled further onto her back. He could see her face more clearly now, and his heart clamped tightly for a moment, his decision wavering; she was so beautiful. Not in a superficial, skin-deep way, but to his mind she was the most perfect thing he had ever seen. No screen-goddess could ever compare to the familiar features that lay next to him, so close that he could see the subtle lines forming around her eyes and mouth - evidence of the hard life they shared.

Something warm stirred deep down, a profound feeling that filled him with an intense comfort. He remembered it, from long ago. From the early days with Sara. And he was at once ecstatic and terrified by the realization that he was still capable of feeling an emotion as pure as-- He hesitated to name it. To say the word, to acknowledge it even silently, was too risky. Perhaps one day he could say it aloud. But for now, like so much else, it had to remain unspoken. Un-thought.

Slowly, he turned away and sat up. He didn't want to wake her. He wasn't sure he could do what he must if she was awake. And so he moved as silently as he could, sliding out of bed and onto the cool wooden floor. Grabbing his clothes, he headed out of the bedroom and towards the bathroom. It was for the best, he told himself, ignoring the ache growing in his chest. She'd got him through the worst, and he refused to ask for more than that. Not yet. Not until he had more than a screwed up psyche to offer in return.


Sam awoke to the aroma of coffee and the tinny sound of a radio drifting up the stairs. Rolling over, she couldn't prevent a beat of disappointment that she'd woken alone. But she wasn't surprised. And deep down, she had to admit she was relieved.

Waking up in her CO's bed was bad enough. But if he'd been there too, and they'd been forced to actually talk...? No, this was easier. Safer. Much, much safer.

Since all her clothes were still in his living room, Sam padded downstairs in her pajamas. She'd hoped to grab her bag and reach the bathroom before she saw him. But it wasn't to be. Just as she stepped off the bottom step of the staircase, he came walking around the corner with a coffee in one hand and they all but collided. "Whoah!"

"Carter!" he stuttered, looking everywhere but at her face. "I was just--" He frowned, changed gear, and looked up, offering her the mug. "I thought you'd like a coffee."

She took it, feeling almost as awkward as he looked. "Thanks."

Giving her that tight smile of his, one that was almost a grimace, he turned away. But not before she'd spoken again. "Did you get some more sleep?"

"Yeah," he nodded, slowing in his retreat. But he didn't turn back to face her. "I, um... Look, what happened last night..."

What happened last night... She shivered at the memory of his lips on her bare skin. Of how easily she'd melted in his arms, and of how very much she'd wanted more... "You needed someone," she said softly, watching the way he was scowling at the floor. "I'm glad it was me."

"Yeah," he said shortly. "Me too."

Silence. Her coffee steamed into the still air, and she took a slow sip. Still he didn't move and didn't speak, his hands wedged deeply into his pockets. "It doesn't have to change anything," she assured him quietly.

He nodded at that, and she couldn't ignore her second disappointment of the morning. Perhaps, deep down, she'd thought it would. Had wanted it to change something. Everything.

"You know I'd never do anything to damage your career, Carter."

She could have laughed at that. "My career is my own concern, Colonel. What happened last night had nothing to do with that, or anything else. It had to do with us."

"Us?" He half-turned, looking at her sideways. "How do you mean?"

Sam shook her head. "Janet said--"

"Fraiser!" He was facing her now, an odd look of concern and outrage bringing his features to life. "Don't tell me she--"

"She pointed out a few unattractive truths," Sam cut in quickly. "About me, and the way I've ignored..." She sighed. "Let's just say, she held up a mirror and I didn't like what I saw." He frowned, as if he had no idea what she was talking about. "I had to be here, Jack," she told him, deliberately making herself use the unfamiliar name. "Because I care about you, and for once I decided to put that before anything else. And screw the consequences."

A slight smile. "Screw the consequences?"

"Some things are more important than the rules."

He ducked his head, and very quietly said, "Thank you."

"Anytime," she replied softly. "And I mean that."

With a deep sigh, he looked up at her. Measuring her. She felt as if he could see every single thought and feeling in her head. "What would you say," he said cautiously, "if I told you I'd thought of getting out?"

Her heart stuttered. "Of the Air Force?"

"Yeah. Of the whole shebang."

"I..." God, as much as the idea had its appeal... "I don't think this is the best time to be thinking about stuff like that, sir. You're not-- You can't be thinking straight."

"Can't I? Going through...what I did... It puts things into perspective. Makes you think about priorities."

Sam nodded, taking a step closer. "I'm sure it does. But, sir, please - don't do anything rash. Think about it."

He almost laughed, a wry sound. "You think this is the first time I've thought about it, Carter? About what we-- About how things could be if I left?"

Perhaps left over from the intimate night they'd shared, Sam found herself reaching out and taking hold of his arm. "I've thought about it too," she confessed. "Of course I have. But this isn't the time. This isn't something you want to decide because of... Because of what happened. Give it a couple of months, and then see."

His eyes drifted over her fingers, firm on his warm skin, and up to her eyes. Still dark, they lacked the emptiness she'd seen during the night. But they were deep, and intense. "A few months suddenly seems like a long time."

"Yeah," she agreed, drawn in by his hungry gaze.

"Everything could change," he argued. "We might not even be here in a few months!"

She tightened her hold on him, moving closer still. Into the danger zone. "Not everything," she assured him quietly. "One thing will never change."

He moved too, reaching out and touching her hand lightly. Not taking it, just touching. Making a contact. "And what's that?"

"Me," she admitted softly. "How I feel."

His eyes closed, and she saw him struggling not to reach for her. Saw his need, less naked but no less profound that the night before, and something inside snapped. Some last thread that had tied her so immovably to protocol. Almost without thought, she put her arms around him and pulled him close, a gesture of deep and profound friendship. "Whatever happens, I'll be here for you. I swear. For as long as it takes."

His arms closed around her, drawing her to him with such tenderness that her heart all but melted. "Then I feel better," he murmured close to her ear. "Much better."

With a final squeeze, she forced herself to pull back. "I should get going," she said, glancing over at her open bag next to the sofa. "I'm on duty in an hour."

"Yeah," he replied, deliberately sinking his hands safely into his pockets. "And I have a date with Fraiser."

Sam smiled, watching him carefully. "If you like," she suggested, "I could stay tonight? If you'd like the company."

"That sounds great," he sighed, "but... Probably not a good idea. I think this," he waved his hands between them, "is probably something we can only get away with once, without... going places we really, really shouldn't go."

She nodded. "If you're sure. I could," she laughed, awkwardly, "stay on the sofa next time...?"

"No," he said, taking a deep breath and a step backward. "Really, really not a good idea, Carter."

"But you'll call me?" she pressed, moving away from him and starting to gather up her belongings. "If you need anything, right? Anytime."

"Yeah," he agreed, leaning back against the banister and watching her. "I will."

"You better," she told him firmly, gathering her clothes and heading for the bathroom.

He grinned suddenly. The first real smile she'd seen since he returned, and it did her heart good. "What?" she smiled back.

Shaking his head, he looked away. "Nothing."

"Oh, come on! What?"

"It's just... No, I can't."

"What!" Her smile slipped into a mock-glare, which only seemed to heighten his amusement. "Tell me."

"I was just thinking... Sometime, soon, you and I are going to have a lot of fun together!"

Sam just stared, then felt herself flush to the tips of her ears. "Oh!"

O'Neill's grin broadened still further. "Hit the showers, Major. Your ride leaves in ten."

And with that he turned on his heel and headed down into the kitchen, leaving Sam staring after him with a mixture of surprise, amusement and unexpected joy partying in her chest. He was back. Jack O'Neill was back. Just a glimpse, perhaps. A mere spark of the man she'd grown to care so much about. But it told her that he was still there, beneath his healing wounds, he was still there.

And for the first time since he'd stumbled through the stargate, battered and shell-shocked, Sam felt in her heart what she'd been telling herself all along.

He was going to be okay.

Everything was going to be okay.


End Notes: Thanks for reading:) I'm always trying to improve my writing, so all constructive comments are welcome at

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