samandjack.net

Story Notes: Understandings and Misunderstandings Part 13: Email: su_freund@ficwithfins.com

Website: http://www.ficwithfins.com/

Status: Series

Category: Angst. romance

Pairings: Jack & Sam

Spoilers: Any episode featuring Charlie or Sara, A Matter of Time, The Curse, Abyss

Season: Future

Sequel/Series Info: Sequel to Understandings and Misunderstandings Part 12: Rejoining

Content Warnings: References to rape, miscarriage of pregnancy and torture. Use of relatively mild language and non-explicit references to sex.

Archive: My site, Jackfic yes, SJD yes, Gateworld, FanFiction Net

Author's Note: Apologies that it has taken so long to get this next part on line folks. I appear to have been distracted by other fic of late. Blame the muse. My thanks go to Bonnie for beta reading this fic, and her suggestions and corrections. On my site this fic is illustrated with a gorgeous, and exclusive, S&J artwork by Thalassa made into a wonderful book cover by Fulinn28. You can access this here: http://www.ficwithfins.com/su/ship/um13.htm


The SGC - the present:

Jack paced his office trying to make up his mind. He was almost bouncing off the walls. Back in Colorado Springs for less than a week, and before she had made any decision, Sam had miscarried the foetus she held within her womb.

Doctors thought her miscarriage was linked to the hybrid nature of the foetus and it was something they had feared might happen; one of the reasons they had suggested termination of the pregnancy. They had hypothesised that, if she carried to full term, the baby might be stillborn or die shortly after birth. Either that or Sam's health might be at risk from the pregnancy. It seemed unlikely that the Goa'uld had 'designed' Jaffa to interbreed with another race. Jaffa were their slave race, bred to meet their own very special requirements.

In some respects it was lucky that her miscarriage took place at the SGC. She returned to work after their vacation, seemingly fine, considering everything, although still off the mission rotation. Working in her lab she was struck down by unbearable stomach cramps and went to the infirmary, almost collapsing as she entered the door. At least she was close to good medical attention when it happened.

It had been very hard on Jack. When he saw her in the infirmary it was as her CO and friend, nothing more. How could it be otherwise? Just like when she was returned to him from her capture, he was restricted in both word and movement while she was there. It was frustrating. The thing he wanted to do most was hold her in his arms, reassure her, but he couldn't.

She looked awful. Pale, dark circles under her eyes. His heart had flinched with distress. Wasn't it bad enough that she had suffered at the hands of those Jaffa bastards? Now she had to endure this? He could see very plainly that she was in pain, certainly mentally, and probably physically. It broke his heart.

Jack was kind of relieved too. He did not wish to see Sam put at risk, nor did he want this baby, the product of her awful experiences while in captivity. He loved kids and very much wanted them to have children; it had been a long held dream. He would have supported her decision wholeheartedly and tried his best to deal with the fact that the child was the product of violence and hatred, not love.

In his heart, however, he had lacked faith that he could bring up such a child as his own and love and cherish it as he had Charlie; as he did virtually all children he ever met. He hoped he could do that because he believed that a baby's origin shouldn't be it's lifelong burden. It was whether he could put that belief into practice that concerned him.

He did not want the child to suffer because of any residual feelings or resentment he held. Nor did he want to risk his relationship with Sam being torn apart by it. They had suffered enough already.

This awful and poignant situation - her miscarriage - left her choice less, which at least took all the uncertainty out of the equation, but Sam was now back in the depths of a dark depression. This was not the outcome he would have chosen.

Just a few days before they had been relatively happy, now it seemed they had taken some steps backwards. He likened it to a game of snakes and ladders and recently they'd slipped down some pretty large snakes. Where are those damned ladders when you need them most?

This time Sam's depression was different. She was trying to pretend that nothing had happened, back at work and seemingly normal. Jack knew she was far from normal and Daniel and Teal'c agreed. Their friends, however, did not have possession of all the facts. They didn't know Sam had been raped by the renegade Jaffa when captured, that she was pregnant, or that she had lost the baby. Jack knew it was her decision to tell them, but he sure wished he could talk to someone about it.

That wasn't like Jack and it worried him that he needed to talk, proving just how stressed out about the whole thing he was. The cracks in his fašade were starting to show. The days they'd spent together in Minnesota had merely been a short break from the gloom that seemed to characterise his relationship with Sam right now. He was starting to spin out of control and needed someone to anchor him. This time Sam was not in a position to play that role, nor was she the right person to do so. She was the cause.

Sam was hardly speaking to him, barely even acknowledged his existence, unless she was forced to. He had tried, really he had, but since the miscarriage she had turned her back on them all and become insular and silent. At least he had the comfort of knowing that it wasn't just him. Jack hadn't realised quite how much she must have really wanted that baby, despite it's means of conception.

Abruptly Jack left the room and stalked the corridors of the SGC until he reached his goal. He stood in the doorway a while just watching, reluctant to enter.

"What is it Jack?" Daniel said, sensing Jack's eyes on him. When he looked up he was shocked to see the look of despair in those liquid brown depths.

"You busy?"

"I. No." Daniel was actually very busy but decided Jack didn't need to hear that.

"Can we talk?"

Daniel nearly choked at those words. Jack wanted to talk? He was kidding, right? This was a joke. He could see from Jack's expression that it was no such thing.

"Sure thing Jack, come in."

"Not here Daniel. Can we get outta the mountain?" Daniel nodded and followed Jack to the lift.

When they were up top Jack strode out over the mountainside, finding a quiet place for them to sit. Daniel had immediately figured that it was related to Sam and was still reeling from the fact that Jack might actually talk about it. They sat for a few minutes while Jack looked at his feet and remained silent. Daniel made up his mind he'd wait all day if he had to. Jack was an intensely private and insular person, rarely talking about himself. The archaeologist felt strangely honored that he might want to do so now, and had chosen him to do it with.

Jack was reluctant to start, didn't know how to, so instead he let his mind drift off to their vacation in Minnesota. He couldn't recall the last time he had enjoyed being there that much; probably when Charlie was alive and he and Sara had still been together. He had persuaded himself that he liked to be there alone, and he did, to an extent. However, Sam's company had reminded him what it was like to share, a life, love, and a home; it recalled to mind the loneliness, solitude and bleak emptiness of the last few years

*****************************

Jack's Cabin - three weeks earlier:



Sam came to his bed on the night they danced, and she never returned to the spare bedroom. That meant a lot to Jack, to be with her and sleep with her in his arms. Except, much to his surprise, that night she seduced him, leading him to paroxysms of joy and pleasure. He was happy that she wanted his companionship - and his body. It felt good to be desired.

Afterwards she wanted to talk some more. Clearly she had Jack's feelings on her conscience. He was dozing lightly when her voice permeated into his brain.

"What Sam? Did you say something." He asked.

"Sorry Jack, I didn't mean to wake you." She gave him a gentle squeeze. "It can wait."

"I was just dozing. I'd rather talk. if you want." Kissing her forehead, he tried to search her eyes, wondering what she needed to say, but it was too dark to see her clearly. Obviously she wanted to say something; she was chomping at the bit.

"I said that you've been wonderful Jack, about everything. Understanding. forgiving. I'm sure I don't deserve it. I've been downright rotten to you."

"You surely have." She could almost feel his pain and Jack was thankful the light was off and she couldn't see him the gloom.

"You must have been angry with me. Hurt?"

Did she really want to have this conversation right now? So be it. Truth Jack, tell her.

"Yeah. I've gone through every emotion in the book Sam. I even started to hate you. sometimes. How could you treat me like that? I did nothing to deserve it. Angry? Sure I was angry. Maybe I still am. Hurt too. It's not entirely gone; maybe it never will be. You treated me as if I was a piece of dirt to be scraped from your shoe. It was killing me. I find it hard to forgive the people who hurt me Sam. I'm not entirely sure that I have forgiven you yet." There, he'd said it. It was a relief to have it out in the open.

She flinched at that but figured she might feel the same way if their situations were reversed.

"Then why? Why have you taken me back so readily?"

"If you think it means you can walk all over me Sam, think again." A bitter tone entered his voice without conscious thought and Sam cringed.

"I don't want a relationship like that with you Jack. Is that what it seems like to you?" She was horrified. Sometimes the truth is unpalatable. "If this is how you feel maybe we should give up now."

"No!" His vehemence both surprised and comforted her. "If I wanted to give up, Sam, you wouldn't be here now. If I didn't think the good outweighed the bad then maybe I would give up. All relationships have their bad side Sam. Our lives aren't entirely normal anyway are they? If we were married would I give up so easily? Richer or poorer, better or worse? Just because we aren't doesn't mean we should stop trying."

"I hope you can forgive me." She feared for them.

"Forgiveness is not something that happens overnight Sam. I'm workin' on it. Don't expect miracles."

"I'm still not sure I understand."

"Do you think I didn't realise there was something fundamentally wrong with you when we brought you back? I know those post traumatic stress symptoms Sam, been there and done that, you know? When you turned up here I didn't know what to think. My emotions had been up and down like a yo-yo, and I was hurting pretty bad. When you told me." His emotions were starting to get the better of him as he considered her situation, "When you told me what had happened, what was I meant to do? I have to believe that you didn't hurt me deliberately Sam. Not in your heart. If I believed that." It was left unsaid.

"Just because it wasn't deliberate doesn't make it hurt any the less." She responded, brushing his face lightly with her hand.

She recalled when she had fled from Jack because she stupidly thought he still loved Sara. He had never intended to hurt her then; she knew that. It had still hurt nonetheless.

"No." He was pretty emphatic.

"And sometimes it was almost deliberate. I couldn't help myself turning the knife. But it was never truly from my heart."

"I know. I'm thinking my ex-wife had to put up with the same from me. When I came back from Iraq I was hell on Earth to live with. But she didn't give up on me and we turned it around. Only Charlie." His words tailed off and, as she stroked his arm tenderly, he decided to continue.

"Look Sam, after Charlie died Sara did give up on me. I know she had her own issues, of course she did. Her heart was broken and I wasn't there for her. But my heart was broken too and I wasn't entirely rational; not for a long time. I don't want that to happen to us. I don't want to let you down."

Sam thought about that. Although he understood her reasons, Jack obviously felt betrayed by Sara's abandonment. He had expected her to support him and she couldn't do that. She had needed him but he'd been equally incapable. He had lost everything and didn't want to go through that again. It hardened his resolve to stick by Sam for as long as he could handle it.

"I'm so sorry I hurt you Jack. Truly I am." She said after a long pause.

"I know. I love you, Sam, and that's something worth fighting for. Sometimes you have to make compromises. I can be an uncompromising bastard, but you're worth some sacrifices."

He gently kissed her on the lips to demonstrate his feelings, pulling her closer.

"I'm glad you asked, glad I said all that. It makes me feel better." He whispered. "Perverse or what?"

"Not really perverse Jack. It's good to have it out in the open rather than simmering inside waiting to boil over."

"It's come very close to boiling over, but I'm getting there Sam. Believe me, I am."

Clearing the air had helped Jack a lot. Now she knew he wasn't just a doormat, he could come closer to forgiving her. It had worried him that she might feel like that; that she could get away with anything and he would take her back. Perhaps it was true that he would. He hoped he didn't have to test himself too often because he dreaded that she would do something that was totally unforgivable. Life without her would be intolerable, but he did have limits. So far he hadn't been pushed to those limits, but had been straining at the edges.

They say time heals all wounds. He knew for certain that wasn't true. He had wounds he would never recover from. However, he realised that the recent ones inflicted by Sam would heal in time.

They weren't overly sexually active during the rest of their time there, although there were moments. His kiss in the hot tub turned into a lot more than anticipated, and he was relieved they got no visitors while they were out on his dock and she initiated intimate contact. They seemed able to both read and feed each other's fantasies and that was a rare thing in Jack's experience.

They spent a lot of time doing other things. Minnesota was a beautiful state and Jack wanted to show off as much of it to her as he could in the time they had for themselves. She asked him what else they could do while here.

"There's lots of lakes." He'd quipped, an understatement if ever she'd heard one. "And then there's the Booming Prairie Chicken. can't visit Minnesota without seeing that."

She could see laughter in his eyes and looked puzzled. He went on to describe the 13 foot tall model chicken in Rothsay, which claimed to be the Prairie Chicken capital of Minnesota, with thousands of the little critters roaming the local prairie.

Sam thought this hilarious, particularly when Jack explained that the male chicken performed a mating ritual called "booming" during which he spread his wings and tail feathers, inflated the orange sacs on either side of his neck, and strutted around making a booming sound; hence the name. His impersonation of this act had her rolling on the floor laughing.

For some reason it made her think of Teal'c and she firmly believed that their team mate would rather have visited the chicken than stay fishing at Jack's cabin. Teal'c had hated fishing. She thought he would probably enjoy a giant chicken, even though he would wonder as to it's purpose. Teal'c seemed to be adjusting to the fact that not everything in the strange world of the Tauri had a purpose.

"Or there's always the world's largest ball of twine." Now she thought Jack was poking fun. "It's the truth Sam, scout's honor." He held his two fingers up at her scout style. "People drive for miles to see it. A giant sized ball of twine made by some guy in a little place called Darwin. Go figure! He must have been bored I guess. Darwin is a very small place." He shrugged and she burst into another laughing fit.

When she calmed down they got to the serious business of discussing the places they'd like to visit and see. There was so much that Jack knew she would love about his adopted second home; too much. The list did not include either giant chickens or balls of twine, although if they went anywhere near either of them he thought they should take a detour just for the hell of it.

He started by taking her out more locally, to Vergas and around Otter Tail County. Vergas was the nearest small town. It was larger than Darwin though. The countryside of Otter Tail County was a storybook scene of wooded hills and crystal lakes amid a patchwork quilt of farmland and pastures. It was relatively "undiscovered" which made it a great spot for a relaxing getaway. Otter Tail contained a plentiful bounty of interesting and pretty places to see.

In Jack's biased opinion, Minnesota was a wonderful, varied and fascinating State. Sam wasn't inclined to disagree with him. From wetlands to pastures, prairies to hills, lakes to lakeside beaches and snaking rivers. There were the Mississippi headwaters, the wildlife refuges, the birds and the fish. Many folks visited the State for the hunting, something Jack preferred not to indulge in, having the same objections as he did about killing fish for sport - he killed too much already.

There was no way they could do everything they wanted to. Minnesota was too large, the time too short. This was intended as a relaxing holiday not a whirlwind tour of Minnesota. Jack hoped they would have many years to explore this place.

They lazed on a lakeside beach, hiked to Inspiration Point, the highest point in north west Minnesota, with a view worthy of the hike. They canoed, relaxed with a book, marvelled at the 19th century architecture of Fergus Falls. They drove part of the Otter Trail Scenic Byway and Sam marvelled at the picturesque vistas. Jack was thrilled, seeing it all though her eyes as if anew.

One gloriously sunny day they rowed out onto Lake Rose. It was so peaceful and satisfying to sit in the boat letting the water move them at it's will and watching the view together, not feeling the need for many words. There was something soothing about the movement of water. They both caught a decent tan that day and almost immediately fell asleep on the couch once they'd returned to the cabin.

Hank came round for dinner one night, regaling them once more with his stories and humour. On that beautiful moonlit night they sat on the porch drinking almost the whole of Jack's supply of Jack Daniel's and slipping into lewd joke telling mode. Hank was delighted that Sam didn't take offence but instead joined in, outdoing the men with her bawdy wit. The more he got to know her the more he liked her. Jack O'Neill was a very lucky man indeed.

It occurred to both men that not everyone got the chance to love two women so deeply in one lifetime, to get two such perfect shots at happiness. Many people never met their soul mates and Jack appeared to have met two; Sara and Sam. It was obvious to Hank that Jack adored Sam, and that she returned those feelings. He hoped they both appreciated their good fortune.

Sam had warmed to Hank at their first meeting and was beginning to think of him as a friend already, or perhaps a kindly uncle. Jack was grateful for Hank's company, not because he didn't love Sam's, but because he believed that to be alone for the whole time they were there was probably not a positive thing. In Colorado Springs they had to be careful as Jack was still her CO. Out here they had the freedom to do as they wished and it felt good to share themselves with someone else without restriction.

A couple of days before they were due to leave they relaxed on the dock. This was shortly before Sam decided to seduce him and got him worrying that someone would come along and catch a peek of her bare backside.

"I guess you didn't get to see much of the Twin Cities when you landed?" He asked, referring to the huge urban sprawl that was Minneapolis / St Paul.

"I was in a bit of a hurry." She replied, snuggling up to him, and he smiled to himself. God bless you for that Sam.

"Do you want a quick stopover and look around on the way back? Luxury Hotel? Dinner? We won't get to see that much, but a little. if you'd like. You could wear that sexy dress again." It was looking into his eyes when he said those words that gave Sam the impulse to seduce him.

"Sounds like a great idea Jack." She loved it there amongst the beauty and tranquillity of the lakes but missed the bustle of activity and longed for some luxury.

So they drove back earlier than originally intended and Jack booked them into an opulent hotel in Minneapolis. He was over extravagant, ensuring Sam got royally pampered. Heck, he could afford it, as long as they didn't get spendthrift too often. A Colonel in the United States Airforce was not exactly among the ranks of the low paid. He secured them a gigantic suite; you could almost have fit his cabin inside it. There was champagne, flowers, and chocolates. They both laughed at the fruit basket, recalling a couple of Jack's less than diplomatic encounters in their history at the SGC.

They went out for the most astoundingly expensive but fabulous dinner and followed that with dancing to a real live band. Jack hired evening wear for the night and looked dashing in the dinner jacket and bow tie. When they returned to the hotel they luxuriated in the en suite Jacuzzi; that was quite an experience.

Breakfast in bed was a luxury that Sam thought she could live with and they read the morning papers and chatted about the news as they ate. He gave her a quick guided tour of some of the high and low lights of MSP

Jack made her giggle with glee when he extolled the virtues of Minnesota once more, explaining that two Minnesota students had invented roller blades while looking for a way to practice hockey off season. He admired that ingenuity and adored hockey, so had welcomed the invention and was, apparently, proficient. She could see the glint in his eyes which indicated that his tongue was in his cheek, at least a little. Sam tried to imagine Jack skating around on roller blades, dressed in hockey gear. It conjured an interesting picture.

She said that next time they came to Minnesota they should visit the Mall of America so she could shop till she dropped. Jack cringed at the very idea. He would drop within half an hour of arrival. You could get lost for months on end inside that vast Mecca to consumerism - once there you need never leave as it had everything you could dream of or imagine. It was a Jack O'Neill nightmare scenario. Camp Snoopy? Puleez! Sam wasn't interested in Camp Snoopy; she wanted to go to Bloomingdales, Macy's and Sears. Jack thought he might prefer Camp Snoopy.

Given the situation they were in, and Sam's recent experience and mood, the vacation had turned out pretty well. They tried not to let recent events invade their rare and special time together and were both loathed to catch the hop to Peterson that brought them back to reality.

*****************************

The SGC - the present:

Looking back, Jack wondered if they should have taken time to tackle some of the hard issues that faced them; maybe things would have been different now. Daniel sat patiently waiting for him to say something, not wanting to pressurise him into talking. Jack wasn't very good at talking so, if Daniel pushed, he was just as likely to clam up as open up.

"I don't know what to do about Sam." Jack said finally.

"Jack, I'm sorry but she's not really confiding in me right now. I don't know what's going on. Do you?"

"I'm not sure I can tell you."

"So how exactly do you expect me to help?" He wasn't provocative, but sympathetic.

"Good point."

Jack already knew that he was going to tell Daniel about Sam's recent problems, he just wasn't quite ready. He had thought about this for a while and wasn't sure that talking to Daniel was such a brilliant plan, but he needed to vent. What other options were there? Teal'c? He didn't think the big guy was the right person to have this conversation with. There was no one else. These people were his closest friends, if not them then who? Dr. Mackenzie? Sure thing. When hell freezes over, maybe.

So, having sworn Daniel to secrecy, it all tumbled out gradually; the rape, the baby, the miscarriage, their break-up and reconciliation, her current behaviour. Daniel was appalled.

"You think she wanted the baby?" He asked.

"What else? Why be so upset about it otherwise?"

"I can think of other reasons."

"Like what?"

"That she sees the clock ticking and time running out Jack. Maybe she thinks it was her last chance."

"I'd love us to have kids."

"Have you told her that?"

"Not really." Jack replied and Daniel sighed in frustration.

"Then tell her. You have told her you love her, right?"

"Of course I have."

Daniel looked relieved. It wouldn't have surprised him in the least to discover that Jack had never revealed his deep feelings to Sam. He could be such an ass.

"And of course women's hormones are a bitch, particularly in pregnancy, and after. This isn't all in her head."

"I know that!"

Normally Daniel might have got defensive when Jack snapped at him like that, but he tried to ignore the tone. His friend was hurting, a lot if this conversation was anything to go by, and he needed Daniel's unwavering support, not histrionics.

"Jack I don't know what you can do except tell her how you feel."

"Have you tried talking to Sam lately?"

"So you force it. Are you worried it's too tough a nut for you to crack?"

Jack looked pained at that question and stared at his feet for a while, thinking. Was that really it? Was he afraid he'd fail? Sure he was.

"Maybe." He admitted after a while.

"The worst thing you could do is give up on her Jack. You do know that don't you? If you do that it might become irreparable."

"You think you're telling me something I don't know?"

"So why the hell are you bothering to tell me Jack?" Daniel said, finally giving way to his chagrin. "I'm sorry if I'm not helping but I don't really know what you expect from me."

"Daniel, you are helping. I. I just needed to. talk. get it out of my system, maybe. I don't know." Jack was mortified to have angered his friend. He hadn't intended to sound ungrateful.

"Jack. If you don't tackle this head on you're gonna crack. You can't just stay silent."

"What if.?" He didn't finish and Daniel said it for him.

"You're worried you push it too far and lose her?"

"Something like that, I guess." Jack confessed.

"If you don't you might lose her anyway. You have to take a risk. One thing's for sure, you can't go on like this."

Jack was silent for a long time and Daniel was surprised at what he said next.

"I'm scared Daniel."

Jack O'Neill admitting he's scared? The whole conversation had been an eye opener, showing him a side of Jack that you could miss because he would never reveal it to you. You had to look very closely to see the real Jack.

"I know." Daniel replied. He clasped Jack's shoulder in comfort. "It's a funny thing Jack but I used to think you were never scared of anything."

"Shattering your illusions Daniel?"

"Not really. There's always been more to you than meets the eye." Daniel smiled at his friend. "You're a lot more complicated than you'd have most people believe."

"That's what Sam says." He smiled back, although none too brightly.

"Well that just proves she has her finger on the pulse of Jack O'Neill." He quipped, making Jack laugh. "Look, Jack. She came to you in Minnesota. It wasn't that long ago. Do you think her feelings have changed so much in that time? She can be so like you sometimes; bottling stuff up, repressing her true feelings. Have you considered that she needs you to push it? That it's what she really wants you to do, but you aren't doing it?"

"I have tried Daniel."

"Have you?"

Jack considered that and wondered if he'd been too fearful of the consequences to force the discussion they really needed to have. Daniel was right and he was pleased they'd had this conversation; he sure wasn't getting anywhere without trying. Before they went back to the SGC, and parted, Daniel made Jack promise that he'd be open and honest with Sam, it was the only way forward. Jack made that vow to Daniel, and to himself, hoping he could keep his promise.

*****************************

Sam's house - the present:



Taking a deep breath, he knocked on her door. This hadn't been a subject he could discuss at the SGC so he waited for her to go home, and then followed on shortly afterwards. When she opened the door she looked a little annoyed to see him and his heart sank. For crying out loud, Jack, get a grip, he told himself. Don't lose it now.

"Can I come in?" He asked when she didn't say anything.

"Sure." Her voice lacked enthusiasm but she opened the door wider to let him into her house and he walked through to the kitchen.

"Got a beer?" He asked. They always seemed to start off talking about beverages or drinks in this situation, he mused. How dumb was that? "I could do with a bit of Dutch courage." He admitted, starting out as he intended to go on, with the truth. She raised her eyebrows in surprise at his words but handed him a beer.

"How you feeling?" He enquired, not sure how to start this.

"Fine. I'm fine."

"Please don't lie to me Sam. I know that's not true. You shouldn't have to lie to me."

"I don't want to have this conversation."

"Then tough, because I do. We need to have this conversation Sam, both of us." She could see that Jack O'Neill determined look in his eye. "Can we at least sit down and talk like two civilised people?" She nodded curtly and they went into her living room. The TV was on and she switched it off.

"When we were in Minnesota we got so close again. We talked. You told me things I never thought I would hear, that were. private and personal. Now. well now you're pushing me away and I need to understand it Sam. I need to try and make things right again."

"What if I don't want to make things right."

"I don't believe that."

"Because you don't want to or because it's not true."

"Both." He was silent for a while and she also said nothing, so he continued. "Tell me what's in your heart Sam. Please don't shut me out. I've tried so hard not to do that to you. Letting people in isn't easy for me; you know that. Can't you do the same thing for me?"

"I'm not in much of a letting people in mood right now."

"Even with me?" Jack asked, his voice restrained and quiet, as if he was reigning himself in.

Sam could see an imploring look in his eyes and was fully aware that she had hurt him badly yet again. After what he'd said in Minnesota about Sara she'd promised herself that she'd try really hard because, as Jack said, it was something worth fighting for. The miscarriage had knocked that plan way off axis. She had let both of them down and deep in her heart she knew it, although she figured she had a few extenuating circumstances. Now here he was, seemingly still willing stick with it, putting the Jack O'Neill pride on the line. She felt humbled and privileged.

"You told me you wanted to spend your life with me." Jack continued. "I want that too. Despite everything else, when you said that my heart soared because I thought we'd make it at last. I'd never truly believed it until that moment. Now, however much it hurts to admit it, I'm not so sure anymore. But I still want it Sam. I want it all. You, marriage, children, the whole bit."

"You do?" She seemed surprised.

"You think I don't?"

"I'm too confused to think straight anymore Jack.." Pausing she continued in a small voice, "help me."

Jack was shocked. Surely it couldn't be that easy? He took her in his arms like he had so many times before, holding her as if he would never let her go.

"I'm so sorry about the baby Sam. For your sake." He whispered in her ear, and paused remembering he'd promised Daniel, and himself, that tonight he'd be open and honest, so continued. "I guess maybe I never truly wanted it, Sam. I love kids, but wasn't sure how easy it would be to deal with the whole mess. I hated feeling that, and would have tried so hard to make it work, for your sake, and ours because I love you and would do almost anything for you. You know that. I want our children. I want that a lot. It's not too late."

"I didn't really know how much I wanted kids until this happened Jack. It's not that I wanted that child, because I'm not sure I did. It's." She couldn't seem to find the words. "I feel guilty that I didn't want it. That probably sounds crazy. I want us to have children Jack, I really do."

"Then be my wife Sam and I'll get you pregnant as many times as you like. We'll have lots of them if that's what you want. Surely a house full of little Carters and O'Neills could be a wonderful thing?" Maybe it wasn't the right time to propose but screw it, it's what he wanted. He had to know if it was what she wanted too.

"It might at that." She didn't mention his proposal. Give her time Jack, don't be so impatient. After a while she spoke again.

"Why did my father think you might be like Jonas?" What? That was out of the blue. What had brought that on? "He alluded to something dark in your past, something you've never told me."

Jack swallowed hard. Crap! Why the hell had he made that open and honest promise? He could lie to Daniel about it, if asked, but not to himself. Besides, he didn't want to have to lie to her; it was hardly a solid foundation for a stable and lasting relationship. Double crap! He hadn't expected this and prevaricated.

"There's lots of bad stuff Sam. I was Special Forces, so go figure! I told you before that not everything we did was entirely. um. kosher. I think he meant I might be a nut job just like Jonas; that I'd lose it some day. I don't think he wanted you around for something like that. I refuse to believe that I'll ever be like Jonas. Tell me you don't think that Sam. I thought you believed that." He was trying to bluff her into retreating but it didn't work.

"I do. It's just. he had to have something specific in mind. You've referred to something too Jack. Will you tell me? I can't help thinking it might be something I should know."

"You have doubts about me. I understand that Sam, really, but."

"That's not it Jack. Or maybe it is. I don't know. I. I. don't you trust me?"

"You know I do."

"Well then."

"It's not that simple."

"Oh?"

He sighed, realising that she wasn't going to let go. Is this what he had to do to make this work? He'd been revealing himself to her, peeling away the layers of insulation he protected himself with. He had always feared this revelation would be the final death of them, that she would never understand it, and he had vowed never to tell her. Daniel and his words about risking it came to mind. He was right.

"Have you got something stronger than beer?" He asked, knowing that she would have Scotch or Jack Daniel's.

"You know where it is."

He was grateful for the excuse to let go and move away, uncertain of his ability to look her in the eye. After he'd fixed his drink he didn't sit down again but stood by her fireplace, picking up an ornament and fiddling with it nervously. His heart was in his mouth and he didn't look at her, but down at his hands and the ornament within.

"Sam," He said eventually, "I've killed a lot of people in my life.."

"That's part of your job."

"Not like that."

Even though she could not see his eyes she could sense that he felt a terrible sorrow and carried an awful burden.

"Assassination?" She asked, putting together the two and two and coming up with exactly the right answer. He nodded almost imperceptibly.

"I hope you believe me when I say that it's not something I'm proud of."

Why wouldn't I believe it? She thought, I know you Jack and you're a far better man than you think.

"I had a talent, was too good at it." He continued "I guess I'm proud of that in a weird kind of way, that I was so good at something. It was a skill the Air Force was quick to notice and make use of. Why wouldn't they? They need guys like me to do their dirty work for them." He paused, looking very uncomfortable, "I probably know more ways to kill a man than half the United States Armed Forces put together. Stealth, silence, deadliness. I don't even have to leave a trace. No one would know I'd ever been there. It's one thing to kill a fellow soldier face to face, in battle, but it's entirely different to kill a man in cold blood."

There! His awful secret was out in the open at last. Now he would suffer the consequences. He looked towards Sam now, worried what he might read in her face, but this was too important so he forced himself. He wasn't sure what she was thinking. Say something Sam, he willed her, silence tells me too much. His heart hammered rapidly as he tried to read her, feeling breathless and anxious. I don't want to lose you Sam, he thought, please don't let this destroy us.

"You think I'll hate you for it?" She asked him.

"It's not exactly a loveable profession. It's not what most women want to know about their husbands, is it?"

"I'm glad you told me. We shouldn't have so many dark secrets hidden from each other."

She paused, considering what to say to reassure him that his confession hadn't put her off. Did he really think she would turn away from him so easily? She guessed he had the right to believe it possible after all the problems they'd been having recently; mostly of her making.

Sam knew him better than he realised, and also thought more highly of him than he did of himself. Sometimes she figured that wouldn't be hard to do. He too frequently appeared to have a low opinion of himself, totally unfounded. One can't help one's view of oneself. She knew that feeling because she believed it was the same for her. She found her words.

"I've known you a long time. We've worked together so closely and I've seen both good and bad, but I'm still here. I know that things haven't been perfect between us but, despite all that, I'm still here and intend to stay put. I still love you."

Jack let out the breath he had been holding up to that point, the relief of that statement clearly shown on his face. She continued.

"Anyone can take lives, Jack, but it's saving lives that makes the difference. Just how many have you saved? I've lost count since I've known you, but saving this planet counts as billions." She smiled and stood up, ready to approach him.

"I'm glad I know. I don't hate you for it Jack. I don't hate you because I know you're a good man and that isn't you. Maybe it was, maybe sometimes it still is, but it's not the real you. I'm willing to bet that you always did the right thing."

A weight started to lift from his shoulders. He wasn't entirely sure he agreed with her but if she believed it then maybe they'd be okay.

"Maybe." He responded, his voice quiet and subdued, "Depends on your view of who the good guys are I guess. Yeah, in some ways I believe I did the right thing. I believe I was on the side of right; working for the good guys, despite that sometimes I questioned the method. Sometimes doing the right thing isn't the right moral thing." He shook his head in frustration as he wasn't sure he was saying this right. "It can be hard."

Feeling sullied by his past, he had been convinced that she wouldn't want to touch or be anywhere near him at this moment. He was a murderer. Why would she want that? Jack recalled she'd feared that he might feel that way after she revealed her assault. He understood it well and always had. When she approached he was more than pleasantly surprised. This time she was the one to do the holding, which soothed and reassured him.

"Doing the right thing is often the hardest thing Jack. Surely you know that. If that's the worst of it then I think I can live with it. Can you?"

"I don't have a lot of choice."

She took his hand, leading him to the couch and they curled up in silence, simply cuddling for a while.

"There was this one Jaffa when I was captive." Sam said unexpectedly and Jack listened intently. She had never spoken of her capture before, apart from to tell him about the rape. Even then she had said very little about that incident, focussing on her earlier assault by Jonas Hanson. He wanted to know everything, but knew the chances of that were remote. "He kind of reminded me of Teal'c. I could see he hated what they were all doing. It was as if he didn't know what else he could do or where else he could go. He was the only one who treated us kindly and he never laid a finger on us unless it was to help in some small way. He's probably dead now."

"I'm sorry." Jack said. "I didn't have time to choose my targets."

"I didn't mean anything by it Jack. I'm just sayin'." He smiled into her hair at her use of an expression he used so often.

"Okay." He said nothing else, hoping she'd continue. Sam was staring into the middle distance, her head on his chest, arms coiled around him.

"I fought them at first, as hard as I could. They held me down and did it anyway, of course. Fighting was probably useless, although they enjoyed a fight. They wanted an excuse to beat the hell out of us, not that they seemed to need it."

Jack was wide eyed in amazement that she was telling him this, and his heart ached at the thought of what Sam had suffered.

"Every day." She stumbled over her words," sometimes. one. more. making us." She couldn't bear to voice it. "They smelled rancid and unwashed. It made me sick. They didn't care anything for any of us. We were just there to be used at their convenience, and do the chores that they didn't want to do for themselves. They liked to be waited upon, served."

Jack felt queasy at the thought. She had been missing for all that time and this had been her reality every day. He shuddered, wanting to know, but dreading that knowledge. Contrary as usual, O'Neill, he told himself. If she wants to talk you have to listen.

"All those years of serving a Goa'uld had made them hard and cruel, but with a need to lash out, dominate, bully, overpower. Don't say it Jack, psyche 101, right?"

Her laugh was slightly bitter. Jack thought it typical that she try to analyse it and guessed she felt that need. His anger bubbled beneath the surface and he tried to control it, feeling the need to lash out himself. Those bastards! He could feel his caress of Sam turning into something more brutal and had to exercise self restraint. It was not Sam he was truly angry with, it was what had been done to her and those who had done it.

"I'm glad I'm not having their baby. Why did I even consider it? How could I have loved it? But it wasn't the baby's fault."

He felt her body shaking as if she was sobbing, although she made no noise as she did so.

"I was too weak!" She cursed, under her breath.

Jack recalled her words about this before. She thought she should have been able to defend herself. How could she expect to have done that? There were a lot of Jaffa at that camp; far too many to make a stand. He was certain that, had she contrived to do so, her body would have been amongst those they had found dumped so unceremoniously. He recalled how his heart and breath had seemed to stop while they had searched amongst the remains for any sign of Sam. He didn't know what he would have done if they had found her there.

"You're not weak Sam you're strong. You lived through it."

"Is that how you deal with it all Jack? Is it as simple as that for you; to believe that you've lived through it so everything is ok?"

"You know it's not as simple as that." He replied defensively.

"I wasn't trying to accuse you of anything." She said immediately, leaning back to look him in the eyes, not wanting him to misconstrue. "Most of the time you cope with the horror. I know you've been tortured badly Jack, suffered from loss. Who knows what else I don't know about, but I'm guessing there's still a lot of bad things you hide in there," She gently touched his head, "even after what you told me tonight. You're still sane. How do you do it?"

"Sometimes I don't, you know that. Sometimes I'm not sane."

She squeezed his hand, recalling the nightmares he'd had, holding him in her arms. It had brought them together.

"It's my fault." Jack said, "I couldn't. couldn't save you. I froze." He was struggling to maintain control, the cracks in his veneer widening.

"Oh Jack!"

"I let you go. How do I live with that?"

She pulled him closer, wanting to convey that he wasn't to blame, her breath catching in her throat.

"Jack, this was never your fault! You didn't let me go, you couldn't have saved me.

"I froze and I let you go."

Much to her surprise she saw tears well up in his eyes although he didn't allow himself to give way to them, obliterating the signs with a swipe of his hand. For the first time, she truly understood what a strain these past weeks had been for him, how close to the edge he was. He tried to be strong for her but was dying inside, eaten by his own guilt and powerlessness.

He blew. The rage and frustration he'd been feeling overwhelmed him at last and he pushed her away, getting up. His ire was directed at himself, although he was angry at the Jaffa who had taken Sam and probably still with her a little too. With an expression on his face that spoke of his horror, exasperation and shame, he picked up the glass he's been drinking from and threw it violently against the wall. Smashing into tiny pieces, it showered little fragments of shiny glass over the room.

He didn't want her to see him like this so stormed out of the room. She followed in trepidation and he shouted for her to leave him alone. She didn't think she had ever seen him this furious. He flung open the back door and stomped out into her yard, hitting the wall hard with his fists, cursing load enough for the whole street to hear. Sam wasn't sure whether to try to stop him or let him get it out of his system. She was worried he would hurt himself as he kicked and punched the wall so hard. Dreading approaching him, she realised she had to try.

"Jack stop!" She cried, trying to grasp his wrists. Her heart was in her mouth in case his anger turned against her. If he hurt her it would be the end of them. Of course he didn't and she felt terrible for thinking he might.

"For crying out loud Sam!" He exclaimed as she tried to calm him. "I let the person I love most in this world get hurt. I will never forgive myself for that. I'm entitled to be angry!"

Tears of rage fell down his cheeks and his face was red. Finally catching his wrists, she stood between him and the wall, desperately trying to maintain her grip, and she was having trouble holding him still.

"Jack, I don't blame you."

"Well I do!"

He escaped her grasp and started kicking her garden furniture and knocked the trash everywhere, violently using his fists or feet on anything within their reach. Her yard looked a mess. The pent up anger and frustration had to find a release; his engine was letting off steam. In the end she let him rage, realising that he needed to do this or next time he exploded he'd probably level a couple of city blocks. She could see he was hurting himself. Finally his aggression started to peter out and he sunk to the ground with his head in his hands. Sam knelt in front of him.

"You have to forgive yourself. For my sake, for our sake, dammit, and your own. I know I haven't been great at showing it lately but I do want us to survive this Jack. I want that very much." She said, reaching over to grasp his arm gently.

He looked up into her eyes and stilled, placing his hands on her shoulders. Seeing blood on her shirt he realised it came from him and he looked at his hands. They were grazed and he'd have to clean them up.

"I want that too." He said quietly, bending his head towards her so that their foreheads touched and then kissing the tip of her nose softly. "I want that Sam."

"Come." She urged him to follow to the kitchen to clean up his hands and he meekly followed.

As she helped him clean up, Jack once more started to tell her how sorry he was, how helpless his felt, wishing he could help her. Sam had been building up to her own small explosion and was fed up with him taking the blame on himself. To his horror, she snapped at him.

"Oh please Jack, you're sounding like a cracked record!. I was raped. It's a fact, okay? Can't do anything about that now. So let me deal with it in my own way and it'll all be alright. Stop going on about it for Christ's sake! It's not as if it's ever happened to you! You can't possibly understand."

Almost immediately she regretted it, and the look on his face told her that she was right to be sorry. Jack was totally motionless and initially said nothing, but she caught his expression. His face and eyes hinted at. something nasty he would probably rather not think about, and he was angry.

"Jack.?"

"Don't you dare assume to know about my life Sam." His anger was controlled and she was startled by his tone, and the implication. "I can't understand? Well damn you! You'd be surprised what can happen during a few months in an Iraqi hellhole." He couldn't stop himself.

"Oh my God!" She was aghast. Jack was raped?

"How do you think some of those guys entertain themselves?"

She could see pain in his eyes, a memory he'd rather forget. She thought, stupid Sam! Why did I snap at him? Why did I say that? Dumb, dumb, dumb! I should have thought of this. It's the kind of thing that happens when people are confined. Somehow woman can assume it is only them that suffer from sexual assault. Poor Jack!

"So don't think I don't understand some of what you're going through Sam.. And, no, I don't want to talk about it right now, ok? Believe me, the pain will diminish, but it'll always be there."

Sam nodded and stroked his cheek, kissing it lightly. He was amazed he'd admitted it, but never wanted to have to lie to Sam. When he'd made his earlier confession he'd thought that part of his life would be intolerable to her and she would never accept it. Now he believed anything was possible. She would understand this most humiliating of experiences and continue to love him.

Jack had never told anyone about this aspect of his captivity. Like Sam he'd been ashamed, as if it was his fault, and the memories had been too painful. He had been weakened by hunger, thirst and the horrific tortures he had endured. Name, rank, serial number, yadda, yadda, yadda.

He had nothing very useful to tell them but they had persisted anyway. He thought they enjoyed it. Fists, feet, cudgels, electro shock, starvation, solitary confinement, darkness, silence, sleep deprivation, nudity, cold, heat - terror. Jack remembered lying in his own faeces in a dark, damp cell, every part of him in searing agony. He was alone, friendless and surrounded by nothing but silence interspersed by their beatings and the rest. Humiliation and pain.

They had burst into his cell, laughing, taunting him and kicking him while he was down. It was impossible to defend himself, pointless too; there were too many of them and he was too weak and exhausted. Then he had realised their awful purpose and they held him while each took a turn invading his body in the most brutal and painful way possible. They had sniggered and joked amongst themselves, their sweat mingling with his blood, and then kicked him again for good measure as they left him to his solitary misery. Humiliation and pain.

That had not been the only time. They had persisted on visiting on a frequent basis, forcing him to do things with their bodies that he would never have done with a man otherwise. He had gagged and thrown up bile when there was nothing else. He had never felt so alone and desolate. Humiliation and pain.

It had stopped only once he was taken out of his solitary confinement and thrown in with the rest of the prisoners. Other prisoners had tried but Jack had been better able to defend himself, was building his strength little by little, living on reserves he hadn't known he possessed. Those who tried lived to regret it. You had to be strong in prison or life was hell. Humiliation and pain.

He didn't count it as one of the high spots of his life. His experience with Ba'al, dying painfully over and over, being revived in a sarcophagus, losing his soul piece by piece, was probably worse. The memory of that torture was more recent; vivid and raw. You have led one heck of a life, Jack O'Neill, he told himself. Humiliation and pain.

Sam's experience had brought it all flooding back with startling clarity. He had tried not to think of it, concentrating his efforts on her own predicament. Now she probably knew the worst of everything about him. She'd been so sure that this degrading act was something that had never been inflicted on him. His expression had given him away and he could not deny it. He hung his head with embarrassment and shame and Sam continued to stroke his cheek hoping to ease his distress.

She was stunned into silence. Jack had never really spoken about his imprisonment in Iraq. She had guessed he was tortured, but this too? So they had something else in common. A pretty negative thing to share but it might explain a lot about Jack's attitude towards her own living nightmare. There was some comfort in that and she started to revise her low opinion of herself and her inability to stop it. Even Jack O'Neill had been defenceless against such an onslaught, although she felt guilty that she took solace from his misery.

Sam knew he would never have confessed this if she hadn't got so frustrated and spat those words she now deeply repented. It was bad enough to remind him of this through her own recent experience, but she knew that she'd sounded cruel and spiteful and that made the recollection worse for him.

"Don't feel ashamed Jack. I know I'm one to talk but it's not our fault, none of it. Look at me, please." She paused and he raised his eyes to meet hers. "I'm sorry I've been so. hateful."

He didn't reply for a long while and she was beginning to think he wouldn't.

"You have good cause Sam, but not with me." He replied eventually.

"I know. If not you, then who else do I take it out on?"

"Practically everyone on the base I think."

"Really? Oh. Daniel? Teal'c?" She cringed when he confirmed it with his eyes.

"They're worried about you, and they don't understand what's going on."

"I'll try. harder." She didn't look convinced.

"We all want you back Major Samantha Carter. I want you back."

"You've never truly lost me Jack. You never will."

"I hope not. That would be too cruel."

Sam gave him the sweetest kiss and a small smile invaded her lips. He hadn't seen her do that enough lately and his heart was gladdened.

"Come on Jack, let's go to bed."

"It's early."

"That's the point. I want sex."

"Oh! Well, hardly romantic but who am I to refuse?"

She had seen his look many times and it still made her smile. A cheeky grin lit his face and his head was cocked to one side, shoulders holding a slight shrug. He had boyish charm written all over him.

"How are your hands?" She asked.

"Oh, they'll be okay."

"Good, 'cos you're gonna need 'em."

He opened his mouth to quip something but changed his mind and followed her out of the room silently.

"Ummm. Sam?"

"Mmmm?"

"What about all that broken glass?"

"Now who's being unromantic?" He laughed and she continued. "It's not going anywhere, but we are." She said stubbornly. Sam had an urgent desire to get very up close and personal with Jack O'Neill and was going to get her wicked way. She knew he wouldn't need a lot of persuading.

Afterwards, when he was spooned against her back and they were feeling strangely satisfied with their lot in life, despite everything, she surprised him.

"The answer's yes, by the way."

"What? What was the question?" He said sleepily.

"Something about getting married and having babies."

"What? I. what?"

That well and truly caught his attention and he could hardly believe his ears. Earlier today they'd barely been speaking and now she was agreeing to become his wife. He had confessed his darkest secrets, and she wanted to marry him anyway. Had he died and gone to heaven? Mrs Sam O'Neill; it had a certain ring to it. Jack propped himself up on his elbow and Sam turned to him.

"Married. babies. As many O'Neills and Carters as we can stand. Remember that conversation?"

"I. I didn't expect."

"You didn't expect me to say yes?"

"I didn't expect an answer so quickly, that's what I was gonna say."

"Now all we have to do is find a way around the regs." She said with a taunt on her face.

Triple crap!

TE




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