Stargate SG-1 Fanfiction Sam/Jack

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Rating: PG-13

Mild violence. Allusions to violence.

Big thanks to Channach for plot-editing this chapter and to Raven Clark for style-editing this chapter with me. Also huge thanks to Shoe Queen, who worked as a third beta for this chapter!

 

“Hey kiddo.”

Sam’s heart jumped. She snapped her head up and turned as her dad stepped through the open glass door into the computer room.

“Dad, you’re back.” She crossed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him. He seemed to grow younger and younger every day. Selmak had positive influence—not just on his general health, but also his temper.

“It’s good to be back.” He looked around, his forehead wrinkled as though he were assessing the room. “Still buried in the mass of data?”

“It’s a lot of files.”

“And they don’t have anyone else who can take care of them?” He raised his eyebrows studying her.

Behind him, the door opened. Joe stepped in, then hesitated. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Joe,” Sam said. “Come in. Dad, I want you to meet Joe.”

Forehead still scrunched, her dad turned and gave the younger man a distant nod. “We know each other. Joe Faxon, right? You were the one advertising the city planning project in front of the committee. Interesting approach you had.”

“That’s right, sir. Thank you. It’s great to meet you.” The two shook hands.

Her father turned his head to her, his face still wearing that quizzical expression as he withdrew his hand. “It’s a pleasure meeting you.”

“Dad, there’s something we need to tell you.” She fidgeted. Would her father accept her decision? He’d mellowed out since his blending with Selmak. But would he welcome Joe to his family? She took Joe’s hands. “We’re engaged.”

Blankly, Jacob stared from her to Joe. Back to her. “You’re what?”

Okay, definitely not mellow. Great. Sam closed her eyes. “I signed the engagement contact two days ago. I’m marrying Joe.”

Her father shifted. “Sam, I wish you’d—”

“We’ll sign the official wedding contract next week, sir,” Joe said. Sam flinched when her dad’s face darkened. He’d never liked being interrupted.

Jacob folded his arms and turned to Sam. “When I left for my last mission six weeks ago, you didn’t even know each other. And now you two are getting married? Don’t you think that’s a little fast?”

Sam sighed. “Dad.”

“Sam, we need to talk. Mr. Faxon, would you excuse us please?”

Joe didn’t move.

“Joe, please.” Sam gave him an imploring look.

He dropped his arms. “I’ll be outside.”

As soon as the door swooshed shut behind him, Sam folded her arms. “Dad, what the hell was that all about? Joe is a nice guy.”

“You can’t marry him.” Her father sighed and dropped into the chair at the desk.

“Unfortunately for you, this isn’t your choice. I signed the engagement contract. The deal’s done.”

He groaned. “Sam, there’s something you have to know.”

“They reinstated the old gifted laws. If I weren’t with Joe, they’d assign me a husband. Joe is kind and gentle, and he’ll treat me well. At least this way I could still make a choice.” Or so she told herself.

Jacob raised his eyebrows. “Is that what you’re settling for these days? You ran away from home and joined the resistance to fight against those laws.”

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“Things change.” She couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice.

“What about love?”

“I like Joe. Love doesn’t have anything to do with marriage. You yourself told me that once.” Shouldn’t he be happy that she was finally coming around and thinking about her future? Her safety? He’d tried to keep her safe when he and Jack and signed the wedding contract over her head. Back then, it had been all about securing a safe future for her. Now she would be safe. So why the change of heart?

“That doesn’t sound like the young woman I knew. The one who ran away and made it around half the globe on the off chance that we might liberate Earth.”

“And where did that get us?” She waved around. “Nothing has changed. Just the face of our oppressors. We lost so much. I lost so much. For what? I just can’t fight anymore. And I’m tired of losing things.”

“So you’re giving up?” He rose from his chair. “Revolutions take time and we’re only at the beginning. Conflicts are to be expected.”

“And how do you know so much about revolutions?”

“Through Selmak,” he snapped.

Right. Selmak. Sometimes it was easy to forget that her father now had access to over two-thousand years of memories from his Tok’ra symbiote.

“You really think you’re going to be happy living like that? Settling?”

“It doesn’t matter anymore. I signed the engagement contract, that makes the deal binding.” She sighed. “Please. Can’t you just this once give me your blessing?”

Jacob stared at her, wide-eyed and then ran his hand over his face with a groan. “It’s not that simple. See, what I actually wanted to talk to you about—“

Behind her, the door swooshed open, effectively interrupting whatever he was about to say. Both of them turned.

A man strolled in. Jack.

Sam froze and her throat went dry. The room spun and she had to grab the edge of her desk for balance. She had to be dreaming.

This was impossible. This had to be a trick. Her Jack had died on the Aschen homeworld. He couldn’t be here.

She scanned his large frame, his face, the same gray, ruffled hair and the same blank expression on his face. The same deep, dark eyes.

“Missed me?” The same voice. That same hint of a smirk around his mouth.

This wasn’t a trick.

“Sam?” her dad said. “That’s what I tried to tell you. During Ba’al’s attack on the Aschen homeworld, Jack managed to make it to one of Ba’al’s ships and got captured by him. Luckily, one of our Tok’ra operatives was on that ship and realized who he was. He sent us a message, so we could extract him. Now I just wish we’d gotten here sooner.”

Sam stared at him. Somehow his words didn’t compute. “How?”

Jacob squeezed her shoulders. “The force field contained the explosion.”

“But…you said…” She couldn’t draw her eyes from Jack. “Everyone said the force field wasn’t strong enough.”

“We were wrong, kiddo.”

“It’s been almost four months.” Her voice came out almost toneless.

Jack took a careful step towards her. “I was arrested and spent a while in an Aschen prison.”

“We did blood tests and confirmed his identity.” Her father released her. “There’s no doubt. It’s Jack.”

Sam covered her mouth with her hands. His face blurred. Jack scrunched his brows, concern masking his face.

She didn’t dare move, not even as he finally came to stand right in front of her. If she moved, if she touched him, would he vanish into thin air? Would she wake up from a dream and find herself in an empty bed?

“C’mere.” At last, he reached out. His hand grazed hers, then his warm palm closed around her wrist. He didn’t disappear. She breathed in his scent. He was alive. Here. Right in front of her. How often had she dreamed of this moment?

“Jack.” When he buried his face in her neck, she trembled. Her throat tightened. “I thought you were… The explosion… I thought…”

His hand cupped her cheek. “So did I. I got lucky.”

A tear tingled her cheek as it trailed down. “I thought I’d lost you forever.”

“I know.” He pulled her close again, and this time she dared to touch him, dared to trail her fingers across his back.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Well, the knee’s ruined. My shoulder’s gonna take forever to heal. Aside from that I’m as good as new, now that I’m home.”

Still the old sarcasm. She gave an unsteady chuckle.

A second later, reality slammed into her and her stomach clenched. She’d promised marriage to another man. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her. “Oh God.”

“What?” Jack raised his brows.

Her dad cleared his throat. “Jack, we may have a bit of a situation here.”

“Um. Would anybody mind telling me what’s going on?” Joe’s voice drifted from the door. Sam closed her eyes. No, no, no. What now? She was legally Joe’s now. She’d signed an engagement contract. Which was as good as a wedding contract—just a bit less formal.

Her father nodded at Jack. “Mr. Faxon, may I introduce Jack O’Neill?”

“O’Neill?” Joe raised his brows, then his face lit up. “Oh, of course, Jack O’Neill. It’s a pleasure meeting you. We all thought you died on the Aschen homeworld.”

“Yeah, well, I’d call that an exaggeration.” Jack studied the other man before he shook his hand.

“Jack, this is Joe Faxon.” Jacob glanced at Sam, who winced and closed her eyes.

“My fiancé.”

After a moment of deafening silence, Jack turned toward her. “Your what?”

“I… I thought you were dead and…” God, what had she done?

Joe stood next to her, his hand on the small of her back. She tensed against the touch. If only he’d been away for a moment longer, so she could’ve explained the situation to Jack.

She had made her peace with her decision and her new life. But now? Knowing Jack was alive, how was she supposed to marry another man? To stand another man’s touch, his kisses, sharing his bed?

“Jack.” If only she could tell him how badly she’d missed him. Wanted him. Needed him. But she was legally bound to Joe. It would hardly be appropriate.

Jack’s face darkened as he locked his gaze with Joe’s. “Last time I checked, she was my wife. Contract and all. I believe, marriage contract trumps engagement contract.”

“Not quite.” Joe cleared his throat. “The old marriage contracts of gifted people were annulled during the reorganization period. She’s not your wife anymore.”

“He’s right, Jack,” her dad said, his hand on Jack’s shoulder.

“I see.” Something dark flashed in Jack’s eyes before his gaze shifted from Joe to Sam.  “In that case. Congratulations.”

Shoulders tight, he turned and walked out of the room without another word.

Sam stared after him, her gut wrenching as though someone squeezed the life out of her. Don’t go. She pushed Joe’s arms away and ran out of her office.

“Jack.” She hurried along the corridor to catch up with him. “Jack, please…”

At last, he slowed and turned. “It’s fine, Carter. I promised I’d never hold you to our marriage contract. You never wanted it anyway. I’m happy for you.”

Bitterness? Her throat constricted. “Don’t…” She shook her head.

“Don’t what?”

Oh God, how could he do that? How could he just let her go? “Jack. I want—“

“Sam?” Joe’s voice drifted from behind her.

He’d followed her into the hallway. She closed her eyes, and suddenly she wished he was gone. That she’d never met him. No, that wasn’t fair. He was a good man. He just wasn’t Jack.

She looked at Jack, pleading. “Give me just one minute. And then let’s talk about this. Please.”

When his face remained blank, she turned toward Joe.

“Sam?” Joe reached for her hand. “What’s going on?”

She pulled her hand out of his. “Can you leave us alone for a moment?”

“Um, Sam…” He looked over her shoulder.

She turned. Jack had walked away. Just like that. As though the four months they’d been together had never happened.

Jack looked around the white hallway. Aschen apartment buildings sure were a lot more comfortable than ordinary ones. Hopefully Daniel wouldn’t ask too many questions. Even though he’d been back for only a few hours, the news of his return had spread like wildfire, and everybody he met seemed to be interested in what had happened to him on the Aschen homeworld.

When the door behind him opened, he turned. Daniel stared at him and pushed his glasses further up on his nose.

“Daniel.”

“Jack.”

“Can I bunk here for a coupla days?” He didn’t wait for an answer but entered the apartment.

“Hi Jack, glad you’re back. Long time no see.” The door clicked shut.

Jack rolled his eyes. He really wasn’t in the mood for Daniel’s passive aggressive tantrums. “Hi Daniel, good to see you. How are things?” He dropped on the couch. When Daniel stared at him, he gave him an annoyed look. “What?”

“How are you?”

“Can we not talk about that?”

“Um, okay.” Daniel pushed his hands into his pockets. “Have you talked to Sam yet?”

“Really don’t wanna talk about that, either.” He leaned back. “You got a beer?”

“Um, sure.” Daniel left the living room.

Jack stared at the white wall. Anger welled up inside him when he thought about Carter and Faxon. Ironic, that, because of the resistance and their coup, she was now Faxon’s. If the resistance hadn’t annulled the wedding contracts…

He closed his eyes when images flooded his mind. How intimately Faxon had held her hands. How close he’d stood to her. His stomach clenched in rage. He wanted to break that guys arm.

Enough. He didn’t need another source of anger. He shifted and tried to release the tension in his muscles. His head had ached for days. And the flashbacks… Somehow instead of getting better, everything had gotten worse since he’d left the Aschen homeworld.

In the Aschen prison, he’d never had nightmares. He’d dreamed of Carter. But now…

“Here.” Daniel returned and held a bottle of beer out to him.

“Thanks.” Jack opened it and took a swig.

“You gonna tell me what happened?”

When Daniel sat down on the couch next to him, Jack turned his head and frowned at him. “Carter signed an engagement contract with Faxon.”

“I know that. And?”

“And what?”

“You didn’t even talk to her?”

“What’s the point?” He flipped the cap to the garbage can in the corner. “Legally, an engagement contract is as good as a wedding contract. It’s over.” He glared at his friend. “And don’t ask me how I feel about that now, or I’m gonna shoot you.”

Daniel’s eyebrows climbed. “Okay, I won’t ask.”

“Thanks.”

Silence. Thank God. Jack savored his beer. When Daniel turned toward him again, he almost groaned.

“Jack, what the hell’s the matter with you? We’re talking about Sam here.”

“Oh for cryin’ out loud.” Suddenly, he took profound interest in the label of his beer. Was it just him, or had these bottles gotten smaller since he left? He’d need more of these. Maybe that would let him get some sleep tonight. “We dated for four months. Will you stop acting like it was four years?”

“You were married.”

“On paper.”

“Good enough,” Daniel said.

“Not for her, apparently.”

“Jack, it’s not her fault. We all thought you were dead.”

“What do you want me to do? Give her a medal for giving it a few months instead of fucking the next best guy the day after?”

Anger flashed in Daniel’s eyes. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

“What the hell’s wrong with you? I said, let it go. I don’t wanna talk about it.” Jack glowered at the wall. Somehow, his entire life was falling apart.

Why wasn’t he strong enough to handle what had happened on the Aschen homeworld? He had solo-mission training for crying out loud. He’d fought the Aschen for over a decade, and he’d been trained in withstanding their interrogation methods.

Why did he keep seeing Boren’s face in his dreams? And the flashbacks… the pain… His knee gave a faint sting.

The white room. He can’t move. The questions… Then, when he refuses to answer them, the hammer smashing down on his knee. The pain and the horrible crunch as his bone cracks.

Jack closed his eyes and took the last gulp from his beer. Forget. He needed to forget. “You got another one of these?”

Daniel scoffed. “Help yourself. They’re in the fridge.”

That evening, when Sam entered Joe’s apartment, her heart felt heavy. There was no easy way to do this, but she had to give it a try. She couldn’t just give up now, not when it would affect the rest of her life. For the first time in four months, she had something worth fighting for. She closed the expensive oak door softly.

“I can’t marry you.” The words echoed in her head as though somebody else had said them.

The enormity of what she was asking of him almost crushed her. Dissolving their relationship meant he’d have to find another gifted woman, before they’d force him into the breeding facility. Could she really ask that of him?

Since he had her signature on the engagement contract, he could insist on the engagement. If he did that, she’d have no choice but to marry him.

Joe froze. “What?”

“I’m sorry. I know we had an agreement, and I signed the contract.” She lifted her head, and bit her lower lip. “But circumstances were different. If I’d known…”

He studied her for a long moment. “This is about O’Neill, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Mostly.” She released a sigh. “It’s about all of this.” She waved around Joe’s apartment. As a committee member and gifted male, he’d been assigned one of the most luxurious apartments in Powhatan.

Joe straightened, confusion flashing on his face.

“This place. The fancy restaurants and dresses. A marriage without love. Just giving up and accepting the gifted system. I thought I could do it, but today…” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “It’s not me. I like you as a friend, but it’s not enough.”

He took a step back from her and sank down into one of the armchairs. “I was told your marriage with O’Neill was arranged by your father. But you really love him, don’t you?”

She nodded. “I do.” This wasn’t fair, not to Joe and not to Jack. What had she done? “I know you have the legal right to insist on a formal marriage.” She knelt in front of the armchair. “Please. I’m asking you, as your friend, to let me out of it.”

“Friends.” Joe sighed. “I’d hoped that maybe in time you’d see me as more than a friend. That you’d learn to love me.” Sadness flashed in his eyes.

The realization hit her like a hammer. For him, it wasn’t just a marriage of convenience. Despite his pragmatism and his rational approach to the marriage, he was in love with her.

She trembled. “I don’t know. Given enough time maybe I would have.”

Joe sighed and got up from the chair to stroll over to the desk in his living room. “If the gifted laws didn’t exist and you were free to be with whoever you want, you’d still choose him, wouldn’t you?” He opened one of the drawers, as he spoke.

Sam wrapped her arms around herself. “Yes. I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you different, but—”

“It’s okay. You never pretended to love me. Even when I proposed, you told me you didn’t.” He closed the drawer and turned. “I wanted you to be safe.” He held the rolled up engagement contract out to her. “But if you love him, that’s no longer an issue. He’s gifted. You two can legally be together.”

With trembling fingers she took the roll of paper. Relief conflicted with worry for his welfare inside her. What would happen to him now? Would he have to face the horrors of the breeding facility? Her throat constricted as her gaze met his.

“You never lied to me, Sam. If your heart belongs to him, you should be with him.”

She wrapped her arms around him and drew him close. Warmth flooded her. She probably would have fallen in love with him before long if she’d married him. If things had been different…

Her heart ached. “Thank you.”

He pressed her close and pecked a chaste kiss on her cheek. “I hope you’ll find all the happiness in the world.”

When he released her, an odd sadness spread inside her. “I’ll see you around?”

“Sure. We’ll meet at the office. Maybe have lunch in the cafeteria. As friends.” He took a step back.

“I’d like that.” She pressed the contract to her heart and turned.

When the apartment door clicked shut behind her, the sound had a finality to it that made her vision blur.

Sam pushed the little button next to the door and fidgeted while she waited for someone to open it. The door looked just like every other door on the floor—probably the entire building. Aschen conformity and order had expanded into the architectural design of their houses.

Voices and steps drifted from inside the apartment. When the door opened, she straightened. Daniel blinked at her without glasses. “Sam?”

“Daniel.” She gave him a weak smile. “Hi.”

“What’re you doing here?” His breath hitched and the smell of alcohol carried over. Her gaze fell on the beer bottle in his hands. He was drunk, or at least on the way there. She’d been on too many team nights out with him not to know the signs.

“Dad said Jack’s staying with you until tomorrow, and I thought… Is he here?”

“Yeah.” His mouth tugged into a smile. “Thank God you’re here. He’s driving me crazy.”

“Oh.” She raised her eyebrows. Daniel stepped aside and let her in. “Vala’s not here?” She couldn’t imagine that Jack would be able to stomach Vala and Daniel on his first evening back. Especially not if there was alcohol involved.

“She’s visiting Janet.”

“Oh.” How had she gotten so out of touch? She had really neglected her friends in the past few months. They’d only talked to each other every other week.

After she’d pulled off her jacket, she followed Daniel to his living room. The apartment looked the same as her own. Another case where Aschen indifference had led to unbearable uniformity.

As she entered the room, Jack was just flicking the lid of a beer bottle into the garbage can in the corner. A few dozen missed ones lay scattered on the floor around it.

“Look who’s here.” Daniel took a sip from his bottle, then swayed and stumbled. Flinching, Sam guided him to the couch.

Face blank, Jack leaned back and studied Daniel, then her.

“Hi.” She gave him a soft smile. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Pshaw. Carter, grab a beer.” Jack motioned towards a little box under the table.

Carter. So they were back to formalities, were they? “No. Thank you.” She looked around. The wall was stacked with boxes, undoubtedly holding some of the artifacts from Antarctica.

Jack took a swig from his bottle. “So, what brings you here at—” He checked his watch. “—11:26 at night?”

“I actually…” She glanced at Daniel. He looked up at her like an adorable puppy. A very drunk puppy. And from the amount of empty bottles on the table, Jack had also had a fair amount of alcohol. “Maybe I should come back another time.”

“Oh, just spill it.”

“I wanted to talk to you.” She wrapped her arms around herself, and swallowed hard. This had been a bad idea. Maybe she should’ve waited a couple of days and not just come straight here from Joe’s place.

“Talk away.”

“Privately.”

Privately.” His expression remained blank, but there was a strange undertone to his voice she didn’t like. “Where’s Joe?”

Daniel groaned before she had the chance to think of an answer to address his hostility. “Jack, don’t be an ass. Just go talk to her already.”

Sam threw him a grateful glance. Daniel raised his brows expectantly at Jack.

“Fine. Why don’t we go into the other room.” He motioned vaguely towards the wall. “You gonna be okay, Dannyboy?” The archeologist nodded, then winced when Jack hit his shoulder a bit too hard. “Go easy on the beer.”

Jack put his bottle down on the sterile white side table, then walked past her. She followed him into what was apparently Daniel’s bedroom. An uncomfortable silence fell between them when the door clicked shut.

This had to be what a trapped deer felt like. She met his gaze. Why did he have to be so tall? He remained silent. When she couldn’t stand his scrutiny any longer, she strolled over to the window.

“It’s a nice place.” She closed her eyes with a wince. Why was she complimenting the apartment?

“Yeah. It’s Daniel’s.”

“Right.”

Another awkward silence.

“I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour.”

“Cut the crap, Carter, what’s this about?”

The anger layering through his words made her courage drop to a level below zero. She straightened and turned. What was she thinking coming here? After how willingly he had let her go, assuming she’d marry Joe…

Was he even still interested in a relationship with her? She’d left him behind on the Aschen homeworld. Maybe he was happy about the outcome. Maybe coming here had been a very, very bad idea. She turned toward him.

He scowled at her. “If you wanna say something, say it. Cause I got a date with that bottle of beer in the living room.”

Mild irritation welled up. So he wasn’t even giving her a chance to explain the situation? Couldn’t they talk about this like adults? What was going on with him?

“You’re a jerk.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”

“I told you I wanted to talk today, but you just left.”

“There’s nothing left to say.” He crossed the room and sat on the bed.

“There isn’t?”

He glared at her. “You made your choice. You moved on. Case closed.”

“They restored the old laws. Joe is gifted. I didn’t have a choice. I thought you were…” She closed her eyes.

“So I heard. Didn’t seem very hard for you to get over it, though.”

Her hands clenched into fists. “Do you even have any idea… I tried to establish a connection to the Aschen homeworld until the Tok’ra put an end to my efforts. Everybody thought you were dead for four months. They practically had to drag me away from the gate.”

“Four months. Took you—what, half a year before you even agreed to date me? Or whatever it was we did.”

Whatever it was we did? How could he talk like that? How could he even think…?

Jack pressed his palms to his eyes and fell back on the bed with a groan. “Listen, Carter, I’m not in the mood for this. You want my blessing? Go. Be happy. Marry him. It’s not the end of the world.”

The indifference in his voice shattered the last bit of confidence she had. Not the end of the world… Did she mean so little to him? She clutched her waist with her arms, trying to keep the pieces of her broken life together, trying to cut her losses. “You’re not being fair, you know.”

Jack sat back up. “Can we just end this conversation now without the anger and insults and ruining everyone’s day more than it is?”

Ruining his day… So that was what she was doing. The words resounded in her mind. He really didn’t want to be with her anymore. Because of Joe? Or because she’d left him behind to die?

“Yeah. Sure. I’m sorry I bothered you.” Throat tightening, she marched to the bedroom door.

“Good luck with your wedding.”

She froze, her hand on the doorknob. “There won’t be a wedding. I’m no longer engaged to Joe.” Without another glance back, she left the bedroom, then the apartment, slamming the door shut behind her.

How could this happen? Four months ago, they’d shared more than a tent. They’d shared a life. And now the emotional distance between them seemed to spread across the entire galaxy. Her chest hurt. Suddenly it was hard to breathe.

After losing him on the Aschen homeworld, having him back and seeing him despise her for what she’d done was more than she could bear.

If only she could go back to being the young woman who’d found the courage and hope in her heart to run away from home. The woman who had been so full of dreams and willing to risk it all to fight for her convictions, against all odds. Somewhere along the way she’d lost her too.

RING—RING—RING—

Sam scurried out of the bedroom and nearly stumbled over her shoes in the hall. She took a quick glance in the bathroom mirror. Swollen eyes, puffy face. Great, not even make-up would cover that.

RIIIIING—

Running a hand through her tousled hair, Sam rushed to the front door and opened it.

“Why aren’t you engaged anymore?” Jack leaned against the doorframe. She blinked. Blinked some more. Then she glanced at the clock on the wall.

6:30.

She rubbed her eyes. “What?”

“Yesterday at noon, you were engaged. Contract and all. Now you’re not.” He brushed by her and entered her apartment. She closed the door and followed him to the living room.

“These places really do all look alike, don’t they?” He glanced around until his gaze stopped on the unpacked boxes in the corner of her living room. “Comfortable.”

“I’ve been involved in work and haven’t really had time to…” Wait, that wasn’t really the point, was it? “Jack, what are you doing here? Are you still drunk?”

“Why did you end your engagement?”

“Why do you think?” She sighed and sank down to the couch.

“I asked first.”

She shook her head, her brain slowly waking up. “What do you want to hear? Last night, you didn’t even wanna see me, let alone talk to me.”

“I was an ass. Can we move on?”

She didn’t like the undertone in his voice. Impatient. Almost annoyed. Something was off about him.

“Why’d you break off the engagement?” When he sat down on the couch next to her, his leg brushed hers.

“Because…” She swallowed hard. Okay, it was all or nothing now. “You’re the man I love.” Her heart skipped a beat. They’d never used the word love before, had they? She closed her eyes. “I didn’t love Joe. We only signed the contract so neither of us would have to deal with the breeding facility.”

His face remained blank. “So, what about the contract?”

“He let me out of it and gave it back to me. Jack, you have to believe that—“

He grabbed her nape and his mouth crashed down on hers. Heat jolted through her. Her lips parted, and as he deepened the kiss, she gripped at his arms, his shoulders, any part of him she could reach. God, how much she’d missed him. How many nights had she prayed for a chance to hold him again? She clutched his shirt to pull him closer.

“I love you,” she whispered between kisses before his tongue darted into her mouth again. Her mind swam with his taste, his scent, his rough repossession.

At last he lifted his head. Breathless, she bit her lower lip and met his heated gaze. Her hand cupped his cheek, her fingers tracing his lips, the soft wrinkles around his eyes, his rough skin. All those details she’d missed so much. All that made him who he was.

“Would you mind if I bunked here?” He gave her lower lip a playful nip.

“No. Your stuff’s here already anyway.”

“Oh?” He glanced at the boxes in the corner.

“Well, somewhere in there.” She played with his shirt. Then her eyes caught a scar on his neck. That was definitely a new one. How many new scars did he have? What had the Aschen done to him all those months he’d been in one of their prisons?

She trailed her finger along the mark. Suddenly, he withdrew from her touch and straightened, his expression stoic. “I wanna sleep a coupla hours.”

She raised her brows at him. Didn’t he want her to touch him? A faint sense of distance reappeared, but she smiled. “Sure. I could use a few more hours.”

They could talk later after they’d both gotten some much needed rest.

When she snuggled into the blanket and Jack pulled her close against him, she didn’t care for talk anymore. His warmth, his scent. Everything of him. He was home. That was all that mattered for now.

A scream woke her. Sam jerked almost upright in her bed. She stared at Jack and leaned over to wake him when his eyes shot open. Chest heaving, he jerked into a sitting position. Drops of sweat covered his forehead. He looked around, disoriented and apparently unaware of where he was.

She scooted closer and drew him against her. He gripped at her arms, his body shaking.

“It’s okay. You’re safe.” She buried her face in his hair.

Abruptly, he pushed her arms away and slid out of bed. Without a word, he marched out of the room. Sam sat back on her heels and stared at the open door.

She waited a few minutes, but he didn’t return. Stomach tight, she got up and left the bedroom. In the bathroom, Jack leaned on the sink, his face dripping with water, his gaze fixated on his reflection in the mirror. Leaning her head against the doorframe, she wrapped her arms around herself. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.” He frowned at her. She ignored the hint of grouchiness in his voice.

She swallowed and reached out to touch his shoulder. “What happened to you on the Aschen homeworld?”

“Carter, what in my attitude says I wanna talk about that?” he snapped.

She pulled her hand back. He’d never talked to her in that tone—except that days when she’d messed up and gotten into a fistfight with Tim Hanson.

He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m fine.”

Except she was pretty sure he wasn’t.

And suddenly there was that galaxy’s distance between them again.

Theis was wrong. All wrong. He should feel better by now. He was back home. Back with Sam. He’d been so sure the nightmares would stop.

Instead they grew worse every day. Why were his muscles tense as though the Aschen were just around the next corner? Why couldn’t he shed that constant sense of danger?

Jack turned the beer cap on the kitchen table and took another sip. His sixth bottle today. Who cared? Maybe the nightmares would stop if he drank enough. He’d been trained for interrogation by the Aschen. Trained to withstand mind control methods. This shouldn’t be happening.

The front door snapped open and only a few seconds later, Sam entered the kitchen. She gave him a cautious smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“I brought dinner.”

“Not hungry.”

Her arms sank. “Okay. I’ll just store it in the fridge and we can eat later.” She opened the fridge and put the food inside. Then her brows scrunched. “Jack…”

With a roll of his eyes, he got up. “Yeah, yeah, don’t even start. I drank all the beer.” He marched out of the kitchen and heard her footsteps behind him.

“Don’t you think you’re drinking a little too much?”

“Ya think?” He dropped on the couch. Why couldn’t she stop nagging? Couldn’t a grown man drink as much beer as he wanted?

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing.”

She bit her lower lip. “Jack, please. You’ve been acting odd ever since you got back, and—”

“Carter, just shut up and leave me alone!” He couldn’t take those damn questions. Not again.

She swallowed visibly, and her eyes glistened. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

“Then just don’t.” Guilt stabbed at him. She didn’t deserve this. Why was he snapping at her? She’d done nothing wrong. She was right, he was drinking too much. He wouldn’t have to if it weren’t for those nightmares and the constant anxiety.

Why did his entire life feel as though it wasn’t even his anymore? He was a grown man, why couldn’t he handle this? He got up. Not even she could fill the void inside him.

As he left the room, he heard her breath hitch.

None of this should be happening. He was supposed to feel better once he got home. He should be rebuilding his life and celebrating.

Control was slipping away from him. And all he could do was stand by and watch.

His scream cut right to the bone. Thank God she hadn’t been fully asleep. How could she? She knew what was coming. It repeated night after night.

“Jack.” She rolled over and touched his shoulder. “Jack, wake up.”

When he threw his head left and right, she sat up and scooted closer. Some nights it was easy to wake him. Others, it took a lot of effort. If only he’d see a doctor instead of drowning himself in beer.

“Jack.” She grabbed his shoulders and shook him gently.

Big mistake. His hand hit her hard across the face. The force of the blow sent her tumbling off the bed to the floor. She cried out in pain when her head hit the edge of the nightstand.

Jack’s screams stopped.

Dizzy and disoriented, she groaned. Warmth trickled down the side of her mouth and she reached up to touch her finger to it. Red stained her skin. Oh God.

She looked up and found Jack staring at her wide-eyed. Her outcry must have snapped him out of the nightmare.

Without a word, she got up and stumbled into the bathroom. Her lower lip had cracked open. She reached for a tissue and examined the wound. Her cheek stung and a dull pain started pounding in her head. Throat tight, she concentrated on stopping the bleeding. Her reflection blurred and she rubbed her hand across her eyes.

“Sam…” Jack approached the bathroom.

Throat tight, she shook her head and shut the door in his face. It wasn’t his fault. It’d just been a nightmare. And yet…

If only he’d tell her what was going on. He’d never been like this. So unpredictable. She’d always felt safe being with him. But now…

Her breath hitched.

The water kept running as she sank down against the door. Shaking, she pressed the tissue against her mouth to stifle her sobs.

How much longer would she be able to take this?

Jack took a deep breath and pressed the doorbell. This had been a bad idea. But he was out of options. Something had to change. He’d come to terms with his own misery. But Sam…

Last night, he’d woken up from his nightmare and she’d lain there, next to the bed, her mouth bleeding and her cheek red and swollen. She hadn’t said anything. Not even this morning. But he’d seen the expression in her eyes in the bathroom. She hadn’t come back to bed after the incident. Who would?

He had to get it together. He couldn’t lose her. After all that had happened, after all the Aschen had done to him, he wouldn’t let them take her away from him, too.

The door opened. Eyes wide, Jennifer Keller stared at him. “Colonel.”

He should’ve known she’d be surprised. He’d barely talked to anybody since he’d returned almost two weeks ago. “Dr. Keller, do you have a minute?”

“Um… yes, sure.” She opened the door wider. “Rodney isn’t here if you’re looking for—”

“I wanna talk to you.”

“Oh.” She closed the door. “Would you like a coffee?

“No, thanks.” Jack entered the living room and buried his hands in his pockets. “I’m not even sure if you can help. Frasier isn’t available at the moment, but she referred me to you.”

“Okay.” She sat down on an armchair. “So you need medical advice?”

“I need a doctor.” He sat down.

She swallowed visibly and shifted. “Colonel, I’m not really a doctor. They won’t even let me work. I can give you the address of a good—“

“No.” Jack took a deep breath. “I’ve seen what you can do at camp. I don’t trust other doctors. Not with this.”

“What’s going on?” She stilled and leaned forward.

“I…” He took a deep breath. Where the hell was he supposed to start? How should he say this? “Since I’ve been back, things have been different. They were different ever since I escaped from the Aschen facility, but I thought everything would return to normal once I was back on Earth.”

“Such as?” she asked tentatively.

“Nightmares. For starters. Aggravation. I snap for no reason. I don’t feel any…” He cleared his throat. Awkward. “I’ve never had problems with, you know, reacting when I was with a woman.”

“Ah.” Her face remained blank. She was a doctor after all. He probably wasn’t the first patient to come to her because he couldn’t get it up.

“And last night, I accidentally…” He closed his eyes as guilt washed over him. “I need this to stop. Please. You have to do something. I know Frasier always had pills she handed out at camp.”

“Have you felt like this before? At camp?” She got up and went to a cabinet in the corner where she searched through a few small boxes and bottles.

“No. I had an occasional nightmare after a stressful day. Or problems falling asleep after a bad mission. But it went away after a coupla days.”

“It’s getting worse?”

He sighed. “I think so. At least, it’s not getting better.”

She closed the cabinet, a package in her hand. “I can give you sleeping pills. But from the sounds of it, they won’t help much.”

“Can’t you give me something stronger? I just need a good night’s sleep.”

She shook her head. “I’m afraid that’s not how it works. Sometimes people who’ve been through a traumatic experience will relive what happened over and over again. I saw it a lot when I was still working as an apprentice and dealt with a lot of criminals.”

“I’ve never had these symptoms before.”

“You’ve never been in the hands of an enemy for over three months before.” She sat back down and her face grew thoughtful. “I have an idea, but you’ll have to trust me. And the Tok’ra.”

“The Tok’ra?” Jack folded his arms. Great, just what he needed.

“Martouf and I once talked about the Tok’ra blending process, and how they manage to avoid psychological trauma in the host after the blending. Most symbiotes possess centuries of memories, most of which aren’t pleasant, so it’s a very real danger. He told me about a procedure of memory suppression. They use a device that slowly activates the suppressed memories one by one, which gives the host’s brain time to process each memory before it’s faced with the next.”

“Keller.” Why the hell was she telling him this?

“We might be able to use their technology to do the same for you. In reverse, so to speak. We should be able to suppress the traumatic memories. It wouldn’t be a permanent solution, though.”

“Why not?”

She cocked her head and folded her arms. “Because suppressed memories can have all kinds of side-effects, such as psychological disorders, depression and undetermined anxiety. You’ll have to deal with them. The procedure should make the symptoms disappear, though.”

“Immediately?”

“If it works, yes. You wouldn’t remember most of the last four months. Then we’ll gradually activate one memory after the other during the next months.” She lifted her hands. “But first, I need to contact the Tok’ra and see if we could adapt the technology for someone who hasn’t blended with a symbiote. We have no idea what side effects it might have, so you may have to stay with them for a few days.”

“When can we start?”

“If I can get a hold of Martouf or Jolinar, and they agree, right away.”

Jack nodded. “Let’s do it.”

He couldn’t lose Carter. He couldn’t lose himself. Even if he had to rely on the Tok’ra once more, he’d do whatever it took.

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