Jackfic Archive Story

 

Supporting Rumors

by Jackie ONeill Nut

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).




Author's Note: The shows have a guest star ... well I got a guest writer ... two chapters were written and produced by Flatkatsi after pinging the idea to me and I ponged it back - I figured I had deserved to get some good reading from this fic and a chance to get even...

**********

DEDICATED to Lynette, Diane and Mu, for staying the journey with me, - in life and not just fiction.

**********

To Flatkatsi, thank you to the best beta a person could ever have, for the patience and latitude you have given me, yet keeping me true. Thank you for the ideas and the hard work you put into the whole thing, without which it would have been impossible and never written.

**********

Supporting Rumors

"Sam," called out Daniel as he skidded to an abrupt halt just inside the laboratory doorway.

Sam looked up from the work she was doing and frowned at him. She waited while he appeared to be trying to catch his breath.

"I just saw the news... Jack's been shot!"

Her face blanched white at his words and she grasped the edge of the work bench to steady herself.

"Some nut went berserk with a gun... I don't know how badly he's hurt, but he's alive."

The buzzing in her ears and the sudden narrowing of her vision threatened to overtake her completely until she felt the edge of a stool hit the back of her legs. The command to sit wasn't necessary, but the comforting warmth from his hand on her shoulder helped to steady her.

"When?" she whispered.

"Around three, maybe four hours ago as far as I can tell."

Sam sat stunned, frantically trying to get herself together, as Daniel waited patiently.

**********

Sam took a deep breath and clutched the paper she held more tightly as she knocked on the door.

"Enter," called out the General's voice.

Sam stood to attention before General Landry, waiting until he finished signing off whatever it was on his desk and he looked up.

"Sir, I have an urgent request for leave." Sam kept herself at attention, fixing her glance at a spot just over the general's shoulder.

"Request denied Colonel. You are due to join the Katsi mission at 0800 the day after tomorrow."

Sam stole a deeper breath. "Sir, it's an urgent matter."

Landry replaced his pen on his desk carefully and moved some of the paperwork to his out tray.

"Colonel, unless it's a life or death matter you are not going anywhere until after the Katsi mission is completed."

Sam's face whitened visibly. "It's personal sir, but please ..."

The phone interrupted her words and she bit back the snarl that threatened to emerge.

The general picked up the phone, his eyes firmly fixed on the Colonel.

"Landry.

Yes, I heard. Is there any...

Of course. Yes, the next of kin ... but I thought that there wasn't ..."

The general's eyebrows rose in surprise as he listened. "Yes I do actually, one moment."

The general stood and held the receiver out to Sam. "It's General O'Neill's office ... they want to speak to his wife ..."

**********

Sam sat down, with a loud and heart-felt sigh, on the large couch in the relatives' room, glad to finally be alone. She thought back over the last few hectic hours.

Once General Landry had recovered his surprise at the news of her marriage to Jack, he had smoothed the way for her and seen that she had everything she needed to get to her husband's side as quickly as possible.

However, security at the hospital was being thorough, so much so that she couldn't seem to get beyond it, but just when she was ready for behavior so not becoming an officer, the arrival of General George Hammond got everything sorted and she was given some privacy at last ... the only thing she really wanted however, was to be with Jack.

No one at the SGC had known of her marriage to the General, up until now that was, Sam smiled ruefully as she pictured the grapevine running riot on base right now with the discovery.

**********

The room was quiet, too quiet. Sam fought the urge to check her watch yet again as the minutes dragged by. "For crying out loud!" she complained and resumed pacing the small room. The words that had erupted from her made her smile, the mental picture of Jack uttering them was so strong she almost felt she could reach out and touch him. Two tiny tears trickled unchecked down her cheeks as the vision gave her a gut wrenching smile...

They'd had so little time together ... Sam winced ... maybe they shouldn't have waited. All those years wasted, wanting ... needing - it was just that...

She swiped at the wetness on her cheeks and slumped down on the only seating in the room, a very large overstuffed couch. She sank into the leather and her thoughts drifted on the tide of emotions that were swelling up inside her.

The vivid picture of Jack's face, as he took her hand as he proposed to her, brought a lump to her throat and more wetness trickled on her pale skin. His dark eyes had gazed at her so lovingly, so ... so ... so dang hot, that she just had to say yes ... and he'd swept her into his arms...

**********

Sam jumped to attention as General Hammond entered, swiftly brushing at her cheeks, hoping like hell that the remnants of her makeup weren't giving her panda eyes.

"Sit down, Sam."

Sam gazed fearfully as she heard the General's quiet tone and the use of her first name.

"Sir ...?" Her eyes betrayed her fear.

"He's out of surgery. The surgeon is on his way to see us."

Sam sat back down on the overstuffed couch, the General joining her.

Silently he took one of her hands in his and gave it a comforting squeeze.

**********

"What happened?" she asked quietly.

"I haven't seen the official reports yet, I came straight here as soon as I heard ..."

"God, all those years of crossing the galaxies and then ..."

"He's still alive."

"They didn't sound too hopeful when they called me ..."

The door opened and they both stiffened. The blonde doctor looked to be in her late 50's, her short hair a little ruffled. She moved closer to them, sitting on the edge of the large coffee table in front of the couch.

"I'm Doctor Hill. Mrs O'Neill?"

Sam nodded, her heart thumping painfully in her chest as she waited for the worst.

"Your husband is stable for the time being. He was shot twice and although we have managed to successfully remove one of the bullets and repair the internal bleeding..."

Sam felt the world turning and graying while her stomach churned. The warm hand that encompassed hers squeezed it gently and she managed to focus her attention on the doctor as she continued to speak.

"The second bullet however, is a different matter. It's lodged too close to the spine to risk removing. I hope you understand the priority was to stem the bleeding and stabilize him at this stage, however we will be reviewing the scans we've taken and ..."

"Is he ... is he paralyzed?" whispered Sam.

"Until your husband comes around and we run more tests we can't be one hundred per cent assured of anything Mrs O'Neill, however, from what I have seen of the wound, there is nothing to indicate any damage is permanent. He will certainly be in some pain, but it's far too early to predict exactly what the implications are at this stage."

Sam just nodded. Her mind framing even more questions that her tongue just couldn't ask ... her mind churning the words over and over ... god, he just couldn't be paralyzed ... if there is a god, please don't do this to him...

**********

It seemed an age before she was finally allowed into see Jack. The strength of her emotions at seeing him lying there surprised her ... she'd seen him hurt before ... how was this so different? It was sometime later that it dawned on her that she had at long last thought he was safe, well as safe as anyone living on Earth could be. The irony was not lost on her that someone out there had tried to kill one of the people that had saved their miserable lives on more than one occasion.

The doctors were playing things close to their chest for the moment and although they kept a watchful eye on him, they hadn't yet given her any further information.

General Hammond had left several hours ago now, promising that he would let the SGC know what was happening and that she was in no way to worry about her extended absence. She'd asked him to find out what exactly had happened. The security surrounding her husband was tight and was just a little too much for it to be routine.

**********

Jack came round slowly. His heavy lids barely revealed the color of his eyes and when they did open further, they displayed his confusion.

His breathy whisper of, "Team." was ignored by the staff as they fussed around waiting for the doctor's arrival and his distress at being ignored became only too apparent in the beeps of alarm from the monitors.

Sam had stood back to allow the nurses room to see to him, but the noises from the machines made her step closer. She saw him struggling to speak and bent closer to listen.

"Team?" he pleaded hoarsely, his eyes blinking rapidly in the bright light.

Sam grasped the hand that flailed the air and held it tightly. "S ... Jack, it's okay, I'm here. Everyone is okay." She bit her lip at her almost automatic deference to his rank.

He gave her a weary half smile and his head sank back down as his eyes closed. She'd thought he'd drifted off again, except that his hand gripped hers more tightly.

Ignoring the nurses, she hooked the chair she'd pushed back, with her foot and dragged it closer so that it allowed her to sit down and remain holding on to him.

"Sam," he whispered.

"I'm here," she responded.

"Stay?"

"Always, Jack." The simple plead from him brought a lump to her throat and unshod tears glistened in her eyes.

**********

The nurses had ushered her out despite her protests when Doctor Hill arrived. Jack had soundly succumbed once more to the tug of the drugs, although it still took a heart wrenching moment to unravel his hand from hers.

She paced the corridor, oblivious to the sympathetic glances from the two plain clothes men who were stationed outside his room. She became aware of voices just beyond the double doors to the corridor which provided a `security check point' for any person needing to see the General and she waited for someone to enter.

It was George Hammond who greeted her as the door opened and she moved toward him quickly, relieved to have someone to speak to.

"Sam?" asked the General, the frown on his face immediately demonstrating his concern.

"He woke up a little while ago, the doctor is in with him now," she explained quickly.

George let out a heavy sigh of relief. To say he'd feared the worse when he saw her standing there was a jolt he could well do without. His heart was heavy with concern for the younger man he considered part of his family and since the news of the shooting had reached him, every one of his years had made itself felt and not in a good way.

"You okay sir?" asked Sam.

"I'm fine. How are you holding up? Have you eaten yet today?"

Sam shook her head.

George wasn't sure which question she was responding to, and probably thought it applied to both...

"Come on." He took her arm and gently steered her through the doors, ignoring her protest.

Within a remarkably short period of time she was ensconced in the room she'd been shown to earlier and was sitting down with a coffee and a plate of sandwiches placed in front of her.

George sat wearily beside her and began to pour coffee.

Sam turned to face him, the worry clouding her eyes, a heavy frown marring her face.

"He's in the best of hands here Sam, don't let Doctor Hill's appearance or manner fool you, she's the best."

"I ..." A large tear trickled down her cheeks and she swiped at it, a little embarrassed to be crying in front of a General, yet again. She cleared her throat. "Sorry ..." she grimaced.

"Nothing to be sorry for," said George. "Hey, make the most of it ... I don't pour coffee for just anyone you know."

Sam gaped at him, tears forgotten as she heard the definite rub off of working with her husband for any length of time...

George gave her a smile and a shrug, the twinkling in his eyes showing he knew just what she was thinking. Sam couldn't help the giggle that escaped. She smiled gratefully at the General and took a sip of the coffee he'd poured.

The hot, slightly bitter taste did her good and warmed up what she hadn't realized was cold until just now. She relaxed back into the couch a little more and the General placed a plate on her lap with a sandwich and instructed her to eat. She took a few bites, mainly to try and please him, but her masticating was purely reactive.

The coffee was finished and she had chewed her way part way through another `piece of cardboard' when the doctor entered.

Sam felt the urge to stand to attention, ridiculous she knew, but it felt like that was the only way she might actually stop herself bursting into tears. As she moved her position on the couch, it was the large warm hand that gripped hers comfortingly that stopped her.

The doctor gave them both a brief acknowledging smile and then perched on the edge of the table again, scrubbing a hand through her tousled blond hair in a manner so like the injured General that Sam's heart gave a lurch.

The sandwiches she'd forced down threatened to make an appearance and she swallowed harshly, fighting the nausea that was massing.

**********

Sam sat stunned. She felt such a mix of emotions she wasn't exactly sure what the hell she was thinking. The relief she felt that Jack wasn't paralyzed was almost overwhelming ... the rest of the news however, wasn't that good.

The doctor had left them to digest what she told them and Sam was trying to compose herself enough to return to sit beside her husband. She thrust her trembling hands between her knees, trying to quell the shaking, taking deep breaths through her nose, and desperately trying to calm herself down.

"One step at a time, Sam."

Sam winced at the General's phrasing and seeing her response, he bit back the apology that hovered, instead settling for cupping her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze.

"Yes, he'll manage one step at a time ... retired!"

"Sam," reproached George gently.

"You heard what the doctor said. He won't even be fit for a desk job ... I can't see Jack sitting around doing nothing ..."

"He needn't be doing nothing. He can ..."

"Be wrapped up in cotton wool," interrupted Sam bitterly.

**********

Sam sat with her husband. General Hammond had had to take his leave and, for the time being, Sam was grateful. She wanted a chance to take everything in and prepare herself before Jack wakened properly. She didn't want him to see a sniveling mess when he woke, so she had taken time and trouble to tidy herself up, and most importantly, steady herself - at least she thought she had.

**********

The first sense of him rousing was the slight flexing of his fingers against hers. She spoke softly, urging him gently to waken, whilst fumbling for the call button with her other hand.

His eyes flickered open, giving her a peep of the luxurious brown she loved so much, his long lashes fluttering against his too pale skin as he struggled to do her bidding.

She gave him a huge loving smile and was rewarded by the light in his eyes and the tug of his own mouth as he formed a slow grin.

"Worth ... wakin' ..." he breathed huskily.

"About time, flyboy." She beamed down at him. "How long you expect a girl to wait, huh?"

"'Bout eight years?" he croaked. His face lit with the hopeful little boy grin she adored and she leaned over to plant a kiss on his forehead. His hand gripped hers more tightly.

"That it?" he pouted, his eyes already threatening to close again.

"For now."

"Cnt ... wa ..." he whispered, his speech slurring already as his eyes flickered shut.

**********

The day passed slowly. Jack spent extremely short periods awake, although he wasn't yet fully cognizant.

Doctor Hill and her team spent more time with him and confirmed again that he hadn't completely lost his mobility. They began to lower the amount of painkillers so that they could make further assessments. As the medication was reduced Jack began to stay awake longer, but the strong drugs kept him drowsy and quiet. Sam spent a long night with him, talking to him softly, his hand firmly ensconced in hers.

General Hammond returned the next morning laden with flowers and cards. He passed on good wishes to a semi conscious Jack, who seemed to find the sight of a three star General laden with flowers funny.

George took the loopy drug filled comments in good part and kept the topic light.

Sam was slightly overwhelmed with the cards that had arrived and thumbed through several, reading out their names. Some she knew, some she didn't, though it appeared that most of the females in the Pentagon wanted him better quickly. There was even a handwritten note from the President himself and she felt quite touched by it.

Jack drifted off again and George beckoned Sam out of the room. Once in the corridor she waited expectantly, but George urged her further along, into the room she had been given for her private use.

As soon as he closed the door behind them, he pulled a wad of papers from his inside jacket pocket.

"I've just got a copy of the investigation into the shooting and the latest updates."

"Oh." Sam wasn't sure what else to say, she stood still, waiting for George to continue.

He skimmed down the papers he was holding. "General O'Neill had apparently just left a meeting and was on his way back to ... the ..."

George stopped, he flicked back a page and then forwards again. "That's strange ... that's ..." He stopped, puzzled.

"What?" asked Sam, her patience more than a little short at the moment.

"It's the where that's got me ..." The General's face suddenly lit with recognition and he snapped his fingers. "It's where Selig ..."

"Who?"

"Selig, Armin Selig the reporter who was ... killed."

Sam had to think for a moment before it dawned on her who on Earth the General was talking about. At the time she'd had a lot on her mind with her father's illness, and the sketchy details of the accident had barely been retained by her. Jack had certainly never enlarged on them, clamming up when it was mentioned at all.

"Coincidence?" asked Sam.

"The investigating officers certainly don't seem to think so. They've reopened the files and are checking through everything."

Sam couldn't help the shiver that ran through her. She was so tired that she felt like she could literally drop. The thought of someone shooting Jack for revenge ... for something that he wasn't to blame...

She took a deep breath, her eyes closing for a moment. The slight sway in her stance was steadied by the General.

"Did you get any sleep? Have you slept since you got here at all?"

"A little," confessed Sam. The little was the odd doze she fell into at Jack's bedside.

The General firmly guided her to the large couch and then gently pushed her down.

"I am going to sit a while with Jack and I want you to rest."

Sam opened her mouth to protest.

"That's an order Colonel," barked the General gruffly.

"Sir," murmured Sam as her head sank into the cushion. Her eyes were already closing, thoroughly against her will. "Just a little while," she conceded.

She never felt the blanket that the General sought out and laid over her before going to keep his promise.

**********

The rain ran down her face. Her hat had long since been discarded and lay on the grass. The cold from the ground beneath her knees bit into her, but compared to the iciness surrounding her soul it was nothing.

Her heart ached so much she'd thought she would die then and there ... he shouldn't have left her ... no leaving anyone behind ... she needed him ... time - so little time!

**********

- God ... "Jack!" Sam struggled up screaming, fighting against the hands that held her.

"Sam, shush, it's okay."

"Jack," she wailed, the sobs heaving her chest as she fought to emerge from the nightmare that gripped her.

"Oh God ... is he ...?"

"It's okay Sam, Jack's resting. Shushhh, he's okay."

Sam forced her eyes open, her heart thudding painfully as the remnants of sleep began to leave her exhausted body. There was no adrenalin here to keep her going as it did out in the field, only a deep nagging ache that wouldn't cease, an ache that held her insides tightly in a never ending knot of anxiety.

George Hammond gathered her into her arms and held her like one of his own children until the tremors and sobbing had subsided. Eventually he handed her a mass of tissue from the table and sat back whilst she gathered herself together.

"God, I'm sorry Gen ..."

"It's okay. I'm just glad I'm here for you. Is Mark ...?"

Sam shook her head. "I called but ... he's never approved of us ... said Jack was too much like Dad. I don't feel I can handle him right now, so I said everything was okay."

"And it will be."

**********

The last few days had put Sam through the ringer. Jack was unable to sit up unaided and although his mobility was improving, the pain he was in was hard to watch, and he was beginning to ask questions. The barrage of tests the doctor was running was wearing his patience thin - very thin.

The medication couldn't help with the pain and the doctor insisted most of it was down to spinal shock, that and the bullet that remained inside of him.

**********

Her most stalwart supporter, General Hammond, was once again sitting with her. She genuinely didn't know what on Earth she would have done without him. Daniel and Teal'c had called between their missions, but the situation at the SGC at the moment made their coming impossible. Sam was just thankful she hadn't been recalled, though she knew that if the situation warranted it, she would have to respond.

Although she wasn't sure just what the future would bring, Sam was so relieved that Jack was alive it cast the light she needed to continue. The vivid nightmares she'd been having at first were beginning to calm down and her soul wrenching fear of losing him was beginning to lessen.

They were waiting for Jack to come back from another series of scans. This time the doctor would be speaking to both of them, letting Jack, and herself know the full prognosis, something she was physically dreading.

"I never did thank you did I?" she asked George Hammond suddenly breaking the silence.

George gave her a puzzled look.

"For what?"

"For giving him that push," she said with a smile.

George grinned. He'd remembered the panic Jack was in when he was being pushed to accept his current promotion. And panic wasn't too strong a word, no ... to say that he'd ever thought he'd see Jack O'Neill in such a state of indecision was as much an understatement as there could be.

"He dithered so much about what to do that I seriously thought he'd lost his marbles," chuckled George. "I know it took some serious thinking to accept the command of the SGC and then Homeworld ... It didn't dawn on me at first just what was worrying him and it took a couple bottles of scotch to get it out of him."

Sam gave the General a long side on look. "You knew what ..."

George nodded. "Hell, yes, I knew how you felt about each other. It was never a problem for the team though was it? You all did your jobs and he never gave me any reason to act on what I knew his feelings were. The closeness you all had was something that made the team what it was, and," he paused for a second and smiled slightly before continuing, "if it ain't broke why fix it? Anyway, it seemed that moving away from SG-1 and then the SGC wasn't the crux of the matter for him, never was."

Sam blushed slightly.

"And at least I can accept those as valid reasons for his reluctance. You only get to live once Sam ..." George paused again, his eyes twinkling as he took hold of her hand. "Well, most folk anyway, but it's hard to find love and for Jack, it's harder for him to give. I told him to go for it, threatened him in fact."

Sam nodded, her eyes half closing as she remembered the first time Jack had actually asked her out on a date, just after breaking the news that he was transferring. "After rambling on for longer than one of Daniel's briefings, he eventually told me that if he didn't ask me out before he upped sticks then he was doomed to be marooned on a planet with no fishing."

George laughed. "Something like that," he agreed.

"Thank you."

"The pleasure was mine. Hell it was worth the scotch, even if he did pass out after."

**********

Jack was returned to his room. He was a little drowsy from the extra medication they'd given him, although he clearly wasn't happy. Clearly, as in vocally ensuring the staff knew of his displeasure. Not even the sight of Sam could take the steam out of him for the moment.

"Where's the doc?" he growled.

"Doctor Hill is checking the results, General," replied one of the nurses patiently as they settled him into bed.

"Jack, she won't be long," admonished Sam as she settled her chair nearer to the bed and grabbed one of his hands.

Jack struggled to adjust his position and bit down an exclamation of pain as it erupted through him.

Sam held onto his hand tightly until the spasm passed. He was so worked up, even with the drugs, it made the pains worse.

"Try and get some rest," urged one of the nurses.

"You try resting with a rod of fire up your ..."

"Jack!" barked out Sam, quelling the prone General far quicker than the General standing beside her could ever have done.

Jack's face softened as he looked up lovingly at his wife.

Jack's life had made him a hard man, and his service to his country and to the world had toughened him even further, but George knew there was nothing this man wouldn't try and do for Samantha Cart ... O'Neill. In her hands, this man was mush.

George cleared his throat. "Well ... I'd better go and ..."

Sam gave her husband's hand a squeeze and he looked up at the General. "You wanna miss the unveiling George?" His quip hiding what George knew was a very real fear of just what news was waiting for him.

"You call it son, stay or go?"

"Stay," said Jack firmly.

George Hammond snagged another chair and sat to wait with his extended family.

**********

Doctor Hill's eventual appearance stilled Jack and he ceased his monologue of complaints. He gripped Sam's hand tighter and she heard the hitch in his breathing as it stepped up a notch.

Doctor Hill brought a chair to the bedside opposite Sam and George, lining herself up to face her patient.

"General O'Neill." She began to speak, then paused.

Sam squeezed Jack's hand as a warning as he opened his mouth. She could guess only too well what might come out of it. Thankfully he shut it and she turned her attention back to the doctor.

Doctor Hill resumed. "I know you are a plain speaking man General, so I will be blunt. If you have any questions, please ask." She cleared her throat before continuing. "The remaining bullet is not removable without the high probability of causing permanent damage to your spine. Its current position is fairly stable and there is no reason good enough at the moment to risk an operation."

"At the moment?" asked Jack.

"Should the bullet move then it would certainly cause complete paralysis from that point down."

"And movement could be caused by ... what?"

"Any number of things actually, time even."

"Let's get this straight doc, as in a sneeze or cough and I lose?" He swept his hand from his chest down.

The doctor gave him a brief smile. "No, in all likelihood it could be a heavy fall or a motor accident. The chances are that if you're very careful ..."

Jack's face paled even further. "Chances? You don't know for sure? Legs today - gone tomorrow?"

"You are suffering from spinal shock at the moment, General and it is dissipating slowly. The pain will increase unfortunately, but we can start a medication program with you and ..."

"Get it out!" barked Jack.

"General O'Neill, there is no good reason for me to risk your life. The chances of you surviving such an operation, certainly at the moment, are not good."

"So we wait a bit."

"The length of time means scar tissue is building up inside around the bullet and that would increase the chances of you being paralyzed, even if you survived."

"Get the damn thing out now!"

"Jack, please ..." beseeched Sam, holding tightly onto his hand.

"Look I know this is all difficult to accept. You're very lucky to be alive and at least you will have mobility. I'll leave you to talk it over and when you have more questions I'll be ready to answer them when you've had time to take it in."

The doctor wasted no time in leaving them and for a few minutes you could have heard a pin drop in the room.

George looked from Sam's pale face to Jack's. He could already see the shutters being put into place ... he just hoped that he wouldn't shut out his wife.

Sam took a deep breath and leaned in closer still to her husband.

"Jack?" she said softly.

It took a few seconds for Jack to respond to his wife's voice. His eyes lit momentarily on George's, before flicking to Sam.

"It'll be okay, Jack."

"What? Waiting? Don't do waiting." His voice was deceptively soft and George knew from experience that volcano O'Neill was building.

"I know you will have to retire. I'm sorry Jack, but at least we can have a life together."

Jack's face tightened slightly. "Get the doc in here. I want it out. I am not going to sit around waiting for the day when I piss myself and then fall over."

"It might not happen. There's a good chance it will all be okay."

"Oh yeah, sit around doing nothing - hell, even the track to the cabin could cripple me!"

George rose. He knew that everything had to come out, be discussed and dismissed, he was however, uncomfortably aware that Sam was holding back on his account.

"I'm not running out on you. I'm just going to make myself scarce for a short while. You need the space."

Sam nodded, giving the General a tight smile, looking like she might burst into tears at any moment, and the General wavered before stiffening his resolve. Jack, however, found the sheets suddenly very interesting and ignored George's departure.

**********

As the door almost closed behind George he heard Jack's voice ringing out loud and clear.

"You wanna give up your career and take care of a cripple?"

George winced and straightened ... he just hoped that Sam would be ready for the fight of her life!

**********

"Okay ... you have the operation and die on me? As in dead! What then Jack ... I would have you any way I can rather than dead!" yelled back Sam.

"Hell, a couple of years taking care of a cripple would kill what we had!"

Sam stood up glaring at him. "Had? You've got a nerve Jack O'Neill! I married you for better or worse, in sickness and in health!"

"Sickness followed by divorce. I would drive you mad and you'd end up hating me and I would end up ..."

"You are not a cripple. It might never happen ..."

Jack's face pale face whitened further and he gripped at the sheets covering him.

Sam bit back what she had been going to say and grabbed one of his hands.

"Jack?"

His eyes slammed shut and he gritted his teeth in a desperate attempt to stay silent. The beads of sweat on his forehead trickled down his face as it contorted in pain.

"Oh God, I'm sorry," whispered Sam as she frantically buzzed for help.

"Can't even ..." he panted, "argue ..."

He jerked suddenly and cried out as another spasm overtook him and tears from his screwed shut eyes joined the sweat that tracked on his skin.

The nurse that entered quickly injected him. It took several minutes for the sedative to take effect and Sam held onto his hand and he gradually relaxed before opening his eyes to regard her blearily.

"Tell ... get it out."

His voice was barely a whisper, but Sam heard him and as he finally succumbed to the medication, she put her head down and wept.

**********

George left the hospital and made his way back to the Pentagon. He put in a secure call to the President and also one to the SGC. He hoped that someone would be able to help, namely a certain little alien friend, but given that friend was in another galaxy and hadn't been heard from for a while he wasn't hopeful of success.

The President had entirely agreed with him over this. Earth just could not afford to lose another hero, the ultimate hero in the eyes of the President, and George knew that no way would Jack O'Neill sit around quietly waiting for fate to show its hand.

**********

Sam woke from the sleep she'd cried herself into, feeling terrible. Her head and body ached, but they were nothing compared to the ache in her heart. She wanted her husband alive. She didn't care if he couldn't walk, she'd fallen in love with him, his humor, his voice, his eyes, him ... the whole darn package ... Okay, his body too. Darn the sex was good, great even, but it wasn't the be all and end all for her. The feeling she got when he put his arms around her and hugged her close held no comparison to anything else in her life. The way he made her feel so good with just a single look or a smile ... for richer or poorer ... and Jack O'Neill gave her many riches and a love of life she'd never known before.

She gently brushed at his hair, loving the softness of it, her fingers ghosting over his brow. She vowed she'd make him see the sense of it. He just needed to hang on ... it would work, she would not let him go.

**********

His eyes flickered and he frowned mightily, trying to bring the world into focus no doubt.

Sam immediately moved closer. "I'm sorry."

His eyes showed his puzzlement for a moment, then as the memories surfaced, they darkened and focused on her.

He sighed heavily and shifted his weight slightly, trying to feel his legs with his free hand, his expression beginning to show panic.

"It's just pins and needles ... with the spasms - the spinal shock," said Sam quickly, repeating what the doctor had warned her of. "It'll pass, just lie quietly, please."

He gave her an almost imperceptible nod, before dropping his gaze, taking his attention elsewhere.

Sam refused to let the hurt that the cold shoulder he was giving her show and merely tightened her grip on his hand, giving it a loving squeeze as she stood up.

"I'm going to get something to eat and clean up. I'll be back in a little while." Her announcement got no reaction from him and she resolutely bent and kissed his forehead. It took all of her strength to walk from that room. She had to show him she was prepared to fight him on this, to keep going, no matter what.

**********

Sam threw the newspaper she'd been unsuccessfully trying to read, down. She was stalling and it hurt incredibly. She knew she had to give Jack time to adjust to the news, to calm down and get some thinking done, just like she had to. She also knew she had to counter every one of his arguments - no way did she want to risk losing him. If or when the time came that he couldn't walk, then maybe and just maybe, an operation might be worth the risk, but certainly not at the cost of his life.

The newspapers still had remnants of news of the shooting. They had dredged up a little of Jack's history, well, what the Air Force wanted them to know anyway. There was a brief mention of his involvement with the Kinsey assassination attempt a while back and just for a moment she wondered if this was linked in some bizarre way...

She checked the clock on the wall for what must have been the hundredth time and sighed. She'd needed to be doing something - anything.

She grabbed her jacket and purse and with determination made her way through the hospital. It was only as she reached the main entrance that she stalled with her hand on the door and for a moment she wavered. It took a deep breath and a severe talking to from herself to open the door and step into the cool air. The breeze on her face and the fresh air she inhaled helped to blow the webs from her mind and she strode out like a woman on a mission.

**********

George got a call that Sam had left the hospital and for a moment he wondered if he should have organized a personal guard. Although the reports seemed to indicate that it hadn't been a personal attack on Jack, it was too early to be cut and dried just yet. He sighed heavily and resumed his perusal of Jack's paperwork. Everything seemed up to date and there was nothing to indicate Jack was in the middle of anything that could result in an attempt on his life, but George knew that General Jack O'Neill was a master at covering tracks - when he had to.

The fact that Jack was shot down at almost the same place where Armin had been hit by the car was too much of a coincidence for George to dismiss. He had begun to pull in markers, but found that he needn't pull too much. In fact it seemed that Jack had won much more support during his time in Washington DC than he had enemies ... wonders would never cease. The President's continued support and open friendliness to O'Neill had definitely put some folks' noses out of joint in certain circles, but on the whole, it was a great blessing, in particular for the SGC.

He knew what an incredible pain in the ass Jack could be, but he'd never doubted the man's abilities and although his diplomacy skills could make a man's eyes water - strangely enough they worked.

After ghosting through another batch of files, George gave up. He made a call to the officers on the case and arranged to meet them at the hospital. He knew they were chomping at the bit to ask questions, and given the personal situation of the injured man, he'd held them back as long as he could. It was doubtful that Jack could shed any light, but it had to be done.

**********

The two suited men who greeted George at the security point showed their ID's and asked to see General O'Neill straight away. They wasted no time with small talk and although George led the way to the room, he asked if they would wait so he could have a few minutes with the General first. They eventually nodded their agreement, somewhat reluctant to continue to delay the matter.

George's heart went out to the sleeping man. The years washed away from him and he remembered his first sight of Colonel `retired' O'Neill, the gruff hard speaking man who admitted what could have cost him a court marshal and jail sentence to try and save lives, won a hard earned place of respect with George.

George was no stranger to horrors, in fact he'd seen and done an awful lot in his service, but what Jack O'Neill had suffered and achieved, in fact continued to do, made him sometimes a little in awe of the man's huge predilection for quiet heroism, not that he would never, ever, admit that to anyone but himself.

He gently shook Jack and watched as the lost and sleepy expression left the dark eyes and the shutters began to fall into place.

"How are you doing, son?" George pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat down.

"Just peachy." The response was abrupt.

"Glad to hear it. Take it you won't be going dancing just yet?" George could do sarcasm as well.

He gave George a fierce scowl, which was let down by the smile his mouth began to grow.

"Nah, didn't polish my shoes."

George smiled and patted his arm gently. "Standards' slipping there, General?"

Jack gave him a nod. "No spit left."

"Son, when you're a General, you get others to spit for you."

"You mean I didn't have to spit on my own shoes all this time!" Jack pulled an indignant face.

George chuckled, and then sobered as he remembered the two officers who were probably gnashing their teeth waiting. He got to the point of the matter.

"I don't remember much at all," responded Jack.

"I know, but they've got to put your report in. Give them whatever you can."

Jack nodded and George showed in the two men and made a brief introduction before moving to take a seat across the room.

One of the officers gave George a pointed look as he settled down, but Jack soon commanded his attention.

"He stays. I left the meeting at 11.45 hours and began to make my way back to the office. I remember getting hit, going down ... then nothing, absolutely nothing."

"Sir, what was the meeting you attended?"

"That would be classified."

"We have clearance." The officer held out his security pass and Jack checked it.

"Nope, not good enough. Look, I wasn't working on anything that anyone should have got their panties in a bunch about. The meeting was a meeting. I didn't see anyone behaving strangely. Yes I was in full uniform. No I didn't speak to anyone as I left the building."

"You left by the side entrance and not the main one. Was there a reason for that? It's a regular meeting you said, Sir, do you normally walk back to your office?"

Jack hesitated.

"Sir?"

"No, I don't."

"Have you walked that way before?"

"No."

"Then can I ask why you did this time?"

"No you may not."

"Sir, we need to ..."

"That's all you're going to get."

"General." The Officer leaned in closer. "With all due respect, we need to know why you didn't leave with the others from the meeting and why you didn't call for your car to pick you up."

Jack looked down. He was stalling, George knew that, but as to why...

"Sir, please answer the question." The second officer spoke for the first time.

Jack mumbled something unintelligible to George, causing the two officers to lean in closer.

"I didn't quite catch that, Sir."

"I wanted to buy something."

"Thank you. Where were you going?"

"Don't know."

"General ..." pushed the second officer.

George knew it was like pulling teeth trying to get something out of Jack when he didn't want to give. He had to admit he was curious, very, as to just what Jack was hiding.

"For crying out loud ..." Jack's voice rose louder.

"Jack," warned George, standing up to move closer, his bulk blocking the door. "Just tell the officers what they want to know."

Jack gave George a dark look and then gazed at the sheets. "I wanted to buy a gift."

"A gift? For whom?"

"Oh for crying out loud!" Jack yelled in exasperation. "Look, I left the meeting and I used the west entrance ..."

George felt the door bump into him as it opened behind him, however he was listening intently to Jack, so he absently moved forward to admit whoever was there.

"... so that I could cut across to the shops. I wanted to get a god-damned present for my wife. Is that enough? I didn't know some crazy bastard was waiting ... for me ... for someone ... anyone! I just wanted to get my wife a present!"

The gasp of surprise behind George made the hair on his neck stand up. Of all the times Sam could have returned this was the worse ... She didn't need this to feel guilty about. George cursed under his breath and turned, but Sam had already left and he moved quickly to follow her.

**********

Sam walked quickly. She knew the area a little from her time when she was at the Pentagon, and of course, since getting married, she'd become quickly reacquainted.

Hailing a cab, she gave the driver the address she wanted and settled back for the short ride to her favorite mall. It wasn't a big mall by anyone's standard, but it held a few memories for her. She and Jack had often strolled through the shops, hand in hand, picking up pieces to personalize the rented house and sometimes just silly things that meant something to both of them.

She found herself gazing into the toy shop window and a smile came to her mouth as a bright yellow yoyo caught her eye.

Within a few minutes she was seated at a nearby coffee shop, feeling ridiculously pleased with her purchase. Early on in their marriage she had felt a little foolish at these quirky little gifts she'd thought he'd like, but the joy he held in each and every one of them soon pushed aside any doubts as to the sanity of purchasing them.

Sam was sipping her coffee whilst fingering the little package in her pocket and paying no mind to anything else when she heard the voice close to her ear.

"How's Jack?"

She choked on her mouthful of coffee and hastily set the cup down on the table, spilling some of the contents. She fumbled for her serviette, only to find it offered to her instead. Grabbing the checkered paper, she clasped it over her mouth to catch the splutters.

Her eyes were wide with shock as she took in the face on the man who settled into the booth beside her.

"M ... Mayborne!" she spluttered.

"In the flesh," he said with a grin.

Sam looked around, but it seemed that no-one was paying them any attention.

"It's okay, you weren't followed."

"What the ... you are not supposed to be here," she hissed, absently mopping up the coffee she had spilled on the table.

"Hey, malls are for everyone to enjoy."

"No. I mean ..." She leaned closer, her voice dropping to a whisper. "Earth ... you're not supposed to be on Earth."

"Ah well, I erm, caught a lift back. There were some odds and ends I needed to tie up. How's Jack?"

"What do you know about that? Did you have anything to do with the shooting?" Sam's face whitened and tightened visibly. Her eyes narrowed and she glared at him, promising him instant death if he had had any part in it.

"Steady on. Talk about spitting daggers ... No, this time it is not my fault. Honestly."

"Honesty ... and what would you know about that?"

"Oh God, now you even sound like Jack." He grinned and turned in his seat a little more as he waved a finger at her and tut tutted. "It's funny how married couples channel ..."

"Maybourne!" growled Sam.

"Okay, I will ask once more - how is Jack?"

Sam took a deep breath and gave him the basics. Maybourne's face paled visibly.

"I'm sorry to hear that. Look, I didn't shoot Jack. I wouldn't want to shoot Jack, but I know ..." He checked his watch. "Look, I gotta go now. I've got a meeting set up and it's vital I don't miss it. I'd come see him, but those goons wouldn't let me in. Give him my regards."

Maybourne rose and Sam grabbed his arm. "Hold it. You can't stop there. What the hell is going on?"

"I'll call."

Sam gave him a disbelieving look.

"No, I will. I've got Jack's cell number. I'll be checking up on him, don't you worry."

Maybourne was gone so quickly that Sam wondered if she had actually dreamt his appearance. The cold coffee held no appeal now and she beckoned the waitress for the check. She kept her hand in her pocket, clasping the yoyo firmly, as she made her way back to the hospital.

She wondered just what the hell was going on. Jack had never mentioned Maybourne's return. Maybe he didn't know, but she thought that was unlikely. Her mind was churning and by the time she reached her husband's room she was still deep in thought.

She opened the door and it bumped into something. Jack's voice was loud and clear as she entered.

"... so that I could cut across to the shops. I wanted to get a god-damned present for my wife. Is that enough? I didn't know some crazy bastard was waiting ... for me ... for someone ... anyone! I just wanted to get my wife a present!"

Sam felt sick. She wasn't aware of making a sound and she turned tail and fled from the room. Oh God, it was all her fault...

**********

Sam practically threw herself inside the private room she'd been given, banging the door behind her, but it failed to close and it bounced open again.

She was about to shut it when General Hammond put a hand on it. She released the door and paced across the room, keeping her back to the General.

"I need a few minutes, Sir." Sam kept her gaze pinned to the pastel colored wall. Her voice sounded thick and suspiciously shaky, even to her own ears.

George Hammond gently closed the door behind him as he stepped in. "I know you overheard what Jack just said. Don't go beating yourself up over this. It happened. It was no one's fault. Just lousy timing."

Sam's fingers curled over the wrapped yoyo in her pocket. "I know."

"But?" George stepped closer, putting a hand on her shoulder to turn her around.

Sam allowed him to maneuver her and he felt incredibly inadequate as her bright blue eyes betrayed her utmost misery. Not knowing what else to do, he pulled her into a fatherly hug and allowed her to vent...

**********

Sam eventually felt calm enough to remove herself from the General's arms. She missed her Dad so much, though at least she had someone ... but what she needed was her husband.

"I seem to be making a habit of this, Sir," she mumbled as she balled the used tissues into the trash can.

"Not a problem, Sam ... I'll put my dry cleaning on Jack's tab."

Sam managed a wan smile at the General's attempt to lighten the situation.

"How did you manage to get that out of him?" she asked. All she'd seen was Hammond's back as she'd opened the door, unaware of who else was in the room.

George filled in the gaps for her. "He doesn't know anything. He's adamant that he didn't plan the detour, didn't discuss it with anyone ... and we can be pretty sure of that at least."

They both knew that Jack O'Neill wouldn't discuss anything remotely personal with anyone but his closest friends ... and even they wouldn't be privy to much of anything. Jack O'Neill was a man who played things close to his chest. When he was being his most vocal, that was usually a sign that he was hiding so much more.

The short time they'd been married, Sam was amazed to be continually finding more facets of her husband than she ever thought possible. The brief glimpses she'd been given of his true personality beforehand, didn't prepare her for the depths and warmth of the man she had so willingly entrusted her love to. There were some lows of course - being apart so much for now was one of them ... but the highs more than made up for them.

"He wants them to remove the bullet."

George nodded. "I expected as much. I had a call put out to some of our allies for assistance, but ..."

"God knows if or when we will get a response." Sam finished the General's words, accepting that a miracle just wasn't going to happen.

**********

General Hammond had made sure that Jack's visitors had left before he permitted Sam back in. He took his leave and stood in the empty corridor, running a hand over his head, wishing for that miracle.

As soon as the official report had deduced that the attack didn't seem to be a personal one against General O'Neill, the bodyguards had been reduced in number, leaving just one stationed outside the double doors.

George shook his head wearily hoping that the assumption wasn't a premature one. Checking his watch, he decided he would call it a night and headed off to his apartment.

**********

Jack was dozing and Sam quietly pulled a chair to the bed, throwing her jacket over its back. She sat down with a heartfelt sigh, preparing herself for God alone knew what.

Sam was loathed to disturb him and waited for him to waken. Eventually his eyes flickered open and they wandered over her face.

"Hey," she murmured, sitting straighter.

He acknowledged her with the barest of nods.

Disappointed, but then she knew that this wasn't going to be easy ... stubborn was her husband's middle name, Sam changed his expression with a single word.

"Maybourne."

His eyes betrayed him for a split second, before the shutters claimed their usual position.

"I saw him today."

Jack jerked upright. A pain filled grimace flashed across his face, before he could clamp it down. "Argh, crap ... what?"

Sam bit her lip. She hadn't wanted to cause Jack pain, and she eased him back against the pillows, urging him to relax.

"Sam ..." He took a hitched agony filled breath and then managed to continue. "You're mistaken."

"No." Sam treated him to her `Don't mess with me' look. "I left the hospital today and he approached me, asking about you."

Sam watched her husband's face closely. Apart from when they made love, she struggled to capture just what was going on inside his mind at times.

"You knew he was back didn't you?"

Jack nodded. "It's imperative that no-one else does though."

"Who knows?"

"On Earth ... me ... Maybourne," he gave a slight smirk, "and now you."

"Not even General Hammond?"

"No. We purposely kept it as close to the blade as we could."

Sam nodded, accepting his explanation. "Can I ask why he's here and does it have anything to do with the attempt on your life?"

Jack shrugged and then winced as the movement caused him discomfort.

"Harry's here to build up evidence against three government officials. No-one else knows he's here. I arranged for him to give a statement anonymously and then the statements are used to get corroborative evidence.

"Okay, I won't ask who, but do they know that you are investigating them?"

"No. Their involvement in ... ahem, certain areas, brought some discrepancies to light. The only link I found to them came from a certain piece of information already in my possession from quite a bit back. However, there wasn't enough evidence to stop them and put them where they belong, it only provided the link."

"And of course this involved Maybourne."

Jack looked slightly abashed. "Yeah, I got the evidence from Harry in the first place. So I got a message out and arranged for him to get a lift here. I didn't want him just walking through the Stargate - that would have brought him just a little too much attention."

Sam gave him a slight grin. "You are a sneaky bastard Jack O'Neill."

"The air these men breathe is very, very thin. They're a danger to Earth and our allies and we have to bring them down."

Sam nodded thoughtfully. She would back her husband just as much as she had backed him as her Colonel and then as her General.

"What if they've tied you into the investigation?"

Jack shook his head. "The fact is that if I died tomorrow, it wouldn't alter a thing ... oh, except Harry might find it a bit of a bother getting a lift back. The investigations are being carried out on incidences that happened, not people, and each one is being handled by a different office and all the chains are set in motion. When we link them to the incidences with the evidence that we already have then we've got them."

Jack's revelation to her had tired him considerably and she was left with her thoughts while he slept ... she was tired, very ... and confused - just who the hell had tried to kill him and why?

**********

The next couple of days saw no real improvement with Jack. He remained quiet and despite Sam's attempts to draw him into conversation he quickly clammed up again.

The doctor had begun to get him involved in therapy and Sam felt her heart breaking every time she saw the agony this left him in afterwards.

Doctor Hill had done several more tests and began a program for pain relief. An IV delivered the medication as the doctor had been made aware in no uncertain terms, by Sam herself, that General O'Neill did not take medication without harassment, to say the least.

She knew he hated the continued use of the painkillers and that they left him reeling.

She used the time to grab some lunch when the therapist came again. Jack was adamant that he would not let her stay and watch and she tried to escape before the first cuss words left her husband's mouth...

"Argh, damn you ..."

**********

Several days of drugs and therapy left Jack simmering like a lot a pot of overcooked stew - he'd tried it her way ... and quite frankly he'd had enough. George had been in and out to see him, along with several other officers he served with, but they'd certainly taken the hint and kept their visits short and sweet - except George that was - damned but the man had a hide thicker than any rhinoceros!

Jack lay back on the bed waiting. He could practically set his watch by Sam's appearances, well he could if he'd had one that was ... his dress watch hadn't been returned to him. Still, at least now they let him have pajamas ... after two sessions of therapy leaving him waving his bare ass around - enough was enough!

Jack's stomach coiled as Sam appeared. He knew what he had to say was going to throw fat on the uneasy truce they'd called between them. He couldn't continue like this.

Even though the drugs had been reduced, they still left him thick headed, and contrary to popular belief, he wouldn't and couldn't live like that ... and the ... no he wouldn't admit that ... he wasn't afraid - it wasn't fear that made his guts churn and left him feeling sick to his stomach when he underwent the therapy. It was cold dread that the bullet might move and each movement he made was not just a physical agony, but a mental one.

If Sam had come in wearing her fixed bright smile, he might, just might have said what he was going to say. Instead her eyes were dull with exhaustion and her expression was wan and tremulous. Jack felt the lowest of the human species at this point. His stomach coiled in anticipation of the hurt he knew she was not only going through now, but what was to come.

He managed eventually to convince her to go and get some proper rest and spend a little time to herself. He knew she only agreed to appease him, not because she needed to.

She leaned over him and dropped a tender kiss onto his forehead as her fingers lovingly stroked his cheek, before dropping to trace his lips. The touch sent tingling warmth through his veins and he badly wanted to take her into his arms and never let her go ... but he stayed still, letting her leave ... watching the door close softly behind her.

The faint trace of her perfume lingered on him and he closed his eyes, steeling his resolve.

His hands trembled slightly as he reached for the phone beside the bed, but his fingers didn't let him down as he made the call he had to...

**********

Sam hummed as she left the bathroom. She'd slept, showered and felt so much better now, ready and able to face another day. She padded around their house, her touch lingering on her husband's things as she sipped at the freshly brewed coffee she carried.

The sun was shining through the large windows that Jack had insisted were the best thing about the place. She knew he missed his home in Colorado. Although it wasn't far from the base, it had been on the outskirts and gave him the best of both worlds.

They'd managed to spend a little time at the cabin, but the real world had too large a claim on their lives at the moment.

Sam's face clouded as a thought of children flashed through her mind. Children - it looked now as though they wouldn't be able to have ... perhaps if she gave up her career, in a year or two?

Sam gave herself a determined shake and she rinsed the mug in the sink, wiping it carefully before placing it away.

The door bell's chime broke into her thoughts and she hurried to answer it, expecting George Hammond to be on her doorstep...

Close ... but not the General. The fresh faced Lieutenant was in uniform though and he saluted her smartly.

"Colonel Carter."

Sam let him enter and he removed his hat, making an apology for disturbing her at home, before he handed her the envelope he was carrying.

Sam ignored his presence as she tore open the sealed orders.

"Damn!" she spat out as she read.

"Ma'am?"

"It's okay Lieutenant. Dismissed. Thank you."

Sam shut the door behind him and leant against the wood, the paper drifting to the floor as it escaped her trembling fingers.

She knew it was a possibility, but she had hoped it wouldn't be necessary. The order's had come from Landry himself - recalled to active duty at the SGC - straight away.

**********

Sam hurriedly completed her dressing and grabbed her jacket along with her purse and keys. It was the worse possible timing for this to happen and she had to get through to Jack before she left.

**********

Sam felt her heart pounding as she entered her husband's room. It was ridiculous to feel so nervous, but God alone knew how long she would be gone. Hopefully it wouldn't be more than a few days, perhaps a quick mission? Ruefully she acknowledged that they weren't usually that lucky...

Sam's throat dried as she approached the sleeping figure. As she stood looking down at him, undecided whether to wake him or not, his eyes opened and he gave her a sleepy smile before the vestiges of sleep left him and his face carefully returned to a neutral expression.

"What?" he asked, clearly a little nonplused by her continued silence.

Sam cleared her throat, still not taking a seat, though she stilled the urge to pace.

"I've been recalled to the SGC." She said it quickly and quietly. She didn't know what to expect next, though his calm acceptance grated on her nerves.

"When do you leave?"

It hurt, terribly. His dark eyes waited, cool and calm.

"Uh, today ..."

"You'd better get your gear packed then. Do you want me to order a car to take you to Andrews?"

She couldn't believe he was being so cold with her. It was less than she expected from any officer and certainly less than a team mate and coming from her husband, it was...

Sam took an involuntary step back from the bed. She'd seen him in action ... watched him take necessary steps, cold and calculatingly, to protect his team, the Earth ... but here and now he was her husband and suddenly it seemed as though she didn't know him at all.

"I ... it may only be a few days ..." she stammered.

The dark eyes flickered to hers, before scanning around the room.

"Or not."

Sam looked up, pleading silently for someone, anyone to help her. Deep breath, count ... it was then she saw it.

She couldn't help it - she exploded "You bastard! You engineered these orders didn't you?" She pointed to the sign above his bed - the symbol indicating nil by mouth...

Jack wouldn't look her in the eyes.

Sam lost the power of speech for a moment. He'd not only seemingly booked himself for the operation, but he'd manipulated her recall to the SGC.

"Tell me I'm wrong?" she pleaded, stepping nearer to the bed, trying to snatch up one of his hands.

He wrenched it away from her grip.

"It's better like this. You've got your orders."

"You selfish bastard! What next, huh? I get the news of your death when I'm on some god forsaken world? Did you arrange that too, get me off world for a few weeks?"

"I will not live like this."

The pain in Sam's heart was incredible as the realization dawned. "You don't even expect to have a chance do you? This is your way of opting out ... your very own version of suicide!"

Jack's eyes met hers for a split second.

"Oh God, don't do this. As long as you're alive Jack, there's hope. We can be together ..." The tears began to fall copiously down her face and she scrubbed at them furiously.

"It would never work. I'd end up in a wheelchair wishing I was dead and you'd end up hating me and wishing me dead. Better go now, Carter. You've got your orders."

Sam scrabbled in her pockets, searching for tissue, anything to wipe her face as she gazed at the man on the bed. She had never truly known him ... the calm and cold emanating from him froze the blood in her veins.

Her fingers closed over the forgotten package in her pocket. She drew it out, gripping it tightly, fighting to still the violent trembles that were beginning to grow.

"I could go AWOL."

"And I can have you arrested in a matter of minutes, Carter. The end result is the same. Your play."

"You bastard. How could you?" She sobbed openly now. "How could you claim to love me and do this? What if it were me here? Would you run out on me when I needed you? Would you run away from our marriage?"

Getting no response from him, she flung the package at him and with a heart wrenching sob, turned around and fumbled at the door to open it. She stood for a moment, leaning her head against its edge, the tears streaming unchecked down her face. "It's not over, Jack, no matter what you say, it's not over!"

**********

Jack stared at the closing door. He felt like he'd shattered into a million pieces. No matter what he'd had to do over the years, that was the hardest he'd had to bear. When he wanted to do nothing more than take Sam into his arms and love her, take away her hurt, to turn her away - turn her against him, was the most painful.

She was right. He was using the operation as a get out. He didn't expect it to go well. He'd signed everything necessary and made the appropriate call to his lawyers. Sam would inherit everything he owned, to do with as she willed. He just hoped she would find someone, find some happiness. She had a lot of living to do yet.

He had caught the small package she'd flung at him automatically and now he stared down at his clenched fist. Curiosity getting the better of him, he undid the creased paper.

He gazed at the little yellow yoyo. The bright red letters spelling, JACK, made him smile, even as the first sign of a tear built in his eye.

He brought the hand with the yoyo in to his mouth, brushing the gift with his lips. It hurt so much to turn her away ... God alone knew how she felt. If it had been Sam here, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he wouldn't have deserted her, no matter what happened, he would want to spend his life with her ... wheelchair or not.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," he berated himself. He just hoped it wasn't too late to mend things. He removed the IV tube and replaced the little bung hastily.

He wavered as he stood, the blood pounding in his ears for a few seconds until he steadied. With a pain filled staggered gait he left his room. He looked from left to right, momentarily unsure of which way to go, not having left his room before now under his own steam. Everything looked different when you weren't being pushed around while flat on your back.

He pushed open the double doors at the end of the corridor and found himself in a busy reception area. He could just make out the back of Sam's head as she entered the elevator, the doors closing behind her before he could make a move.

"General O'Neill," called out a voice. Jack barely spared the suited man who was leaning over the nurses' station a glance, before he managed to locate the stair well, and he took off, his gait weaving and unsteady.

He wavered for a moment at the top of the stairs, his vision blurring. The pain was mounting and he was sweating profusely. He clenched his fist tighter, feeling the yoyo, and his resolve hit a notch higher.

He thought he'd grasped the rail firmly ... whether he missed, or his legs just plain gave way, he didn't know ... he felt the blows from the first few steps as he folded and then nothing...

**********

Sam couldn't see very well, with her eyes still full of tears. The solid body she bumped into as she left the main entrance stopped her in her tracks.

"Sam, what the ...?"

**********

George took an involuntary step back in surprise, before grabbing Sam by the shoulders and maneuvering her to one side, out of the way of the people coming and going.

Sam shook her head, furiously rubbing at her eyes with her sleeve. It took her an age to speak and when she did, her voice was thick with tears, her eyes so full of misery that George had to swallow hard to reign his own in.

"I ... I've been recalled."

George nodded. "I know, that's why I'm here."

"You knew?" Her voice took on a hard accusing tone.

"Not here." George escorted her back into the hospital and flashed his ID to the reception, politely, but firmly, requesting a room for a few minutes. All the waiting rooms were occupied, but having actually listened to a security briefing, the receptionist in charge let them have the use of an admin office behind her desk. It took a short while to clear the room of the clerical workers inside, but eventually they had some privacy.

The door had barely closed behind them when Sam spoke.

"Why didn't you stop him?" The words were said with no deference to his rank.

George could tell that anger was building up inside of her and she was lashing out.

"I heard from a very concerned Landry that he'd been ordered to recall you. What I don't know, is why?"

"Jack's having the operation. His way of getting rid of me!" spat Sam. She stood upright, her eyes sparkling with anger. George could see she needed to hurt someone, just like she was hurting. "His own special way of boxing it all down ... me, him, our marriage!"

George winced visibly. He knew that Jack was pushing Sam away, trying to reduce the fallout from his actions in his own way, but he had hoped good sense and the love of Sam would pull him back.

"When is the operation scheduled for?"

Sam shrugged helplessly. "He didn't even have the guts to tell me. I saw the nil by mouth sign above his bed. Can you stop it?" Her eyes softened, taking on a pleading look.

"I wish I could. If we had a few days I might be able to pull some strings, but unless there's enough reason to doubt he's capable of making decisions for himself ..."

"He doesn't expect it to work."

George was aghast.

"He doesn't expect to survive it."

He was helpless to offer any words of comfort, and he tried to draw her into a hug. Sam was reluctant at first, but finally stopped resisting. He was more alarmed that this time she wasn't crying. Her body was wound tight and fine tremors shook through her. For a few minutes they stood in silence.

Bleeping from George's pocket broke the silence that settled on them again. He mumbled an apology and fumbled for the pager.

**********

General Hammond excused himself and left the office to take the call. Sam leaned back against the desk, staring at the carpet, feeling quite lost, and not just a little embarrassed at the way she'd spoken to a three star general, friend or not.

He was back within a couple of minutes. "Come on, we need to get to Jack."

Sam's heart jumped. "What? Surely they can't have ..."

George shook his head, indicating he wasn't much wiser than her and offered her his hand. Together they made their way upstairs. They were greeted at the elevator by the personal guard and escorted through to an emergency room.

The nurse stopped them at the doorway and ushered them outside before they could see what was going on.

"Doctor Hill will be with you in a moment."

"What's happened? Surely you can't have started to operate yet?" demanded Sam.

"The General is being prepared for emergency surgery."

"What?"

Doctor Hill made a hurried appearance, to the immense relief of the nurse.

"Mrs O'Neill, your husband is in a very bad way."

"What happened, he was fine when I left him ... he?"

"He left his room on his own and for some reason tried to get down the stairs and didn't make it. He took a very bad fall. He broke several ribs and punctured a lung. He's also showing signs of internal bleeding and unfortunately the bullet has moved."

Sam's legs began to fold on her. The doctor's words became a hotchpotch of nothing...

George had been watching her carefully and caught most of her weight. The guard hastily dragged a chair away from the wall and Sam was quickly seated, her head pushed down toward her knees.

Doctor Hill knelt down in front of her. She took Sam's frozen hands into hers and spoke slowly to her, allowing time for the words to sink in.

"I'm sorry Mrs O'Neill. If we don't operate now he will not survive the night. Apart from the internal bleeding, the bullet is now pressing into his spine and his mobility has certainly been impaired to such a degree that it would be impossible for him to walk, aside from the pain it is causing."

Sam gathered her scattered wits. She'd left him in bed ... she thought she had time to stop the operation ... crazy fool, what the hell had he been doing?

"Can you remove it?"

The doctor squeezed Sam's hands gently. "I'll do my best. Even if the operation is successful, there's no guarantee the damage won't be permanent."

Sam nodded. "I want my husband to live, anything else is a bonus."

Doctor Hill nodded and gave Sam's hands a final squeeze before releasing them and standing up.

"He's in a lot of pain. I don't want to risk sedating before we have to, but would you like to see him while I get scrubbed up?"

Sam took a deep breath and nodded. George helped her to her feet and held onto her arm to steady her. He made as if to stop outside the room, but Sam urged him onwards, holding on to him for support.

**********

Jack was on a gurney, ready to roll into theatre. The fluid bags held blood this time and various tubes were threading their way into his body. He was semi conscious, groaning quietly, though his eyes were closed.

Sam moved closer. She thought her heart would surely burst and her whole body shook with such tremors it seemed as though the world shook with her. She grasped at the hand that was clenching and unclenching with pain nearest to her and held it tightly, bringing it up to her face as she bent low, the tears from her eyes running over both of their hands.

"Jack," she whispered, her voice thick with tears.

His eyes flickered open, giving her the barest glimmer of brown. She watched as he tried to focus on her, trying to open them wider.

"So...rr ..." he gasped.

Sam shook her head and moved closer still, her other hand stroking the hair over his forehead. "Shush, it's okay, don't try and speak." Her lips were quivering as was the rest of her body, her voice low and tender. She sniffed at her tears, trying to hold them back as they dropped onto his face.

"So sor ..." He tried to curl against the pain, his breath coming in short pants, but only his upper body was moving, something Sam was trying desperately not to notice. His other hand was balled up tightly into a fist, grinding a tempo of its own against the gurney.

Doctor Hill appeared beside Sam. She was in her theatre scrubs, the mask ready to don.

"I'm sorry, we need to start as soon as possible."

Sam choked back a sob and bent to kiss him gently on his lips.

"No matter what, I love you Jack, no matter what."

Sam kissed him again and moved back quickly before she could change her mind about letting him go. She stepped back into the comforting arms of George Hammond, who led her quietly to the waiting room ... That's all anyone could do now, pray and wait.

**********

George had insisted that they wait in the private room. He knew he wouldn't be able to budge her from the hospital, so there was no point in trying, hell he didn't even want to move himself.

He closed his eyes for a moment, half praying, half cursing, to himself ... of all the god-damned idiotic things ... that damned guard was going to get it in the neck too ... what the hell!

He felt Sam's cold hand creep into his and he curled his fingers around hers and gave it a squeeze. There was nothing to say that would comfort her, he knew that, but he cleared his throat and tried anyway.

After a few minutes of a one sided conversation, he kinda quit trying. Not that she didn't appreciate him, he knew that she did.

He was taken by surprise by Sam suddenly leaping to her feet as if she was about to run out of the room.

"Oh God, I'm AWOL!" She said it with such utter astonishment, that he almost laughed. He managed to control his reaction in the nick of time and turned it into a choking cough.

"I had the order rescinded before I left the office, but I wasn't in time to recall your personal orders."

Sam relaxed a little, turning to sit back down beside him. "That's good. Jack will be mad though."

"I pray to God that he will," said George somberly.

**********

Sam wasn't sure exactly what she was feeling. Everything had a kind of surreal haze and she was hoping that she would wake up ... "Any time now would be good."

"Sorry, what," asked Hammond, sounding puzzled.

Sam jumped. She hadn't meant to say that out loud and she gave the General a slightly pink faced apology.

Doctor Hill couldn't give them a proper indication as to how long the operation would take, but she figured that as long as they had no news, then Jack was alive on the operating table.

The General slipped out to sort out some refreshments and for a moment the absolute fear of being alone made her do something she hadn't done for years.

She slid down to her knees from the couch and clasped her hands together and she prayed. The last time she had done this, it had been for her mom, to keep her safe in heaven. This time she was praying that Jack would be safe here, where he was needed - with her and while she was down there anyway ... she said a prayer for Janet, and prayed that God kept her safe as well.

**********

Coffee and sandwiches ... just what was on them she couldn't have said, but the coffee was hot and warming. Despite the caffeine she eventually slid sideways and her head slumped onto Hammond's shoulder, her eyes closing.

The next thing she knew she was being shaken gently. For a brief moment she forgot where she was and she whispered her husband's name...

"Come on Sam, wake up."

Sam couldn't mistake that voice for her Jack's and as she opened her eyes, the memories returned with such force that her head spun.

The General helped her to sit up and, as he did so, the blanket he had covered her with slid down to settle behind her. She shivered, missing its comfort.

She gazed up fearfully at the doctor, still wearing her scrubs, who waited patiently while she gathered herself.

She tried to breathe normally, but it was hard ... how did one normally breathe? Her heart sped up and thumped wildly.

Doctor Hill perched herself on the table, as was her wont. She gave Sam a gentle half smile, which Sam couldn't work out ... good or bad ... dead or alive ... dead or alive ... the crazy chant almost made her scream...

**********

Sam thought that madness had finally descended on her ... the way her thoughts seared around, winding and thumping into each other, scattering her few remaining sanity cells far and wide...

"Mrs O'Neill?" Doctor Hill raised her voice and leaned closer. "We have removed the bullet and stopped the bleeding." She flicked a look of concern to the General. "Did you hear me Mrs O'Neill? Your husband is alive." She grasped both of Sam's hands, pressing something into her fingers. "It was only when we got him fully sedated he released his grip on this."

It took several seconds for the doctor's words to penetrate Sam's skull and another couple of seconds for her fried synapses to process the information being sent to her brain.

Eyes brimming with tears, she stared at the little yellow yoyo. "He's alive?" Her words came out hesitatingly, almost as though she was afraid to believe them.

"Yes, yes he is. We don't know yet what permanent damage there is and he's extremely weak, but he is alive."

Sam crumpled. Huge sobs racked her frame. She clutched the little yellow yoyo close to her heart and cried ... and cried ... the release her body and mind craved...

**********

Doctor Hill calmly organized a room and a light sedative for Mrs O'Neill. She had expected something along these lines. She vaguely recalled that her patient's wife was also military, yet no matter how hard they thought they were, their bodies knew what was necessary for survival. It was important that the stresses and strains of events were permitted to take their natural release ... She knew that the next few days would be just as fraught for both of them.

General Hammond followed her out of the room they'd settled Mrs O'Neill into. "You need rest too you know," chided Doctor Hill in a soft voice.

The General nodded. "I'm going to make a few calls and then try and get some sleep in the relatives' room. That couch is sure big enough. You will wake me if there's anything?"

She nodded. He was a rock if ever she saw one. She liked the large man and heartily warmed to the trusting, enticing nature of him, that and the ready twinkle in his eyes. "I'm so glad Mrs O'Neill has someone like you with her. She'll be ready to face the next battle after a good sleep."

Doctor Hill left the General and returned to check General O'Neill. The first forty- eight hours were the most critical and round the clock high dependency care was required. She didn't like to lose any of her patients and it had come pretty close with the General, more than once.

She'd tried her best to talk O'Neill out of having the operation that had been scheduled for tomorrow, but the man had quietly insisted that the necessary paperwork be prepared and he had calmly signed everything. She could understand, in a way, why he had insisted on having the operation. But that he was so calm and accepting of his fate was slightly unnerving. She didn't know why ... but what she was sure of was that death held no horror for him, only the promise of release, though it would have given a private hell of its own to his wife. There was a lot of love between them and she had been hoping that Mrs O'Neill would change her husband's mind ... but it just wasn't to be.

The yoyo that rolled from his hand in the theatre as he went under stopped them all in their tracks for a moment and she felt the ridiculously shocking urge to giggle. As she was choking it down with a cough, she wondered where he'd got it and how on Earth he'd been holding on to it for all of this time ... and then silently promised herself that her staff would getting a ticking off for missing it...

After the operation, when she was cleaning herself up, her head nurse put the yoyo down on the counter beside her. The bright red letters bearing its owner's name brought a smile to her tired face and she had picked it up on her way out to see his wife.

**********

She methodically checked over her patient's vitals and adjusted the medication when it looked like he was coming out of it just a little too soon for her liking. She intended to keep him lightly sedated just a while longer, giving his body a chance to begin the healing it desperately needed.

She'd done her best. That was all she could ever do. Miracles weren't her specialty and she'd long stopped believing in the power of prayer ... it was in the hands of fate now...

**********

"Hey Sam."

Sam murmured and curled tighter. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her hair had gone way beyond the definition of bed hair.

"Perhaps we should let her sleep longer."

Daniel straightened up from the bed. "Yeah. I wish they'd have let us see Jack first."

They settled down to wait. After receiving a call from General Hammond and the news he gave them, they literally dropped everything to go be with their friends, thankful they were at last able to do so after things had calmed down at the SGC. Their only regret was that they couldn't have been there sooner.

They'd all spent so many times over the years, waiting for a team mate to come round in an infirmary that being in a strange hospital, hundreds of miles from the Mountain, made no difference.

**********

Doctor Hill had been reluctant at first to allow the men to even see Sam, but General Hammond had insisted that they were close, much closer than some families were in fact, and that they would be of considerable support to Mrs O'Neill. They could help run interference when Jack awoke.

Doctor Hill was a little aghast at first at General Hammond's use of the expression, `run interference', but after due consideration and a quick mental summing up of her patient's `character,' she realized that was quite the right sentiment to attach.

She sighed heavily and just hoped that such interference would be warranted ... it would at least mean her patient was still alive.

They'd had a couple of hiccoughs, to put it mildly, during the first few hours after surgery and she had come close to getting Mrs O'Neill roused, but, so far, it hadn't been necessary. Her patient seemed to be stubborn enough to beat the odds.

**********

Sam stretched. She felt warm and fuzzy and not just a little disoriented. Her tongue felt two sizes too big for her mouth and she was very thirsty. Blearily she regarded the paper cup and straw that seemed to magic itself into her line of sight. She sucked greedily and having had her fill sank back against the pillow. She focused on the figure returning the cup to the side table and jerked up in surprise.

"Daniel!" she exclaimed.

"Hey, wondered how long you'd be, sleepy head." He gave her a smile and pulled her into a warm hug.

"Oh Daniel. Oh God, how's Jack?"

"He's ... he's ..."

"O'Neill is maintaining himself."

"Oh Teal'c!" Sam gave the man a smile she was so glad to see him - see them both. "... holding his own?" She frowned and threw the light cover back. Her clothes were crumpled and as she stood the room spun a little.

"Whoa."

A steadying hand grabbed her and eased her down to sit on the bed.

"Okay?"

"Bit too quick I think." She gave a rueful smile. She desperately needed to go sit with her husband, to see for herself...

Husband. Oooops. She gave Daniel another smile. She had some explaining to do, hadn't she? Damn Jack. Trust him to use a little excuse like major surgery and being unconscious to get out of this. But that could wait...

"I am sorry we were not here sooner."

Sam's smile was genuine. "You're here now, both of you."

**********

Doctor Hill was soon tracked down by Teal'c at Sam's request for further news and she took a few minutes to shoo both men out while she gave Sam a quick once over and finally allowed them back in at Sam's insistence and General Hammond accompanied them.

Doctor Susan Hill had in all her years experience seen a lot, done an awful lot more ... and without a doubt, these people, and she included her patient and General Hammond in this, were the most eclectic group she'd come across.

The men regarded her solemnly, concern written on their features, although the dark man was much harder to read, she had no doubt about how he felt. Mrs O'Neill sat dry eyed, but clearly distressed as she waited to hear the latest news.

How did you begin to tell people that someone they loved ... and she had no doubt now that she saw them together, about how close they were, man and wife aside that was ... that they were perilously close to losing them ... it was never easy ... she would never get used to that - and she hoped she never would.

**********

Sam listened to the doctor, she remained dry eyed, her face pale, her skin almost translucent and if any of the men had mentioned the word fragile ... she would have shown them she was most certainly not. She requested that she be able to see Jack first, alone. No-one tried to talk her out of it - they quietly accompanied her to the room and waited outside.

The lone nurse in the room hurriedly repositioned a chair nearer the bed and Sam thankfully sank down, her legs almost ready to cave. For a few moments the sight that lay before her made her blood run cold. Jack was on his back, chest bare, a thin sheet the only covering up to his stomach. The chest drain was almost lost in the myriad of wires and sticky pads that held the electrodes in position, and bruises and abrasions were in abundance. There was another new dressing on the side of his head and his mouth and nose were covered with an oxygen mask. Tubes that carried blood and other fluids ran into various positions concealed by the sheet and also into his arms.

Sam held out a tremulous hand, her eyes seeking the steady rise and fall of Jack's chest as her fingers ghosted tenderly over his face. She heard the steady, quiet blip of the machines at the other side, and knew what they meant, but it was only actually seeing his chest move that reassured her - he was actually breathing.

"Has he moved?" she asked the nurse quietly.

They both knew what she was asking.

"He's still sedated, Mrs O'Neill."

Sam held his hand, somewhat delicately at first for fear of hurting him, then as she settled a little, she held it more firmly, tracing its back with her thumb. She hesitantly she began to talk to him.

After a few minutes, at Sam's request, the nurse brought in their friends.

The silence was a little unnerving at first, but soon the men began to talk softly, involving her and also including Jack in the conversation. Each of them knew from personal experience that while somebody may not be conscious, a friend nearby, and waiting, always felt comforting.

**********

The day was long and the night longer still. Her friends faced a huge battle in getting Sam to rest and eat, but it was one battle they won, albeit briefly.

Time was their enemy and also their friend ... the longer Jack continued to hold his own and breathe on his own, the more positive the outlook became.

**********

Doctor Hill had gradually become more enthusiastic in the updates of her patient's progress. Jack seemed to be on the upturn and the sedation was being decreased gradually.

Sam was hopeful that at last he might soon be waking. The only cloud on the horizon was just what disability he might be facing. It would make no difference to her, though she knew it would be hard - she bore no illusion about that. But it would make a big difference to Jack. The extent of his injury would determine his attitude to his future. She was sure though that he could, and would, make the adjustment to live a long and fulfilled life. He would need all the love and support from her and their friends that they could offer -and they would need the patience of saints. She knew the ride would be rough and the journey long ... but he was so worth it, in every way.

**********

Doctor Hill entered the room and spared her a brief smile before getting down to business. She worked methodically, checking her patient and the equipment then updating the notes. Finally she made an adjustment to the drip.

"He should start coming around a little within a couple of hours, Mrs O'Neill," warned the Doctor.

"How soon before ..."

"As soon as he's recognizant I can do a few basic tests, but it won't necessarily tell us much so early. We should expect the worse. He should have use of his arms at least though, but everything else from ..." the doctor put a hand on her midriff, "... here down there will probably have no sensation. The important thing is that he is kept calm and reassured. He's still going to be in a lot of pain from the other injuries and very weak. We can be thankful he's not having breathing difficulties, aside from the damage caused by the fall."

Sam nodded, her throat aching as she tried to swallow her tears. She felt like she should be running on dry now ... she never knew she had so many left in her ... but he was alive - alive.

**********

It was several hours in fact, in the middle of the night, before Jack began to stir. Sam used the buzzer as he moved his head slightly, the increasing bleeps of the monitors accompanying the motion.

Doctor Hill was there within a few minutes, along with one of her nurses. She quickly began checking her patient's vitals, treating Sam to another one of her brief smiles.

"General O'Neill." The doctor spoke with a quiet firmness. She held onto one of his hands. "General, come on now, can you give my fingers a squeeze?"

Sam watched intently, hardly daring to breathe.

"General O'Neill?" The fingers in her hand fluttered slightly, no strength in them, but at least there was movement. "That's it, come on now, put a little more backbone into it," she encouraged.

His lashes fluttered slightly and he huffed his breath beneath the oxygen mask.

"Jack?" whispered Sam.

He turned his head just a little toward her and she squeezed his other hand tightly. "Hey Jack, come on, time to wake up."

He murmured and his lashes fluttered again, giving her just a peep of brown this time betraying something Sam had never seen before - a look of pure panic, before they slammed shut and his breathing began to speed up.

"Jack."

Doctor Hill was quick. She immediately injected something into his IV tube and gradually his breathing began to calm, his eyelids fluttering as he slid back into a drug induced sleep.

**********

It was dawn before Jack stirred again. Sam was dreadfully tired, but at the first signs of him wakening, her body galvanized itself into action and she buzzed for the doctor. Remembering the doctor's advice, she remained still, holding his hand and talking to him, keeping him calm.

Doctor Hill joined them within a few minutes. It seemed to Sam that woman never went home either...

Jack moved his head to follow the movement of the doctor as she neared the bed.

"Good morning, General O'Neill." She gave him a smile of encouragement.

He soon switched his focus back to Sam, although he was obviously battling to hold his attention on her, and she gave him a wide smile.

He gasped something behind the mask, his words unintelligible.

Doctor Hill loosened the mask down to his chin. "Just take it easy, General. Don't try and force anything, nice and easy."

"Sa a m," he slurred.

"I'm here. Just relax, shush."

Jack tried hard to focus on her and he managed to flutter his fingers in her hand before once more subsiding into unconsciousness.

Sam sat quite still. The only movement she made was her thumb circling on the back of his hand, that and the silent tears that tracked down her face.

**********

Sam eventually gave in. As much as she wanted to be there when Jack awoke again, she had passed her limit a long while since and took a little comfort in the fact that neither Daniel or Teal'c would leave him on his own. Doctor Hill had been quite blunt with her that she didn't want another patient to worry about and threatened to stop visitors all together. She'd brought General Hammond into the battle and between them Sam found herself ushered out of the hospital by the General himself, and before she realized it she was opening the door to her and Jack's home.

She hesitantly asked General Hammond in, insisting that he needed something to eat as well and it was no fun eating alone - was it?

The General smiled and agreed. Sam knew it was to make sure that she herself ate something before climbing into the oblivion of sleep, but for the moment she didn't care. The house seemed too quiet. She'd hardly ever been there without Jack she realized, the longest being a couple of hours waiting for him to finish work when she had a daytime flight. And boy, was he worth waiting for!

She methodically began opening the freezer drawers, her attention not on the food at all. Jack kept the freezer quite well stocked with pre-cooked food. He'd insisted they weren't going to waste time cooking food when they could be doing other things with their time when she was home. The impatient scrawl that labeled the contents tugged at her heart. The `Friday night special', she found stopped her in her tracks.

"It's the little things that are hard."

Sam jumped a little, a faint blush staining her cheeks. She'd completely forgotten General Hammond was there with her. She found him regarding her with a sad little knowing smile.

She brought herself back to the present and determinedly thrust the food back into the freezer. "Uh, um, Jack's favorite. I'll save that for when he comes home. Here ..." she peered at the next label, "pork casserole?"

"Fine."

Sam set about defrosting and then heating the casserole. She put some part baked frozen rolls into the oven to accompany it, while Hammond set the table.

They worked quietly together and the quiet house seemed a little more homely. She realized what a lot she had to thank General Hammond for, but as she began to try and express her thanks he stopped her. He placed his large hand over hers and squeezed it comfortingly.

"It's okay Sam. You know I've never said this, but Jack is like the son I never had."

Sam smiled. "Really?"

"Yes, wanted to whomp him many a time!" he joked.

Sam laughed. "That I can believe."

"Seriously, when you married Jack you became a member of the family, and that's what a family is for. I know things are going to be tough, just how tough we don't know yet, but I want you to know that I'm here for you both."

Sam found she couldn't speak in answer to that little speech and she contented herself with giving him a quick hug.

They ate quietly, Sam surprising herself at how hungry she felt and she finished her plateful easily. She didn't manage to suppress the huge yawn that suddenly escaped and Hammond urged her to get some sleep. He seemed to sense her reluctance to be left alone and asked if he could use the guest room to grab some rest himself, to which Sam readily agreed.

**********

Sam lay on the bed, exhausted. She felt much calmer than she had done in the last few days. She knew it was no good dwelling on what had happened - as Jack would say, it's done - suck it up and move on. As frightening as the operation had been, maybe it was for the best. The overlying fear was of losing him completely, but it seemed she would be spared that. She knew that the chance of Jack walking again was slim, but this was one battle they could face together. As long as he was alive - there was always hope.

**********

Daniel sat reading, though his attention wasn't on the words, it constantly wandered to his friend. He was still slightly shocked that Jack had been almost killed after moving to the relative safety of DC.

There was still no news on the who or why - maybe they would never know, but thank god they'd failed. That Jack might never walk again wasn't something he wanted to dwell on. He couldn't picture Jack in a wheelchair permanently, nor did he want to. He'd heard that Jack had planned to go ahead against the odds with an operation, and quite frankly it didn't surprise him. He just could not see how Jack would adjust to life as a paraplegic.

The steady beep from the monitors seemed to be speeding up a little and Daniel leaned closer to watch for those little signs of him waking. He wasn't disappointed and Jack's eye lids began to flicker.

He placed his hand on the older man's forearm, offering a gentle touch.

"Hey."

Jack's eyes opened a little more. It looked to be hard work and Daniel knew that feeling so well from a personal point of view. He gave him a comforting smile and waited, he knew that Jack was half-asleep yet.

There was a muffled groan in response.

Daniel searched for something to say, something to release some of the tension that had been coiled in his gut since he'd first seen the report of Jack's shooting on the television. He settled for a joking comment. "So Jack, did you miss infirmary life so much you had to go and get yourself shot?"

A slight grimace, whether of pain or an attempt to smile crossed Jack's features, Daniel found it hard to tell, but he had obviously heard the words and Daniel couldn't help feeling a sense of relief.

Jack weakly raised his left arm a little. He was huffing his breath under the mask and his eyes closed again. He began clenching and unclenching his fingers, he seemed to be trying, without much success, to make a fist.

The monitor's quiet beep still rose, both in volume and speed and the prone man started to struggle, his breathing becoming a rasping gasp for air.

Daniel used one hand to buzz for help while leaning closer.

"Take it easy, Jack, hold on."

Daniel wished the help would hurry up. He took a hold of the hand nearest to him, gripping it firmly. "Jack, it's okay, I've got you, it's okay."

Jack's eyes barely flickered open. "S a a," he gasped and Daniel winced at the raw emotion he saw there.

"She's coming, Jack."

"No ... gone."

Daniel shook his head, trying desperately to get through to his friend. "She isn't gone. She's just getting some rest. She'll be back before you know it."

Jack groaned and tried to roll and although his shoulders shifted a little, it was only too obvious that the rest of his body wasn't following whatever orders he was giving.

Daniel drew a sharp breath and gripped Jack's hand tighter. "Hey, try and stay still, please Jack."

"Tell Sa ..." Jack gasped in pain and his eyes slammed shut in response.

"It's okay. You can tell her yourself - she'll be here soon."

Jack shook his head. "Gone ... sorry ... tell Sa ..."

The door opened and whatever Jack was trying to say was lost as a doctor and nurse entered. Daniel was ushered back from the bed, but thankfully allowed to stay in the room.

Jack continued to struggle weakly, batting the hand of the doctor away from him.

"General O'Neill, please," said the doctor, quietly, but firmly.

Daniel jumped a little as a hand was placed on his shoulder. So intent was he on the scene in front of him that he hadn't heard Teal'c's entrance.

"Has O'Neill awakened?"

"Erm, yes, he's a bit ... I don't think he can ..."

Teal'c drew Daniel out of the room, waiting patiently as the other man tried to gather himself together a little. The sight of Jack's pain and distress, and yes, Daniel had to admit it, his obvious weakness, had upset him more than he would have thought possible.

Daniel drew a few deep breaths and snatching his glasses off, beginning to pace a little before stopping abruptly and turning to face Teal'c.

"What if he can't walk again?"

Teal'c seemed to consider this for a moment. "There is such a possibility, but should we not pass that structure when we become adjacent?"

"I think that we just hit that ... structure. He ... he didn't move his legs at all then."

"Perhaps it is ahead of time to attain such a claim."

Daniel raised a hand, before dropping it listlessly. "Ah, Teal'c ... never mind."

**********

Sam slept heavily - but at least she had slept. She woke after several hours and a quick shower helped chase away the lethargy that enveloped her mind, but not her heart. She dressed hurriedly before placing a call to the hospital, knowing that they would have called if there was any change - but she had to double check anyway. By the time she'd ascertained everything was alright, as much as it could be that was, General Hammond had made an appearance Sam was impatient to get back to the hospital but she felt she had to offer the General a little bit of hospitality and she rummaged around to find something for breakfast.

Coffee and toast was about the best she could muster at the moment and they ate quickly and quietly.

The General's mood seemed as somber as her own, though he certainly looked as though he'd benefited from a decent sleep as well.

Sam cleared the table rapidly, literally throwing everything in the dishwasher in her impatience. She made a fast sweep of the bedroom, and began throwing the clothes she'd discarded last night into the laundry hamper. Something fell on the floor and rolled under the bed as she grabbed her jacket. Cursing softly, she dropped to her belly and scooped her arm into the narrow space. She realized what the object was the instant her hand closed over it.

She took a steadying breath and rolled over to her back with the small wooden toy in her hand, holding it up and studying it. The painful ache she'd had constantly since she'd heard the news of Jack being shot seemed to intensify ... where the hell had he been going when he fell? She frowned, trying to remember how she'd got the yoyo back ... she remembered flinging it at Jack before leaving ... vague memories of it being given to her by someone flashed through her tired brain, but for some reason, try as she might, she couldn't make them any clearer.

The ringing of the phone brought her out of her thoughts. She rolled to her feet and snatched it up.

"Mrs O'Neill?"

"Yes?" Her heart beat painfully for a heart stopping moment.

"I'm John Rigby from the Washington Herald. I was wondering if you could ..."

"I'm sorry. I don't have time for this right now." Relief that it wasn't the hospital calling flooded through her.

"We heard there's been an incident at the hospital. Is it true there's been another attempt on your husband's life?"

"No - look I'm sorry. Any news will be released by my husband's office."

"Just a few minutes of your time ..."

"I'm sorry." Sam put the phone down, but didn't get as far as the bedroom door when it rang again.

She listened for a second, before once again refusing to make a statement. Two more similar phone calls in quick succession had her gritting her teeth in frustration.

She grabbed up her purse, determined to leave before being delayed further, when the phone rang again.

She snatched it up, slightly angry they wouldn't take no for an answer.

"Speak to my husband's office ..."

"Colonel Carter," the voice drawled - it wasn't a question.

Sam froze for a moment. "Who is this?"

"I'm hurt you've forgotten me so soon. But please don't say my name, this line may not be private, shall we say?"

Light dawned on Sam.

"How's Jack?"

"Things aren't too good at the moment." Sam spoke carefully. She told him what little she knew, leaving out the details of Jack's fall.

"I'm sorry to hear that. Look, things are okay at my end for now and if need be I will make contact with Hammond. But I'm calling with some news regarding the shooting. I've got a lead on the shooter."

Sam waited. "And?" she prompted when the silence lengthened.

"And I'll call you when I know more."

"Was ... were they after Jack specifically?"

"I said I'll call when I know more."

"May ..."

"Ah, ah!" chastised Maybourne quickly, cutting over what was no doubt going to be his name.

Sam bit down and sighed heavily. "Look ..."

"Do you realize how much ... ah, never mind. I'll tell you this much. Homeland Security are pretty sure it wasn't a personal attack and I'm inclined to agree with them. Give Jack my best."

The line went dead and it was a couple of seconds before Sam slowly replaced the receiver. She clutched the yoyo tighter and grabbed her purse again, calling to the General to say she was ready...

**********

General Hammond dropped Sam off at the hospital's rear entrance to avoid any press encounters, promising to return later and she made her way up to Jack's room on her own.

Daniel and Teal'c were both standing in the corridor, deep in discussion. She hurried up to them, knowing something was wrong the instant she saw Daniel's face.

Her steps slowed and she faltered slightly, before gathering herself and moving forward with determination. "What is it?" she asked hesitantly.

Daniel was the first to speak. "Sam, hi ... uh, did you get some proper rest?"

"Daniel?"

He sighed and leaned back heavily against the wall. "He um, Jack woke a few minutes ago, but he was uh, a bit out of it."

Sam's heart thudded so loudly it hurt. "And?" She thrust her hand into her jacket pocket and gripped the yoyo hard.

"He was asking for you. He seemed to think you'd gone ... gone for good that is. Did ... ah, he, erm, he was a bit distressed Sam. I tried telling him you wouldn't be long, but ..."

"Why didn't someone call me?"

Teal'c shook his head. "We did not have time, Colonel Carter. It only just happened. The doctor is with him now.

Sam edged toward Jack's room and Daniel gently drew on her arm to stop her.

"Uh, Sam?"

"Spit it out, Daniel." Sam sighed. She was in no mood for guessing games and more than anxious to see Jack.

"He ... I don't think he ..." Daniel cleared his throat. He was clearly upset, but Sam couldn't offer any comfort at the moment - she was all out.

"I don't think he could ..."

"You think he's paralyzed?" finished Sam.

Daniel nodded miserably.

Sam knew it was more than a possibility. However, until that moment she had had hope. She felt the world tilt a little. She was no saint, no martyr. She knew if the worst happened, the future would be more than tough, but the hardest thing to bear was what it would do to Jack. The rocky road of life had just become a treacherous journey into the unknown...

**********

Fortunately, for Sam's sake, it wasn't long before a doctor came out of Jack's room. He wasted no time explaining what had happened.

"General O'Neill is a bit calmer now. I've given him a very light sedative, just to take him down a notch or two, that's all. He's having a little difficulty breathing, but that's due to the injury."

"Has he ... did he ..." Sam hesitated, loathe to voice the question.

The doctor gave her a sympathetic look and sighed. "I am sorry, Mrs O'Neill, but it at the moment it looks as though your husband is experiencing some loss of movement. However, it is early days and I would like to stress that at this stage there is no absolute diagnosis."

Sam felt Daniel's hand creep into hers and she squeezed it hard as she tried to stay focused on the doctor's words. She felt Teal'c's reassuring presence at her back and welcomed the strength he gave her.

"Your husband was very distressed when he woke, and was asking for you. If you feel up to it, he may settle a little more with your presence."

"Can I see him now?" she asked.

The doctor nodded and Daniel let go of her hand, and with a few quick words, said he and Teal'c would wait while she was in with Jack.

Sam didn't even bother answering, but followed the doctor into Jack's room.

The doctor's presence was almost forgotten as she moved quickly to the bed. She grasped Jack's hand gently and leaned over him to touch his forehead with a feather-like kiss. Her other hand automatically brushed at his hair and his eye lids fluttered slightly as she straightened up.

"Hey Jack, miss me? I'm back again." Sam's voice wavered as she swallowed at the lump in her throat. Those damn tears were never far away these days. She took a deep breath before continuing.

"Did you see Daniel and Teal'c? They've managed to get a break and come visit."

Sam felt the pressure of a chair against the back of her legs and spared the doctor a brief look of gratitude before returning her attention to her husband as she sat down. The closing of the door barely registered. She leaned over the bed, resting her elbows on it, and raised his hand to her face, clasping it with both of hers.

"I went home last night, Jack. It's not the same there without you. General Hammond came with me. He's been so great. I don't know what we'd do without him."

Jack's head shifted a little and his breathing sped up a little. The little clouds of vapor inside the mask seemed to grow bigger.

"Shush, take it easy, nice and easy. Doctor Hill said it'll be a bit strange for you. Nice and easy, shussssh." Sam continued to talk softly. She became aware of a fluttering movement of the fingers that were entwined with hers and his eyelids began to flicker more rapidly, sure signs that he was awaking.

The first glimpse of the dark velvet of his eyes quickened her heartbeat and the smile that came to her lips was genuine and beautiful.

"Hey."

The words were quiet, just a throaty gasp, but Sam heard and her smile widened. "Hey," she responded, kissing the back of his hand lovingly.

"You ... here."

"Of course I'm here. Where else would I rather be?" Sam spoke firmly, determined to put any nonsense out of his head once and for all.

"I ..."

"Hush now. I don't want to hear another word from you, unless it's I love you."

Jack tried to smile under the mask. She saw the way the corners of his mouth crinkled.

"Love ... you."

"Back at ya, flyboy," she whispered teasingly, gazing into his eyes.

She watched as he tried to fight sleep, but it was a battle he was doomed to lose. This was one round she was glad he didn't win.

She kept his hand gripped tightly in hers as he slept, needing to feel his presence as much as he obviously needed to feel hers.

She wasn't going to leave him alone again.

**********

Sam woke with a start from the light doze she'd fallen into. Jack was awake and struggling to move. He was fighting to remove his hand from hers as his other hand began clawing at the light sheet that covered him, dragging it aside.

Sam watched dumbstruck as the hand clawed at his legs repeatedly. The panic in his eyes, the tight lines of agony that were etched into his face made her heart plummet and her stomach lurched in response.

"Jack." Sam managed to find a weak voice, but he paid no heed. The keening sounds of distress that came from him became more urgent as his fingernails gouged a crimson track into the top of his thighs.

"Jack!" Sam found more voice and rose, trying to divert his hands from their bloody quest.

"Look at me, Jack!"

His breath came in panicky gasps and the monitors at the bedside were beginning to wail an alarm.

Sam grabbed at his hands, trying desperately to grip them. "Jack, I'm here. Please don't, don't ..."

"No ... No ... No ..." He was heaving for breath and trying to raise himself from the pillows without any success.

Sam flinched as his hands flailed wildly and then closed on hers, his grip painful. The terrified look in his eyes wrenched a gasp of agony from her.

"Oh God, Jack, I'm here, look at me, I'm here. It's okay, please, Jack" Sam was almost shouting as she tried to get him to focus on her.

She was dimly aware of more people in the room, but her sole focus lay on the face of her husband.

"General O'Neill, please try and take a slow breath," urged Doctor Hill as she leaned closer.

Jack's wide panicked expression seemed to lessen slightly but he still struggled to breathe.

Doctor Hill calmly injected his IV and perched a little on the bed, clasping Jack's shoulder with one hand. "Sir, listen to me, try and slow your breathing down. Try not to breathe from your stomach, just take short breaths. Short breaths, General."

Doctor Hill's voice continued, quietly but firmly, and as the sedative began to take a slow effect, Jack seemed to stop fighting and the gasping breaths began to slow. The oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose had become white with vapor as he struggled and now, at last, clear patches began to show as his breathing steadied.

"That's it Jack, nice and easy, don't fight it, I'm here, love, I'm here." Sam allowed him to maintain the grip on her hands and slowly, as his grip began to falter, she changed it so that she grasped his instead. She maintained eye contact with him and as his eyes began to fade beneath his lids she stayed quite still until she was confident that at last he was sleeping.

Doctor Hill's soft voice came to her from beside her, but she kept her eyes fixed on Jack as she listened.

"The sedative I just administered was very light, however I can't continue to sedate him given the difficulty he has breathing. I'm going to prescribe a tranquillizer. He will still be awake and quite cognizant after a little, when his system gets use to it, but it should take the edge off the panic."

Sam couldn't help her startled glance at the doctor at the word `panic'. Doctor Hill nodded and continued. "You have to understand that waking in this state is a huge shock for both your husband to comprehend and for his body to try to deal with."

Sam knew her hands were shaking, but merely tightened her hold on Jack and sat quietly whilst Doctor Hill examined the damage he'd wrought on his body.

The doctor tut tutted softly as she cleaned up the wounds and applied a light dressing.

The horror of seeing Jack's reaction shook Sam to the core. She drew breath shakily, dismayed that her trembling seemed to be increasing.

Doctor Hill said something, but it was merely some distant rumble to Sam's ears.

"Mrs O'Neill?" repeated the doctor. "Are you okay?" The doctor's voice was soft, and the caring tone in it almost undid her.

Sam nodded briefly.

"Take some time out, please."

"I need to be here."

"He won't be awake for a while now. I promise you a nurse will sit with him and at the first sign of him waking, you will know."

Sam hesitated. She had learned a lot from the man lying in this bed, her commanding officer for so many years, her friend, her lover ... and now her husband. He'd taught her many things. He'd helped her to realize her full potential, given her strength and courage - even made her produce the impossible and at times, a miracle ... Sam's eyes closed for a moment and she tried to draw on every ounce of strength she possessed. She had to focus. Now was not the time to fall apart - Jack would need her strength, until he regained his own.

She drew a deep breath, and calmness followed the oxygen through her body. "Thank you. I'll take a short break and come back." Sam leaned over and kissed her husband, brushing back the hair from his forehead.

"I won't be long," she promised.

**********

Their friends and colleagues, Daniel and Teal'c, were right outside the door. From Daniel's expression, she gathered they'd heard a little of what had happened. She leaned heavily against the wall.

"Are you alright?" asked Daniel. He seemed to be scrutinizing her face.

Sam nodded. She cleared her throat a little before trusting herself to speak. "He, he woke and ..." The urge to clear her throat again was there. Sam clenched her teeth and looked to the far wall, desperately trying to keep the tears at bay. "Jack couldn't move. He panicked." The words were out. Said. Done.

"Oh God," whispered Daniel.

He didn't look to be too far from tears himself and Sam steeled herself and risked a quick look at Teal'c. His dark eyes bared his sorrow and somehow this was more upsetting than Daniel's open emotion.

Sam pushed off from the wall and grabbed them each by an arm, drawing them close. They needed each other, more than ever now. Jack would need their love and strength and even if they had to ram it down his throat - he would get it!

**********

Jack's return to consciousness was slow.

Sam was there. Whenever he woke - she was called. Sometimes it was barely a few minutes that he woke for, but each and every moment was worth it to Sam.

The day wore on into night and the night became day again. Jack was beginning to focus on her more clearly and for longer each time. He was calm and quiet. The tranquilizers that were fed into his IV seemed to be doing their job - for the moment.

The smile that tugged at his mouth each time he woke and saw her, reached his eyes. He'd barely spoken, other than an odd word, but Doctor Hill assured Sam that it was the combination of the sedatives leaving him and his body's adjustment to the tranquilizers and pain killers that kept him almost under.

His breathing had certainly improved and by the end of the fourth day the nursing staff had turned him to lie on his side, protected and propped with pillows. The oxygen mask had been exchanged for a nasal cannula. The tubing and wires were much lighter now, and only a single clear fluid IV remained.

**********

It was late afternoon on the fifth day after the operation when Jack finally asked after Daniel and Teal'c, his voice low and rough from the oxygen.

Sam had her chair hitched right up to the bed, her upper body almost on the bed with him.

"You just missed them," said Sam, her voice light and she couldn't resist adding, "Sleepy head."

Her fingers threaded through his hair and he nuzzled his head against her hand.

"Nice," he rasped.

Sam watched as his eyes closed slowly, drifting once again to sleep on the tide of drugs. Only when she was sure he was asleep, did she buzz for a nurse and then leave for a brief rest.

She'd made Daniel and Teal'c accept keys to her house and they took turns in resting and bringing Sam fresh clothes. Sam never trod further than the relatives' room she was given, making use of its small shower and taking all her meals there.

No-one tried to persuade her to leave. When Sam had voiced her intentions, surprisingly Daniel and Teal'c nodded in agreement and began to get things organized to help her out. General Hammond was also a frequent visitor and another line of support.

**********

The days passed slowly. For Sam they were a haze and, if she had been asked, she couldn't have said exactly what day it was. When Jack slept, Sam slept. When Jack woke, Sam was there.

Jack began to take a little more interest in what was happening around him now, although his eyes were still clouded from the drugs, his speech a little slow, and his words hesitant.

Sam was waiting for him to ask `that' question ... each time he woke - she waited. It was hanging over them both, she knew that, but she was too much of a coward to shout it out and get it over with. He didn't struggle, but she watched silently as he ran a hand over his stomach, down to his thighs, his eyes dark, but his face betraying nothing.

**********

Doctor Hill replaced the covers over Jack's feet and straightened up. The last line of tests was completed and she made a few quick notes before looking up.

Two pairs of eyes were watching her intently. The dark ones were cast in shadow, knowing and wretched. The blue ones, most surprisingly, still held an expression of hope - hope that she was about to dash.

"I'm sorry."

Two words.

Two simple words that put the proverbial nail in the illustrious career of General Jack O'Neill.

Doctor Susan Hill had cursed her inability to work miracles on more than one occasion in her career, and today was no exception.

"The tests all indicate that the SCI is at level T8 and that you have suffered the loss of motor function from that point."

Jack scowled. "SCI? T8?" he growled.

Doctor Hill gave him a brief apologetic smile. "The spinal cord injury has been sustained at level T8. This is the thoracic level." She indicated the position on herself. "SCI around this level means that your goal should be to live independently without assistive devices in feeding...

"At least I won't starve ... how about cooking?"

Doctor Hill blithely continued. "... bathing, grooming, oral and facial hygiene...

"I get to shave?"

"... dressing, transferring ..."

"Transferring what?"

"Yourself, you ass," hissed Sam.

Doctor Hill's face showed a flicker of amusement. "Moving from say, wheelchair to seat ... bladder management ..."

"Jack, shut up," growled Sam, seeing him about to open his mouth again.

"... and bowel management."

"That's good," muttered Sam and then averted her eyes as her husband turned a full scowl on her.

"What about walking?" He demanded.

"There is a greater chance of return of some or all of a person's motor and sensory function with an incomplete injury like yours. This fact makes it impossible to accurately predict the eventual amount of return of an individual's function."

"In English Doc," he snarled.

"In short General O'Neill, we don't know. There are a very small number of cases where ..."

"Ack, don't quote me statistics or odds, give me the facts."

"I'm sorry General. The fact of the matter is we don't know and I can't offer any reassurances. You need to consider that your condition is going to be permanent."

There was a resounding silence in the room. Doctor Hill cleared her throat before continuing. "You need a little time together. I'll see that you're not disturbed. Call if you need me for anything."

Doctor Susan Hill needed time too.

**********

Sam almost crumpled. Almost.

She held it together. For him.

She held his hand tightly. She couldn't speak yet, the lump in her throat was threatening to choke her.

Jack's other hand hit his thigh with a loud thump. Sam winced and bit at her lower lip to prevent herself from telling him off.

The silence in the room stretched on for a few minutes more.

"Oh Christ." Jack's voice was rough with emotion.

Sam found her voice. "We'll work it out, Jack, things will work out, you'll see."

"What was it she said, motor and sensory returning? There's a chance."

"She said they can't predict anything."

"But a chance?" Jack's eyes were beseeching hers.

"She said to consider it permanent."

"A chance, that's all I ever wanted."

"You can't get your hopes up, like this. You've got to realize that it is permanent."

"I can't accept it. I'll never accept it. I can't live like that. I couldn't before - that's why I wanted the operation - and nothing's happened to change my mind. Except now the doc says I have a chance. It may be only slim, but it's still a chance."

"I'm just happy I've got you, Jack."

"Well I'm not. What about the family you wanted?"

"We wanted, Jack, we wanted. Besides I was reading up a little and we can still ..."

Jack scowled. "Ya think? You into pity f ..."

"Jack!" berated Sam, cutting him off. "Don't you dare, don't you dare say that. I love you and I'm here with you by choice and just you remember that. I can give up my commission."

"What? No way. One of us leaving is enough."

"President Hayes himself said your position is waiting for you, regardless. You'd have your full military pension and a good salary from your job."

"Huh, head of Homeworld Security in a wheelchair and a civilian to boot? Yeah, right! And you, being Mrs O'Neill?"

"I am Mrs O'Neill."

"You are Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter USAF and I am not going to let you forget that. You have a life and a career ahead of you. You love your job, what you do."

"But I love you more."

Jack didn't answer. Sam tugged on his hand, urging him to look at her, but he refused to respond.

"What were you doing when you fell, Jack?" asked Sam suddenly. She had to know. She pulled on his hand again, squeezing it harder. "Why were you so insistent on having that operation?"

Jack swallowed harshly and Sam leaned closer, cupping his chin with her free hand, urging him to face her. "Why?"

His dark eyes scanned her face. For once they weren't shuttered.

"Because I would rather die than lose you slowly."

The raw emotion in his eyes made Sam close hers tightly, desperate to try and hold back the tears.

"You had those orders issued to recall me."

"I thought it was easier for you. I wanted you to hate me and then you wouldn't hurt so much."

Sam groped for one of the many tissues she had stuffed into her pocket over the last few hours. Her hand came into contact with something hard, and she pulled it out, understanding coming to her with the suddenness of a freight train. She opened her eyes and held the yo-yo out, showing it to Jack. "You were coming after me when you fell, weren't you?" Sam's gaze fastened onto his. "Why?"

"Because I remembered what hate does to someone. I didn't want you to live like I did for all those years. I couldn't put you through that. I love you far too much."

Sam put the little toy on the bed and took a tight grip on both of his hands and held his gaze. "Do you love me any less because you can't feel all of yourself?"

"No," choked out Jack.

Sam flung her arms around him, holding him tightly, feeling his head dip into the crook of her neck, his lips barely touching her skin.

"I love you so much Jack, so much."

She held him tightly as she felt the tears fall, pouring all her love into the embrace, while Jack cried silently against her. Her own tears quietly tracked down her face and they cried as one hurt soul together, bound in their love, bound in their fears.

**********

Daniel, Teal'c and General Hammond received the bad news firsthand. Sam had asked that they be told, and Doctor Hill had given them the results of the tests herself, knowing how close they were to the O'Neills.

Daniel shook his head as the doctor left the room. "Is there no news from any of our allies?"

General Hammond sighed heavily. "Nothing. It could be months before we get any contact and then ..."

"Thor could!" Daniel spat out and stood abruptly, coming to a halt against the far wall and raising his fist. The blow didn't connect. Daniel spun around, his fist still in mid air. "He doesn't deserve this ..." Daniel's voice faded.

"The SGC are aware of our needs, Doctor Jackson. Everyone is doing what they can, but meanwhile we have to make the best of ..."

"No, it's Jack's life we are talking about here, not a situation we have to make the best of. This could finish him."

"He'll have to be medically retired, but the President is keeping his position open for him to return to ..."

"I'm not talking about his job. I'm talking about his career. The Air Force is Jack's life. You'll take his reason to ..."

"He has something else to continue for now, Daniel Jackson," stated Teal'c calmly.

"Sam."

Teal'c nodded. "You do O'Neill a great disservice if you think he is not capable of rising past this obstacle fate has placed in his path."

Daniel took a deep breath. "Teal'c, Jack isn't indestructible. He's human. Okay we've had our share of ... death experiences - I'll give you that, but to take Jack out from our life and force him to become ..."

"Become what? Ordinary? Is that not what we all are? Our lives have been taken from us and we have been forced to endure. Now perhaps it is O'Neill's second chance for his own life and a family."

Both Hammond and Daniel's mouths literally hung open at Teal'c's words.

Neither man had an answer to that revelation. Neither man could dispute their friend's words and neither man really wanted to...

**********

It was late. No-one had left the hospital. No-one wanted to.

The men sat and waited. Eventually Sam came to see them and they all rose as one. She seemed strangely calm considering the latest news.

"You've been told?" she asked, her voice betraying her fatigue and yet...

General Hammond nodded. "Doctor Hill came to see us." He gestured for her to sit, before sitting back down himself. Daniel sat as well, but Teal'c remained standing.

"How's Jack?"

Sam gave Daniel a brief smile. "He's ... he's, well, he's not being Jack about it."

"Oh." Daniel's face lit with concern. "That's bad."

"He's still full of tranquilizers."

"That's erm, good."

"He's too calm though."

"That's not so good."

Sam nodded. "You guys should go get some rest."

"Should you not be resting as well?" inquired Teal'c.

"Yes, but I'm going to crash here while Jack's sleeping." Sam gestured to the couch.

"Then we shall return in the morning." Teal'c quite firmly took hold of Daniel and withdrew, leaving Sam alone with General Hammond.

"How are you holding up?" asked Hammond, moving closer to her.

Sam leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, picking at the tissue she had scrunched in her hands.

"I'm not exactly sure." Her voice was low, the misery in it ringing clear to Hammond.

George Hammond sighed. "I know you think you've got to be strong all the time for him, but ..."

Sam screwed the tissue and threw it in the trash bin. "That's just it though, isn't it ... he's always had that faith in me. More faith that I ever had - ever will have. He's been my rock for over eight years. It's Jack the Colonel that made me what I am, Jack the man that's completed me. Without him ... He's watched my six, trained me for success since the day I met him, and you know what?"

The tears were falling thick and fast, her voice thick. She gave Hammond such a desolate look that his heart ached for her.

"I'm terrified that I'll let him down. If I fail him now ..."

George Hammond pulled the sobbing woman into his arms, his large hand patting her back softly, rubbing soothingly, just like he would for his daughter...

"You won't Sam, you won't. There's going to be times when it'll be bad, I won't lie to you, times you'll hurt each other, but no matter how bad the earthquake is, if the foundations are strong they'll still be there and you can re-build."

Sam giggled in his arms and leaned back, swiping at the wet trails on her face. "Are you saying I've got good foundations, General?" she quipped.

George Hammond's ear tips blushed slightly and he returned her smile.

"Don't tell Jack I said that," he groused, reaching for some tissues.

Sam giggled again and accepted the proffered tissues gladly. "I think I'll save that one."

**********

"Are you coming or going, Daniel?"

Daniel jumped with a guilty start. He was so lost in his thoughts he hadn't noticed the man on the bed waking. Jack's voice was heavy with sleep and still a little breathy.

"Erm, coming?" Daniel moved into the room, approaching the bed slowly.

"You don't sound too sure."

Daniel gave a knee-jerk smile and pulled at the chair next to the bed to re- position it so he could see Jack better.

"Uh, okay. I'm sitting here ... so we'll assume I was coming."

"Okaaay."

Daniel looked intently at the older man, studying his features, silently.

"Did they forget to tell me something?"

"Pardon?"

"So that's it ... they told me about being useless, but forgot to mention the part where I grew another head."

Daniel's eyes widened in alarm. "Oh, God, no, Jack, um sorry. I guess ... I'm ..." He cleared his throat and fumbled for something to excuse his behavior. "Sorry. I am so glad to see you, that's all."

Jack gave him a look of disbelief. "You drew straws?" he quipped.

Daniel smiled. "No, doctor's instructions - one at a time. Teal'c's next. General Hammond offered to come in last."

"Oh joy."

"Yes."

"What?"

Daniel shook his head. He couldn't help that his gaze that drifted down the bed.

"You checkin' me out?" groused Jack.

Daniel's mouth dropped open then closed again. He blushed furiously. "No - um, well ..." He decided to drop the bullshit. "Yes. Argh, no. Christ Jack, you ... you know what I mean. I'm sorry about ..." He flapped his hand in the general direction of his friend's legs and floundered.

"Yeah, well so am I."

"Sam seems to be holding up pretty well."

Jack's expression softened at the mention of her name, and his eyes flickered down to something he held tightly in his hand. Daniel caught a glimpse of something painted bright yellow, before he looked back up at his friend in time to see his face crumple. The thought that Jack was going to actually cry flashed for a split second through Daniel's mind, before Jack regained his composure.

Daniel's hand shot out to grasp his friend's forearm and he squeezed it comfortingly.

"She deserves so much better." Jack's voice was hollow.

"Yes, yes she does."

Jack registered Daniel's words, his eyes darkened and they held onto Daniel's.

"We don't always get what we deserve, Jack. You certainly didn't deserve this, but there is nothing clearer to me than that you two deserve each other. Sam didn't ask for this, neither did you, but for God's sake, don't let her lose you."

"I don't know if I can do that." Jack's voice was sad, almost resigned. "She's talking about leaving the Air Force."

"What?"

Jack nodded. "She resigns and we stay in DC and I'll be a good little boy, go to rehab, then back to my old job, minus the rank."

"If that is what she wants ..."

"No, it ... God damn, Daniel, it shouldn't be. I taught her to be the best that she can be and hiding away as Mrs O'Neill isn't for her. I wouldn't have married her if I thought that for one moment ..." Jack's voice tailed off.

He was angry, Daniel knew that. Jack O'Neill didn't do helpless. Jack was the one people depended on, and now for the first time in his life, other than childhood, Jack O'Neill was going to be dependant on other people - at least for the foreseeable future.

"Have you told her this?"

"Oh yeah, but she pats my hand and says `yes dear'."

Daniel couldn't help the snort of surprised laughter. "All those Goa'uld you've faced down and you can't tell Sam what the hell you want. She's still a couple of ranks below you, you know," he added as the thought occurred to him.

"And you think that gives me anything?" Jack snorted. "Besides, once the press interest and the investigation is over, they'll have my papers through pretty quick."

Daniel bit his tongue. He cursed himself for mentioning ranks. It was like rubbing salt into Jack's wounds.

"I want to go back to Colorado. Sam can have her career."

"It's early days Jack yet," offered Daniel soothingly. "Perhaps you can move back and as you get ... get sorted you can then decide." `And you'll be near to the mountain in case we can get some help,' he added silently.

**********

Daniel left the room, barely acknowledging Teal'c moving past him. He was feeling depressed and upset, with Jack's mood wearing on his patience. He was so raw himself that he just couldn't get outside his own hurt and help Jack and he felt ashamed. Jack had always been there for him.

Regardless of what had been happening in Jack's own life, he had always made time for Daniel when he had needed him the most and it cut into Daniel that he felt so helpless. He supposed that not seeing Jack for a few months hadn't helped their friendship and before then Jack was always stretched for time in his role of the SGC commander. He knew that it was going to be hard work recovering the friendship they once had, but he also knew that it was worth the effort, and not just for Jack's sake.

**********

"What do you do with your crippled old horses, T?"

Teal'c solemnly regarded the man who lay before him.

"We do not have horses, crippled or otherwise, O'Neill."

"Ack!"

Teal'c concealed a small smile at the General's annoyed exclamation and continued. "Before our freedom came those whom the symbiote could not cure, we killed."

"And now?"

"Now we listen to them and give them the respect they deserve."

Jack shook his head faintly.

"Do you doubt what I say? You hold great wealth in your head and in your heart, O'Neill."

Jack snorted in disbelief. "There's many who would dispute that."

"No doubt, but I am not one of them."

"I can't even get my wife to listen to me."

"Colonel Carter has been taught well in the art of command and her determination is of credit to you."

Jack's response lifted the Jaffa's spirits. His bark of laughter was cut off in a fit of coughing and he cradled an arm across his chest protectively. Teal'c waited patiently, but watched carefully. O'Neill regained his breath and Teal'c calmly passed him the cup and straw.

"Perhaps you should discuss this with Colonel Carter. She thinks it is best that you have a goal and a career."

"I've had my career."

"Then you must ensure that you have not had your life. You have the chance of a new one, O'Neill. At times it will be strange and you will suffer much frustration, but be assured you have been given a second chance."

Jack swallowed harshly and stared. Teal'c wasn't sure what O'Neill would take from his words, but he hoped his friend and brother would take at least some brief comfort from them.

**********

Jack slept for quite a while and George Hammond took the time to study the enigma of a man that lay there.

The bruising on his face and shoulders had certainly lessened, and George was thankful to see less and less tubing and wires. Though if it gave Jack his legs back, he would no doubt welcome them ... He could willingly choke the very life out of the shooter if they caught him. When, he corrected himself. He'd been so happy for Jack when he'd married Sam. He knew that Jack wasn't exactly ecstatic with his post in DC and the job, George knew better than anyone, carried a huge responsibility, but the man was certainly worthy of it - and so much more.

"And what words of wisdom can you offer me, George?"

George Hammond chuckled and leaned closer to the now obviously awake man. "They've given you the cheer wagon then?"

Jack tried to stifle a yawn while he nodded.

"Then I won't bother, son. I'm here for you and for Sam. I won't offer you any bull, Jack, things are going to be tough. Just how tough is up to you."

"You mean be a good little cripple and don't make waves."

"Self pity isn't something I associate you with."

Jack had the grace to look shame-faced. "Sorry. I know, I know. Look, you've got to talk to Sam, she's intent on resigning her commission."

"That's up to her, son."

"She thinks she's gotta take care of me like ..."

"Like a wife?" finished George.

Jack closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "Yeah."

"And given if things were the other way round, what would you do?"

Jack opened his mouth then closed it firmly.

George gripped Jack on his shoulder, giving him a firm, but gentle squeeze. "Get some rest. Things will work out, you'll see. Rome wasn't built in a day."

"It would have been if they'd have had more Ancient technology," said Jack.

George chuckled, shaking his head as he made his way out of the room, closing the door softly behind him.

`Jack may be down at the moment, but don't count him out.'

**********

Jack watched as the door closed behind George Hammond, feeling suddenly tired.

There was so much to think about, so much information to process, and he really didn't feel up to the task just yet.

Despite his words to Daniel, he had to admit to himself that deep down he hadn't given up. He wasn't ready to be put out to pasture just yet. As Teal'c had pointed out, there were still a lot of things he could teach the young kids just starting out.

He thought for a second - young kids - Sam had wanted to talk about kids, but he hadn't listened. Maybe it wasn't impossible, maybe she was right and they could start a family now. Teal'c's comment about the chance of a second life could be more apt than he knew. This was a chance to do just that, start a family and actually be there to see it growing up.

He'd get it right this time.

Come to that, why the hell was he just accepting he'd never walk again? The doc had said there was a slim chance - he had forgotten that when wallowing in self- pity.

Hell - he was damn-well not going to give up on life just when he had a second chance at it.

No way!

**********

Jack cursed as he slid sideways and one of the nurses made a grab to help balance him. He winced as the motion pulled on his ribs.

"Sorry, General. Look, you need to let us maneuver you. It'll take a while 'til you get the hang of balancing."

"For cryin out loud! And it's Jack okay!"

The nurses exchanged a smile over his head.

"When do I get something to haul myself up with, huh? There's nothing to grab onto," he complained.

"Gen ... Jack," corrected the younger nurse, "you're still healing. You can't go pulling on the injuries. As soon as the doctor says you're well enough you can start therapy and ..."

"The sooner I can get out of here," finished Jack.

She sighed and shook her head. "It's going to take time, sir. You've got to be patient."

"Are you kidding? Me patient? I don't do patient - I want OUT!" he raised his voice to a yell and then bit down as the effort caused pain and took his breath away.

Breathing had become an effort again and he lay helplessly just trying to catch his breath.

"That's better, now don't forget your breathing exercises," commented the older nurse as they finished up.

**********

He was still struggling a little when Sam returned. She sat down after kissing him on the forehead. He caught at her hand as she did so and gave her a grin.

"Breathing lessons!" he groused. "Can't even breathe ..." He stopped for breath.

"Take it easy, Jack. What have you been up to?"

"Chased the nurses ... round the room - wadda you think ..." He coughed and struggled with another breath.

"Huh? I've got to watch you then!" she returned good naturedly.

It took a few minutes before he'd got his breathing under control.

"That better?" asked Sam as she passed him some water.

Jack's hands trembled a little, a fact he tried to hide, but Sam was quick to notice the least thing, although she didn't comment on it.

His head sank against the pillows. He tired quickly, but that was nothing unexpected. His injuries alone would take a while to heal, not to mention other things...

"Sam, I've been thinking ..."

She rolled her eyes, putting a mock worried look on her face. "Oh God, are we ready for this?"

He cast a scathing look in her direction, but continued. "When I get out of here, which is going to be real soon, I want to go to back to Colorado." He held his hand up to stop her interrupting. "Ah, back home, do therapy, work on the legs, while you go to work."

Sam patted his hand soothingly.

He frowned and pulled his hand away slightly. "Ah, don't. My legs are a bit numb, not my brain. I want us to go home. Hey, in a few months I could be up and at it."

Sam's face clouded. "A bit numb? Jack ..."

"I won't think of it any other way," he stated resolutely.

Sam hated to pour water on him. But she couldn't and wouldn't let him set himself up for another fall. "Okay, we could move back, just until you get yourself adapted. There's no rush, President Hayes will keep ..."

"I'm not going to go back to DC."

That took the wind out of Sam's sails. She'd fully expected him to be adamant he would soon be walking back into his old job...

"There's no reason we can't start a family when I'm better, and you can go back to work ..."

Sam's face dropped. "Taking care of a baby while in a wheelchair..."

"Plenty of folk do it. Besides, I am not going to be in a wheelchair."

"Jack ..."

"Sam ..."

"Jack, you're setting yourself up for a fall."

He pushed with one arm as he struggled to sit up and the world titled as he slid sideways again.

He cursed. "Crap."

"Here." Sam rose to help.

He batted at her hand and continued to struggle and curse. "Damn legs. Jesus, why the hell... Don't ..."

"Jack, you'll fall."

"You'll fall, that's all I hear ... you'll fall," he bitched.

"I'll fall you out of bed if you don't stop!"

Jack stopped struggling and gazed at her, open mouthed.

"That's better," quipped Sam at his silence as she helped him to balance.

"You'll fall me out of bed?" he echoed, casting her an inquiring look.

Sam blushed. "It's just an expression."

"It's not even English," he berated.

"I used to say it to Mom when I got into her bed on a Sunday morning and she complained that I wiggled so much I'd fall." Sam was surprised the words didn't hurt, the memory in fact was a good one.

Jack clasped Sam's hand gently. "Wish there was more damn room in this bed, Sam, you can fall me out of it any day."

Sam smiled.

"You think you can wangle me a bigger bed?" He waggled his eyebrows at her.

"Idiot," she murmured affectionately.

"But I'm your idiot," he teased.

She rolled her eyes in mock horror, leaning in close, bringing her lips close to his. "Oh, don't I know it, don't I know it."

She shut him up, the best way she knew ... in fact, it was the only way she knew...

**********

"Ahem."

They broke their kiss and Sam straightened up and blushed as she saw General Hammond standing in the doorway.

"Sorry to interrupt ..."

"George, come on in, take a load off ..."

"Sir," said Sam, standing a little stiffly, her fingers brushing at the hem of her blouse.

"Please, Sam, sit," said George with a smile as he closed the door and came to stand beside her. She sat and as she did so, he placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. "I just called to give you some news about the shooter."

Jack straightened a little and gave George his `okay, hurry up, I'm waiting' look.

"Wish I could have gotten your attention so easily in briefings, Jack," joked George. "Homeland Security acted on an anonymous tip off and they've taken someone into custody."

"And?" Jack's prompted, his eyebrows rising expectantly.

George sighed. "There's very little doubt that they've got the right man, but they're still looking for the motive. He won't admit to anything. At the moment all they have to go on is forensic evidence."

"Got a name?"

"Minucos. Ettan Minucos."

Jack started visibly. "WHAT? Him???"

"Jack?" asked Sam, worried by his reaction.

"You know the man?" George took a step closer.

"We had him checked out - he's just a nutter!"

"Do you have any idea why he would shoot you?"

Jack shook his head. "He wasn't even threatening in the letters. He wrote me a couple of times ... the usual thing you know, aliens, you know the usual government conspiracies ... but he checked out harmless, no history of ..."

George looked on gravely as Jack spoke, then sighed heavily. "I'll pass this information on. They may want to interview you again."

"This means he was targeting you," said Sam.

Jack shrugged. "Probably, but why? I only sent the usual thank you, duly noted response, nothing for him to get so upset with me about and that was, well, months ago."

"Why do you remember the name? Don't you get a lot of letters like that?"

"Stacks, but he sort of coincided with when I first started. He was uh, well my first nut job."

"How would he know where you were going to be if you didn't know yourself?" asked Sam as the thought occurred to her.

"It was a high powered rifle," explained George, "I'll check if the place he shot from could have targeted both exits. If not ..."

Jack nodded. "The meeting was regarding an Area 51 security matter. There were some pretty big wigs there, why the hell he picked on me ..."

Sam exchanged a look with Hammond. Jack never seemed to realize just how vital he actually was in the grand scheme of things.

"We'll find out. He isn't going anywhere. What we need to be sure of though is if he was acting alone. I'll keep you up to speed."

"Thanks George, appreciate it."

"I'll leave you in peace now." George made his way to the door and opened it. He turned around, his hand on the handle. "You can get back to what you were doing before I interrupted." The twinkle in his eyes lit his face and as the door closed behind him, Sam was left with her mouth open while a wide smile spread over Jack's features.

**********

The next few days had Sam alternating between laughter and mortification ... and sometimes just not a little dread.

Jack was determined he was not going to `go quietly' so to speak, and although he appeared to be doing his best to follow doctor's orders, Sam knew he damn well wasn't.

Sam almost wept with him as she saw the misery on his face as he tried to order his long limbs to give even just a twitch. Sometimes, and he wasn't even aware he was doing it, he seemed to space out, gazing longingly down at his legs, the yoyo gripped tightly as he thumbed the string.

Tears of laughter, tears of pain... She swiped angrily at her eyes as she groped her pockets for yet another tissue, wondering if she had yet used a forest up.

"Here," said Jack as her search turned fruitless.

He held up a corner of the sheet covering him. "I haven't used this edge. You can have it." The grin on his face reached his eyes and Sam felt a fresh trickle from her eyes.

She leaned forward and used the offering. She laughed when he did, their sanity seemingly sometimes so close to that fine line they had all trod at one time or another.

**********

"You heard anything from Maybourne?" asked Jack suddenly, breaking off from gazing at his legs.

Sam shook her head. "Nothing. Are you worried?"

"Nope. I would get a delivery if things go south."

"A delivery?" Sam echoed.

The knock at the door interrupted whatever Jack had been going to say.

Two men in dark suits stood respectfully just inside the doorway.

"General O'Neill, I don't know if you ..."

"Yes, I know who you are."

They exchanged looks. "Sir, with due respect, if Mrs O'Neill wouldn't mind ..."

"Mrs O'Neill wouldn't, but I would. Gentlemen, Mrs O'Neill is Lieutenant Colonel Carter, USAF and she has the same security clearance as me. You can speak quite freely."

"Sir, what we have to discuss is a little ... unusual."

"These are ... unusual times officer, pray continue." Jack picked at an imaginary thread on the sheets.

Sam watched as the men exchanged nervous glances and came closer.

"Several interviews with Minucos have left us with very little. He's ..." the officer paused, obviously uncomfortable with what he had to say. "Well, he isn't admitting to the shooting, but he is insisting that ..." The officer coughed and cleared his throat. "Sorry, erm, he's insisting, General O'Neill, that you are an alien."

"Alien?" Jack could do surprised when he wanted, and he turned his amazed wide eyed expression on the officers. "Alien as in immigrant or little green men alien?"

"I think he means `alien', sir, another planet." The officer pointed a finger up toward the ceiling.

Jack's unexpected bark of laughter turned into a coughing fit and he gave a gasp of pain as he held onto his chest.

The officers waited patiently, obviously a little embarrassed at having to broach the matter.

Sam passed him some water and he sipped it slowly. It took a few minutes before he was able to speak.

"Well gentlemen, that's a turn up for the books. He shot me because I'm an alien?"

The two officers exchanged a quick look.

"He's not admitted to the shooting sir. We do have some forensic evidence and it would possibly be enough to convict, but he is insisting that he has proof."

Jack's eyebrows would have done Teal'c justice. "Proof of what? Proof I'm an alien?"

The younger officer pinked slightly and nodded. "Yes, sir, however, he will not reveal his proof to us, but is threatening to take it public."

"He shot the General. It was attempted murder. You have enough evidence to lock him up and throw away the key," stated Sam.

"Yes ma'am, possibly. However, he is insisting that he has evidence to support his claim and that he will only speak to the General or he will speak to the newspapers."

"No!" spat Sam, making to get up, only the hand of Jack on her arm forestalling her.

"I would love to know just what he thinks his proof is, plus the fact we don't know if he was working alone or not," said Jack.

"We've been instructed that any publicity, adverse or otherwise, on this matter could be detrimental to Homeworld Security. We could have you wired, sir, he may admit to the shooting."

Jack sighed. He closed his eyes, his head heavy against the pillow and Sam gave his arm a comforting squeeze. She flicked a look of concern to the officers, a frown marring her face.

"We can leave this until later General, if you wish?"

Jack shook his head. "Let's get it over with. Tomorrow?" He barely opened his eyes.

"That would give us time to arrange it for then. Does late afternoon suit you sir?"

"Here?" asked Jack.

"You're not fit to go anywhere else, Jack," said Sam.

"Okay, but not in this room. Can you make the arrangements?"

"Yes, sir. He doesn't want anyone else present, but we'll be right outside and listening."

Jack frowned. "Tell him it will be me and my aide. If he doesn't like that he can call a press conference."

"Sir ..."

"Relay that message to him and nothing else."

"Very good sir. Can I contact your aide through your office?"

Jack smiled. "Nope, leave that to me."

**********

Sam hovered. There was no other way to describe it. She barely moved more than a foot from the bed, but the way she was beginning to squirm, told Jack she had to move sometime soon. Sure enough, she finally let go of his hand and straightened a little on the chair.

He shook his hand, clenching it in a loose fist, exaggerating the motion slightly.

"Are you okay?"

Jack felt a little mean at the alarm she showed. He shook his head. "Nah, just getting a little feeling back into it ... you've been squeezing it to death for the last two hours!"

Sam scowled and leaned closer. "Jack," she berated, "that is not funny."

"Sorry."

"You're not."

"Am."

"Not."

"Are too."

"Behave."

"Sam, will you please go to the bathroom, get a meal, get some rest ... anything."

"Are you trying to get rid of me?" The glare she gave him could have made fries stand to attention.

"Nooooooo, what made you think that, honey?" He turned his anti-glare shield up to full effect.

"I don't like this at all."

"Well, I'm not exactly thrilled about it myself. But, if he knows something he shouldn't, we need to know. Teal'c's my aide for the day, by the way."

That seemed to perk Sam up a little. "I'll be in the next room as well."

"I'll be sure to yell if I need rescuing."

"Ass!"

"Yes. Any more attributes you can name?" he responded cheerfully.

**********

Sam couldn't help it, any more than she could help breathe, she was f.u.s.s.i.n.g!

She wasn't happy Jack was meeting his would-be assassin face to face. The only plus was that Teal'c was going to be with him, but the whole thing seemed to perk Jack up. Jack wasn't going to admit it, but he was an adrenalin junkie and he thrived on it.

Security had been sorting out the temporary room all morning and Jack had been settled in it for the last couple of hours. Doctor Hill had been fussing as well, and Jack had given her a few pointed hints to disappear, which the good doctor had naturally chosen to ignore, only going when she was convinced her patient was okay.

Sam checked her watch again.

As she looked up her eyes caught Jack's and for a moment they just stared at each other. God she loved this man! Sam felt quite giddy for a moment and she felt sure he could feel the heat building inside of her. The slight crinkle at the corners of his eyes, and the grin to match convinced her that he had and she returned his smile.

"Go check if Teal'c's back," urged Jack.

Sam hesitated. "He'll let us know when he is."

"Go check anyway. You need to convince yourself your watch hasn't stopped. Go grab us some coffees."

"You can have juice."

"Ack! I'm sick of juice. Want caffeine, need caffeine."

"You don't need it. Doctor Hill ..."

"Is as bad as Jan ..." Jack's voice died to a whisper and they both acknowledged the sadness that arose when they thought of their lost colleague and friend.

"Go on, go cheer Daniel up, he was as miserable as sin this morning."

Sam raised her chin up. "Is that an order, General?" she jested.

Jack looked down and bit at his lip and Sam instantly felt guilty at the thoughtless remark.

"I ..."

Jack met her gaze. "Yes it is, airman. Get your cute little ass out there, you're making me nervous."

Sam hesitated for just a moment, before rising and giving him a mock salute. "Sir, yes sir!" She gave him a hurried peck on the lips and then sassily waggled her way out, exaggerating every movement. She opened the door and pulled it to close behind her as she left. Just before it closed, her head reappeared around it.

"And you still are not getting coffee!" She stuck her tongue out and then disappeared.

**********

Jack laughed. He was one lucky ... well, most of the time, he thought as he stared at his useless legs. What would he have done without Sam? God alone knew - Jack certainly didn't. She was his reason for living, for fighting. It was for Sam he was going to walk for again and for now, he wasn't going to think any other way!

**********

A complete wing at the other end of the hospital from Jack's normal room had been sealed off and everywhere was buzzing with security men and equipment. The room next door to where Jack was installed had high tech listening and recording equipment waiting ready for the meeting.

Sam gave the two security guards outside Jack's door a brief nod of acknowledgement. Teal'c had gone to double-check the other security arrangements. Despite not being an official part of the team now guarding Jack, he seemed to be taking a very personal interest in ensuring the general's safety - something Sam was only too happy to see.

As Sam entered, Daniel looked up from the book he was reading and gave her a quick smile.

"How's Jack?" he inquired.

"Testy, I'm getting on his nerves apparently." Sam shrugged and threw herself down on the chair. "And, he wants coffee."

Daniel grinned. "I could do with some myself actually. Teal'c shouldn't be long now." He looked at his watch. "Want me to go sit with Jack for a while, cheer him up?"

"I'd give it a miss. He thinks you're `as miserable as sin at the moment'," quoted Sam.

"I am?"

Sam shrugged again. "Aren't you?"

"Who the hell isn't right now?" countered Daniel.

"Well, putting it like that ... Jack!"

"I ... I never thought he would adjust so easily."

"He isn't, Daniel, that's the problem. He's adamant that this is temporary and he won't have it any other way."

"But he realizes ... surely ..." said Daniel, somewhat hesitantly.

Sam shook her head.

They paused as the door opened, relaxing again when Teal'c entered.

"I believe this wing is now as secure as O'Neill's military history."

Sam and Daniel both managed a smile at that remark.

"Thank you Teal'c. I must admit bringing Minucos here is ..."

"Not of the ordinary?" offered Teal'c.

Sam nodded.

"I will not leave O'Neill's side. You may have no fear of him causing further harm."

"I don't think it's just the physical aspect, Teal'c," said Daniel. He had freely admitted his feelings on the matter earlier, and he was totally against this meeting.

Teal'c seemed to stand even straighter and he folded his massive arms behind his back, regarding the archeologist with a serious expression.

"It is better to face him and end this now, than to wonder if his would-be assassin is out there waiting for another opportunity."

"End it?" echoed Daniel, his alarm showing.

"If the man can be provoked into admitting the shooting then we shall have no fear of him attaining freedom."

"Oh." Daniel looked more than a little relieved and Sam had to give a small smile - she knew just what he had been thinking.

Sam was jittery, far more than any mission she had been on had affected her in the past. Teal'c's presence was a huge comfort and it was entirely due to the fact he was going to be in the room with Jack that she hadn't tried to pull the plug on this meeting.

"I shall inquire if O'Neill wishes for anything before Minucos arrives. He can inform me of his strategy."

Sam nodded. The thought that Jack might be planning a particular strategy hadn't really occurred to her. She had been so anxious regarding her feelings on him facing the shooter, and what would come of it, she had forgotten her husband was a fine military strategist and had disregarded more tactics than she would ever learn.

**********

Jack looked up as the door opened and he offered Teal'c a tight smile. Although he was genuinely pleased to see his friend and the feeling that the cavalry had arrived was comforting, he couldn't help the sudden nervousness his appearance wrought.

It was hard to admit, even to himself, that the anxiety went way beyond adrenalin nerves. A mission always made him nervous, good nervous - that kept him alive, gave him an edge - but the gut churning, sickening waves that were rising steadfastly, they were different. He'd never felt so bare, so laid out and helpless ... so vulnerable before, not even as a captive of the Goa'uld.

For the first time ever he could remember in his adult life, he was totally reliant on someone for protection. Jack didn't like it. The gradual helplessness he had been feeling since awakening suddenly steamrolled him.

Sweat beaded on his forehead and his back was damp against the pillows. He swallowed harshly, trying to discretely wipe his palms on the sheets. Looking down at his hands, he saw the fine tremble that had troubled him had not lessened. His gaze wandered of its own accord down the limbs that lay stretched out uselessly - his legs - his useless legs that were attached to his worthless hide. He wanted badly to curl up and hide - stuff the Air Force, stuff Homeworld Security - he'd had enough!

"O'Neill?"

The Jaffa's deep voice broke into his thoughts and he started a little, giving his friend a mute apology.

"Shall I remain for the full interview?"

Jack cleared his throat. He was worried it would be only a squeak, but he found his voice didn't sound too bad. "Uh, yeah, please. It's a ..." He coughed and cleared his throat again. "It's kinda weird coming face to face with someone ..."

"Someone who is not an alien, who has attempted to kill you?"

The glint in Teal'c's eyes and the quirk of his lips left Jack in no doubt of the Jaffa's intended humor.

"Well, he wouldn't be the first to have a go, but it's ... well ..." His voice dried. He looked helplessly at his friend.

"The microphones are not yet active O'Neill," prompted Teal'c.

Jack had to smile at that and it helped him find his voice. "To tell the truth T, it's, erm, kinda freaking me out a little."

"That is a normal expectation, O'Neill. Meeting again with Apophis had a similar affect upon me."

"Apophis freaked you out?" His voice was certainly as disbelieving as his mind.

"Indeed."

"Nah, T, you are not going to have me believe that." Jack looked up at his friend. Teal'c had been a huge support, both physically and mentally. That someone like Teal'c had been watching his six over the years was fine, great even, but the insanity of being totally dependent on him for protection gutted him.

"So lying here a useless cripple, begging a nutter to ask him why he just had to have a go at me - of all the fuckin' uniforms he could have picked on - why the hell was it me!"

The anger was surfacing. Jack felt like screaming, wanting to throw something ... anything ... his hands drew up into fists, fists balled as tightly as the knots in his stomach. He badly needed to hit something ... anything ... and he couldn't.

"We are all mortal O'Neill and despite what we are taught regarding certain natural feelings, it does not lessen the man."

Jack's anger abated a little. He looked at Teal'c with renewed interest. "Why the hell does a man like you put up with this crap from me?"

"Despite what you are feeling at this brief moment of your life, you are a fine measure of a man, a great warrior and a true friend. We are friends O'Neill and I would gladly lay my life down for you."

Jack nodded. The moisture he felt pricking at his eyes and the lump that rose in his throat overwhelmed his nerves, his anger. He took a deep breath.

"Backatya T, backatya," he whispered.

**********

Jack felt the light pressure on his shoulder and heard the rumble of Teal'c's voice.

"It is almost time, O'Neill."

Jack was startled to find he'd fallen into a doze. Despite the fact that he felt dismayed by it, he had to admit the nap had helped a little to calm him and although he still didn't really want to face Minucos, he now felt better able.

Teal'c raised the top of the bed and without fuss helped to settle Jack more upright, making certain he was supported and as comfortable as possible. He then passed Jack some juice and pointedly offered him a comb.

Eyeing the comb, Jack allowed his gaze to wander up to Teal'c's covered head. The trilby hid not only Teal'c's hair, but the marking on his forehead.

"You expect my hair to lie down without washing it?"

"I do not, nor does it when washed O'Neill, but I thought you might feel you should at least make some attempt to tame it."

Wordlessly Jack handed Teal'c back the comb. The Jaffa merely shrugged and returned it to his pocket.

There was a light tap at the door and Sam and Daniel entered.

"Hi, how are you feeling?" asked Sam as she moved straight away to the bed and stooped to kiss her husband.

It was so easy to become lost in her sweetness and love and Jack lived for it. He had been so afraid that the hugs and kisses would become a thing of the past, and although this fear had lessened to some extent, it had not been erased completely, so that he cherished every moment.

There was a couple of minutes silence as they continued to kiss, until a hacked cough broke them apart.

"Sorry," said Sam, a slight blush pinking her cheeks.

Jack gave Daniel a mock glare. "Thanks," he growled.

"You're welcome. The erm, visitors, are waiting down the hall."

"And?"

Daniel shrugged, his forehead furrowed with a frown.

"He waits until I am ready." Jack felt that so little was in his control at the moment, he was not ready to concede even a tiny point.

Daniel opened his mouth as if to object, but then nodded, giving Jack a smile. He understood.

Jack took a couple of deep breaths. He felt tired, but that was nothing new. Although the drip had long gone and Jack was accepting his medication orally, Doctor Hill had given him a slightly higher dose than was usual. She had insisted that she would be in the room next door, ready should she be needed and had expressed her concerns against the whole thing quite vocally.

Jack had sarcastically commented that he was surprised she hadn't wanted him wired to a monitor. Doctor Hill had rolled her eyes and spat back that she had certainly given it thought, but the sound equipment could interfere with it or vice versa. That security had negated that idea and overridden her, was also a sore point.

As they both glared at each other, they had literally burst into laughter. He was reminded so much of the piss and vinegar of Janet Fraiser that although it saddened him to remember her loss, he was glad to know people like her still existed.

Jack drew a few more steadying breaths before giving a tight smile. "Okay, it's showtime!"

Teal'c acknowledged his exclamation with a slight bow of his head. Sam and Daniel wished them good luck and Sam bent and gave her husband a final hug, her reluctance to leave him readily apparent.

"Make sure those tapes are rollin' kids."

**********

Teal'c stood with his back against the wall, part way between Jack and the door. He seemed to be at ease, but Jack knew the Jaffa was coiled, ready to move if the need arose.

He felt his heartbeat quicken slightly as the door opened and his assailant was brought forward, cuffed between two officers.

The man, who Jack knew to be in his forties, gazed straight at Jack, the frown that appeared as he entered, rapidly dissolving into a mocking smile.

"You can leave," Jack instructed the two officers.

Clearly they had been briefed and did not query the order. The officer on the left quickly undid the cuff from his wrist and re-fastened it on his prisoner's free wrist, securing his hands together in front of him. The officers both then left the room, quietly closing the door behind them, leaving Minucos standing at the foot of Jack's bed.

"Have a seat." Jack waved at the chair Teal'c had positioned earlier.

Minucos stared at Jack and for a moment, he wasn't sure that the man had heard him.

"Sit," commanded Teal'c firmly, taking a single step toward the man.

Minucos seemed to notice Teal'c for the first time and gave an almost imperceptible nod, before taking the indicated seat. "I asked to see you alone."

"He stays." Jack's tone brooked no argument.

"I can see why you might fear me."

Jack started slightly. "Fear you? Ah, you've got it a little wrong there ... you're in no position to cause me any further harm."

"Am I not?" Minucos smirked and sat further back on the chair. "I must say, General O'Neill that I am surprised you are still here."

"What? You thought you were a better shot huh?"

Minucos shook his head. "Why this charade, General?"

"Charade?" asked Jack, not needing to feign any puzzlement.

Minucos nodded. "They must know by now."

"Know what?"

"Just what you are."

Jack's eyes narrowed slightly. "And just what is it that you think I am?"

Minucos snorted. "Come now, there's no need to keep up this act. Perhaps there are many more of you than I thought ... even you." Minucos directed his gaze to Teal'c, who revealed nothing in the look he returned.

Jack almost choked. If the man knew just how close a real live alien stood to him. "Cut the crap, Minucos."

"I think you are afraid General, afraid of just what I know."

"Well, seeing as what you know is still inside your tiny mind ..."

Minucos's eyes narrowed. "Don't mock me. I know what you are. You think you are so clever. Your cover though is very good. I mean after all, who would have thought the Head of Homeworld Security could be an alien."

"An alien? You think I'm an alien? Is that why you shot me?"

Minucos shrugged.

Jack sighed. The man was way too calm for Jack's liking. At this rate there would be nothing worth recording.

"Look, I hate to disappoint you, but I am not an alien."

"When I first approached you, I thought you were different from the others, that you might just listen."

Jack shrugged. "We always listen. Did it not occur to you that there was just no action to take?"

"Oh, there's a need alright. You and your kind are trying to take over ... enslave us, destroy us ..."

"Is that why you shot me?"

Minucos nodded his head. "You are an alien. I don't know how you persuaded the hospital to keep it quiet."

Jack couldn't help the brief snort of laughter that escaped him. "The hospital keeps what quiet?"

"There are differences, physiological, biological," murmured Minucos. "This is a set up? They know don't they?" Minucos stood up and took a step closer to the bed.

Jack almost flinched at the movement. Almost. He held his breath and glared at Minucos.

Teal'c hadn't moved, didn't need to ... at the moment.

"You should be dead. You were shot through the heart - twice! The post mortem should have revealed you for what you truly are!" spat Minucos.

"You write to me and I don't ignore you and suddenly you decide I'm an alien and try and kill me, why? What sort of fucked up logic is that?" demanded Jack.

"I have proof."

"Yeah ... whatever." Jack responded wearily, trying to sound disinterested.

Minucos took another step closer. Teal'c's massive bulk also took a step, but toward Minucos.

"I have proof to support the rumors."

"What rumors? Rumors of my alien-ness are greatly exaggerated." Jack waved a hand at his legs. "You think if I had some kind of super alien thingy I would be laid here like this? You are way crazier than I thought."

"I am not crazy. I saw you with my own eyes!"

Jack stared at the short, ordinary looking man, wondering exactly what he had, or rather, thought he had, seen. Not that it was a problem either way, but Jack was curious, especially if Minucos thought he had proof...

"What? Did I unzip my skin or something?" joked Jack, trying to draw the man out.

Minucos's eyes narrowed. "Don't mock me. No matter what you do to me, the truth will be heard."

"Perhaps I could have you beamed to another world ... never to be heard of again ..." said Jack sarcastically.

"And I probably wouldn't be the first, would I? How many people have you sent to meet their deaths on your world?"

Jack closed his eyes for a heartbeat. What Minucos was inferring was too close to the real thing that ate at Jack. Good men had died off-world, men had been sent to their death, though not with that intention.

Minucos laughed. "I saw you greeting one of your kind. I saw how he arrived. The rings of light that he appeared from... I saw!"

"Rings of light?" echoed Jack. He was frantically searching his mind for just what Minucos thought he had seen.

"It was easy enough to do. A couple of careful inquiries... I followed you, even took the same plane... I staked out the cabin," bragged Minucos.

The light dawned on Jack. Crap! What Minucos had seen was Harry Maybourne's appearance back on Earth.

"A very convenient location in the middle of nowhere, no questions ... no visitors. How many of your kind have arrived here?"

"Oh, thousands perhaps?" said Jack rolling his eyes.

Minucos raised his chin, meeting Jack's eyes.

"I saw it with my own eyes."

"Of course you did." Jack maintained his sarcastic tone, mindful of the listening devices recording their every word.

"I have proof."

"Yeah, sure." More than anything Jack felt the man had no evidence. If he had Jack felt sure that he wouldn't have resorted to shooting him. "You saw nothing. You have nothing. You don't have what it takes to kill someone - you didn't shoot me," he goaded, trying to get Minucos to actually admit it out loud for the tape.

Minucos pulled at his cuffed wrists, the metal jangling loudly in the room. "I know where your alien heart is and that's where I shot you. You should be dead!"

"How the hell do you even know where my heart is if I'm an alien?"

Minucos stood stock still. "Ah ..." He let out a breath. "He said ..." Minucos hesitated.

"What?" Jack's ears pricked up. "Who said?"

The other man shrugged. "He said ... the alien you beamed down."

"The alien told you were my heart was?" asked Jack incredulously.

"He stood facing you and placed his hand over here." Minucos demonstrated on his own abdomen, just where he had actually shot Jack twice.

Jack's eyes screwed shut at the memory.

Maybourne stood in the little clearing near the cabin after being dropped off from the Tok'ra ship.

"Are you sure you can pull this off, Harry?"

Maybourne tapped the side of his head. "Of course. I've got enough stuff up here to put them away."

"I need you to see this through, no matter what."

"Hand on heart, Jack, hand on heart," responded Maybourne, placing his closed fist over the aforementioned organ.

The fact that Harry missed his heart by a good few inches wasn't lost on Jack...


**********

Jack felt a sudden wave of weariness pass over him. It was all a stupid mistake - his career and any chance of helping to defend Earth had been ruined, not by a Goa'uld or some other alien race, but by a crazy man here on his own planet. It was just so damned pointless!

"Get him out of here," he spat.

Teal'c acknowledge Jack's order with a quick incline of his head and moved silently, his massive arms encircling Minucos, scooping him toward the door which opened to show the officers ready to take charge of the prisoner.

Jack felt confident that anything further Minucos said could be dismissed as the ravings of a madman ... and he had now fully admitted attempted murder.

Within a few seconds the room was empty. Jack sighed heavily and collapsed against his pillows. God - who would have thought he could owe his life to Harry Maybourne - in more ways than one! That he was here alive was a plus ... that the bullets had crippled him, instead of killing him... Jack felt sick. His head swan. To think the nutter had believed Maybourne's stupid little joke - hand on heart - yeah, right!

He became dimly aware of people entering the room. The quiet murmurings showed it was more than one person, but he didn't have the energy to open his eyes. Fingers brushed softly at his forehead and a few comforting words were all he could distinguish as he felt the prick of a needle in his arm.

The telltale signs of a sleep inducing drug were soon cascading welcomingly through his veins and he gave into the languid lull and flowed with the restful tide.

**********

"We'll move him back to his room while he's out, then he can wake in his own time. This has certainly placed a great deal of strain on him that he just doesn't need right now." Doctor Hill made no bones about how she had objected to all this, but it was her patient's best interest she had at heart.

"It's over now," said Daniel. "We can put the shooting behind us."

Sam sighed heavily, clearly in agreement, as she stroked her fingers through her husband's hair. "Thank God."

Doctor Hill could admit to that at least, if somewhat grudgingly. "I suppose."

**********

Officer Jolen, his partner Dow, and the two men who had escorted Minucos to the hospital, positioned themselves outside the General's room as soon as they heard the General's instructions to remove Minucos. Doctor Hill and Mrs O'Neill, along with Doctor Jackson, had not been far behind them and as Jolen watched Minucos being manhandled toward them by the General's `aide', both women and the man, had rushed past into the room.

Minucos glared at their backs as he was cuffed between the two men escorting him. "He's not what you think!" he exclaimed. "You are all part of this aren't you?"

"Save it for the judge," growled Dow.

"Hold him there, I won't be a moment, need to check when I can speak to General O'Neill," instructed Jolen.

He was aware of the man mountain, the General's aide, close on his heels as he tapped briskly on the General's room door before he entered.

Neither of the women seemed to take any notice of him until he spoke, but Doctor Jackson was watching him carefully.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," he began, then broke off as he caught sight of just how ill the General looked.

"I've had to sedate him, I'm afraid," warned the Doctor.

"Is he okay?" Jolen's concern was genuine, and it must have reflected in his voice, as it earned him a gentle smile from Mrs ... Colonel O'Neill.

"This is all too much you know. It's really not what he needs at the moment. He has a long way to go before he heals from the injuries, let alone coping with the effects of the long term damage," complained Doctor Hill.

"I'm sorry, but it was necessary," he apologized, not surprised to find that he really meant that. He'd had to investigate a little of the General's history, his service records, and although much of it was classified way beyond his clearance, he found he admired the man's integrity and continued service to his country. He'd read the citations and seen the honors and medals the General had earned during his service and it angered him that someone like Minucos had ruined not only the man's career, but in all probability, his life. It wasn't often, especially in his line of work, that you got to meet a real life hero, the genuine article...

"I would like to get the General settled back into his room as quickly as I can, whilst he's out of it, if you could assist? I would rather not have to wait until the orderlies are allowed back in," asked Doctor Hill, breaking into his thoughts and giving him a somewhat irritated glare as if he was solely responsible for the security clamp down.

"Certainly."

The General's aide, and, if he remembered rightly, former team member and friend of the General, helped him to maneuver the foot of the bed carefully out of the room. Doctor Jackson guided the bed from behind with the General's wife, Doctor Hill maintained her step beside the bed, a watchful eye on her patient.

As he drew level with Minucos, who had been pushed firmly against the wall, the man pulled against his restraints.

"He's faking it!" he yelled, his sudden movement forward throwing his captors off balance.

"You're all aliens, you're all trying to take us ..."

Minucos's words were abruptly choked off as Jolen released his hold on the bed, threw his forearm up and smashed it against the man's throat, pushing him back against the wall.

"You stupid bastard!" he spat, the rage boiling his blood. "You've ruined a great man's career, his whole life, you no good ..." The red mist of anger that rose inside him wanted to choke the life out of the lunatic and he pushed harder.

Minucos gave a strangled cry, his breath a choked gurgle.

The large firm hand that clasped Jolen's shoulder had little effect on him, however the quiet deeply timbered voice that spoke close to his ear was able to penetrate his rage.

"You must not. It is not your place to avenge O'Neill. Justice will be done."

Breathing harshly, he pushed harder then withdrew his arm suddenly.

Minucos slumped a little, his cuffed hands clawing at his throat as he drew a wretched breath, his face quite red.

Jolen stood back, shocked at his own actions. He glanced at the faces of his colleagues to find their expressions carefully neutral, and he knew that each of them would have liked nothing better than to do the same.

Quickly the officers gathered themselves together and drew the coughing prisoner none too gently down the corridor, retiring to the private waiting room for the time being.

Jolen drew a few deep breaths and turned to face the General's people. "Sorry," he muttered.

Doctor Hill glared at him before casting a concerned look down to her patient, however he got the feeling that what he had done hadn't sat completely on the wrong side of her.

Mrs O'Neill's attention was also on her husband. It was Doctor Jackson who gave him a brief tight smile and a nod.

As they moved on, he could have sworn he heard the doctor's hissed whisper...

"You should have let him finish him!"

Jolen shook his head, wondering at it always being the quiet ones that surprised you.

As he watched the General safely returned to his old room he made the man a silent promise that every single `t' would be crossed and every `i' would be dotted in this case. Yes, justice would be done.

**********

Jack in fact, stayed asleep for several hours. Teal'c elected himself to remain on watch while Daniel persuaded Sam to go and get some much needed rest, the impending visit from Minucos having ensured no-one had slept much the previous evening.

As Jack began to stir softly, Teal'c moved his chair slightly away from the bed. He did not want to startle O'Neill with his presence.

A sudden movement at the end of the bed caught Teal'c's eye and he stared disbelievingly for a moment.

There it was again.

O'Neill's foot had moved twice!

The flicker of movement held Teal'c's attention and he waited, unconsciously holding his breath, for more.

Disappointingly nothing happened further.

**********

Teal'c was so preoccupied with watching for further movement, he didn't notice that O'Neill was finally awakened until the hoarse voice startled him.

"Teal'c?"

It took not just a little effort for him to refocus his attention and he managed to face O'Neill.

"Are you okay T?" whispered Jack, giving his friend a puzzled stare.

"I am fine O'Neill." Teal'c decided against saying anything about the movement he thought - no - he had seen! "I was a little distracted, I am sorry. How are you feeling, should I fetch the good doctor?"

Jack shrugged. "There's a bad doctor too?" he asked.

Teal'c leaned a little closer to the bed. "I did not mean to ..." He broke off and nodded, smiling. "You did that on purpose O'Neill."

Jack nodded back. "Darn right."

"Touche." Teal'c acknowledged him with a bow of his head.

Jack took a moment to glance around the room, seemingly satisfied he was back in his old one. "Where's Sam?"

Although Teal'c knew O'Neill meant to sound casual, there was a wealth of emotion in that simple question, so Teal'c did not hesitate to answer.

"Daniel Jackson persuaded her to rest. You were not expected to awaken so soon. I shall have her summoned."

He began to rise, only to have Jack lift a hand, stopping him.

"No, leave her. She needs it."

"Indeed." Teal'c sat back down. "As you wish, O'Neill."

**********

Jack nodded. His eyes were already beginning to close again. Not just the meeting, but the stress of the whole situation had drained what little energy he had managed to summon up. He felt quite disoriented and although he knew it was caused by whatever the doctor had slipped him, it was still very disconcerting. He tried to fight the sleep that was calling him, puzzled by Teal'c's preoccupation.

"Something wrong?" he whispered again.

"No, O'Neill, everything is alright, please, rest. Samantha will be beside you before you should know it."

Jack's eyes flickered open. He couldn't help the look of surprise on his face. "You called her Samantha!"

"Is that not her name, O'Neill?"

Jack peered up at the large man, searching his face for ... for what - well, he wasn't sure actually. "Try saying Jack."

"That is your name, O'Neill," deadpanned Teal'c.

"Oy ..." Distraction technique - he knew that, quite a hobby of his in fact ... and it seemed Teal'c had learned from him.

"Sleep well, O'Neill."

"You ... wait," whispered Jack, fast losing the will to stay awake.

"I will indeed."

"Darn ... it ..."

**********

Teal'c looked down in satisfaction that his friend had succumbed to what he needed most at the moment. Turning the tide on O'Neill diversionary tactics had wrought him immense satisfaction also.

For a man of action Teal'c had remarkable patience ... but he was itching, as the Tau'ri called it, to go and tell someone - anyone - what he had seen. He wasn't sure if it was something good, or in fact, was just something that could be expected occasionally. However, he was certain that no one had mentioned the possibility to him. He wasn't quite sure why he had not shared it with O'Neill, but his instinct told him to speak to the doctor first.

**********

Teal'c didn't have to wait too long, just short of an hour, before Doctor Hill returned. He let her check out her sleeping patient before quietly asking if he might speak with her alone.

After taking a last look at her patient she joined Teal'c outside the room.

"Do you want to go somewhere private?" she asked.

Teal'c checked the corridor and inclined his head in a polite bow. "There is no one to disturb us here, but thank you. I have a question. Is it possible for O'Neill to have unconscious movement in his legs?"

Doctor Hill regarded him for a moment, cocking her head to one side as she took in his words. "Did you see movement?" she asked at last.

Teal'c nodded as well as giving her an affirmative vocally.

"Was he awake?"

"No. It was just before he did awaken though. It was not much, but I saw his foot move - twice."

Doctor Hill sighed. "Are you sure? It is easy to imagine movement, especially when you want to see it, on the other hand it could be just a natural fall of the limb due to his body placement."

"It was neither."

Teal'c's firm response seemed to give the doctor food for thought as she gazed back at him earnestly.

"I see. I think we should have a little chat with Mrs O'Neill. Although I have discussed this with them both to some extent, it is hard to take in a lot of information when you feel the bottom has dropped out of your world. However, given what you have seen, I think she certainly needs to be aware of it and how to handle it, in fact I think you and the General's other friends need to hear it as well. I'll take a little time and do some further tests, and perhaps you can find out when Mrs O'Neill is expected to return so that we can arrange a meeting."

**********

Sam thought her heart had stopped when she was accosted by the head nurse as she and Daniel returned to the hospital, and when an inquisitive General Hammond arrived, saying that Teal'c had called him, she swayed on her feet.

As Sam's face changed color, the nurse gave a hurried apology and was quick to reassure them that nothing was wrong, merely that Doctor Hill wanted to speak to them together.

"O'Neill is sleeping."

Teal'c's voice came from behind them, making them turn.

"I apologize for alarming you. It was not my intention." Teal'c gave Sam a short bow, his hand over his heart.

Sam let out a breath she wasn't even aware she'd been holding. "I ... it didn't cross my mind anything was wrong when I spoke to you ... sorry it was just ..." Her gaze wandered back to the nurse, who once again gave her an apologetic smile.

Teal'c led the way to the relatives' room and before anyone could inquire further what was going on, Doctor Hill arrived.

"Good, you're all here." The doctor bestowed a brief smile on them before perching, as was her usual custom on the coffee table. "I just want to go over some details regarding the General's situation. Mr. Murray here," she gave Teal'c a nod, "witnessed some slight movement from one of the General's feet whilst he was asleep ..."

There was a murmur of surprise from everyone and Sam's expression of dread changed to anticipation as she sat further forward on her seat.

Doctor Hill held up her hand to quiet them, turning to concentrate her attention on Sam. "I know that I spoke to you and your husband about SCI and some of what to expect, but I think it's important that you and your friends appreciate just what the situation is." Her gaze shifted to take in the others, as if wanting to be sure of their attention. "The severity of the original injury determines whether or not any recovery may occur. Unfortunately, there is no test available at this time to measure this severity."

Daniel shifted in his seat, but she gave him no chance to speak, continuing with her explanation.

"As I explained earlier, some incomplete injuries have a chance of further recovery whereas complete injuries have none, but even with incomplete injuries there is no guarantee that any further recovery will occur. Most of the recovery that will occur starts early - within the first few weeks. Therefore, each day that goes by without any return of function means that the chance for recovery is less."

Sam found herself mentally tallying up just how long it had been since Jack was shot, wondering how each passing day affected his chance of recovery. Or should she be working out only the days since his disastrous fall on the stairs? She didn't know, all she did know for sure was that the word 'recovery' seemed to be echoing constantly in her head. She was concentrating so hard on trying to understand what the doctor had just said that Teal'c's voice startled her.

"Perhaps it will spur O'Neill on in his attempt to regain the use of his legs."

Sam felt like cheering, but her elation that someone had actually spoken her hopes out loud was cut short by Doctor Hill's next words.

"What Mr Murray here has seen can certainly be a sign of some sensation returning, but no amount of hard work will make the nerves return. If hard work was all it took, very few people would end up with permanent paralysis. I'm afraid that whether or not General O'Neill had surgery and whether or not he works hard in his therapy sessions are not what will determine how much recovery he will have. These things are done for other reasons - and in the General's case, surgery was a necessity."

She leaned forward and Sam echoed her movement, not wanting to miss a word of what the doctor was saying. A hand patted her briefly on the knee and she gave General Hammond a quick smile, before returning her full attention to the doctor.

"What you, and the General, must understand is that the purpose of rehabilitation is to improve function in self-care activities such as dressing, transfers and using the wheelchair, using whatever physical ability the patient has. Since most recovery that will occur tends to start within the first few weeks after injury and by coincidence this is usually the same time therapy is being done, there is a tendency to think the recovery is due to the therapy. It should be clearly understood that the therapy did not cause the recovery. Just because one nerve cell recovers does not mean that others will. Patients often get very excited when they see some small improvement in sensation or increase in strength, but only time will tell if anything else will come back."

"Is there any way you can tell if Jack will be able to walk again? Any test you can do?"

Sam held her breath, waiting for the doctor to answer Daniel's question, but released it when Hill shook her head.

"I'm sorry, but no physician knows how much recovery will occur in a specific individual and there is no test currently available that will enable us to give an accurate prediction. Only time will tell. The best that can be done is to make an educated guess based on what has happened in the past to others with similar neurological findings at the same time since onset of the injury."

She paused again, and when she resumed, her voice was firm, as if she was trying to impress on them the gravity of her next words.

"It is very important that General O'Neill is encouraged to undergo therapy and rehabilitation and this movement might just give him the illusion that it isn't necessary and a full recovery is just around the corner. But rehabilitation, to learn to be as functionally independent as possible and to prevent complications, offers the best opportunity to take advantage of any return of function, if and when it should happen."

Doctor Hill's sharp eyes passed over each of them in turn. "I know that the General is optimistic of a full recovery and although I won't dash his hopes completely - there is no absolute answer. He will need the support and encouragement of you all to continue to work toward adapting as a paraplegic."

Sam shut her eyes at the words, the uncertainty of the situation, combined with the reality of just what the future might hold for her husband finally hitting home. She could only imagine how Jack would take the speech Doctor Hill had just given them. To be told he might, just might walk again, or might only get some sensation back, or even none at all - that there was no way to tell... She didn't know what to think or say, so she stayed silent, letting her friends' voices just wash over her.

**********

Sam sat staring at the foot of the bed. She didn't want to, but she couldn't help it.

She couldn't deny that she still had hopes, deep down inside she still hoped that she would get her Jack back. What stopped her being positive out loud was fear. It was the inherent dread that if she encouraged Jack in his belief that he would walk again, that if there was no improvement, he would sink into that black hole that was just waiting to ensnare him, and blame her for getting his hopes up. She didn't care if he could prove her wrong, that didn't matter, in fact she hoped he would - it only mattered if she let him down. If he focused on cajoling her along, then perhaps it would stop him dwelling himself... Argh! Sam's thoughts circled like a vulture around carrion ... mostly bleak, but with wanting and waiting...

She stood abruptly and paced across the small space. The mass of well wishers' cards had overtaken the room - Teal'c had arranged most of them, to great effect, along the walls, quite fascinated with the tacky balls he'd used to stick them, much to Jack's amusement, and if she admitted it, hers too.

Her attention was so caught by the colorful display that a sudden cough from the bed made her jump.

"Watchya doin?"

Sam turned and smiled at the bed's occupant.

"Just checking out the latest admirers." Sam nodded toward the cards on the wall.

Jack cleared his throat a little, his voice was low and a little hoarse. "God, I hope not - some of them are from guys, you know."

"Good taste isn't exclusively gender driven, you know." Sam couldn't resist winding him up and she moved close to him, brushing at the hair on his forehead. "You need a haircut," she said absently as she sat down.

"Nah, thinking of letting it grow ... always fancied the hippy look."

Sam gave him an `are you serious?' look and he grinned at her, giving a slight wiggle of his brows, before a more serious expression crept over his face.

"What time is it? I can't keep track if you let the doc keep stickin' me with stuff."

Sam's face clouded. "You were exhausted. You know you shouldn't have ... but it's done now and Minucos admitted enough to put him away. The officers thought he was a complete wack job, but I must admit I had my heart in my mouth wondering just what he knew."

"Did they question him about whom he thought he saw at the cabin?"

"We haven't had any word yet." Sam shook her head. "Thank god he was a lousy shot." She frowned. "What? Don't tell me he really - oh, Maybourne?"

Jack grinned. "You won't believe what I've got to thank Maybourne for."

Sam cocked her head questioningly, smiling at him as she waited for him to fill her in.

Jack gave her a shit eating grin, "Promise me you won't tell him huh?"

**********

"What the hell is so fascinating on the end of the damn bed?" groused Jack as he watched Sam's gaze slide down there again.

The eyes that met his were laden with remorse.

"What's going on?" he asked, trying to raise himself more upright. He hissed with pain as the fire in his chest burned and he felt a breathless panic beginning to envelop him. He closed his eyes as he fought to bring his breathing back under control, avoiding the concerned look from his wife. He sensed, rather than saw, her reaching for the buzzer to summon assistance and he lifted a hand to stall her. "Don't," he pleaded softly.

It took a few more minutes before he felt able to face the eyes that he knew were watching and the guilt that would be there, thinking she had been the cause of his pain.

"I'm okay," he said finally as he faced them, smiling softly, trying to lighten her load.

"Sure," she whispered, "and Teal'c is an Eskimo."

"Oh? Always wanted to know how they build those igloos, think he'd share?"

The guilt was replaced with a glare and Jack found he preferred the glare any time, and of course, his anti-glare shield was still set on maximum ... ya think!

He gave her a cheeky grin and relaxed back down against the pillows, trying to stifle the yawn that rose.

**********

"Jeez, can't stay awake ... sure there was a game ... later ..." His voice died to a mumble as he drifted to sleep again.

Sam sat back in the chair with a weary sigh.

The `interview' had certainly taken more out of Jack than she cared to admit. It brought home with a bang just how vulnerable he was at the moment ... and the thought of just how precious he was to her was overwhelming.

**********

The door swung open with a loud crash and Sam sat up with a start from the doze she had fallen into.

"Sam!" Daniel's voice was loud and agitated.

"Shsssssssssss," she hissed viciously as a quick glance told her that thankfully the noise hadn't roused Jack from his sleep.

"Sorry," whispered Daniel, just a little shamefaced. He had bundles of newspapers in his hands and was waving them. "Have you seen the headlines?"

Sam shook her head, wondering what disaster had befallen the planet in her time out from the outside world.

Daniel opened the bundles, laying them flat on the wheeled table that stood at the foot of Jack's bed.

"Jack's made front page again. Quote, `Alien in Top Pentagon Position'." Daniel flipped the paper to one side. "'Our Military Run By Aliens'." He shuffled through more. "'Invasion Earth ... top secret plot revealed'."

"Oh, guess it was only a case of when and not if anything got out," commented Sam, one eye on her sleeping husband.

"Yeah, he won't like this. `World security run by Aliens'." Daniel took a breath and flipped over a couple more. "There's a few more like that, plus they've got some personal stuff about Jack in there. You're mentioned too."

"What?" Sam sat up straight. "What the hell are ..."

"Cover up ... Two Star and hugely decorated General Jonathon O'Neill married his former 2IC ... promotion ..." Daniel's voice died and he hurriedly flipped the paper over. "Load of rubbish."

"What did they say?" demanded Sam.

"You know better than to listen to this stuff, Sam," soothed Daniel. "Anyway, the headlines should put anyone but wackos off reading them."

"People will read that stuff, if only out of curiosity. They're not exactly weekly rags you have there, are they?"

Daniel shrugged. "No, guess not, but he is not going to be pleased when he reads these, nor do I imagine will the brass. I just hope it doesn't bring the SGC into the foreground."

Sam glared at him. "Thank you, Daniel."

"Oh, Sam, you know I don't ... I didn't mean it how it sounded. It's bad enough that Homeworld Security is getting the front page, even if it's only what most people will think is fiction, but they're bent on dragging anything related to Jack out it seems."

The man in question stirred softly and Sam held a warning finger to her lips. Daniel shut his open mouth and nodded his acknowledgement.

"Daniel?" muttered Jack as he fought to open his eyes.

"Hey, yes, Jack?"

"Shutupandgoaway."

"Oh, that's nice, I bring you ..." Daniel coughed as he caught Sam shaking her head frantically in his peripheral vision.

Jack's eyes flickered open a little more, the weariness in his voice betraying the effort it took. "Brought coffee?" he asked hopefully, "Proper food?"

Daniel gave him a smile and tried to push the trolley further from the bed.

"Whatyagot?" inquired Jack, straining to see.

"Erm, just ..." Daniel hesitated.

"Daniel?" Jack glared at him.

"Uh, some newspapers." Daniel muttered, giving in.

Sam glared at him and he flinched. "Ouch," he mouthed at her.

"It's hit the news already?" asked Jack.

Sam and Daniel exchanged a look of surprise.

"Well, yes actually."

"Okay, no alien general jokes, please," pleaded Jack. "Oh, crap," he uttered, seemingly as an afterthought.

"What?" asked Sam in concern.

"This means the brass will be hollering again. I've got to get ..." Jack strained to reach out toward the phone.

"Jack," called Sam, more sharply than she intended. "You need rest. Tell me what you need and I'll ..."

"Pass me the phone damn it," Jack snapped as he found it out of his reach.

"No. You are not to be disturbed, doctor's orders, and that works both ways." Sam stood her ground, giving him an all out glare.

Daniel had backed up a little and began to gather up the papers. There was no way he wanted to come between them. Jack, he could cope with mostly, but when Sam rose to the occasion ... he did not want to be caught in the cross fire.

"Leave the papers," barked Jack.

Daniel hesitated.

"Leave them. I need to be up to speed on them and speak to my office," ground out Jack. "There are things that ..."

"You are not in any fit state to ..."

Jack's violent fit of coughing stopped her words and she closed the gap between them.

Daniel winced in concern for his friend as he watched him struggling to regain control of his breathing. The paleness of Jack's face and the slight blue hue around his mouth alarmed him and he debated whether to summon assistance, however it seemed Sam was content to just wait it out. He knew that the coughing fits were aggravated by not only exertion, but stress also. Doctor Hill had warned them this was yet another side effect of his injuries and it was important that he was kept calm and reassured.

The light wheezing of Jack's breathing as he finally settled back was the only sound in the room for a few minutes, his eyes tightly closed as he continued his inner battle.

Sam gathered some wipes from the cabinet beside the bed and gently mopped at his face, uttering a few soothing words.

Daniel felt his breathing timing with the breaths of his friend and he stood frozen for a few minutes, unsure whether to go or stay. It seemed to Daniel, that these coughing bouts were getting more frequent and the wheezing more prolonged ... or was it that each turn of events was laying more stress on Jack? In the end he drew a chair up to the bed and encouraged by Sam's nod, he sat down.

Daniel really thought that Jack had lapsed into sleep, it seemed an age since his face had finally relaxed and his breathing had deepened slightly. Sam had leaned back in her chair and curled her legs beneath her, and was resting. The voice that broke into his thoughts made him jump.

"What was the best headline then?"

"Shit, Jack, don't do that!" he exclaimed.

The flicker of brown beneath the eyelids and the slight tug of a grin at the man's lips betrayed the humor he found in Daniel's flinch.

"Sorry."

"Huh, you are not."

"Am."

"Not."

"Okay ... so what was it?"

Daniel grinned at him. "Okay, I surrender. You want me to read them to you?" Daniel figured that he could skip anything he thought Jack might get annoyed or upset with that way.

Jack seemed to be weighing something up, before he agreed and Daniel eagerly got up. He spread the papers again and leaving them on the table, he read from them where he stood, hoping Jack wouldn't then bother to read through them later.

Daniel got a few of the `Alien' headlines out of the way before Jack asked if they had anything they shouldn't have.

"Are you looking for a leak?" inquired Daniel.

Jack lifted one shoulder in a poor imitation of a shrug. "Minucos has had access to a lawyer, there's a good chance everything he said is on the loose."

"Oh."

"It's an urgent case of damage limitation to the department and preventing further speculation on what we do. If the papers start digging and we don't put this to bed ..."

Daniel nodded. He knew things could escalate and there was nothing like world press involvement to intensify any situation.

Jack yawned. "Sorry."

"Look, seriously Jack, you need to rest. Sam needs to rest. I can get hold of someone for you and they can begin whatever needs to be done, can't he? You'll be no good to anyone if Doctor Hill sedates you again."

Whilst Daniel was speaking, Jack's gaze had wandered over to where Sam was sleeping, her head lolling uncomfortably on her chest. Daniel knew that Jack's concerns were not for himself when he spoke again.

"Okay," he said with a heavy sigh. "Look, take Sam back home - let her get some proper rest, she needs it. I'll be good, I promise."

Daniel regarded Jack seriously for a moment and watched as he sank against the pillows heavily, complete exhaustion lining his features.

Finally he nodded in agreement. "If I find out you did anything except rest there'll be hell to pay."

Jack gave him a weary grin. "Yeahsureyoubetchya, scouts honor."

"I seriously doubt you were a scout."

Jack thought for a moment. "Was," he pouted. "For one day."

"One day? Must be a record, what happened - didn't you like it?"

"Got booted."

Daniel grinned and leant forward, resting his elbows on the table. It wasn't often Jack shared his childhood.

"For what?"

Jack rolled his eyes for a moment. "For conduct unbecoming."

Daniel snorted. "Jack, it was the scouts for God's sake, not the military. What did you do?" His imagination was beginning to work overtime.

"I farted."

Daniel burst out laughing. "Farting? They kicked you out for farting?" he asked incredulously.

Jack nodded. "Yeah, and it is not funny. Mom nearly skinned me alive."

Daniel couldn't help it then, he creased up at the thought of a gangly youth disrupting a meeting farting ... and Jack joined in, though he had to settle for a more gentle laughter.

Sam stirred and her eyes darted suspiciously from one to the other.

"What's going on?"

Daniel straightened a little and swiped at his eyes, trying to stifle the laughter. "Nothing," he choked out.

It took several minutes, with Sam getting more annoyed that they wouldn't let her in on the joke, before Daniel managed to get control. It seemed like an age since he had last laughed like that and he scrunched his eyes trying to remember, then he sobered, realizing the last time he had laughed like that was before the shooting.

**********

Sam was finally persuaded to leave and after having attained Jack's promise to behave at least three more times, she grudgingly grabbed her purse and jacket and walked ahead of Daniel to the door.

She turned as she opened the door and opened her mouth to speak and Daniel gently pushed her forwards.

"Say good night, Jack," he called out.

"Good night, Jack," responded Jack.

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Say good night, Sam."

Sam gave him a grin. "Good night, Sam."

"Oh save me," muttered Daniel as he gave her another push and turned to face the bed, the door handle in his hand. "Night, Jack, remember your promise? Or else!" he warned.

Jack grinned and waved two fingers, so not a scout's salute. Daniel frowned but let it pass as he closed the door behind him with a soft curse.

**********

Jack wasn't sure what disturbed him. Feeling the hairs on his neck rising, he became aware that he wasn't alone. Not that that was something out of the ordinary in hospital, but this was different from the bustling presence of the staff.

He opened his eyes just a fraction, peering from beneath his lids. The room was dim, but not in darkness. He must be dreaming, he thought when he recognized just who was sitting on his bed, the white clad figure startling in the gray light.

"Did you ascend, Harry?"

The white figure started. "What?"

"Ascend ... glowing? As in doing a Daniel?"

"Ascend? Nope!" The man gave a small laugh as he shook his head.

"Smug bastard, how ... Oh never mind, how are you?"

"Good Jack, I'm good. How about you?"

"Never better." He ignored the look that Harry cast him. "How's the evidence building?"

"So so, Jack, doing what you asked."

"So watchyadoing here?"

"Just wanted to check up on you, see how you were doing. I missed you."

"Oh, please," groused Jack. He choked back a spluttered cough, which was a mistake, the flurry of coughing that followed leaving him quite breathless.

Harry waited patiently and when Jack had stilled, silently passed him a glass of water.

Jack took a few sips, glad of the chance to wet his throat and finally passed it back, also without comment.

"So," began Harry.

"Harry," began Jack.

They both stopped speaking and waited. Harry signaled Jack to speak up.

Jack rolled his eyes and sighed. "I heard that an anonymous tip off led to Minucos's arrest."

Harry raised his eyebrows, but didn't respond.

"I err, take it that you had something to do with that?"

Harry shrugged then gave him a huge grin, not one to be modest for long.

Jack grinned back. "Thanks."

"It was nothing."

"Well, yeah, you didn't have to do it."

"Oh, but I did, I wanted to see the bastard locked up. I nearly didn't call it in though ... for two pins I would have plugged him myself."

Jack sniggered. "Didn't know I meant that much to you, Harry," he teased.

"I didn't want to take the chance of him being out there ready to have another go at you. I mean, I would miss you, should something happen to you."

"You're scaring me here, Harry. Am I dying or something?"

Harry snorted. "You had better not now, if you know what's good for you."

Jack yawned hugely. Why the hell he couldn't keep his eyes open he wasn't sure, it was hours since the doc's last happy jab. Maybe he wasn't awake at all and this was all just some weird dream - yeap, that was it.

**********

Harry Maybourne stood and stretched. He watched Jack's face beginning to relax as he slid back to sleep.

It had been a long few days and he was tired himself. Grinning, he reached down to the floor and retrieved the bag he had brought with him.

"I'm sorry about this Jack, I really am." He reached into the bag, his fingers closing around its target and slowly withdrawing it.

He aimed it toward the sleeping man, and inhaled deeply, savoring the moment.

As an idea crossed Harry's mind, he grinned widely and leaned over the sleeping man.

He placed a sound kiss on the general's forehead, wishing to goodness he had that on camera. Jack would be so mad!

He carefully placed the items he had brought on the pillow beside Jack's head where there was no way he would miss them when he woke in the morning.

**********

Jack stirred. He braced himself against the fog in his mind, searching for a distant memory, a dream? What his gaze alighted on dispelled the fog and had he been able, he would have been up and out of the bed with a roar.

He clutched at the flower that lay almost level with his nose, a single yellow rose, its stem devoid of thorns, and let forth a spew of curses. It was no dream he'd had. He was so caught up with the flower that he didn't notice the DVD case at first and when he did his face was a picture.

He lifted the case, the glaring red of the front cover screaming at him.

"Oh for cryin' out loud, Maybourne!" he bellowed, then cracked up laughing. "Should have got the proper version though, Harry, those remakes are never the same."

If anyone had entered then, they would really have thought General O'Neill had lost it completely, as he lay laughing, clutching a yellow rose and a DVD.

**********

Sam's cell blared out from where it lay on the table, making Daniel jump a little, cursing the garish music that littered the quietness of the room. Before he could reach out to pick it up, Sam was there.

She hurriedly snatched the phone up and paled a little as she checked the caller id.

"Hello?"

Daniel sat up straighter as he saw her demeanor and the faint tremble that ran through her.

"Doctor Hill."

He watched as she listened intently and only released the breath he was holding as she did the same.

"Okay, thank goodness, I thought ... yes, no need, honestly. We can be back within the hour. Yes ... well, no actually, I can't ..."

Daniel saw Sam's face fast forwarding through a myriad of emotions and he couldn't keep pace at all with it. He was thankful when Sam ended the call, biting at her lip and obviously troubled as she pocketed her phone.

"Well?" asked Daniel, waiting with almost baited breath.

Sam ran a hand through her hair as she gave him a slightly embarrassed smile. "Uh, sorry, jeez, I must admit that call frightened the life out of me at first. It seems that Jack is inundated with `visitors'." She made the quotes with her fingers around the word she stressed. "The wing has been sealed and Doctor Hill was ordered out after she refused them access."

"Them?"

"Bigwigs wearing lots of shiny stars!" spat Sam, quoting Doctor Hill.

"Oh, but surely ..."

"Oh, they can and they have. We need to get down there."

Daniel nodded in agreement and they hurried to leave.

**********

The hustle and bustle of the nursing staff as they tended to Jack's needs left him feeling exhausted. He loathed each and every second of it. And although he acknowledged that the staff tried to maintain his dignity the best they could, he still felt stripped and demeaned.

He'd been cleaned, fed and watered, taken his meds, given that certain look from the staff when they tut tutted about his temperature - it was only two degrees for cryin' out loud and no doubt the doc would be in soon waving her specially pre-frozen stethoscope about - and his lower limbs manipulated and then maneuvered gently into a new position. He always felt oddly unbalanced as he was repositioned and hated the feeling of inadequacy and insecurity it brought to the surface.

He lay back wearily. The single yellow rose had been placed without comment in the vase at his bedside and he grimaced at it. Thinking of the escapades of its deliverer brought an impromptu smile to his lips. He shook his head and shut his eyes, relishing the quiet moment.

The door opened and he kept his eyes closed, firmly believing that the staff had ratted him out to the doctor. "Oh, for crying out loud, what's a man to do to get some rest around here?"

"You don't stay in hospital to get rest, Jack."

Jack's eyes shot open and he stiffened a little, involuntarily trying to come to attention as he recognized the voice.

"John!"

General John Jumper wore quite a grin as he stepped into the room. He swept a bouquet of flowers from behind his back with a flourish that made Jack break into an equally large grin. It wasn't every day that the Air Force Chief of Staff actually brought flowers - to anyone.

"Whatyaup to, John?"

Jumper gave Jack a wide smile, obviously pleased to see him. "You're looking better than I had hoped for Jack, considering ..."

"Is this a social call?" interrupted Jack, his suspicion worn openly.

"Well, yes and no." General Jumper strolled casually across the room and laid the flowers on the trolley at the bedside. Grabbing a chair, he dragged it a little nearer the bed.

Jack eyed the man steadily. Waiting. He was very familiar with Jumper since his move to DC, and they got on surprisingly well. John had a sense of humor, and although not as dark as Jack's could be at times, it was frighteningly similar. When Jack ruffled things with his outspokenness John was always willing to try and soothe things and had backed Jack up on several occasions. That it always had, so far, turned out to be the right thing, hadn't hurt Jack's career at all.

"Okay, spit it out. You're up to date with Minucos's statement, and I gather there are feathers blowing in the wind, huh?"

John Jumper grinned. "Direct, as usual, Jack." He nodded his head and leaned back in the chair. "How's things?" He redirected the glare that Jack gave him, back.

"Fine. How are you? Now cut to the chase, sir, please?"

John folded his arms across his chest, regarding Jack steadily. "Hayes sends his love."

Jack rolled his eyes. "Oy, another comedian. Yes, he's told me that already, now can we move on?"

Jumper grinned, obviously enjoying winding Jack up, it wasn't often he got the chance.

Jack suddenly choked off a spluttered cough, his arm crossing his chest protectively. Trying to hold off the coughing fit just wasn't an option, the more he tried, the worse it got...

Jumper watched in concern, rising from his chair and hovering over the other man with an expression that under other circumstances, Jack just might have thought funny, but at this moment in time caused him to feel nothing but the livid embarrassment of his predicament.

As Jumper wavered toward the call button, Jack frantically signaled him with his other hand to leave it. He sat back down, reluctantly, but stayed on the edge of his seat, watching intently. It was several minutes before Jack's choking cough died down and with his wheezed breath tried to offer the obviously discomforted general something constructive...

"It only shuts ... me up for a short time ..."

The other man shook his head, the small tug of a smile at his lips, but his concern still expressed in his eyes.

"You okay there, Jack? Are you sure I shouldn't ..."

Jack shook his head. He took a few small breaths, "Good to go," he urged dismissively.

General John Jumper didn't get to his exulted position without being able to take a hint and changed the subject again, to give Jack a little more time to gather his breath.

"Love your guard dog by the way."

At Jack's puzzled expression, he continued to enlighten.

"Uh, Teal'c, isn't it? He kicked off with security. Still going at it hammer and tongs, I think I was lucky to get in here ..."

Jack grinned. "He's faced down major league out there, John, no way is anything on Earth gonna faze that guy."

John Jumper seemed to consider this and nodded enthusiastically. "So have you, Jack. I am sure glad you're both on our side."

Jack nodded in agreement. "I'm sure you are going to tell me just why you are here, soon huh?"

Jumper sat back a little in the chair. "Today is just a social call, Jack."

"Bull."

Jack's blurted response raised both eyebrows on Jumper's face.

For a fraction of a second, Jack wondered whether Jumper would call him on it. He let out a breath when the man settled back further into the seat.

"Look Jack, I admit we thought you were much fitter than this at the moment. You agreed to the Minucos interview and we thought ... should have known, huh? George said you were never one to take things lying ..."

Jumper's expression as he paused showed Jack he'd caught himself in time and was rephrasing it in his mind.

Jumper coughed to clear his throat. "... take the easy way on anything. Let's leave it at a social call for today."

"Don't. You are here now, sir, you might as well get it over with."

"Jack, I really don't think ..."

Jack sighed. "Look, the more you have to buzz in and out of here and upset the hospital, it isn't fair on neither the staff nor the other patients."

The general's expression showed he hadn't even considered that aspect.

Jumper seemed reluctant to continue and he hesitated a little before continuing. "Well, you can at least listen to us, doesn't mean you have to do anything right now."

"Us?"

Jumper nodded and went to the door. He opened it a little and spoke quietly to the guard outside.

"Just the three of us, Jack."

Jack gave him a quirk of his eyebrows. He didn't need to think too hard about who his other visitors were.

In a remarkably short time the door opened and two more uniformed bodies entered.

The first one wore a wide grin, obviously pleased to see Jack.

"Francis," greeted Jack cheerfully.

The second figure was much more formal. "General O'Neill."

"General Vidrine, what a pleasure, sir." Jack could do formal quite well when he chose.

General Francis Maynard offered his hand and shook hands warmly with Jack.

Vidrine contented himself with a nod, obviously wanting to proceed with the briefing. There was no love lost between Jack and Vidrine, although there was perhaps a little grudging respect.

Vidrine opened the folder he carried and rested it on the trolley at the foot of Jack's bed.

"You are probably aware that the press has released some eye catching headlines. We do not want the State Office, or Homeworld Security to come under any further scrutiny, not to mention the Stargate Project itself. Given the attention focused on you at the moment, we think it would be best that Teal'c is returned to the SGC."

Jack's frown deepened. "Returned? He's not lost luggage for cryin' out loud!"

Jumper coughed.

Jack threw him a glare and took a breath, as deep as he could manage, which wasn't much.

Vidrine calmly ignored the issue. "We simply feel it would be for the best and I am sure if you explain it to him ..."

"You explain it to him," said Jack with a sardonic grin. "But, I think it would be better if you just had both Teal'c and Daniel recalled."

"Doctor Jackson is not ..."

"Don't alienate Teal'c. You have them both recalled, or not at all, unless it's genuine."

"General O'Neill, I think you are forgetting ..."

"I think Jack has had enough for the time being," interrupted Maynard, but Jack ignored him.

"Just what is it you want of me?" Jack sighed. He was really tired and the beginnings of a headache were building. He had been glad to see Jumper, but Vidrine just rubbed him entirely the wrong way, and he had yet to find out just what warranted two of the Joint Chiefs and a three star general visiting him.

Jumper gave Vidrine a pointed glare and Vidrine had the grace to look a little discomforted. "Getting straight to the point, we need you to speak to the press."

"Just a written statement?" asked Jack hopefully, knowing at heart that he had no such luck.

Maynard jumped in to the rescue - not. "Just a small conference. Four, perhaps five of the main stream press representatives."

"In my pajamas?" snorted Jack sarcastically.

"Personally, I don't care if you do it butt naked, Jack," said Jumper with a smile. "but, we are trying to downplay the whole alien theme and maintain a low profile."

"We just need you to point the finger at an emotionally disturbed person and show them the result of his actions. We don't want them to sympathize with Minucos," explained Vidrine.

Jack's expression froze. He knew exactly what was being inferred. "Would you like me to perhaps roll around on the floor helplessly?" His voice was barely controlled, teeth clenched tightly as he spoke. His anger betrayed itself as his voice rose. "Maybe give them the whole works huh? General's career shot to pieces! Medical discharge for crippled General!"

Jumper stood quickly, giving Vidrine another glare. "Jack, no ..."

Jack's temper was rising as fast as his temperature. His headache was beyond throbbing, the intense pain sent shooting needles through his skull. Beads of perspiration began to gather on his face and throat and he clenched his trembling hands together.

Vidrine's emotionless voice continued to wash over him. "The papers have put not only Homeworld Security firmly on the map, but have highlighted several points in your career. We need to put a cap on their prying. They've raised a lot of speculation and put you under the spotlight. They've dragged up everything they can, the death of your son, your divorce, your recent marriage ..."

"What?" Jack closed his eyes tightly for a few seconds. He'd had a suspicion that Daniel hadn't told him everything, but he hadn't realized it was so bad. In truth he had felt too tired to call him on it at the time. When his eyes opened again he found the three men were regarding him silently.

The room and its occupants began to fade out a little from his vision and the buzzing in his ears rose in volume.

"Jack?" he could hear the concern in the voice, but for the life of him he couldn't respond.

**********

Teal'c was indeed with security ... right outside the double doors leading to Jack's room. Two uniformed guards and two plain clothes security men were barring his way.

As they approached, Daniel could see by the rigid way Teal'c was standing that his hackles were certainly up by the latest turn of events.

"I state again that I do not wish to enter, but it is of great importance that you let General O'Neill's doctor in."

The Jaffa's voice sounded careful and relatively calm to anyone who didn't know him, but to someone like Daniel, dangerously angry would be the term that should be applied. As Sam and Daniel came to a halt on one side of him and Doctor Hill on the other, Teal'c acknowledged their presence with a slight incline of his head.

"I am yet to procure your entrance." Teal'c addressed the doctor, his regret broadcast in his eyes.

Doctor Hill bristled with anger and addressed the security herself. "Young man, General O'Neill requires the utmost attention in his care. I should have been to see him some time ago, this is ..."

"I'm sorry ma'am, as soon as we have clearance, but until then no-one is to enter," cut in one of the guards.

Daniel could see Teal'c drawing himself up to his full height, his chest expanding, and he put a warning hand onto his friend's shoulder. "This is General O'Neill's wife and this," he leaned forward to indicate Hill, "is his doctor. The General is not a well man and I am sure that by keeping his doctor out you are ..."

"Daniel," began Sam.

Daniel cleared his throat and shook his head at her before continuing. "The press would obviously find it of huge interest that a sick man is denied ..."

The sound of raised voices behind the double doors silenced him as, within seconds, they were pulled open, the guards turning to see what was happening. "Get the general's doctor ... get any doctor!"

Before the guards could react Teal'c took advantage of their distraction and plowed a path through them, Doctor Hill hanging onto his jacket and going with him. He pushed past the two uniformed figures who partially blocked the doorway into Jack's room. Doctor Hill uttered an expletive and dashed forwards. "Get everyone out," she called, not sparing a glance to anyone.

The guards recovered a little and made to block Sam and Daniel as they went to follow, before the man who had shouted for a doctor called out. "Let them through!"

Daniel uttered a tight, "thank you," as he motioned Sam to go first. He managed to step neatly to one side once inside the room, pulling a somewhat dazed Sam with him. As much as he wanted to see what was going on, commonsense held him out of the way.

It was only a couple more minutes before two nurses joined them, wheeling in a cart. For a few minutes every eye in the room was fixed on the bed as Doctor Hill quickly began to check Jack over. The raw hacking cough seemed worse than ever and the Doctor's voice dropped to a low murmuring, offering words of advice and comfort to the sick man as she placed an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth.

Daniel winced as he saw Jack's arm cradle his chest, his fingers clenched into a fist, obviously in pain as the prolonged hacking bled the much needed air from his already depleted lungs.

It was Jumper who broke the silence. "I'm sorry ..." he began.

"Indeed you should be." Teal'c advanced on the General, his eyes dark and his expression reminding Daniel so much of when the Jaffa had served under Apophis that it alarmed him.

Vidrine stepped into the fray. "You ..."

Teal'c lifted his hand, barring any further progress by pressing against Vidrine's chest in an aggressive manner. "O'Neill requires much healing. He should not be subjected to your presence."

"Now hold on ..." Maynard spoke up.

"I will not hold, nor do I have anything to hold onto, unless it should be my hands around your neck."

Daniel did a double take. He'd rarely seen his friend so worked up, and certainly not against one of their own. He glanced over at Sam, seeing she was intent on what was happening with Jack, and he realized with a jolt that it was up to him to step in - and quickly.

"Teal'c." Daniel moved closer to him, his voice quietly demanding attention.

"They have caused much upset and O'Neill is not well enough for their jackass activities."

`Oh, boy. Jackass?' Daniel silently berated the injured man for passing on the vast wealth of colloquiums he had collected.

The generals were bristling at Teal'c's demeanor but it was clear that discretion was a better part of valor in this situation, and Daniel certainly couldn't blame them ... they had obviously been reading the mission reports and knew that an angry Jaffa was not to be messed with!

"Teal'c, ease up, I'm sure they don't wish to cause any further distress to Jack, or his family." Daniel indicated Sam with a quick flick of his head and he raised his brows, giving Teal'c a meaningful stare.

The Jaffa visibly deflated ... and the anger seemed to dissipate dramatically "O'Neill's physician wishes you to depart and I suggest you do so without further delay." Teal'c's massive arms folded behind his back and he fixed a glare on the three generals that could stop a truck.

Jumper seemed to be the first one to recover. "I had no idea Jack wasn't ... up to this." Jumper turned, more than a little distracted as he watched the activity at the bedside. With an obvious effort, he returned his attention to his colleagues. "I'll - we'll wait for further news down the hall." He looked to Maynard for approval and received a nod of confirmation.

"Please make sure we are kept informed, Doctor Jackson." With those words General Maynard led the way from the room, Jumper and Vidrine closely behind him.

Vidrine turned back to face the room, his hand on the door handle. His attention was held by the activity around Jack's bed for a few seconds, before he muttered a quiet `sorry' and closed the door softly behind himself.

Daniel let out a sigh of relief as the room suddenly seemed a whole lot emptier without the generals' presence. Teal'c positioned himself near the door, his back to it, and fixed his attention on the bed, pointedly ignoring Daniel's inquisitive stare.

Daniel shook his head, allowing himself to focus on Jack.

**********

Doctor Hill began preparing some syringes while issuing instructions to her staff to set up fluids.

"Doctor?" asked Mrs O'Neill as she stepped closer to the bed.

Hill spared her a brief look of sympathy, but that was all, before she turned her full attention to her patient. "What is it about everybody out that no one seems to understand?" she muttered under her breath. However for the moment the General needed her full attention. A temperature that was rising rapidly and a drastic drop in blood pressure were ringing bells - alarm bells. The flicker of movement from his lids and the tightly fisted hand across his chest betrayed the fact that he was still conscious, if only just.

"General O'Neill, can you hear me?" She grasped his other hand and squeezed it, none too gently. "General, are you in pain? Can you tell me where it hurts?"

His fisted hand moved up to his face. "No you don't," chastised the doctor as she stopped him from grasping the mask. "General O'Neill ... Jack, come on, talk to me," she urged.

"Gwy ..." he mumbled. His breathing was speeding up and he coughed and then retched.

The faint, but unmistakable, splatter of blood tainted the inside of the mask and Jack's right shoulder bucked as he twisted, trying to get up, his eyes widening, a panicked expression on his face as he struggled for breath while the warm blood choked his airway.

"Oh God," whispered Sam harshly, her feet automatically taking her closer to the bed.

The nurse closest to her shook her head warningly and waved her back.

"I need him raised," said Doctor Hill. Both nurses assumed the position, and gently but firmly, got Jack sitting up, holding him steady. He slumped forward against their hands, groaning in pain, his breath coming in short gasping heaves.

Hill used her stethoscope to listen to his chest and back. "Try a deeper breath Jack, please," she urged as she listened.

**********

Daniel watched as Jack continued to gasp, his face plainly showing the effort he was making to do as the Doctor requested. Whether or not he was finally able to comply, Daniel couldn't tell, but it seemed an age before the Doctor gave a signal and he was released gently back onto his pillows.

"What's wrong?" asked Sam.

"I need to examine the General further," responded the Doctor and she gave them a pointed look. "If you would all wait outside?"

Daniel caught hold of Sam by her arm and gave her a gentle tug. She seemed quite dazed by the latest turn of events, and who could blame her?

"Come on," he urged quietly.

Sam allowed herself to be led out, Teal'c close on their heels.

**********

Doctor Hill was very thorough in her examination and although she withdrew blood samples for testing, she knew exactly what the problem was...

**********

Sam's white face and unsteady gait galvanized Daniel and Teal'c into action and they quickly ushered her down to the relatives' room they had been given. For a split second Daniel wondered if the generals were there, and gave a sigh of relief as the room revealed no one.

Sam's reserves crumbled as they hit the privacy of the room and Daniel found himself holding her as fresh tears wracked her frame. He felt close to tears himself, the churning void inside caused by Jack's sudden downturn leaving him feeling more than a little vulnerable.

"I am sorry," said Teal'c quietly.

Daniel continued to hold Sam. For a moment he failed to fathom what Teal'c was apologizing for. "Ah, um, yes ..." He took a deep breath and shook his head a little before realizing what his friend meant. "Oh ..." He shrugged helplessly. He just hoped there wouldn't be any repercussions - after all, threatening the life of any general was bad enough, but Teal'c couldn't have picked any worse, except maybe the President himself, than these three. They were all well aware, despite the Jaffa's admirable loyalty, that the most avid champion of his continued freedom whilst on Earth was a very sick man and it wouldn't take much for the goodwill that was grudgingly given to be withdrawn.

It took a while for Sam to compose herself. "Just when you think you've hit rock bottom ..." she whispered.

"A third party then enters into the equation and removes the floor to reveal yet another drop."

Sam and Daniel both looked at Teal'c with mouths slightly agape, before exchanging a look with each other and then bursting into laughter.

"Oh God, Teal'c, I should never cease to be amazed by you," said Sam.

"Heaven forbid," added Daniel. "I just can't work out though, if you have always had this evil sense of humor, or if you actually did sort of pick it up from a certain someone."

"I have learned many things in my time with the Tau'ri, Daniel Jackson and I have learned never to reveal my source." Teal'c's expression could be described as a smirk, for those that knew him well enough.

**********

The minutes ticked by slowly and it was almost an hour before Doctor Hill came to see them.

"He's resting for the moment. I'm afraid he's got pneumonia."

"How?" asked Daniel, feeling stupid even as he uttered the words. "I mean, he was fine ..." He broke off as he remembered the coughing that had been getting worse. Shit, he knew he should have ... he looked to Sam and found she had the same expression on her face as he knew he had. "The coughing, was that a sign that ..."

"Coughing?" asked Doctor Hill.

"Damn, I knew ..." cried Sam. "Oh God, he ... Jack seemed to be coughing a lot, but he told me it was because he couldn't use his ... that he couldn't take a deep enough breath ..." She broke off, her expression wretched.

Doctor Hill nodded. "If he tries to exert himself or forgets his breathing has altered, then yes, that would lead to him coughing, because he can't use his lungs to their normal capacity, that and the rib injuries. There was a danger in the fluid building up ... but I wasn't aware that General O'Neill was having any further difficulties."

Sam and Daniel looked aghast. Their expressions seemed to reveal all to the Doctor.

"It looks like I should just ignore my patient's revelations of how he feels in future, doesn't it?" Hill smiled. "Pneumonia can settle in very, very quickly, coming from nowhere to a full blown attack in very little time, especially as his system is straining to cope as it is. Some of his symptoms, the General could have, and obviously did, confuse them as part of his injuries. His temperature had only been raised by one degree since the interview with ..." Doctor Hill broke off shaking her head. "However, this morning my staff reported two degrees and I hadn't been able to get to him. It's now 101 and I don't think that's the end of it. It's a case of whether it's viral or bacterial pneumonia and I have taken sputum and blood samples. As soon as I get the results back I can then prescribe what's necessary. If it's viral, then I'm afraid he has to fight that himself, antibiotics won't help. All in all, he's a very sick man."

**********

Doctor Hill allowed them back into the room for a quick visit, after making them don masks, promising she would go and put those damn men straight on Jack's health herself. She wanted the hospital back to normal for everyone's sake, but most of all she wanted what was best for her patient's well being.

It wasn't long before three very subdued generals skulked back to wherever thoroughly chastised generals go. A nominal security detachment was left behind with full agreement of the doctor, mainly to help keep press and other unwanted visitors away from the wing where General O'Neill was, giving his family and friends some protection as well.

Doctor Hill rubbed her hands together as she walked back to General O'Neill's room. There were days when she loved her work ... and barking at those officious men was one of them ... however the silence and the pale faces that greeted her as she entered her patient's room were amongst the reasons for the days she loathed...

**********

Sam defied every attempt to get her away from Jack's bedside. In the end they stayed together, keeping on the masks that were insisted on as a precaution, taking turns in helping bathe his face and upper body as his temperature rose to 104, much to everyone's alarm and despite the best efforts of the nursing staff.

They could only watch helplessly as Jack's body was wrought by shaking chills and the choking cough that creased him with pain. Doctor Hill changed the oxygen mask for a nasal cannula because of the amount of the thick and bloody mucus that threatened to choke him as he coughed. Sam repeatedly and deftly used the suction tube to help remove some of the sputum from his mouth and wiped his face down.

Occasionally his eyes would flicker open, regarding them through a haze of fever, no sign of recognition from them, before they slammed shut with the pain as he drew a rattled breath that turned into a choking spasm of coughing.

It seemed to take forever to get the results of the tests and it was a relief when they witnessed the first of many of the bags of antibiotic fluids that were erected alongside the saline bags.

Teal'c quietly arranged for another bed to be brought into the room and would not take no for an answer when he guided Sam to it and made her lie down. He watched as she lay on her side across the room, her gaze not leaving her husband's restless form and saw her eyes gradually closing, exhausted and unhappy.

Doctor Hill made frequent checks and gave the men a brief smile when she saw that they had at least made Mrs O'Neill rest, before donning her mask,

She straightened up with difficulty after checking her patient, obviously exhausted herself, taking the mask from her face as she moved away from the bed. "His temperature hasn't risen since the last check. We should see it begin to come down in the next few hours."

"We still have to wear these?" asked Daniel, indicating the mask.

"I know they're a bit annoying to say the least, but although there's only a small chance of infection with the droplets, it's certainly the last thing any of you need now. Our immune systems seems to take a beating when the body is placed under stress and it's better to be safe than sorry," explained the Doctor apologetically.

Daniel sighed and nodded. If Teal'c with his ox-like constitution could put up with it, then so could he.

**********

They'd changed places quite a few times over the next seventy-two hours, only leaving to eat and shower.

Much to Sam's chagrin when she found out, Daniel was the first to be rewarded by Jack's first lucid moment. He'd changed the water in the bowl and grabbed a new wipe as he sat down, to find Jack's dark eyes watching him intently.

Forgetting he wasn't supposed to, he pulled his mask down to speak. "Hi."

Jack blinked and croaked a response; at least Daniel thought it was a response, not just a groan.

"It's okay, Jack, just take it easy. You've been, erm, a little out of it, but it's going to be okay." Daniel reached for the buzzer as he spoke, his attention on Jack, watching him closely.

Jack groaned and shifted his head a little, blinking rapidly in the soft light.

"Headache?" guessed Daniel. He brought the cool fresh wipe to Jack's forehead and bathed it gently.

"Anks," croaked Jack.

Daniel smiled and nodded. "You're welcome. Sam won't be long. She'll be really annoyed you woke just when she went to shower and change. Oh, and you just missed General Hammond."

Jack blinked again. His eyelids began to droop, fatigue and pain engraved deeply in his face. He was once more drifting on the troubled seas when Doctor Hill entered the room...

**********

It seemed to Jack that every time he opened his eyes, at least every few minutes or so, it was a different person who stared down at him. It was like that game ... pop up people, for cryin' out loud ... were they never still? Sam, Daniel, Teal'c ... jeez they were fast at changing places - George, good old George, yep he kept jumping in too.

He tried to ask why the heck they were wearing those stupid masks, but it seemed to take way too much effort and it only got him nods and smiles - he could tell they were smiling by the way their eyes crinkled - at least he thought that was it - when did crinkles become wrinkles? And just how old was Daniel for cryin' out loud?

**********

God he ached. It seemed every bit of his body ached - no strike that - it seemed that everything he could feel ached - what he wouldn't give for everything down there to ache too.

He'd forgotten at first, forgotten that he couldn't move anything down there and he'd panicked a bit until he remembered. But, with the remembrance, the cold sickening panic, the gut screaming emotion engulfed him, squeezing the breath from his heart, threatening to overwhelm him, until he began to fight it again, pushing it away, boxing it down, nailing the lid on that coffin. He was going to make it, he was going to walk again!

**********

"Come on General O'Neill, please." Doctor Hill sighed. She'd been trying for a while to get her patient's attention. "Open your eyes, come on, I know you can hear me."

Jack had rewarded the demands aptly, or so he thought. He opened his eyes when they commanded and gave them his best smile, or at least his next best ... the best was for Sam. So, why were they still demanding stuff?

"G'way," he mumbled, his eyes closing.

"No, come on now, I want you to just follow my finger."

"F'llowturelf," he muttered. Why the hell couldn't they let him sleep? Jeez, it had been a long time since he'd had a good sleep.

The snort of laughter to his left piqued his curiosity and he turned slightly and squinted one eye open, glaring belatedly in that direction, before drifting again.

**********

Daniel shrugged apologetically as Doctor Hill gave him a glare when he snorted with laughter. He couldn't help it. He'd witnessed Jack foiling the medical staff so many times over the years in the infirmary, it seemed like old times.

Jack had sparred with the best - there was no way Doctor Hill was going to get him to respond as she wanted and when she wanted. She was no match for a semi unconscious Jack O'Neill. When the doctors wanted him to sleep, he woke, when they wanted a response, they didn't get it - and when they wanted him to be quiet ... god help them!

Hill sighed and stood upright. "Okay, General, I give up - for now. But you only win this battle. The war isn't over." She smiled grimly down at the sleeping man.

"Anything we can do?" asked Daniel.

"Try and keep him talking when he wakes more, and call me. I know he's exhausted and his body is still craving sleep. Given how high and prolonged his fever was, I just want to double check everything is as it should be - reactions etc."

**********

The buzzing of voices were annoying. They called Jack from his sleep and wouldn't go away, though the words didn't register and make any sense at all in his mind.

He could hear George. At least he thought it was George, but his voice sounded far away, real funny ... tinny almost.

Who the hell was he talking to? Was there a party going on? The voices slowly began to penetrate enough for the words to begin to make sense.

"... is recovering from a set back. Yes it was pneumonia. There was no further attempt made on the General's life."

Pneumonia? Who the hell had had pneumonia? Jeez that could be nasty. He strained to listen, his eyes still closed.

"There was no positive evidence to tie Minucos to the shooting. Is the investigation still on going?"

Now, who the hell was that? Don't know that voice.

"Minucos has been charged with the attempted murder of General O'Neill. A full confession has been recorded and also since then, a full statement has been signed by Minucos."

"Was the shooting in any way connected to the tragic death of the General's son by his own weapon?"


Jack's heart missed a painful beat. The thudding that resumed seemed to pound through his head. He felt the tears slide helplessly down his face and he had no strength to raise his hand to swipe them away.

"The attempted murder was not in any way connected to the General's personal life. Minucos's state of mind was very much a factor in the shooting and ..."

"Has anyone investigated any connection between the General's recent marriage and his relationship with his ex wife?"

"Gentlemen, General O'Neill's personal life is not open for debate. I repeat, it is NOT in any way connected with the shooting."


Sara? What the hell were they playing at?

"It's been rumored that Minucos was hired by the General's ex wife and that the whole alien deal is a cover up for the real reason."

"Leave her alone," he whispered helplessly, his eyes screwed shut.

**********

Daniel jumped, the soft plead from Jack's lips taking him completely by surprise.

"Oh Christ," he moaned and snatched up the remote control. He'd been so engrossed with watching Hammond giving the press conference he'd been coaxed into on behalf of Jack, that it had escaped his attention completely that there could be a chance of Jack waking in the middle of it.

The anger at his stupidity increased as he saw the tears that tracked down Jack's white face, his eyes tightly closed.

Jack had obviously heard some of it, how much he couldn't tell, but he was pretty damn sure it wasn't just the last question that had sparked such grief in his friend.

"Jack, Jack," he pleaded softly, taking his friend's hand in his and squeezing gently, trying to reassure the man. He felt the trembling as he took hold. "Jack, please, come on, talk to me."

Jack's head merely shook slightly in disagreement, his breathing speeding up and the wheezing worsening with each breath.

Daniel used the buzzer to call for assistance, praying that Sam would get back quickly, sure that her presence would help calm Jack down...

**********

"I'll get Doctor Hill."

The nurse had answered Daniel's summons and made a quick appraisal of the patient before hurrying from the room, leaving Daniel hunched over, still holding onto Jack's hand.

"Jack, please, take it easy. It'll be okay." Daniel caught his breath. The press had ripped apart Jack's life with just a few sentences, tearing open old wounds that had never been cauterized fully with the years, casting dark aspersions where there should be none over his new life with Sam. God only knew what Sam would feel like when she heard.

"Sara," whispered Jack, his breath so rasping that Daniel had to struggle to hear.

"She'll be fine, I can call her. I bet she'll think they're off their heads - hiring a hit man - it's ridiculous."

Jack shook his head. "Charlie." The name caught on a sob.

Daniel bowed his head, tightly closing his eyes. The raw pain his friend was suffering drove a stake through his heart. He knew what Jack was saying. Dragging up their dead son wouldn't just be crucifying Jack, but his ex wife as well.

"Jack, please calm down. We can get Sara, talk to her and see she's okay. We should have anticipated this, I'm sorry."

Jack's face seemed to whiten further, the faint blush of blue that had been disappearing made a darker appearance, and the beep from the monitor seemed to be tripping over itself as it sped up.

Daniel didn't hear the doctor enter. She seemed to just suddenly appear at Jack's other side. After making a quick examination, she lowered the head of the bed and prepared a syringe, swiftly injecting it into the IV tube.

It seemed forever, but gradually the beeping slowed and Jack started to relax slightly, his breathing slowing, steadying.

"Sam ..." he slurred.

"Sam won't be long. Promise." Daniel gripped his hand tighter as he spoke, watching his friend finally drift to sleep.

"He'll rest a while. I certainly didn't expect a relapse of this nature," whispered Hill.

Daniel nodded toward the television. "It was my fault. I didn't realize he was listening."

Hill followed his direction and swore softly. "He mustn't be upset like that. I'll get that moved. Damn press, don't they think he'd had enough!"

Daniel raised an eyebrow at the vehemence in the doctor's voice.

"Sorry, I saw the broadcast ... it's bad enough to lose a child under any circumstance. The poor mother and Mrs O'Neill as well ..." Doctor Hill shook her head, clicking her tongue softly. "Minucos was obviously psychotic, surely they appreciated that from what he claimed?"

Doctor Hill watched until she was completely satisfied that Jack was settled. "I'll call Mrs O'Neill. Are you okay to stay here?"

"Yes certainly, thank you." Daniel couldn't help feeling relieved that the doctor would speak to Sam. Right now he felt that he wasn't much use to anyone.

**********

Doctor Hill wasted no time in keeping her word and Daniel was glad to see the TV being wheeled out. As an afterthought he also removed the headphones from the radio and hid them in the closet. He had never been a fan of the press, but right now he hated them with a vengeance.

He picked up a brightly colored DVD from the cabinet top, wondering who on Earth had brought that in. He didn't think Starsky and Hutch was Jack's style ... still, he supposed, it made a change from grapes or flowers. He went back to settle himself in the chair next to his friend, watching him as he slept.

**********

As the minutes past Daniel rose occasionally to snag a fresh wipe which he used to bathe Jack's face. He was becoming agitated again and Daniel knew it was far too soon for another tranquilizer.

He was greatly relieved when Sam came in. Her eyes were puffy and red when she entered, a false smile pinned to her face. "How's he doing?"

"He's very restless." Daniel felt so awkward, the guilt was building and building.

Sam wasted no time in taking a seat at the other side of the bed. She grasped Jack's free hand quickly, her other hand going to his face, stroking it gently.

She looked up and met Daniel's eyes before he could look away. "It wasn't your fault Daniel," she whispered. "I saw the broadcast ... if anyone's to blame it's the press."

"I should have known better ... God, I could ..."

A groan from the bed stopped him in mid sentence. Jack shuddered violently and twisted his upper body, his head thrashed to one side. "Ch ... Ch ..."

Sam looked distraught. "Jack, it's okay, hush honey, it's okay." She raised his hand to her lips, holding it tightly between both of hers.

Jack struggled slightly, pulling at his hand. The hand Daniel held flexed into a fist and Daniel grabbed hold tightly. "Sam," he cried in warning as Jack twisted, his strength taking them by surprise.

Sam moved back a little, but maintained her grip on his hand. "Jack, it's me Sam, please honey ..."

"Char ... Char ..." Jack's lips silently mouthed the completion of his dead son's name.

"Jack." Daniel called more loudly this time, trying to get the semi conscious man's attention, trying to bring him from whatever horrors he was dreaming.

"No, no, no." Jack twisted, his shoulders bucking as he tried to withdraw his hands from their grip. His face was bathed in sweat, his eyes clenched shut.

Daniel gave Sam an anguished look, the mirror of his expression borne by hers. He reached for the call button with one hand to summon assistance.

Jack's eyes opened just a flicker, gasping for air as he twisted, trying desperately to rise.

"Jack, you're in hospital, please honey, stay still, it's okay." Sam tried again to get his attention.

His eyes opened a little more and his gaze flickered over her, his eyes clouded with pain. They lit briefly with recognition. "Sam?" he gasped.

"Yes, I'm here."

Jack's eyes began to close again, the trembling in his upper body building. He groaned and shifted his head, his eyes finding Daniel's, before they rolled back up in his head and he slumped.

"Jack?" Daniel held his breath, watching and listening to the monitor as it supported the evidence to allay their fears.

Doctor Hill entered, closely followed by a nurse, and Sam and Daniel moved back to allow them better access. Sam explained what had occurred as the doctor checked her patient.

"I can't give him anything stronger. His temperature is up a little. Other than staying with him and talking to him, until he's more coherent there's nothing more we can do."

More trembles racked through Jack's upper body and he groaned. Fresh tears began to track down his face as he threshed his head.

"Help me raise him," Hill ordered the nurse after checking the monitors, "His blood pressure has improved but this thrashing around isn't helping his injuries or his breathing."

The doctor snagged a fresh wipe and gently mopped his face, waiting patiently as he unconsciously tried to avoid the touch.

"Charlie?" Jack's eyes flew open, the frown on his face turning to anguish as the memories swamped him.

"Jack." Hill spoke gently. "Do you know where you are?"

Jack's eyes seemed darker than ever as he stared at her. The husky breaths he drew seemed ominously loud in the quiet room. Finally he broke her gaze, his eyes searching and not resting until they settled on Sam.

Sam straight away moved closer, gently reaching for his hand, which changed the grip to hold hers tightly.

His eyes began to droop again, exhaustion winning the battle as he drifted once more.

**********

The buzzing in Jack's ears was a constant that didn't seem to want to go away. Occasionally the buzzing became a higher pitch or changed into murmurings that he didn't understand, didn't want to.

He could feel the touches on his face, his hands and arms, and he shuddered, remembering other touches, hands that weren't gentle. He felt the pain and disgust from the memories the touching aroused, pain that made his guts recoil in horror, and it hurt so much to remember ... it hurt to breathe. To breathe meant he was still alive, alive to feel, but there was nothing, nothing but pain and hurt ... and dark, dark memories.

Time, like the dry desert sands, moved forward, eroding the horrors, casting back the darkness, throwing shadows. The smile that lit the small face as he walked toward him lightened his heart, lifted the pain, eased the sadness of his soul...

The bang made his heart jump and he watched as the face he loved changed, quickly disappearing beneath a cloud of blood red haze. His soul screamed out, his heart screamed out ... his voice joining them in terror...

**********

The bang awoke Sam with a jolt. The nurse grimaced an apology and moved to pick up the DVD box she'd knocked off the cabinet, its hard plastic casing having made quite a noise as it hit the tiled floor.

The nurse frowned, moving closer as the monitor attached to Jack began to speed up alarmingly, alerting Sam, who sat up and leaned forward.

Her heart nearly stopped as her husband's scream rent the air, the machine's bleeping joining in the crescendo.

"Oh God, Jack, Jack!" cried Sam. "No, please, honey, come on!" She took hold of the hand nearest to her and squeezed it tightly, shaking it a little, trying to penetrate whatever or wherever her husband's nightmare was taking him.

His scream died. His breathing became ominously loud, almost panting and Sam found hers matched it. Her heart was thumping so loudly, pounding so hard in her chest that she thought it would burst and for several minutes she could do nothing but sit still, holding on tightly.

The nurse's eyes crept to Sam's and even she looked a little shaken. "Nightmare?" she whispered, her face full of sympathy.

Sam nodded. "I ... he ..." Just what could she answer?

"It's okay. He's having hell thrown at him, I don't wonder at it. He seems to be settling again. I'm so sorry, I must have startled him when I ..." The nurse gestured to the DVD case she still held in her hand.

Sam seemed to be seeing it for the first time and reached out for it. "Starsky and Hutch?" she queried. She let out a breath nosily. Where the heck did that come from?

**********

The day pressed onto into evening and although Daniel had been persuaded to go and rest a while, it wasn't that long before he was back.

Teal'c returned also and Sam quickly briefed their friend as to Jack's distress. Daniel winced at the flash of raw emotion he caught on Teal'c's face, but the Jaffa didn't speak, merely placing himself on guard beside Jack.

Sam pressed a tender kiss to Jack's forehead and grabbed Daniel by his arm to get him out of the room.

"I need to talk." She gave Teal'c a quick look that he answered with a nod of understanding, then she pressed Daniel into action, leading the way to the relatives' room.

"Sam, I'm really sorry ... oh God, it's my fault he's ..."

Sam shook her head. "No it's not. Damn press! It could have happened any time. We can't block it all out. At least you were there with him. What I want to talk about is Sara."

Daniel grimaced. "Does she... I mean did Jack ..."

"Yes, she knows we're married. Jack keeps in touch a little, the odd card, the odd call."

"Oh. That's all right then. Was it before or after?" Daniel stressed the after. He knew it wasn't really the time nor the place, but it was there ... hanging between them.

Sam sighed. "After. I ... we're both sorry we didn't get hold of you and Teal'c. We didn't plan it at all really, it was a spur of the moment thing, and you were both off world before and during and then ... well, it just didn't seem appropriate to just call you up and ..." Sam tailed off.

"And when you returned?"

"We were a bit busy for a while there... I know, I know." She shook her head apologetically. "We were going to arrange a get together and break the news to you both ... then ..."

Daniel couldn't stand the guilt written on her face. "Okay, you're off the hook ... for now - but not Jack. When he's okay he and I are going to have words."

Sam smiled and leaned toward him, giving him a hug, which he returned wholeheartedly.

Sam straightened. "We need to contact Sara. I did try calling her as soon as the broadcast aired. I used Jack's cell, so she could ID the caller, but I only got voice mail and I didn't like leaving a message."

There was a brisk tap on the door just before it opened and George Hammond leaned in. He looked around the room as if checking they were alone, gave them a tight smile and then stepped in fully, closing the door behind him.

"Did you see the press conference?"

Daniel had seen a lot of expressions, mostly very carefully schooled expressions, on the old General's face over the years, but he had not seen such a look of self disgust before.

"Damned fiasco. Hell bent on stirring it."

Daniel took a deep breath. It was better Hammond knew the worse part.

"Jack heard it, well, some of it at least."

"What?" Hammond's face paled dramatically. "Oh sweet Jesus. I knew this was a mistake ... right from the go get - damn!" He sank down onto the couch and Sam was right there beside him, taking one of his large hands into both of hers.

"It wasn't your fault sir, please don't feel ..."

"I should have told Maynard it was a no go. Oh God, imagine if Jack had given that conference ..."

Each of them knew just what might have happened. There was no way Jack would have sat and taken that kind of abuse. The fall out emotionally and the damage it would have done all around, simply did not bear thinking about.

Hammond shook his head ruefully. "I never thought I'd be thankful for pneumonia. I wouldn't have wished it on him but at least it kept Jack out of the clutches of those vultures."

The somber thought had them sitting in silence for a few minutes, before Sam finally broke it. "I was telling Daniel about trying to contact Sara. If she caught the broadcast then ..."

Hammond nodded. "I've asked the local police department to contact her ..."

"Thank goodness." Sam let out a sigh of relief.

"How is Jack taking it?" asked Hammond finally, his eyes revealing his trepidation.

Daniel explained what had happened and poor old George looked very shaken at his revelation.

George Hammond swept a hand over his head, his fingers kneading the bare skin. His pale face and the slight gathering of moisture beneath his eyes showed just how much he was upset by this news.

Sam's grip tightened on his other hand. George had been such a huge comfort to her, to them all in fact, that it was time to repay some of it.

They sat together talking quietly, each one giving the others as much comfort as they could give, each of them showing their feelings for not just a comrade... after all, no matter how dysfunctional they were at times - they were family!

**********

Jack became aware of ... well, becoming aware.

He was tired, but he didn't want to go back to that place where horrors trod mightily and escaped the box he kept them trapped in. He recognized the wooly fog that skittered his subconscious as the effects of drugs and no way did he want to return to those memories ... however, as the memory of his helplessness returned he wasn't so sure which was worse - remaining in the past, or confronting the future. All but one part of it, that was. One thing made it worth waking up for.

He fought to open his eyes and managed to blearily find his wife's watching him intently. `God', he thought, 'had she been sitting there waiting for just this moment?'

"Hey, about time." Sam leaned closer, her voice was a little out of sync with her lips, but before Jack could wonder at it, she placed a warm kiss upon his. The faint tingle and the smell of her made him close his eyes again, relishing the feelings she aroused in him, the comfort she brought.

"Jack?"

He opened his eyes quickly at the faint alarm he heard in her voice and gave her a tiny smile ... yes, that much he could manage. He was rewarded by the smile that lit her face in return and he felt the warmth encompassing him as she enveloped one of his hands in hers, gripping it tightly.

His thoughts began to stray, only to be rudely jolted into the present when the threads of the horrors he had dreamed came to him.

"Sara?" he croaked. He groaned when he realized just how that sounded - asking after another woman, and ex-wife to boot - when holding the wife's hand. He shook his head and then regretted it as the room spun. As he regained his equilibrium he held up his other hand weakly, trying to put it over the top of her still encompassing ones.

Sam shook her head smiling. "It's okay Jack, I understand - I won't kick your ass, at least not until you're better," she joked, trying to relieve the guilty expression he wore. "General Hammond has sent the local police to see how she is and let her know what's happening."

Sam stopped speaking and Jack knew by her face that she was deciding what to say next.

"What?" he croaked out again.

"We haven't heard back from them yet."

"Mike's."

Sam smiled. "Yes, she probably went to Mike's, we can check that out. At least she won't be alone."

Jack nodded. The memories from the voices he heard were returning fast. "She wouldn't have ..." He groaned and coughed a little, his hand leaving hers and gripping his chest tightly as the pain heightened.

"Shush, please try and relax Jack, I know, I know, honestly. We'll get someone to her, please try and rest."

Jack nodded and huffed out a tight breath. He felt his lids beginning to close again, but he didn't want to sleep. He resolutely fixed his burning eyes on the foot of the bed. He didn't want to face...

He choked on a breath and jerked forwards, launching his upper body from his pillows. "Christ!" he coughed out and sank back with an agonized groan, his eyes slamming shut.

**********

Sam almost leaped from her skin as she saw Jack's expression and his upper body jerked with such tremendous force she thought he would topple, losing his balance. She reacted quickly, grabbing him and her heart jumped as he groaned in agony.

Without hesitation she buzzed for assistance with one hand, the other on her husband's shoulder.

"Jack?" she queried, trying hard to keep the panic from her voice and face.

"You see?" His voice was battling with his need to breathe and the words barely registered with Sam.

"Just try and relax honey, Doctor Hill is ..."

"No, I ..." He broke off with a tight cough and another groan. "It ... I ..."

Sam could tell something certainly had Jack in a state of either excitement - or dread ... she just wasn't sure which, until one word escaped him.

"Moved ..." He lolled back against the pillows with a groan, a deep flush overtaking his face and his dark eyes finding hers, the excitement in them clear to her now.

Sam opened her mouth - then shut it again. What could she say to him? Gee Jack honey, that's good? No way! One twitch ... no, she corrected herself, three twitches in all, does not make for complete recovery.

"What moved?" She had to be sure.

"My foot ... it moved!" he exclaimed breathlessly.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, it moved ... my god-damned foot moved." His breathing whistled nosily and although he slumped a little, the excitement was still in his eyes.

"Oh."

"Oh?" questioned Jack. He was clearly dismayed by her response, or lack of rather. "It really moved, Sam."

Sam nodded, a faint smile on her lips.

"Don't you believe me?"

"Of course I do, it's just that ..."

She tailed off as he gazed at her with such a hurt filled expression that she felt at a loss as to how to explain it to him.

"I am not imag ..." he coughed, "imagining it."

"I didn't say you were, it's just that I know you so badly want things to happen and with the drugs and ..."

"It's not the drugs!" His voice raised a little, a thread of anger beginning to making itself heard.

Sam couldn't hold his gaze, and thankfully she was saved from responding further by the appearance of Doctor Hill, her gaze going straight to her patient then questioning Sam silently.

"Jack thought he saw ..." Sam's eyes drifted to her husband's face.

"Did!" corrected Jack. His puzzlement and hurt showed in his eyes and she looked away quickly.

Light dawned very rapidly in Hill land and she approached Jack calmly. He made to move from his pillows and her hand steadied him. "Now take it easy General, just take a few small breaths."

"My foot ... moved ..." He cut off a tight groan, his hand moving across his chest.

"I see. Please, General, you need to just calm down a little and let me explain...

Jack's mouth dropped into a tight line. "It moved."

"Jack, please honey, don't read too much into it. It doesn't mean ..."

"It fuckin' moved!" he spat and then coughed.

It took a few moments before he recovered his breath, but the glares he sent to both women made words impotent at that moment.

"My - foot - moved!" He enunciated each word clearly, looking at Sam as though it was she who had lost her mind.

"I believe you, Jack, honestly, but ..."

"But?" he coughed and drew a quick breath, trying to belay the reaction. "I am not imagining it - it moved!"

Doctor Hill moved closer, putting up a hand to try and calm the situation down. "Yes, General. That is quite possible, however ..."

**********

"I know I didn't feel anything, but it moved." The firmness in Jack's voice belied the exhaustion they knew he must be feeling.

Doctor Hill replaced the sheets over his feet and straightened, her hand moving to massage the small of her back.

The test results were self evident and she gave the General a brief smile.

It was Sam however, that responded. "Yes, I know, honey, but you have to take things slow, it might not ..." She tailed off, hating herself at that moment, and by the flash she saw in her husband's eyes ... she bit at her lower lip, trying to hold back the tears she felt brimming up. Although a tiny part of her was glad of the distraction for Jack, as it focused his attention away from the press fiasco, she didn't want him to have another set back if he raised his hopes too high.

"You said it was a sign that I'm beginning to regain some sensation." Jack folded his arms loosely across his chest, radiating stubbornness, the light wheezing sounds he made when breathing cutting across the silence.

"You still might, but it may also be just an involuntary spasm. I also explained that you may feel pain and no sensation or movement." Doctor Hill moved to the chair opposite Sam and sat down.

"You may be able to regain some feeling in your right foot Jack, please don't ..." The scowl on his face cut her short. She so badly wanted him to walk again, but she knew that the chances were crushingly small.

**********

Jack's focus switched to the foot of the bed. They could see the effect of the strain as he attempted to force some movement into his frozen limbs. The beads of perspiration began to gather and his already pale face whitened further. The monitor gave a bleep as it began to record his raised heart rate. Pain and exhaustion lined his face.

He'd damn well show them ... the doc apparently seemed to believe him - more than his own wife - for cryin' out loud ... did she think he'd lost it? Was she trying to ... he couldn't figure out why she was so disbelieving in him ... had she had enough - was it her way of walking out? The last thought sickened him and he slumped. Trying to draw breaths slow and deep enough to replenish the air in his lungs to stop the buzz that was beginning to sound in his ears drew all his energy. His head sank against the pillows.

**********

The deep despair in his dark eyes was agonizing to see.

"Jack," said Hill quietly. "Please, try and rest. You can't force it to happen and you're exhausted."

"Don't want to sleep," he whispered.

The fight clearly drained out of him.

"Just rest, you don't need to sleep, just try and relax," urged Hill as she rose. "If you don't ..." She mimicked a plunging motion with her fingers and thumb, the threat hanging.

"No, not that." Jack closed his eyes and Hill watched as his breathing began to soften and the monitor's readings fall.

"You too Mrs O'Neill, please get some rest."

Jack's eyes flickered open briefly. "Yeah, I think you need to, just in case more than one of us starts imagining things huh?"

"Jack ..."

Jack silenced her with a glare. "I'll be good and put my imagination and hopes on hold. Go rest."

**********

Sam wavered. She knew he needed her, but she just couldn't give him what he wanted at this moment ... and her heart was heavy with the guilt she was feeling at trying to keep him grounded emotionally. His words had hurt but who could blame him?

It was with mixed feelings that she leaned over and tried to kiss him. He turned his face quickly away from her and, for the moment, she knew better than to push things. She knew her husband was hurting, and not just in the physical sense. Her jumbled thoughts and feelings were no good to either of them at the moment, but she also knew there would be some hard work ahead of them to sort things out. In the meantime, they both needed some space.

**********

Sam was exhausted by the latest events. Her life at the moment seemed to be a constant rock and roll, swinging between continued despair and downright disaster. She acknowledged life had never been sane since taking that assignment to the SGC so many years ago, and she quite freely admitted the life she had with Jack O'Neill could not be compared to anything in her previous relationships, and for that she was continually amazed and grateful, but Lord, just what she wouldn't give for a vestige of normality at the moment.

After promising Doctor Hill that she would actually rest quite soon, she made her way to see Daniel and Teal'c ... determinedly sniffing back the tears that were rising rapidly.

**********

Despite his best intentions, Jack began to fall into a light sleep. He hung where the cobwebs were vague, the brushing across his memories thankfully light enough to only give him a slight restlessness.

As he brushed away from the webs, he became aware of his surroundings, and once more he made the effort to return to reality. He hovered slightly, unsure he wanted to face the hurt, the feeling of betrayal ... why wouldn't anyone listen to him? What hurt most of all was Sam's steadfast hold on the belief that he would remain crippled.

His body seemed to make the effort of its own accord and as his lids flickered open, the dark face of his friend awaited him.

"O'Neill."

Teal'c's voice was unusually quiet and the man's demeanor was almost ... almost apologetic.

"Hey, big guy, what's hangin?" murmured Jack, turning his head to cough lightly, trying to clear his throat. The oxygen cannula was a huge improvement on the mask, but it still made his throat dry.

Teal'c quickly and without fuss, passed him a drink and waited until Jack had finished, before returning the glass to the bedside cabinet, refilling it part way again.

"Thanks. Uh, you okay, T?"

"Indeed, and nothing is hanging."

Jack smiled, but as the usual glint was missing from his friend's eyes, he knew something was not quite...

"I must confess to you O'Neill."

... right!

Both of Jack's eyebrows rose together.

"Confess? Hey, you confess to priests, not generals ..." Jack tried for a light approach, but the darkness of Teal'c's eyes quickly dispelled that urge. "What's up, T?" He frowned, a sudden thought hitting him, and then even as he tried to push himself up, the large hand of his friend held him still.

"No, it is nothing that you should be alarmed of O'Neill."

"Sam? Daniel?" Jack relaxed slightly, but the serious face that regarded him didn't disperse his doubts.

"Everyone is fine. They are deeply troubled, but other than that ..."

Jack waved a hand at him to hurry him up. God knows Daniel was bad enough at getting to a point, but for Teal'c to suddenly start a narrative - it was killing him. They were troubled huh? Big deal ... if they were lying here like this - then that would be troubled!

Teal'c inclined his head, acknowledging his friend's impatience.

"I am sorry I did not tell you sooner, however it was in your best interest that I..."

"Teal'c! ...cryin' out loud," burst in Jack, a little breathlessly, unable to contain himself. The Jaffa cast him a `shut up and listen' look and Jack sank back wearily, well aware that his wheezing had worsened.

"I witnessed the same movement of your foot as you did and I did not inform you. I conceded with much trouble that it was best you did not get your hopes on high."

Jack was lost for words. He felt a surge of anger that Teal'c had not said anything to him. "Was that why everyone was fascinated with the bottom of the bed?"

"I found myself accepting that it was in your best of interest, O'Neill, in that you may refuse to undertake rehabilitation if you were to think it unnecessary."

"Huh, I don't need three guesses to know who the hell called that one - do I? I thought I could trust you Teal'c - out of everyone I know, I always thought I could rely on you to be honest with me."

Teal'c bowed deeply, clearly disturbed. "I am sorry O'Neill. You are my brother and the last person I would ever wish to hurt or betray. My life is yours O'Neill. You must believe that none of us sought to deceive you, only to protect, and if this was misguided then I can only beg forgiveness of you."

Jack slowly absorbed what Teal'c was saying, the somber expression the Jaffa wore was so revealing that the anger began to fizzle slowly. The tide of betrayal he had been feeling began to recede, just a little and a tiny vestige of understanding began to seep back to replace it. "You're worried I ... that I would want to just get up and walk huh?"

Teal'c inclined his head. "It is my belief that you will not allow yourself to settle for less than it is possible for you to attain. However, you will need much assistance, O'Neill, and I do not want you to eat the hand of those that would offer sustenance."

Jack couldn't help the small smile that escaped his lips. He relaxed slightly. "So ... you saw it move huh?"

"Indeed, twice."

"Twice huh? Well, waddaya know then."

Someone finally believed in him and it was such a good feeling. He shrugged the insidious daggers of despair of his wife's betrayal that had cut him to the quick to one side and gave Teal'c a tight smile, offering his hand to his brother.

**********

Sam looked up as she heard the door closing. She'd managed to grab a couple of hours sleep on the couch and she felt a little better for it, but it couldn't do anything to help the despair and guilt she felt coiled in her stomach and the ache in her heart.

George Hammond came into the room almost on tiptoe and she restrained the ridiculous urge to giggle. He moved softly for such a large man and she could just picture him playing Santa Claus...

"Sorry, I didn't want to disturb you ..."

She shook her head and sat up. Shaking the blanket down from her shoulders she smiled and patted the seat, signaling him to sit beside her. "I wasn't asleep. I did manage a couple of hours though."

"Jack's sleeping."

"That's good."

Hammond nodded. "Yes, yes it is. I managed to grab a few words with Teal'c and he seems to think that Jack's feeling ..."

"Betrayed? Hurt? Angry?" Sam couldn't help the spew of word that left her lips. She bit down, clearly troubled, her eyes moist with unshed tears.

"Hey." Hammond grasped the hand that was nearest to him and gave it a gentle squeeze. "You're both hurting. Jack will never admit there's a strong chance of never walking again ..."

"And I'm scared that one day he'll have to admit it," finished Sam. "Mr Half Full, meet Mrs Half Empty," she spat bitterly.

"He can't afford to admit it, Sam. He's been through a hell of a lot over the years and he's just begun a new life. A new job, marriage - and he wants it back. You can't expect him to settle for less. He needs you Sam, needs you more than ever. He's a fighter and will keep fighting to the end, just like on the battlefield. He will never give less than one hundred and ten percent."

Sam listened to the words of a trusted friend. She knew in her heart that Jack was indeed a fighter. In all the years she had known him, he had never given less than he could have to his job - to getting the job done. And with his life - despite the many set backs and horrors he had faced, although he had faltered at times, in the end he had gone on. Things which would have sent many a person screaming in horror he had battled through and although she guessed a tiny part of him died each time, when he was with her he was whole. He didn't deserve less than he gave. He gave one hundred and ten percent - so why couldn't she?

Hammond continued, his voice filled with compassion. "Don't be frightened of failure, Sam. Your attitude won't help him, it won't change his mind and it could possibly hurt him more than failure would. If you are with him every step of the way, then he won't be alone and together you will have the strength to face whatever may come."

The tears rolled down Sam's face unchecked. She knew what the old General was saying was right. All her life she had never wanted to face failure. Failure was bad ... failure was something she wasn't allowed ... except with Jack. He had never said that failure was bad. Never called her on it. What he had always expected was the best she could offer.

"I've failed him by being frightened of failure huh?" she whispered.

George gave her a smile, along with a handful of tissues. "No, not failed, just disappointed, but that is something you can fix - right?"

Sam nodded and began to wipe her face. "I sure hope I can ... if he'll listen. Oh God, I can't believe I was so stupid ..."

Hammond smiled and stood. "Go and get cleaned up, then talk to him."

Sam rose with him and gave him a hug. Despite the smile on her face, the tears trickled ... she still had to fix things with Jack.

**********

Jack was still asleep. Teal'c had left her on her own some half hour since and she stood near the window, her fingertips pulling down a few of the slats of the blind. She peered out, watching the people below zigzagging across the lawns and paths of the hospital, some scurrying about their business, others strolling slowly.

She closed her eyes for a few minutes. Only the harsh sounds of his breathing and the steady quiet blip from the monitor broke the silence. She hoped he would listen - whether he would forgive her was another matter entirely.

**********

As Jack's eyes flickered open, he caught sight of a blurred figure against the window and for a moment felt a little alarmed by the presence. The louder and faster blip on the monitor betrayed him and the figure swung around, quickly crossing the room to approach him.

"Jack?"

The figure swung into focus as he managed to open his eyes and focus more fully at the soft sound of his wife's voice.

"Who else were you expectin?" he muttered sarcastically.

She ignored his grumble, her eyes fixed on his. He couldn't help but notice the red rimmed appearance of them and how pale she looked.

"I ... can we talk? Please?"

"Well, I thought about checking out for a drive or a meal, but hey, what the hell ..." He didn't miss the pained expression in her eyes and the resolute straightening of her shoulders, before she turned away to drag a chair closer to the bed. She sat down and jammed her hands between her knees, palms together.

"Jack, I am sorry that I ... that I didn't ... that it didn't seem that I believed you when you said that ... what I mean is that ..."

"Come on Carter, piss or get off the pot," growled Jack. He knew he wasn't exactly being helpful with whatever she wanted to say, but hey, that was tough, wasn't it!

Sam looked incredibly hurt at his remark and Jack flicked his gaze away from her. He'd called her Carter since they'd been married, yeah, sure, but never in anger ... only as an endearment.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

Jack couldn't help his gaze being drawn back to her. "Sorry for what?" Oh, yeah, that was good ... rub salt on the open wound ... cast his soul out to the devil ... what the hell... "Sorry you married me? Sorry I got shot? What? Just what the fuck are you sorry for, Sam?"

He watched her eyes widen, the distress in them painful to watch, but watch he did. He knew he was a bastard ... with a capital B!

"I'm sorry for not believing in you."

Jack's anger began to crawl back down the wall it had been climbing and fear began climbing past it. Her wretched expression and the guilt wracked frame were penetrating the thick hide he had developed, just as surely as a sharp knife could.

"Why Sam?" he asked, his voice a little husky. "Don't you want me to walk? Do you want out of this marriage - is that it?"

"Oh, God, no!" Sam's look of shocked horror startled him. "No, Jack, please. I love you, you must know that. I ... it's just that I can't ... no, I was ... am, afraid that if you got your hopes too high and then you ... well things didn't work out - then you would ..." The tears began to track down her face, "then you ... then I would lose you. I need you so much Jack and I want you to succeed. I want you back to as you were, but if that isn't going happen, I do still want you."

Jack felt at a loss for words. Something was grabbing his heart and squeezing, probably the same something that was causing the lump in his throat to swell as well...

"I am going to walk again, Sam. It may not happen for a while, probably not as fast as I would like, but I am going to do it. I will not believe that this is the end of how I want to live."

"I want so much to believe that, but I am so afraid for you."

Her hand snaked out toward him and he grasped it tightly. "Oh God, it hurts so much that you can't trust me... I won't let you down."

"Let me down?" she echoed, her voice disbelieving. "You won't let me down, nothing you do or don't do will ever let me down. It's me, it's my fault ..." Her voice wavered and Jack crushed her hand tighter. Her other hand rose to brush at the tears that fell. She sniffled and blinked away the tears as they continued. "I've let you down. I couldn't - didn't want you to be ... to think that everything will be miraculously okay with ..."

Jack swallowed harshly. He blinked back the moisture he felt pricking at his own lids. "Hey, it's okay ..."

"No," she whispered. "I want you to know that I want you to walk again, that if anyone, anyone in this world - no - universe can do that, then it's you and I will be with you every ... every damn step, no matter how small."

Jack didn't try and stop the water he felt beginning to track down his face. He could only stare, the depth of love shining in her eyes so completely overwhelmed him, he knew that he could never find the words to match and instead he chose action. He pulled at her hands and tugged her willing body up and toward him, enveloping her in his arms.

She brought her lips to his and they joined hungrily, searching and tasting. Fighting for more of her, he drew her across him, silencing her protest with his mouth still sealed to hers. Her body pressed against his tightly. He broke off purely for the need to draw a breath, but his hands were not still, stroking her face, his thumbs brushing her cheeks.

Sam made as if to draw back, protesting she might hurt him, but he pulled her closer, brushing her lips with his, feeling more alive than he had done for so long now...

Sam's eyes widened suddenly and she drew her face back, breaking into a giggle.

"What?" he demanded, puzzled.

Sam couldn't answer. She grabbed at his hand and drew her upper body away from his, placing his hand over his covered groin.

"Things are definitely looking up, flyboy!" she smirked.

Jack was momentarily stunned. There was no mistaking just what Sam meant and he had the evidence in his hand, so to speak...

"It... I didn't feel it ..." he muttered, slightly embarrassed, but also the fact that he didn't have any sensation of it happening was a little upsetting to say the least.

Sam's face clouded slightly and she dipped her head, bringing it close to his, their foreheads touching, her hands clasping his face. "It's a start, Jack - and I for one don't intend to look a gift horse in the mouth. At least I still turn you on, huh?" Her face and eyes lit up with expectation.

Jack took a breath. She was beautiful. She was right. "Okay Mrs Positive," he put a featherlike kiss onto her lips, "now where were we?"

Sam's attention deviated back to his mouth, her tongue flicking across his lips, tasting him, and he groaned as the familiar delicious shivers she wrought from him traversed his senses...

**********

Sam's thoughts were brought abruptly into the present as she turned the corner on her way to her husband's room and walked smack into someone.

Not really seeing the person, she put her hands out to steady them, her brain registering who stood there a fraction later. "I'm sorry, I ... Mrs ... Sara?" she whispered, surprised to say the least.

The other blond woman's eyes widened and she took a step back. "Oh, you're ... Jack's wife?"

Sam nodded, still surprised at seeing Sara O'Neill there. "What ..."

"They won't ..."

They both started to speak at the same time then stopped.

Sam gathered her wits and took a deep breath. "You saw the news?"

Sara nodded. "They've been hounding me. I went to stay with Dad just after the phone calls started and they camped out on my front lawn. I didn't ... it's not true! It was at Dad's that I ... I saw that Jack... I hadn't even seen anything about the shooting until the calls started. How is he?"

Sam felt sympathy for the woman. "Not here, come on."

Sara nodded. "I thought ..."

Sam shook her head and gently led her back toward the corridor that led to Jack's and the relatives' rooms. The guards on the main door stood more upright, fully aware now of whom Sam was and her rank. The guard who spoke actually looked apologetic. "I'm sorry ma'am, this lady doesn't have clearance."

"She's with me. Do you have to clear every relative that comes visiting?"

The guards exchanged a quick look with each other. "We were not made aware of any relatives likely to call ma'am, excepting yourself of course."

"Well, you are being made aware now." Sam clasped Sara's arm and stepped forward. As she did so the guard nearest to her grabbed the door and held it open.

Sam ushered Sara into the relatives' room and sat her down.

It was so weird to be facing Jack's ex-wife like this. She knew Jack had let her know he was remarrying and that he had kept in touch once in a while with her, the odd call and Christmas card, but he wasn't very forthcoming on a lot in that episode of his life. She knew Jack had loved Sara very much, but the terrible tragedy of Charlie's death had been too much for their marriage - as such dreadful events so often were, even in the most stable of relationships.

Sam took a breath, not sure where to start. "His condition ..." Oh, God, when had she started to sound like his doctor? "You know the shooting left him paralyzed?" That didn't come out right either...

Sara's face whitened and she gripped her hands together. "I've ... Is it permanent?"

Sam didn't know which way to go. "Jack isn't accepting that it is."

Sara nodded. "He wouldn't. I am so sorry Sam. The news said he'd gotten sicker - pneumonia?"

"Yes, but thankfully he's doing okay now."

"You must be going through hell."

Sam found herself surprised at the genuine sympathy she felt from the woman. "It's certainly been hard and there's a long haul ahead for both of us." Sam stood and paced a little. "Would you like to see him?"

"Only if ..."

"He's been worried about you," responded Sam bluntly. "Please, let him know you're okay?"

Sara nodded. "If you think it'll be okay?"

"I'm sure of it."

**********

Teal'c turned as he heard the sound of the door opening and greeted Samantha O'Neill with a smile and bow of his head. The blond woman that followed her into the room also received the same, with the addition of a slightly quizzical look.

His team mate's attention was instantly focused on her husband.

"He is resting much easier now," said Teal'c quietly as he moved forward, away from the bed, to make room for the two women.

"Teal'c, this is Mrs O'Neill."

"Sara, please," interrupted the woman and she held out a polite hand to him.

Teal'c clasped it gently, acknowledging her greeting with a slight bow of his head. He remembered the woman from their first meeting, but clearly she did not, which, given the circumstances of that time, wasn't surprising.

Colonel Carter leaned closer to Jack, obviously debating whether to disturb his sleep.

"I would think that O'Neill would be more than disappointed to miss a visitor," offered Teal'c by way of support.

She smiled and gently put a hand to the sleeping man's shoulder. "Jack," she called out in a slightly hushed tone. "Come on, sleepy head."

Teal'c could see that the first wife of O'Neill was obviously a little nervous, and certainly looked quite exhausted. He pressed her gently into the chair beside the bed and she murmured a grateful thank you.

He debated whether or not to leave, until his team mate smiled at him and shook her head, before returning her attention to O'Neill, who was beginning to stir.

"Jack?"

"Mmmph," he murmured softly, his eyelids fluttering as he began to become cognizant.

"Jack, come on honey, you've got a visitor," urged Sam.

His eyelids flickered open slightly, revealing just a slit of brown. "Sleeping," he complained. The depth of his complaint was belied by the smile that lit his face as he gazed upon his wife's face.

Sam cocked her head, a wide smile on her face, obviously sharing something with her husband ... but Teal'c could not tell just what. Jack reached up a hand and Sam clenched it tightly, still smiling at him.

It was with an effort that Sam broke her gaze and she straightened a little, obviously remembering Sara as she gave the woman a smile of apology.

O'Neill followed her gaze and his eyes widened as he took in who was sitting there.

"Sara?" he whispered, the anxious expression on his face clear to read.

"Jack." Sara smiled, although it was a little tremulous.

"We'll leave you two alone for a while, huh?" Samantha O'Neill spoke lightly and gave her husband a peck on his lips quickly.

"You don't ..."

Teal'c placed a gentle hand on O'Neill's first wife's shoulder to shush her and went to open the door, holding it open while waiting for his team mate, who beat a hasty retreat, not giving anyone a chance to object further.

**********

Sara swallowed harshly. She could see how ill Jack looked and how much weight he seemed to have lost since she saw him last. If this was getting better...?

"You okay?" he asked, his dark eyes boring into hers.

"I'm doing okay - how about you?"

Jack smiled. Sara knew that smile. That was the one that said, well my arm might be hanging off, but hey, I'm okay.

"Liar."

Jack shrugged slightly. "I was worried about you. The press ..."

Sara squirmed a little. The press conference had hurt. The questions and false accusations that had been made about her had also hurt, but she got by. She knew she had fared far better than Jack with regard to the wounds over their son's death, though when he had told her of his re-marriage and the new woman in his life, she knew it was a different man who had faced her, a new Jack who was embracing his life.

Sara moved closer to the bed. She knew that they needed to talk...

"Ham ... the police were supposed to get in touch with you ..." began Jack.

Sara shrugged, "I moved out pretty quickly when the press took up camp on the front lawn. I went to stay with Dad."

Jack winced. "Sorry."

Sara shook her head. "It's not your fault, Jack. None of this is your fault."

Jack just nodded, but she could read the guilt on his face.

"Sam seems very nice."

Jack's whole expression changed. She saw the lift just the mention of his wife's name gave him. She could be feeling just a tad of jealousy here, remembering when his face used to light like that when he saw her ... but that was so many years ago now and so much had happened and the distance between them had grown. He still held a place in her heart, but just not that kind of place now... "Why did the press link me with your attacker? You know ... just what happened, Jack? I know you can't tell me much, but is this because of your job?"

Jack hesitated, obviously wavering about just what to say. "Kind of ... but the whole mess is because a ... someone didn't know when they crossed the line of reality ..."

Jack explained how he had come to be involved with Minucos, and what conclusions the man had come to that resulted in the shooting, leaving out the finer details... "The rest is the press just digging into my ... our lives and putting two and two ..."

"And getting five," said Sara. She knew Jack was giving her the abbreviated version and that perhaps she would never have all of it explained, but she felt happier knowing Jack didn't believe her to be connected in any way.

"Jack, about Charlie, you know I never blamed ..."

Jack reached out, taking her hand and holding it firmly. "I know."

"It's so unfair. You meet someone like Sam and then this happens..." Sara sniffed back the tears that were building. Life could be so cruel at times.

"Hey, it's only a temporary setback. There is no way this is permanent ..."

"Jack, it ..."

"No. I have a brand new chance Sara, a new life, a future and I am not going to let anything screw that."

Sara leaned closer. She could see he truly believed in what he was saying. "I wish you well, you know that, but whatever happens, please don't shut Sam out. Don't make the same mistake you did with me."

"I'm learning, Sara, maybe not the fastest student, I admit that, but I am trying ... I don't want to lose her."

"I think you'll do okay," said Sara with a smile. She had to admit that even at this moment, she could see the difference in the way he was speaking to her, his face wearing his emotions - oh not like a book, but compared to the old Jack, this was easy reading. "Just be happy."

Jack squeezed her hand and gave her an open smile. "Youbetchya."

Sara nodded, feeling at long last some contentment, the last vestige of the nagging worry about him lifting.

**********

There was a quiet tap and Sam broke off her conversation with Teal'c as he moved to answer the door. He stepped back, holding the door wide to show Sam the visitor.

Sara O'Neill stood there, her face pale and her eyes a little red, but it was a genuine smile, albeit a small one, that lit her face.

"Thank you," she said simply.

Sam smiled in return and signaled her to step in, but Sara shook her head. "No, that's okay. I'm good, going to get back to the hotel - Dad's waiting there for me. I just wanted to say thanks for letting me see him ... he's... I must admit I was a bit, well, scared at how he would be taking all this about ... about Charlie ... but perhaps I didn't think of him having you. Take care of each other, okay?"

"Are you sure you're all right?" queried Sam.

Sara smiled again, a gentle smile, and she nodded. "Yes. I'm going to take an extended vacation with Dad, and hopefully by the time we get back the press will have moved on to something else. I'll be in touch, to see how he's doing, if that's okay?"

"That'll be fine. Are you sure ..."

"Positive."

Sam watched the back of the woman as she walked down the corridor until she exited out of sight through the doors. She checked her watch, mentally noting the time - just so she could let her husband have a little longer to himself.

**********

Jack was restless. Not the fever sweat laden type of restlessness - no that was long gone - thankfully.

Bored - had he mentioned bored? He checked the clock on the wall yet again - yep still bored.

He'd been on his daily visit from the therapy folk and yes it was great that they now took him to the dungeon, that helped to break the day up - just a tad. The couple of hours spent with the on site rehab stretched the time a little too, but despite the exhaustion that followed his sessions - he was downright and absolutely, positively bored out of his skull.

Daniel and Teal'c had been gone for almost two weeks now after being recalled to the SGC, and Sam almost permanently wore the haunted expression of someone who had run out of entertainment for errant kids. It wasn't his fault he was high maintenance was it? She'd known that when she'd married him. Just because he couldn't actually get about properly yet - was that any reason to go off on him?

The getting about was the bug bear actually. Despite his best efforts, he still didn't have much sensation other than in his right foot. He got the odd burning pain down his right leg and the twitching in his foot drove him mad as well. There wasn't a great deal of controlled movement, but he could do a mean semi roll with the joint of his ankle and slowly waggle his foot a little. And, and this was the biggy for him, he was beginning to be able to control his basic body functions, not that he could feel much, but at least he had stopped peeing himself except for the odd accident.

He'd been hinting at getting some work brought in, seeing as they hadn't yet retired him, but no-one seemed willing to clear it. The TV's return had been sanctioned by Doc for a while now and other than the odd update, the attempt on his life was old news, thankfully.

But - he was bored.

He'd caught up with his favorite TV shows, watched all the games he wanted ... but the actual yearning he felt for some paperwork told the tale - he was really bored!

There was a brisk knock on the door before it opened and his wife's face peeped around it. "Are you going to be good?" she inquired in a small voice.

"Hey, wasn't my fault."

"Ah," she chastised, coming into the room fully.

He gave her a grin and shrugged. It wasn't his fault he'd twitched the tray all over her - was it?

"We could have had a proper food fight if you'd stayed."

Sam shook her head, grinning to show she'd forgiven him. "I was soaked!" she complained.

"And your point?"

"Anyway," she dragged a chair over to the bed then leaned over to kiss him, before sitting down. "We need to decide where we are going."

Jack looked askance at the rolled up bundle of papers she had in her other hand. "We do?"

"Yes, I've been doing some checking. If you're still determined that we head back to the Springs, then there is a very good rehab center within easy driving distance for me and Doctor Hill gives it a thumbs up."

"Springs for sure. I thought we'd settled this. You are going back to work until I can take care of myself. I just wish I could go straight home." Sam frowned and Jack held up a hand. "Yes, I know, I know why. You get to join me for the last week of rehab don't forget."

"Oh yes, so looking forward to that ..." she pulled a face at him, and then blew him a kiss to show she was joking. "It'll give me a chance to get the house sorted too. We need to install ramps and rails ..."

"You won't have to ... I mean, with the rehab and when I get these legs going you won't be looking after an invalid," said Jack quietly.

"It'll take a while hon, you know that, but however long it doesn't matter. I'm okay with helping you, you do know that don't you? In the meanwhile we need to make sure you can get around the house okay."

"Doc said I can be totally independent with time anyway."

"That's means you can do your share of the cooking and housework." Sam sat back in the chair, giving him a smirk.

"And the last time you cooked was?"

"Ah, yes, well the freezer is getting rather empty, so you had better get yourself sorted quick."

Jack shook his head. He gave her a pointed look and gestured to the bundle in her hand.

"Oh yes, here's the brochure."

"They have brochures?"

"You should see some of them ... better than a top class hotel."

"Whoa, top prices too I bet."

"We needn't worry about that. Your insurances are paying top dollar out and a lump sum as well - and until they decide what the heck they are doing with your discharge - they're paying your salary too."

"I keep getting blanks when I ask about that. Hayes is adamant they won't retire me but I don't see how ..."

"You could take an advisory position."

"Told you before, I'll be too busy raising the kids." It was Jack's turn to smirk.

"And what if I wanted to stay at home instead?" argued Sam.

"Why instead, we could both?"

Sam's eyebrows rose at that. "Because we'd end up killing each other and besides that raising children is expensive."

"My pension isn't bad you know. I could support you, two point five kids and a couple of dogs."

"Two point five and a couple of dogs huh? Any particular breed?"

"Oh, don't mind boy or girl," responded Jack with a grin.

"Ass." She swatted at him with the brochures and he grabbed at her, pulling her across the bed, wrestling the brochure from her hand. She retaliated by turning on him with her lips ... the brochure sliding out of his hands to the floor, completely forgotten...

**********

Jack hated goodbyes. Even the simple ones were exhausting and right now he felt like half of DC had visited in the last week. His staff from Homeworld had just left and he was sitting clutching a present from them. Normally the large gaily wrapped box would have been torn open in excitement but it merely brought home the anxious thought he pushed down deeply - that he might never see them again... Not that he loved these folk or anything. Sure they were nice to work with. His secretary Jessica, yep he would miss her, given that he had just about gotten used to her, but not seeing them meant he wouldn't be going back...

He gave himself a good mental shaking. Not going back would be good, if it meant he would be raising a family ... but his fingers played idly with the ribbons, his left thumb flicking at the attached card. He was still lost in reverie when a cough startled him.

He looked up, a little annoyed at the disturbance, but when he saw it was George Hammond the smile that lit his face was genuine.

"George, hey."

George returned the smile and walked briskly over to Jack, clasping the hand he held out in a firm shake, and then placing his other hand over the top to affirm their friendship.

"I wanted to say goodbye tonight. You'll probably have more than enough to cope with tomorrow."

Jack pulled a face. "Yeah, not looking forward to that, but at least I get to fly in ... ahem, you know about that?"

Hammond nodded.

"I had heard. Vidrine was spitting fire when Hayes casually mentioned it."

Jack grinned. "Nice to know I can still get under his skin."

"Oh, I doubt you'll ever lose that particular ability, Jack." Hammond's grin was as wide as Jack's as he spoke. "Anything you need, son?" he continued, on a more serious note.

Jack shook his head. "Nah, I'm good. You are coming down in a couple of weeks, aren't you?" A slight flicker of doubt crossed Jack's face.

"You can take that as read." Hammond was quick to reassure him.

Jack nodded and relaxed a little.

**********

Hammond brought a chair closer to the bed and sat down. He could never read this officer easily. Sometimes Jack's attitude or what he didn't say gave some of the game away, but only in as much as he wanted it to, and even then you had to know what to look for. However, he hadn't missed the flicker of insecurity he saw crossing Jack's face a moment ago. He had seen the man go to hell and back for his country and then his world and comrades, but at the moment he was going through his own personal hell.

"You've got Hayes in quite a lather you know."

"Me? What did I do?"

"You haven't said yes to him holding your post open."

"Oh." Jack frowned. "Do you know what's going on with that? They haven't discharged me, or asked me to retire."

George nodded. "I know, son. They, and I don't just mean Hayes here, do not want to lose you."

Jack grimaced. "Uh, they're scared in case we need the gene, huh?"

Hammond sighed. Jack O'Neill would never face his own true value. Even when it had ultimately been his doing that the world had been saved, he had carefully given all the credit to his team.

The old General knew that time and time again there was no way SG-1 would have made it back without the skills and leadership of this man, and that Earth would be a much sorrier place without him - if it still existed at all. The United States Air Force had made a few stupid decisions in its history, but as far as he was concerned trying to keep Jack O'Neill was one of their smartest!

"Far from it, son. I know you don't see it, but you are a valuable man. You have far more to offer than just your knowledge and skills. You still can have a great future if you want it. The move to DC was just the beginning."

Jack gave the older man a puzzled frown.

"Beginning of what?"

"You have an incredible gift, Jack, the one that makes every man, woman and child want to follow you. There's not one person under your command that wouldn't follow you to Hell."

"And I would want to lead someone to Hell - why exactly?"

George looked Jack straight in the eye. "We all wonder why we were put on this Earth, Jack ... but, there is no wonder why you are here."

Jack O'Neill, for one of the few times in his life, was speechless. George Hammond could proudly chalk that up, not that anyone would really believe it ... but it was a tale to tell in his old age.

There were a couple of minutes of prolonged agony from Jack and George could tell that he had the man on the run emotionally - for all of five minutes or so, before his irreverence broke through and he launched into recovery mode with some joking comments.

They chatted on together for a while, until George realized just how tired Jack was as he tried to suppress a yawn.

"Well, I'll let you get some rest. You're going to need it for tomorrow." He ignored the man's protests and stood, pushing the chair back from the bed, before turning around to take Jack's hand again. He shook it vigorously, clasping it tightly. "You take it easy, you hear? I'm not going to ask you to break a lifetime's habit by doing what you're told, but they know their stuff. Just give it all a chance, okay?"

Jack nodded, looking a little abashed. "Um, Sam's made it quite clear what'll happen if I don't behave."

"Oh, if that works then I've got to know ..." George broke off abruptly as the younger General's face took on a flushed look. "Oh, I guess not huh? Unless I can get Sam to co-operate that is!"

Jack laughed and clasped George's hand tighter. The older man leaned close and drew him into a fatherly hug.

He'd become closer still to Jack since the move to DC and he knew without a doubt that he would miss him, as would his grand-daughters, who had been delighted to have their favorite `uncle' so close when they came to visit their grandpa.

George straightened up and placed a hand on Jack's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "Take it easy, son and make sure you take care of that beautiful wife of yours. No misbehaving - hopefully Sam won't let you get away with it."

"I will, George. She doesn't buy the dumb act these days."

George laughed. "I don't think you had her fooled for long anyway, son."

"You reckon she knew that before she married me then?"

"Hell yes, you stopped fooling us a few years ago."

"Shucks, I gotta work on that, huh?"

**********

Jack had, surprisingly, a good night's sleep. He knew that the doc had slipped him a larger than usual dose of something, but for once he didn't protest. He put up with the usual morning routine, gritting his teeth when his patience was almost out. The nursing staff had been great and they'd put up with a lot from him over the weeks. Every last one of them deserved a medal!

Finally at last he was alone. He was still sitting in bed, as it was much too early to transfer to the wheelchair - as much as he hated to admit it, it was exhausting sitting in the damn thing. There were another three or four hours before they were due to depart for the airport and he found the time to be dragging more than a little.

Sam had called to say she wasn't going to be much longer. They'd decided to close up the house in DC, seeing as it was rented and Sam had been busy packing and organizing the transportation of their stuff that had accumulated there. Fortunately she still owned her house in the Springs, so that would save them doing any house hunting, at least for the immediate future. It wasn't a bad size and could easily be adapted for Jack's present needs.

The sharp tap at the door brought Jack out of his reverie. Jack immediately recognized the man who entered as one of the officers assigned to the case against Minucos.

"Officer Jolen, sir," he introduced himself. "I'm sorry to disturb you General, however I thought you should be brought up-to-date before you leave, rather than catch the news as it breaks."

Jack indicated a chair and invited him to sit. Teal'c had filled Jack in on the events whilst he was out of it and had brought this particular officer's actions to his attention. He studied the man whilst watching him take a seat, waiting for him to speak.

"As you were aware sir, Minucos signed a statement admitting to the shooting and we have his taped confession to support it. However, it is felt that if this goes to trial there will be allegations levied against Homeworld Security. Minucos could still do a great deal of damage."

Jack watched the officer carefully. Just because the man was saying it, didn't mean that he liked it and he knew Jolen was uncomfortable. "So ... what then?"

"The defense is pushing for a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and I think the prosecution will accept it. It would mean Minucos would be committed to an institution without standing trial."

Jack flinched. He knew that Minucos wasn't stable, but he also knew that most of what Minucos believed was actually true ... apart from Jack being an alien of course ... then again ... what about the Ancient gene?

"This would mean of course that there would be no need for you to give evidence."

The mere thought of giving evidence had given him more than a few headaches and for a moment relief coursed through him ... until images of a sane man being locked up as a madman came to him and guilt pounded a very large nail into the relief.

"Sir?" Jolen queried, his expression showing puzzlement.

"What?" Jack barked back and then sighed. "Sorry ... didn't mean ..."

"It's okay, sir. I think I understand a little of what you're feeling."

Jack scrutinized the man's face, seeing admiration and understanding. It wasn't often these days that Jack felt he got anything but looks of pity from many of his visitors, however, the man who was sitting here now showed no sign of that.

"I can't deny that not giving evidence would be a relief," admitted Jack, "but do I want that at the expense of a man's sanity? I don't think we're talking a couple of years downtime here."

Jolen shook his head. "No sir, we're not. They will throw away the key - no parole where he'll be going. I wanted you to be prepared when the news breaks. It won't be pleasant."

Jack released the breath he'd been holding. He wondered just how bad things could get ... the memories from the last press crucifixion still had the capacity to upset him, if he dwelt on them that was... What he did know more than anything now, was that there was no going back. What was done was done. He knew that any protests from him would fall on deaf ears if there was the slightest danger of fall out, not only to Homeworld Security, but to the Oval office ... and the SGC.

"I've dealt with Minucos at length sir, and although I am not an expert in this field, I want you to know that I genuinely feel that this man is not of a sound mind and no matter how long he could be imprisoned for, he would be a continual threat to not only yourself, but to our country."

Jack looked the officer straight in the eyes as he spoke, wanting to gauge the honesty behind the words. He may have lost the use of his legs - temporarily that was - but he hadn't lost his judgment. He spared the officer a very brief smile, accepting the man's words as they were intended. "Thank you."

Jolen nodded. "If there is anything I can do, General, please don't hesitate to contact me." He stood as he spoke and moved a little closer, holding out his hand. "It's been an honor to meet you sir."

Jack gripped the proffered hand firmly and shook it somberly, almost expecting the man to salute...

**********

He settled back as the officer left the room, mulling over the news, but somehow Jolen had helped to settle his inner turmoil and it was with a feeling of looking forward and not back that Jack waited to face the rest of the day...

**********

Sam was doing a final check of the drawers and cupboards in the room and opened the top drawer for what Jack knew to be for the fifth time.

"And it's still empty?" he queried, a smile on his face.

"Oh ..." She gave him a grin as she realized what she was doing. "Yes still empty ... is there anything else we forgot?"

"Nope, everything I need is coming with me," he drawled and gave her arm a tug until she moved closer to the wheelchair.

Sam gave him a smug smile and stooped to give him a hug, only to be brought up short...

"I got this." Jack gave her a smirk and held up his other hand to reveal the little yellow yoyo.

Frowning in mock annoyance, Sam gave him a gentle smack on his shoulder. "Oh you." She broke into laughter as he let the yoyo travel the length of its string and brought it back up, catching it neatly.

There was a quick tap at the door and Doctor Hill entered. "I just want to check how you're doing, General. Last quick check then you're off. Security are waiting just down the hall."

"Are the press still hanging around? There didn't seem to be many earlier," asked Sam, referring to when she came back to the hospital.

"Unfortunately, yes, but General O'Neill's release isn't official yet ... when they find out they will be ..." She stopped, seeing the look on the others' faces, then continued, "Well yes, that's enough about that. How are you feeling General?"

"Okay, I guess," responded Jack. He was a little less guarded now with what he said to the doc after having his ass chewed quite viciously once he had recovered from the pneumonia.

Doctor Hill used the hands-on approach and checked his pulse, temperature and blood pressure. "Not too bad, considering," she murmured as she straightened up. "Your medication is all packed and everything is in the ambulance that's taking you to the plane." She perched on the bed, brushing at a few stray hairs that had escaped onto her face, briskly tucking them behind her ear, before leaning forwards, her voice lowering to a conspiratorial hush. "Is it true you're flying in the President's plane?"

Jack gave her a grin and nodded. "Yep, Air Force One is at our disposal until we hit Peterson."

"Oh my ..."

"You could come with, you know?" offered Jack.

"But the Air Force has assured me there will be ..."

"Yeah, the CMO from Andrews has assigned a joy rider for us," Jack shrugged, "but there's always room for one more."

"Oh, I am seriously tempted ... but I can't." The response was more than wistful.

Jack gave the doctor an even wider grin. "Okay, but if you change your mind ..." He sobered a little and looked down at his hands for a moment, before looking up again at her. "You know doc, I really want to say thank you, an' somehow it doesn't feel enough."

"No thanks are necessary, General."

"Jack."

"Okay, Jack. I know you'll repay me by doing everything you should ..." Hill laughed and rose to shake her patient's hand.

Jack took the hand, but didn't shake it. He clasped it firmly. "Really, doc, thank you. I never used to have much faith in the medical profession, until one particular doctor changed my mind - you'd have liked her."

"Liked?" asked Hill, picking up on the past tense.

Jack nodded, giving his wife a brief smile, before turning his attention back to Hill. "We lost a good doctor and a great friend and we still miss her, but I am glad to know that there are more like her. Thank you."

Doctor Hill straightened her shoulders, seemingly lost for words ... for a moment that was. "You keep fighting, Jack and maybe next time we meet ...?" She gave him a gentle smile and made her way to the door. "I'll let security know you're ready." She was half way out the door when she stopped and gave her parting shot. "Oh, and by the way, I've already let their rehab manager know exactly what to expect with you, Jack."

**********

Sam didn't miss the exhaustion on her husband's face, or the tight lines of pain that accompanied it. The ambulance ride from the hospital had been moderately comfortable, but she was thankful that at long last they were they were on board the 747.

The staff who greeted them were quick and efficient and before long Jack was made comfortable in the President's own suite, much to their amazement.

The doctor that was accompanying them ensured that Jack was confined to the large bed once take off was complete, quelling the patient's objections that it wasn't even a four hour or so flight by stating in no uncertain terms that he needed a break from the wheelchair, and reminding him he had to face another ride by ambulance to the rehabilitation hospital.

And Jack gave in gracefully - uh, no ... just gave in, to Sam's relief.

Once they were alone she couldn't help walking around the suite and, much to Jack's amusement, stroking the hand crafted furniture.

"I can't believe we are actually in ..." She broke off with a grin and shook her head. "Uh, on second thoughts, how on Earth can I get excited about this after what we do for a living?"

Jack smiled up at her. "You have a point there - but it's still pretty cool huh?"

**********

When Jack finally succumbed to an exhausted sleep, Sam took the opportunity to explore the rest of the suite and then ventured out to see more of the aircraft, coming face to face with a General as she moved downstairs.

"Sir." Sam stiffened automatically, almost saluting before she remembered she was out of uniform.

The General smiled, not unkindly, and held out his hand. "Colonel Carter or should I say at this moment - Mrs O'Neill?"

Sam took in the middle aged man's features and his warm smile as she shook hands.

"Sorry sir ..."

"General John Finney at your service," said the officer, with a twinkle in his eyes. "I'm your pilot."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."

"How's Jack?"

"He's sleeping at the moment ... you know him? Would you like to say hello?"

"I would like to see him, Jack and I go waaay back, but I don't want to disturb him."

Sam shook her head. "Oh, don't ... I mean if ..." She cursed herself silently as she stumbled over her words. "Sorry, but if Jack knew he'd missed you he'd ..."

Finney nodded. "Yes he would ... but I wasn't sure if ... I mean, well you know Jack - obviously. I wasn't sure if he would be up to seeing someone, given the circumstances. The news of the shooting was terrible. I can't believe after all the action Jack's seen over the years some nutter ... sorry I ... it's just so ironic. I am sorry, Mrs O'Neill." The General sighed heavily and leaned against the stair rail, running a hand through his hair. "How is he?"

Sam began to give Finney the bare basics, but the man obviously knew Jack quite well as he shook his head to halt Sam in mid speech.

"Ah, no - I mean how is he really?"

"Jack's ... well it's not been easy but we're coping, we've got to."

"Jack never does anything by halves, he'd never give up ... what's the prognosis ... I don't want to put - well you know ..."

"Jack's looking forward - he's determined that the prognosis is going to be good ..." Sam began to fill the General in, feeling more comfortable with him as they talked.

Finney accompanied Sam back to the suite, chatting amicably on the way.

Sam finally let her curiosity get the better of her. "Did you serve together?"

"Not for very long, but when they commissioned the 747's for Air Force One in 1990 Jack and I were back together as part of the team who ran the attack scenarios, testing the capabilities of the crafts. I piloted the first 747 - this one actually, and Jack flew the attack. Needless to say, he wiped me out every run," Finney admitted, with a rueful laugh. "But nowadays ... here I am. We got along really well and had a great time. We kept in touch on and off, and when he moved to DC we managed a get together."

Jack was still sleeping and rather than wake him John Finney sat and chatted quietly with Sam, entertaining her with quite a few anecdotes from when he served with Jack. "We used to get to some really wild parties I can tell you, and boy could he drink - lucky bas ... ahem, dog, didn't suffer from hangovers much, unlike some of us. I remember one particular night when Jack went missing after we got back from town and we found him curled up fast asleep - you won't believe where - on the..."

"Jeez, this is way noisier than trying to sleep on the runway." A sleepy voice interrupted them.

"Hey, wonder how long you'd be ... gotta desert you to put us down in another hour or so," said Finney, with a huge grin.

Jack peered out from the crumpled cover, still half asleep, but the grin that lit his face was unmistakable. "Fine Mess Finney, how the hell are you?"

"Huh, looks who's talking - if I hadn't hauled you in off that runway ..."

"Yeah, I would have been in a fine mess huh?"

**********

Sam sat back quietly, unashamedly listening with a keen interest ... after all, it wasn't often Jack spoke of any of his past and she was rather enjoying the banter between the two men.

**********

All too soon the General rose and said his goodbyes, promising Jack that when his schedule permitted, he would certainly look them up in the Springs.

The plane landed smoothly and the next half hour or so was full of hustle and bustle while the doctor checked him over and their departure was prepared.

Thankfully, and much to Jack's relief, there wasn't much of a welcoming committee at Peterson. The CO had certainly kept everything as low key as possible, especially given that he hadn't had much notice of the landing. They were soon under way once more, this time in the back of a military ambulance.

Jack wasn't able to see much of the outside from his position in the back of the vehicle, but just the thought of being back in Colorado Springs, the one place he now felt at home, went some way toward easing the doubts that had been troubling him since leaving the hospital. As much as he had wanted to leave that place and put it behind him, he felt so vulnerable and exhausted that he wondered if he was indeed doing the right thing ... and now he was here, with Sam beside him, it all slid into place - he was coming home.

**********

Jack stared out across the immaculate lawns. The slight breeze fluttered the fabric that hung at his window and he sighed heavily as he pulled himself up. He was learning how to maneuver himself more easily and had become quite adept at transferring himself to and from his chair, and although the staff weren't very keen on him wandering around at all hours - it didn't stop him. He found it hard to just lie there when the sun rose and the views from his window had him yearning for his old home.

He grimaced at his legs - if just willing them to move could do it he'd be running around by now, but it seemed that any progress had halted, much to his despair.

He couldn't fault the hospital. The staff were excellent, the facilities more so - it was just that he did not want to be here.

And Sam - he missed Sam.

She drove down as much as her spare time allowed and Jack knew that Landry was giving her as much as he could, given the circumstances, but the demands of her work at the moment were running high.

Jack wasn't sure which was worse, knowing what was going on thanks to Hayes' refusal to retire him, or being in the dark - no strike that - knowing was better.

Paperwork had finally been permitted to be filtered to him. Nothing of a top secret nature of course, given his location, but he was grateful for the humdrum that kept some part of his mind from dwelling too deeply on his fears, and even the most mundane functions of his position gave him some feeling he was still a small part of the world that increasingly seemed to be moving along without him. Being here he felt so isolated from everyday life that sometimes the many years he had lived before the shooting had the quality of a dream.

Jack slowly went through the motions of getting himself partly dressed and into his chair before settling the loose robe Sam had bought him around his shoulders. He unfurled the collar and crushed the material to his face, inhaling deeply, seeking the comfort from the scent of Sam on it. He'd covered her with it on her last visit as she fell asleep in his room. He had sat and watched her sleeping for almost three hours before she woke with a guilty start, the faint blush staining her cheeks as she looked aghast at her faux pas.

She'd been so upset at losing some of their precious time together by sleeping through it that it took a while for her to accept that he wasn't angry and had thoroughly enjoyed just watching her...

Jack became so lost in remembering how the light caught her hair and the way it fell across her forehead and how soft her skin had looked that the sudden cough startled him.

"Sorry sir, I did knock, but ..."

Jack recovered rapidly, giving the young man a quick smile. "That's okay, I was just thinking."

"Are you ready for breakfast?"

Jack swiveled his chair to check the clock beside his bed, startled to find it was almost 0800 already. Sheesh, he'd better stop daydreaming...

By the time he had breakfasted and done his usual morning therapy there was barely time for a shower, then it was lunch time. Jack found it strange that his world seem to revolve around meal times, that and the next visitor.

Teal'c and Daniel had both been regular visitors, avoiding clashing with Sam wherever possible, for which he was grateful. He knew their schedules were hectic and although their visits were brief he looked forward to them immensely.

George Hammond had been calling him regularly and had visited twice. His bright and warm manner had helped Jack pick up a little when he felt down, not that he would admit that to anyone...

If he kept himself busy from the sun rise to the setting, then the days were bearable - it was the nights that were miserable. He missed Sam beside him, missed holding her and loving her and if he was honest, yes he missed making love as well. They'd talked about it, hell, he even read about it - but that was all at the moment. The truth was he was just as frightened of letting her down in that respect as he was of never walking again.

It was hard at first to interact with the other patients. Everyone he looked at seemed to scream home to him exactly what he was - a cripple - and the more he tried to dispel that image the more it came to haunt him - especially at night.

Ba'al's sneering visage bore down on him more than once as the bright white of the sarcophagus scathed his eyes. The evil mouth bore a malevolent smile as he stated with immense satisfaction that no amount of healing would allow Jack the use of his pathetic body...

He woke shouting, bathed in sweat, hauling himself upright in sheer panic as he groped for the light switch, blinking to clear his vision, to clear the tears from his eyes.

It soon became apparent that the more outgoing of the other patients would not let him keep to himself and he found that gradually he was adjusting to their company, occasionally even seeking it out of his own will. Even his poker game was improving, much to the disgust of one or two of the other players...

**********

Sam hummed softly to herself as she locked her car and made her way across to the main entrance. It was a nice building, not modern, but money had been spent on making it nothing but the best, then again, the prices they charged, they could certainly afford to. It was the best that Colorado could offer and even if their medical insurance and the Air Force, wasn't paying up she would have found the money somehow. Whatever it took, she wanted the best for Jack.

She was greeted politely by the reception staff and, once Jack's schedule was checked, was told he had just finished a pool therapy session. She continued through, her pace picking up as she neared her husband's room.

His door was partially open and she stopped at the sight of him through the doorway. He was staring out of the window, completely unaware of her presence. It was the expression on his face that prevented her from speaking - he looked so lost and lonely, his spirit seemingly depleted, that her heart ached. She wasn't sure how long she stood there watching him, taking in the soul weariness of his body language, and she wasn't sure just how long she would have continued to stand there if he hadn't suddenly swung away from the window, turning his chair deftly, startling her into movement.

His face lit as she stepped into the room, the glow in his eyes dispelling her heartache - at least for the time being.

He pulled her into his arms, bringing her down on his lap and literally snuggled her so close that she melted into his embrace. For a few minutes neither of them spoke, they were just content to hold and to feel.

She felt his breath on her neck as he nuzzled her and she brought her face around to his, capturing his mouth with her own as they sealed their love, savoring the taste of each other, slaking their thirst.

Sam felt quite breathless, her heart and her body hammering a pulse madly, and if truth be told, she also felt more than a little horny as her husband finally released her - just a little... She brought a hand up to stroke his face, leaning her forehead to touch his as his hand caressed her cheek. They exchanged another kiss, before Sam leaned back slightly, searching his eyes, trawling to plumb the depths of his soul.

"What?" he asked after a moment, his puzzlement showing clearly.

Sam smiled and shook her head. "Just glad to see you. Missed you."

"Me too," he moaned and pulled her closer, hugging her more tightly even than before.

Eventually Sam made to rise and Jack complained.

"I don't want to hurt you," she insisted.

"It's not like I can ..." His words died and he shrugged. "Well, you're not exactly a heavy weight are you?" His gaze roved over her body as she rose and he raised a questioning eyebrow. "Are you eating properly? You're still losing weight aren't you?" he added accusingly.

"It's been kind of hectic lately but ..."

"Ah, no buts ... if you don't watch it you'll find yourself going for a full medical."

"A few pounds aren't exactly the end of the world, Jack," laughed Sam as she drew a chair close to him and sat down.

"You've been off-world? How long are you stood down for?"

"Forty-eight," admitted Sam.

"From?"

Sam shrugged then as she saw the warning light in his eyes she consulted her watch. "From six hours ago."

Jack quickly did the math. "You just got back from off-world six hours ago - post mission check, de-brief - drive here - so when did you eat and sleep?"

"I'm fine, not tired ..."

"Sam, you cannot continue like this, you're going to burn yourself out. You didn't spend any of your stand-down at home last time."

Sam was surprised. She was going to have a go at him, question his seemingly somber mood, and here he was - accosting her. She opened her mouth to inject something into the conversation, when his thumb was pressed to her lips.

"Ah, not to mention if you're not one hundred percent on a mission you are not only endangering yourself, but your team."

Sam was more than a little shame faced as she gazed at him. She knew he was right, but she also knew she would go crazy if she couldn't spend more time with him. On each of her visits he'd been cheerful, enthusiastic even, about his progress, but she also knew it wasn't genuine, that something wasn't right and the unguarded moment she had just caught him in was more likely nearer an indication of his true feelings.

"You need to go home and rest."

"I can rest here, with you."

Jack squeezed her hand. "A quick nap won't recharge your batteries properly."

"And how much sleep did you get last night?" she inquired testily.

"Not a lot, but unlike you I can take a nap whenever I feel like it. Sam, please, as much as I want you here and as much as I miss you, please don't make me worry about you more than I have to."

Looking at her husband's earnest expression and hearing the passionate tone in his voice, Sam realized just how concerned he was about her. The last thing she wanted to do was cause him unnecessary aggravation. "Oh, Jack, I know it's hard, and it's no good telling you not to worry, we both know what it can be like out there, but you need to ..."

"What? Please don't say focus my attention ..."

Sam laughed. "No, I wasn't. I know what your attention span is." She giggled as she held up her finger and thumb to demonstrate a tiny gap.

He grinned and shook his head. "Too generous ... err, what were you saying?"

Slapping his shoulder lightly, Sam leaned in to steal another kiss, until Jack broke away. "Ah, stop changing the subject ..."

"Had a good teacher ..." She nipped his lips. "Great teacher ..." she murmured and kissed him again...

**********

Finally Jack persuaded Sam to go and get some proper rest. He threatened to speak to Landry if she so much as showed her nose in his room before the next afternoon and Sam reluctantly followed his orders. She was well on her way to the exit before she realized that he'd neatly turned her concern over him around.

The smiling receptionist was most helpful and quickly made the call to Jack's rehabilitation program manager while Sam waited patiently in the waiting room she was shown to.

She'd met Jack's program manager on more than one occasion and had come to respect this man who would take none of the crap that Jack threw. She felt a little silly at first as she voiced her doubts over her husband's wellbeing, but Stu Freund was quick to tell her he was only too happy to discuss any issues she might have.

"I appreciate your concerns. General O'Neill is adapting physically remarkably quickly, however he is pushing himself very hard. We feel he's becoming frustrated with what he sees as a lack of progress." He looked over at Sam and paused, tapping the pen he had in his hand against the notepad in front of him. "I know Doctor Hill has discussed the possibility of further return of sensation with you both."

Sam nodded and he continued. "Whilst we are happy the General is striving so hard to become independent, we feel he still needs to come to terms with his disability. As Doctor Hill explained, further progress could be limited to very minor movement, or even no movement at all."

"I know ... she explained." Sam couldn't help looking down to hide the distress she knew showed in her eyes. This was exactly what she had been so afraid would happen. That Jack would get his hopes up, only to see them dashed.

"That's the worst case scenario, Mrs O'Neill. Hopefully your husband will regain movement and may yet even surprise us by walking out of here." Sam raised her eyes to find Stu smiling understandingly back at her. "It wouldn't be the first time that has happened with one of our patients, and with General O'Neill's drive to succeed, I know if anyone can do it, he can. But ..." He emphasized the next few words, "but he isn't doing himself any good if he pushes himself too hard, or gets himself upset. He's doesn't appear to be sleeping very well and does tend to roam a lot on his own, especially at night. To be honest, his counselor is worried that what the General sees as his lack of progress may be causing him to become depressed."

Sam nodded and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "He isn't ... he's trying to hide it, but I know he's feeling ..." Sam hesitated. The word `depressed' seemed to bear too much of a stigma, too much against the military grain. "He's a very private man and he finds it hard to share his feelings. I have know my husband for almost nine years and I still find it very hard to know what he is thinking at times - and that's when he's not trying to hide anything. He's been through an awful lot in his service and ..." Sam stopped. She knew they had been given access to Jack's medical records, but just how much access, she wasn't sure.

"I appreciate that we may not be privy to all of the General's medical history, though what we do have is alarmingly extensive. His service in the Gulf and ... treatment as a POW is well documented, along with other horrifying ordeals he has been subjected to, including the death of his son. Though some of the circumstances behind those incidents are somewhat vague, it is clear that your husband is a survivor, Mrs O'Neill. What his rehabilitation team does all agree on is that the General is not someone who will sit and wait, and the battle is getting him to come to terms with his disability. We are not asking that he settles for anything less than a full life, Mrs O'Neill, only that he accepts that his life may have to be lived differently. We can support him, teach him, but the final step on his road to full rehabilitation can only come from himself."

**********

Freund's words stayed with Sam on the drive home, but the buzz word in her brain was depression. She'd seen how he was for herself, just a short while ago and she recalled vividly the early years she had served with Jack, but most of all, the revelation behind Jack's first trip through the Stargate as a suicide mission - she knew exactly what a depressed Jack O'Neill could be capable of - and it frightened her.

**********

Jack knew he was in trouble the second he saw his wife's face. The determined look she wore spelt trouble with a capital T.

He searched his memory, trying to remember if he had upset her - or someone else - nah, he'd even been apologetic to the therapist when his damn twitchy foot had kicked out earlier that day and caught the young man in an embarrassing, not to mention painful, place.

Sam bent to hug and kiss him, somewhat briefly, much to his chagrin, but before he could return the hug she was straightening and dragging a chair over to sit beside him.

Oh ... crap, her face now bore the look as if someone had taken her favorite do- hickey of the moment and broken it - and didn't he know that look well enough over the years. He cleared his throat. "Ah, you look like you ..." He wavered in the full force of her glare. Where the hell had his anti-glare shield snuck off to?

Oh crap ... now her face lit with a calculated `gotcha'.

"Jack. We have to talk."

Double crap.

Her expression now changed to 'I know what you are thinking and if it isn't, it sure as hell will be shortly'.

"Talk away."

"You promised me we would face this together, that you wouldn't shut me out."

Jack nodded. He had. Couldn't argue with that.

"How are you feeling?"

Her question took him by surprise. "Uh, okaaaay," he drawled slowly, wondering what was coming next.

"Ah, see?" she said, revealing just a hint of triumph.

"Uh?"

"Okay. You think you could try again?"

Oh, the tone was now `don't mess with me' - and no sir at that!

"Thank you dear, I am very well."

"Jack!"

He shrugged. He was used to living dangerously. "Well, for crying out loud, how do you expect me to answer? Okay? Fine? Marvelous? Hunky dory? Peachy?"

Sam grasped his arm to stop his tirade. "Truthfully, Jack. I know you, remember?"

Jack felt the bile rising, the churning in his stomach viciously competing with the fear that roiled constantly in his gut. Suddenly Jack found he couldn't hold back, couldn't conceal his churning emotions in the face of her determination. He didn't want to shut her out, but it was something so ingrained in him that it hurt - yet he couldn't risk losing her. "I don't know what the truth is anymore ..." He groaned and ducked his head, bringing up his hands to shield his face from her. He breathed deeply, searching for the words that were straining to be heard. "I can't ..."

The gentle tug at his hands not only lowered them but lowered all his resistance and the damn burst. "Truth is I want out of here. I want to - no wait ... the truth is I want to get up and fucking walk out of here!"

Jack felt his pulse racing as his anger and frustration took control. He stopped, horrified at revealing so much, as he frantically searched her face, wanting - craving reassurance.

Sam sighed and closed her eyes for a moment.

"And I want to go home ..." His voice died to a whisper. "I want to be home, with you."

The lump in his throat wouldn't be swallowed - it just grew. His eyes burned with unshed tears and he clenched them tightly closed.

"I want to be whole again Sam, to be able to walk with you, make love to you. I want my life back, I want ..." He broke off with a sobbed breath and he opened his eyes, blinking viciously at the moisture that blurred his vision, to find her gaze upon him. Her blue eyes were so intense they were startling and he almost forgot to breathe as he was drawn into them.

"I know you're hurting, Jack and I'm hurting with you. I can never feel exactly what you are feeling and I know I simply can't feel the same pain at what you are going through, but I'm here beside you and I want - god, no, I need you to share it with me. Don't tell me you are fine when you aren't. I want you home, I want all of those things with you, but you can't do it alone. There's no limit to what you can do even if you never walk again. The only limit you will have is the limit you will place on yourself and what you can achieve."

"Easy to say, less than easy to do. A twitchy foot and an occasionally numb hard on don't exactly ..."

"Oh no, mister, no way are you going to give me that cop out. You gave one hundred and ten percent all of your life to the damned Air Force and you are not going to get away with less with me. I admit you haven't always gotten that from me, but that's going to change. There is still hope, always hope, Jack. It's not going to be a fast track or a smooth one, you know that."

Jeez, her eyes flashing with fire - it made quite a vision. Feisty - but he had always known that - hadn't he? He sighed. "I know but I still wanted it to be quick. I knew how long I was supposed to be staying here for, but I was going to be up and out of here before now - that was the plan ..."

"Plan B?" asked Sam, moving closer and her hand grasped his.

"Plan B was a couple of weeks extra."

"Plan C?"

"Wasn't one."

"No plan C? Oy, Jack I Want Another Option O'Neill ..." Sam smacked a hand to her forehead in mock annoyance. "You had better make a Plan C, mister and make it a good one or they'll not let you home for a weekend next week."

"A weekend?" Was he disgusted or excited? Darn it, he'd been waiting for what seemed forever and it was just one lousy weekend!

"The house is almost ready, just the odd finishing touches, and you're apparently waaaay ahead of schedule with your independence, so?"

"Just you and me?" he asked suspiciously.

"Oh, and who else would you like to share your bed with?" she queried with a frown.

Jack gave her a grin and she shook her head. "Oh, don't answer that, please. I am not inviting Mary Steenburgen for the weekend."

She slapped Jack playfully as he feigned disappointment.

"They want someone to come out and check the house and also pay us a visit while you are home to see how we are coping, but other than that ..."

Jack's grin widened. "We get to share a bed?"

"You only want me for my body or what?"

"Oh, what's the or what?"

Sam rolled her eyes and laughed.

**********

The plan was to get Jack thinking ahead, giving him something to look forward to and also a chance for them to spend, hopefully that was, some quality time together. Freund was all for it and had helped her to get things rolling ... she just hoped that this would be the incentive for Jack to push on inside, climb out of the mental gulley he was in...

**********

The days wouldn't pass fast enough for Jack. He was caught between the agony of waiting and the terrible gnawing fear of the weekend not working out. He'd listened to Sam and had actually begun to take in what his counselor was saying - surprise surprise - albeit with an intense impatience that neither person could have failed to have been aware of.

He re-read the literature he'd been given previously, but this time he did more than scan through it and even went to the lengths of checking some of the recommended books out from the library - though these he kept well hidden in his room when any visitors were due. There was such a mass of information available, but some of it didn't make much sense to him. There were far too many if's and and's - he didn't like those - he liked to know where he stood - or in his case - sat!

His counselor, AJ, wasn't easy to talk to, but Jack didn't find that unexpected - to him no-one was. The guy scored well in that Jack liked him and had built a grudging respect for the man - he seemed to know what he was talking about. The ugly `sex' word had reared its head and Jack felt so acutely embarrassed that he hadn't said a word as AJ talked. Give the man his due, he actually explained a difficult subject with such a matter of fact approach that gradually Jack forgot his embarrassment and began to ask the odd question, eventually mounting a full assault on the man's knowledge.

It was toward the end of the session before Jack realized he had never spoken so much to anyone on such an acutely personal subject before as he had done today ... maybe there was some hope for him yet.

**********

Friday just didn't come soon enough for Sam. She'd had a hectic week at work, mostly lab work and catching up on her paperwork, and on top of that she'd had to spend a couple of half days at the rehab center learning more about what to do and what not to do when she took her husband home, as well as giving Freund a guided tour of their home to see if it passed muster. But at last Friday was finally here.

Additional help with the house had come in the form of their friends. Although the professionals had been enlisted for the specialist equipment, the shower, the lifting bars above the bed, supports and ramps etc, there was a great deal of day to day maintenance that had been sadly lacking since her temporary departure from the SGC and her subsequent marriage. With the help of Daniel, Teal'c and even Cam, the whole house gleamed immaculately and most importantly, it looked a welcoming home. They had also openly stated that they would not be calling unless they were explicitly asked to do so and Sam welcomed their tact and intuition as she had struggled with whether or not she should invite them over...

**********

Sam had to stop herself from skipping across the car park. It had been strange driving the large hire vehicle - her much smaller car couldn't possibly have accommodated Jack and his wheelchair ... that was something else they would have to think of sometime in the near future.

It was a long morning before they finally departed and Jack was very quiet on the drive over. She nearly had said out loud that it was a pity Jack had sold his truck, but had just managed to bite the comment back before it was uttered - thankfully.

She pulled up outside their home and without hesitation unloaded the chair and maneuvered it into position for Jack to begin to transfer himself. She watched as he carefully completed the task, his movements fluid and practiced, but she didn't miss the lines of pain and tiredness as he sank back into his chair, nor the sigh of relief.

He didn't comment on the newly installed ramps and grab handles, but Sam knew he hadn't missed a trick.

"I'm just going to unload your gear. Take a look around, I won't be long." She spoke cheerfully, but tried to keep it matter of fact and his mumbled response could have been anything, but she shut it out and moved out to the car.

She stopped for a moment on the sidewalk, taking a few deep breaths. It was bound to be strange, bound to be awkward at first - they had warned her. Raising her chin and pulling back her shoulders, she began to unload the car and turned with a new determination toward the house...

**********

Sam went to put Jack's gear in their bedroom and that was where she found him, staring at the bed. Giving him a bright smile, she hefted his bag onto it and began to automatically unpack everything.

He continued to watch her silently for a minute of two, before he turned his chair around and left without speaking.

Sighing heavily she continued to put his things away, and moved onto straightening the tidy room, stalling for time, wondering how to break the ice.

"Coffee?"

The quietly spoken question startled her and she swung to find him watching her, the special tray clipped to his chair bearing two mugs of the steaming beverage.

Sam smiled. "Oh God, yes please ..." She was eager to take the ice breaker and he brought the chair closer to the bed, signaling her to sit before offering her the drink.

She caught him eyeing the bars that hung just above his side of the bed that would enable him to pull himself up.

"They reinforced the ceiling," she said casually.

"You implying I'm heavy?" he grinned.

"No ..." Sam gave him a smirk, "but just think what we can do with those later?"

Jack coughed and the mouthful of coffee he had just taken sputtered out.

"Oh God, don't." He coughed again and Sam took the mug off him, fearing he might scald himself.

"Sorry."

"Huh, witch." His grin showed that he didn't mean the words.

She waited until he'd finished spluttering and then put the mugs down on the bedside cabinet that remained on her side of the bed and removed the tray from the chair. She saw the wary expression on his face and it upset her a little before she managed to shake it off.

"I need a hug," she said simply and climbed on his knee, hugging him as she buried her face in his neck.

He was stiff and unyielding for a moment until she felt his arms snake around her to envelop her in a tight embrace as his body relaxed. His lips touched softly, placing butterfly kisses on her neck and he inhaled deeply, snuffling against her, his arms tightening...

"God I love you, Sam." His voice was the merest of whispers.

She pulled her head back from his neck and stroked his face gently. "Backatya flyboy, backatya."

**********

Their first night in bed together didn't start comfortably. Jack had gotten himself into it while Sam locked the house up and did a quick tidy up. As she moved about the bedroom, undressing and folding some other clothes, she was very aware of him watching her. She went to move the chair away from the bed unthinkingly, until he stopped her.

"Sorry, I didn't ..."

"S'okay, come on, you're exhausted."

Sam found herself feeling awkward as to how to lie ... she was so used to Jack spooning up behind her, his arms around her, that it seemed strange he was lying flat on his back. They were both exhausted. The day had been filled with frustrations and limitations for Jack, and although Sam understood and had tried as hard as she could to be patient, she had come very close a couple of times to letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't the only one having problems adjusting to his return home in a wheelchair. She was quite surprised and pleased they had actually managed to make it bed without a single unpleasant word being exchanged.

"Sam?"

"Uh?"

Silently Jack raised his arm, inviting her to rest her head on his chest and Sam snuggled in ... it wasn't so strange after all ... her fingers scratched gently through the hairs on his chest as she breathed deeply, loving the feel of him, the scent of him - he was home - maybe not for long at the moment, but for now, he was home.

As much as she wanted to savor the feeling of lying in his arms, she soon drifted off into a deep and untroubled sleep.

**********

Sam rolled and stretched. The sunlight was already flooding the bedroom and she idly wondered what time it was. That had been the best night's sleep she'd had in a long time.

She stared sleepily at the other side of the bed. It was empty and for a second or two it didn't hit...

"Jack?" Calling out, she quickly rose, and grabbing a robe to cover herself, she strode out of the bedroom, repeating his name.

"Hey." He swung his chair around, grinning widely at her as she entered the kitchen. "Morning sleepy head."

Sam finished fastening the robe. "You should have woken me." She felt a little embarrassed at not stirring when he got out of bed.

"You needed the rest, honey. Coffee?"

"Please." She sat at the table beneath the window, rather than the breakfast bar. At the suggestion of Freund, she'd already removed one of the chairs so Jack could use the table freely, and she was glad of that, along with where the coffee machine and supplies were sited. She knew she had to resist the urge to try and see to everything - besides, he made much better coffee than she did.

"How did you sleep?" she asked as she brought the beverages over.

"Fine. Best night I've had since ..." His voice trailed off.

"That's good." Sam kept it light and bright. "You going to cook breakfast or is that down to me?"

"Unless you want cereal, it's down to you. That stove is a bit high for me at the moment."

Sam frowned. "Oh, blast ... guess I'll have to make it then."

"We could always get take-out," said Jack, his frown deepening, "The meals are pretty good at the center ... don't know if I can ..."

Sam laughed and swatted a hand toward his head. "You showered already?"

"Yes ma'am, all done, shaved an' all."

Sam dipped her head to kiss him, her fingers gliding over his cheeks and chin. "Mmmm, not bad. What do you fancy doing today? Anything in mind? Unless we invite anyone specifically we won't be getting visitors."

Jack nodded. "No visitors is fine ... maybe next time. Can we go for a drive? Don't need to stop anywhere, just want to see what's been happening in the neighborhood."

"Oh, what about your exercises?"

"Done while you were still asleep, except my legs, you can help me later with that."

"Let me shower and change, then I'll be right with you," she promised.

Jack playfully swatted her ass as she moved off. "Don't be long - or I'll get bored," he threatened.

Sam rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "Heaven help us. Be right back."

**********

The drive was nice, very relaxing really. The silence that descended on them was companionable, quite natural to them both. Sam had given Jack a brief tour of their immediate neighborhood and then they chose to drive further afield. They stopped at a diner and Sam grabbed some take-out and they headed out. The car park they found was quite deserted and it overlooked a nice view, partially surrounded by trees, making it a pleasant place to stop for a while.

"This is better," Jack said with a sigh after they finished their meal.

"You missed the trees huh?" Sam responded, with a grin.

"No - I meant it's better than your cooking." He crumbled the empty bag and lopped it at her.

"You looking for an adrenaline burst mister?" She growled and slid across the seat to him. Before he could answer she neatly twisted and sat in his lap, facing him.

His arms snaked around her without hesitation and he lifted his head, his grin wide, his eyes alight with amusement. "Hell, yeah ... I'm sure they jabbed a lot of things in my ass at the hospital, but adrenaline wasn't one of them ..."

Sam captured his lips, effectively silencing him, only breaking off when the need for air became immediate. She shifted heavily and was about to kiss him again when he yelped.

"Aagh."

Sam stilled. "What? Are you okay?" The clear look of pain on his face alarmed her.

"Crap ... uh, get off... I've ... oh crap."

Sam returned to her seat as gently as she could, but Jack continued to groan in pain, his hands grabbing at his right knee.

"Jack?"

"Uh, oh crap... Christ." His face contorted in agony.

Sliding closer, Sam grasped him by the shoulder. "Jack, what? Can you feel ... should we go back to ..." She was beginning to panic and she knew it - all her military training had flown out of the window.

"Of all the ... why the fuck does it have to be this knee!" Jack spat and groaned again.

"Shouldn't I get you to ..."

"No - uh." He blew out a breath and began to draw air in deeply, obviously making an effort to clamp down on the pain. Then his face crumpled.

Sam almost became frantic then, fearing he was going to break down or collapse on her ... but it was laughter that erupted from him - honest to goodness laughter.

"Jack?"

He turned his head to face her, still laughing. "Oh, Sam ..." He couldn't get the words out straightaway, and it took him a few minutes to calm down.

"I can feel my knee. Hurts like fuck, but I can actually feel it."

"That's ... good?"

"That's great. At first I thought it was just that burning sensation I get sometimes, usually when my foot starts twitching ... but ..." He looked downwards and framed his knee between his two hands. "I can actually feel it ..."

Sam didn't know what to do. She was still somewhat dazed by the outburst of his emotions and the revelation. Jack took the indecision away from her by pulling her into a tight hug and as she gazed up at his face, she realized what had been missing for so long now from him was beginning to re-emerge - the light from within him.

**********

Sam insisted on driving directly home, despite Jack's protests. Finally in an effort to calm her, Jack made her phone rehab to tell Freund what had happened and ask his advice.

After listening for a while, Sam put the receiver down and faced her husband. "As long as you are feeling okay and the pain isn't too much for you ... enjoy - but don't attempt anything you shouldn't and Stu will be along later as planned. How's the pain?"

"It's okay. Just like a bit of toothache, but ..." Jack massaged the joint with both his hands, "I can feeeeeel it." His face lit with glee as he said the magic words.

Okay - it wasn't much by some standards, but the return of actual sensation in even that small body part - to Jack it was huge. The burning in his thigh was increasing, but he kept that discomfort to himself. He kept touching the joint to make sure he wasn't imagining it - he couldn't help it.

"How far does the sensation go?" asked Sam, kneeling in front of him, clearly somewhat mollified by her conversation with Freund.

Jack grabbed at her hands. "Here ..." He placed her hands on his knee and she hesitantly began to gently stroke it.

"Oh baby ..." he moaned, falsetto.

"Ass." She smiled broadly and moved her hands around, gaining confidence.

Jack knew he had a stupid grin on his face, but he couldn't do a thing about it. He could actually feel the warmth from Sam's hands - and boy did it feel good. There wasn't much sensation below the knee, but he did feel her hands as they moved up his thigh.

Jack's breath hitched a notch as her hands continued up. The burning sensation wasn't all that he was feeling and the momentary flush of embarrassment he felt disappeared as he became trapped by her steady gaze. Sam rose and leaned into him, kissing him deeply, drawing a sobbed breath as they broke apart.

The tears that were streaming down her face made his heart contract and he brought both hands up to trap her face between them, his thumbs brushing at the salty tracks on her cheeks. "Don't baby, please don't ..."

"Sorry ... it's just that ... oh love ..."

They held each other tightly. It was another step forward. Another notch in the post ... a further confirmation of hope...

**********

Silently they moved to the bedroom, Sam's hand on Jack's shoulder as they moved together.

She realized that Jack was nervous, hell, so was she ... and as he brought the chair beside the bed, she leaned in, kissing him thoroughly, before stepping backwards to allow him to transfer himself onto the bed.

The tingling anticipation she felt wasn't diminished as she waited until he was comfortable then began to help him undress, stroking and kissing, murmuring how much she loved him, keeping full contact with his eyes.

When he was fully undressed she moved back from the bed and undressed herself slowly, teasing him gently, before moving alongside him.

He gently urged her to sit on him as he stroked her body, the kisses beginning to lose their softness as the passion rose.

Sam felt almost breathless as she ground against him, the thudding of her heart in tune with the thrumming of her body, her senses very much alive and singing, - no - crying out for him.

His hands were never still, his long fingers stoking her body to its penultimate desire, promoting the ultimate...

Jack's breath caught in his throat as she moved against him and Sam's desire raged, the fire burning, her lips searching and her mouth tasting him, stirring the intensity. Her body arched against him and she stifled a sob as he tore his mouth away from hers.

His eyes flickered down, unable to keep the contact, his long lashes closing off her reflection.

"Jack?" she whispered.

He silently brought her hand between them and she realized what had caused him to draw away.

She leaned in closer, placing soft kisses upon his closed eyes, her hand not still, but though the spirit was willing - the flesh was certainly weak.

She continued to move against him, stroking and talking softly, her lips against his. "It's okay, Jack, look at me."

It took a couple minutes before he raised his eyes to hers, but before he could speak she sealed her mouth to his, kissing him thoroughly before moving back, just a little.

"There are other ways we can ..."

Jack tried to smile. "I can take care of you."

"I meant ... there are ways to sustain and we don't need to wait for drugs or anything ..."

Jack frowned. "What?"

"There are ... you know what about the ... extra stimulation?"

Jack's frown turned to puzzlement.

Sam sighed. He could be so frustrating at times ... not to mention how frustrated she was feeling... "Jack, honestly ... the leaflets ... the books ..." He gazed at her solemnly, his expression quite blank. "Anal stimulation." There - she had said it and by the look on Jack's face he understood what she was saying. The problem was, she hadn't anticipated his reaction. His pale expression showed something very akin of disgust.

"No way."

Sam didn't understand why Jack was acting like this. He'd never struck her as uptight, usually being quite adventurous in their lovemaking, but his reaction went beyond plain disapproval.

"Jack, I won't hurt you. It can work ... the counselor said that ..."

"You were discussing our sex life with him?"

"No - yes - not what we had before, but what might happen now," said Sam firmly.

"He told you I would be impotent?"

"You're not impotent honey, just ..."

"Can't keep it up," he responded bitterly.

"It's a perfectly normal reaction, Jack. You've been through a hell of a lot and your body is under tremendous stress. How do you expect it all to cope? I know you've read the information they gave us and that this might happen. We can work through this together." She began to place soft kisses on his neck, leaning against him. "Come on - let's at least try."

He struggled a little, pushing her away.

"No a ... no."

Sam was genuinely shocked at his reaction. "Jack?"

"Anything but that, Sam - anything."

Sam slid off his body, but didn't turn away. She brought the bed cover over them both and she cuddled close, insinuating herself beneath his arm, her head on his shoulder. She brought her leg over to lie across his, her hand stroking his stomach, trying to soothe him.

"Talk to me."

Jack took a shaky breath, but remained silent.

"Your promise," she reminded him.

She felt him nod his head.

"I ... I just can't, Sam."

"It won't hurt. You might even enjoy ..."

"Iraq."

The one word stopped Sam cold. Her scalp prickled. That one word he uttered with such anguish made her heart bleed. She managed to resume the gentle strokes on his stomach, but her own was recoiling in sympathy for him.

He drew another shaky breath. "Please, Sam, I will do anything for you, anything, but not that ..."

Sam understood then what the counselor had inferred when he said that they would need extreme patience in the handling of her husband under certain circumstances, given his history.

"It's okay, Jack, I understand. We don't have to do anything you aren't one hundred percent comfortable with." She moved her hand lower, and she felt the sharp intake of his breath, however her hand continued down to his knee and she began to gently stroke it, placing kisses on his chest.

"Let's just enjoy each other. We don't need to make love. Let me enjoy you."

Jack didn't answer and Sam took that as a go ahead. She moved more across him in tiny increments, her hands never still, and as her lips found his, his hands began to return the motion and stimulate her flesh.

For several minutes nothing else existed, no thoughts, no recriminations, nothing, beyond the touch and taste of each other. Jack murmured something into her mouth and she presently drew back to let him speak.

"You taste so good, feel so good ..."

Sam smiled and continued with her hands.

"Oh, God, sooo good, missed you sooo much."

He captured her lips again pulling her against him tightly...

Suddenly his hands gripped her arms with bruising force. "Christ," he moaned. Sam drew a sharp breath and he quickly let go as he realized he must have hurt her. "Oh God, I'm sorry ... don't let go, Sam, don't let go."

Sam clung onto him as soon as she realized what had startled him. She moved her body slowly, feeling him beneath her and reveling in the hard strength, so familiar and so so longed for. Then, with a fierceness born of passionate desire, she drew him into her. As their flesh met and mingled she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his, her tongue searching and tasting, searing and stoking their desires into a molten furnace ... giving him no chance of further thought ... only feelings ... encapsulating, encompassing all their emotions and cravings ... into the simple act of love.

**********

Sam heard the ding dong of the bell, somewhere in the midst of her dreams and it took a moment for it to register. She snuggled closer to her husband, until the sound finally penetrated her brain.

She sat up, her movement causing Jack to groan and his arm snaked up to pull her back down.

"Door bell."

"Leave it ..." he murmured sleepily.

Sam took a glance at her bedside clock. "Shit, look at the time, it must be Freund ..."

"Tell him ... to come back ... later ..." Jack's voice was sleep sodden.

Rearing up, Sam grabbed at some of her clothes. "Come on, Jack, we can't ..." She scurried round the bed and began flinging his clothes on top of him. "Get dressed," she urged as she fought to get herself decent.

Jack peered out from under the shirt that had landed partly across his face. The twinkle in his eyes and the lazy grin of satisfaction on his face were unmistakable and Sam paused in the midst of dressing for a moment, smiling down at him. However, another ding dong of the bell promoted a further flurry of activity and she grabbed at her top, forcing her arms into it and bringing it over her head. "Get dressed," she hissed from beneath the material, "I'll stall him."

Not waiting for a response, she left the room, closing the door behind her with a bang.

**********

Sam smoothed down her clothes and ran her fingers through her hair instead of combing it. Taking a deep breath she plastered a smile on her face and opened the door.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," she apologized to Stu Freund and stood back to let him enter. "I was out back ..."

"No problem." He walked into the lounge area and Sam signaled him to take a seat.

He was looking around as he spoke and Sam gave him a smile as she crossed to the kitchen area. "Coffee?"

"Please. How's it going?"

Setting the machine to brew, she busied herself putting clean mugs in place. "Fine. Jack's uh, taking a nap." She moved back into the lounge area and carried on through toward the bedroom. "If you excuse me a moment, I'll let him know you're here."

"No problem, take your time. I'm glad to hear he's resting, it can be very exhausting."

Color flooded Sam's cheeks as she left the room, but thankfully her back was to him.

**********

"... told him you were napping ..."

Jack was mostly dressed as she entered, but was having an issue with his pants. "Damn knee," he complained.

Sam shook her head as she caught sight of the swollen joint. "Oh, Jack... Don't you think we had better get ..."

"I'm okay, it's just the fluid build up. We can strap it later."

Wordlessly Sam took a loose fit pair of sweat pants from a drawer and helped him dress.

He transferred himself to his chair, gritting his teeth, clearly trying to hold back from showing his discomfort as he settled his feet on their supports.

Chewing at her bottom lip, Sam watched anxiously, seeing how much he was hurting even if he was doing his best to hide it.

"Go on, better get back out there," said Jack.

"You're not coming?"

"Gotta pee."

"Oh, okay ..." Sam nodded and took a deep breath as she left. She couldn't believe how much she felt like she'd been caught doing something she shouldn't... It wasn't even as if they shouldn't... At least no-one had said they shouldn't... `Relax', she chided herself. She pasted that smile on her face again and returned to the lounge.

By the time she'd poured three coffees and taken a seat, Jack was wheeling himself through. "Ah coffeeee," he said with a grin. "Stu." He greeted the man with a quick handshake, before taking the drink from the table, holding the warm mug between his hands as he took a few sips.

**********

Jack saw that Sam still seemed a little flustered and he gave her a smile and nod of understanding.

"How's it going, General?"

"Good, great even."

Stu raised an eyebrow to Sam and she nodded enthusiastically.

"Now then, tell me more about the knee. Do you still have sensation?"

"Yep." Jack grinned. "And more."

"More?"

"Oh yes, definitely more ..." Jack couldn't help the glee that he knew must be reflected in his voice. He was trying to keep his face more neutral, but boy it was failing fast.

"It's my right knee and would you credit it, it hurts a little, but I can feel from here ..." Jack demonstrated on his leg, touching just below his knee, "to here ... and here."

Jack's grin widened as he indicated quite high up on his thigh, almost to his groin.

"You didn't mention that in your call earlier, Mrs O'Neill," said Stu, turning his attention to Sam.

"We didn't know then," smirked Jack, enjoying the flush of color that rose in Sam's face. "That happened later, when we ..."

Sam jumped up, interrupting him. "Yes, quite a surprise. His knee is swollen though. Do you think he needs to see the doctor?" She looked at Jack as she spoke, her expression glaring, indicating payback.

"I can strap it effectively, had enough practice. The swelling will go down."

"I'm sure you can, sir. I understand it is an old and somewhat persistent injury. If anything changes from the norm you only have to call and we can arrange for a doctor to see you. Now then, how are the changes around the house working out?"

"Okay, though I haven't actually been out in the yard yet ... not tried out everything."

"Any problems in the bathroom?"

"Nope. I managed everything for myself this morning." Jack puffed up with more than a little pride.

"Bedroom?"

Jack was distracted by the sudden sight of Sam's face turning puce at an amazing rate.

"General, any problems with the equipment in the bedroom?" prompted Stu.

Jack's grin was so wide, it almost caught him ear to ear. "We had a little problem earlier, but it wasn't anything my wife couldn't fix."

"An equipment malfunction?"

Sam rose, spluttering back a choking cough.

"Honey, get yourself a drink of water." Jack tried for a sympathetic face, but knew he was failing miserably.

Sam nodded, giving him a glare as she coughed, her hand covering her mouth as she escaped into the kitchen area rather hurriedly.

"Sorry, where were we? Oh yes, the equipment's fine now, thanks to my wife's capable hands."

Jack almost laughed out loud when he heard Sam coughing water out over the sink. He had to swing his chair around away from Stu to compose himself. "You okay honey."

Sam continued to cough a little, wiping her face on a cloth, keeping her back to them.

"And you're continuing your exercises?"

Jack swung back to smile at the other man. "You bet."

"Well, if you're sure there's nothing... I'm quite happy for you to return to the Center Monday evening." He raised his voice slightly to address Sam in the kitchen. "I do hope you're not coming down with a cold, Mrs O'Neill." Sam managed a nod and Stu continued. "If you need absolutely anything, or have any questions, General, anything at all, please do not hesitate to call, twenty-four hours okay?"

Stu rose and Jack moved his chair with him toward the door. Sam managed to recover herself and came forward to stand beside Jack, one hand on the chair as they said goodbye.

"Don't forget to take full advantage of all the equipment, General. It is there for your benefit."

"Oh, I think I can do that. Those bars in the bedroom are particularly good ..." Jack practically leered at Sam as he spoke and the delightful shade of puce was back, rapidly rising up her neck.

Stu managed a polite cough and raised his hand to wave goodbye as he made his escape down the path.

Sam turned round to Jack, hands on her hips, her eyes blazing, the puce all the way up to her face once more. "You are so for it!" she barked.

"Oooops?" offered Jack weakly, his eyebrows raised, but expression somewhat pleading.

Her expression changing suddenly, Sam leered back at him. "In the bedroom mister!"

Jack swung the chair as she raced off. "Hey not fair," he whined.

"No, it's not ... and shut the door!"

Jack half turned and slammed the door shut, hurriedly putting his chair into motion. "Hey, wait for me!"

**********

Jack had been up quite a while and had enjoyed watching the sunrise from the back porch. The sun was up and shining before he heard his wife moving around and he swung his chair back inside to join her.

They spent a quiet Sunday morning reading the papers and eating a late breakfast that Sam cooked.

"Is there anything you fancy doing today?" she asked as she cleared the dishes. "Want to visit anyone?"

Jack shrugged.

"Shopping?"

"Ack, no way. How about another drive, a picnic?" If Sam had noticed his wanting to avoid people in general, she hadn't said anything - yet.

The ringing of the phone interrupted them and although Jack was nearer to it, he hesitated a little before picking it up.

"Hello."

The voice that squealed down his ear had him holding the receiver a little away from it.

"UNCLE JACK!"

"Hi Cassie."

"Oh, Uncle Jack, when did you get home? How are you? Are you home for good yet?"

Jack grinned. "Friday. Fine. No, just the weekend."

"Uncle Jack ... oh it's so good to hear your voice. I really missed you."

"I miss you too honey."

"I'm sorry I couldn't get up to DC again before the exams started, but at least you're home now."

"Hey no sweat. How's it all going?" He could almost see the teenager's grimace.

"It's okay. I miss you all so much though. The semester break starts in a couple of weeks, I can come visit you. How's Sam?"

"She's fine."

"You are behaving aren't you, Uncle Jack?"

"Yes ma'am, absolutely."

The teenager giggled. "Is everyone okay then?"

"We're fine honey, doing fine. I can't wait to see you. Do you want to have a word with Sam?"

"Tell her I'll call back later this week, I've got to go now. It was just a quick call ... um, Uncle Jack?"

"What?"

"Look after yourself. Love you."

"Love you too, Cass."

"Byyyyyyyyye."

**********

Sam listened to Jack's side of the conversation. She had heard the squeal as Jack held the receiver away from his ear and she laughed as she heard Cassie's voice. She knew that Cassie was upset at not being able to visit Jack more than she had, but exams had to come first. Cassie had settled well at college, but she knew that she missed everyone badly. Sam had grown closer to the girl since Janet's death, and also was well aware just how much Cassie had missed Jack when he moved to DC. She heard the warmth in Jack's voice as he spoke to the Cassie. Jack adored her and Cassie returned the affection.

Jack made a show of rubbing his ear as he replaced the receiver.

"I heard the squeal from here," said Sam, laughing.

"She's fine. Said she'll call you later in the week."

"That's good. Now then, let's get ourselves out. We can grab some things from the deli, I didn't plan on a picnic."

Jack's face took on a more serious note. "I've just spent so much time cooped up ..."

"Hey, it's no problem." Sam crossed the room to give him a warm hug. "I'll pack the rugs and flasks."

She could have kicked herself when she realized that Jack was bound to be suffering from being stuck inside. Even in DC he had spent as much free time as he had outdoors, his main complaint being that he was office bound and the breaks they had managed to grab at his cabin were absolute bliss to him. And now... Sam winced. She quickly packed up their things, determined that he would be out in the fresh air as much as he wanted...

They spent a beautiful day near a lake, just an hour's drive from home. No-one was near enough to bother them. With not just a little difficulty and quite a bit of protesting, Sam held the chair steady while Jack worked his way down to the ground, finally supporting himself against a tree trunk on the rug she had spread. Ignoring her protests, he tugged her down to lie beside him. They lay close, hugging, with quite a bit of giggling and kissing like teenagers ... and it felt so good.

The lines of exhaustion that had furrowed his face constantly since the shooting eased a little as he lifted his face to the warm sun. The light breeze that blew ruffled his hair and she swept a hand through it. As her fingers massaged his scalp, he sighed deep with contentment. She watched him lovingly as he reveled in it all, breathing the clean air in deeply. It felt so good to hold him, to watch him ... to love him.

**********

Jack slammed the receiver down, the absence of news sharpening the blade that lay in his stomach, its edges twisting and cutting. He rubbed his palms across his legs, wiping the sweat from them, grimacing as he felt the pressure on his right, but his left leg still stubbornly refusing to acknowledge his touch. Yes he was making progress - his rehab team were delighted with him, talking of him going home, but the one person he wanted to share it all with was absent. He could have been home the previous weekend, but that was a no no on his own.

Sam had been absent for almost three weeks - or four hundred and eighty seven hours to be precise. Three long weeks during which he worried himself sick over her. She served with the best, he knew that, and even if he could have been with her himself, there were no guarantees out there - he realized that as well.

SG-1 had been out of contact and overdue for almost a week. Jack checked the clock again - one hundred and fifty four hours and counting. He couldn't share his worry with anyone at the rehab unit, not even his counselor. As far as they were concerned his wife was away on business, not half way across the galaxy doing God alone knew what.

**********

Distraction - that was what he needed, and there was only one thing that happened around here for distraction...

It had been a fast game, but although Jack wasn't concentrating very well, he ignored the odd comments at first, determined to not let them upset him, at least not openly.

"Come on, Jack, good job we aren't playing for the real thing," jibed Pearson. Pearson was a long term patient, a double amputee who was adamant he was staying at the rehab centre as long as possible. It was the only way he could get a decent game in, he had commented, when he first introduced himself to Jack.

Jack lifted his head a little at the jibe and placed a bet.

"Yeah, otherwise you'd be bankrupt by now Pearson," cracked Phil Stockley. "You missing the little woman then, Jack?" he added. Stockley was a former marine captain, who had been injured overseas.

"Not so little huh," said Downey, an obnoxious semi-retired stockbroker who'd had a skiing accident, as he indicated his chest in an exaggerated manner. "Perhaps he's missing getting some action." The crude gesture he made left them no illusion as to what he meant.

Glaring at the man, Jack lifted his arm to throw his cards down, but a placating hand on his arm stalled him.

"Take no notice, he's just jealous," offered Pearson, "but it is a shame she couldn't just put off that trip ... you could be home now, instead of here."

"Yeah, pretty hot woman Jackie-boy. Pity she isn't here instead of off enjoying herself. A woman's place is beside her man... But maybe she is missing something, got a little itch to scratch that you can't satisfy anymore, huh? She's a Colonel isn't she? ... All those men under her - know what I mean!" Downey elbowed the person sitting beside him, his expression leering.

There was deathly silence and even Downey must have realized he had gone too far. He pushed himself back from the table, ready to get out of the way.

Slamming his cards down, Jack pushed back at the same instant. He felt the tight wad of anger that threatened to explode... Crippled or not, he could take Downey out with one hand ... strike that, one finger!

The other men backed from the table, recognizing the signs as O'Neill's expression changed to granite, his eyes glinting dangerously. As the buzz rose in his ears, his anger thrumming wildly, Jack swallowed hard on his emotions. It took everything he had, but he stopped himself slamming his fist into the slime ball's face, and with a last threatening look at the man, he swung his chair away. He turned his back on the sympathetic glances from the others - pity was something he didn't want...

...They couldn't know Jack didn't have any idea if she was dead or alive, or even that his closest friends were lost with her. In one fell swoop he could lose not only the love of his life, but Daniel and Teal'c too.

**********

He called Landry everyday, twice a day, demanding news, what they were doing ... anything - even though he knew that Landry would have let him know the instant they knew anything and give the man his due, he had the utmost patience with Jack, even though he had the base to run as well as the current situation and Jack knew so well what that entailed. He doubted that he would have expressed the same patience himself in those circumstances - okay, yes, he outranked Landry, but Jack knew that wouldn't have bothered the man normally - it was one of the reasons Jack had picked him.

George flew down when the news of SG-1's overdue status broke, and was staying in the Springs. Jack hadn't needed to tell him, hadn't asked him ... it seemed that retired or not, the man still had his finger on the pulse. The old General visited him every day and Jack, much as he appreciated it, wanted nothing but his wife to be safe ... to be home and that didn't make him good company.

So far George had stayed calm and reassuring with him, trying to distract him and even wheeling him, protesting, out for a drive in the car.

"You've got your cell and I've got mine, Jack, Landry can reach us wherever we are," said George firmly.

"Take me home then please."

George drove Jack home without comment.

Jack wheeled himself around the empty house ... he couldn't call it home without Sam. He began touching things, her things.

"Don't give up on her, Jack."

Jack's face crumpled and he swung his chair away, hiding his face, his voice a mere whisper. "I can't do this without her."

**********

George stood more than a little stunned. He'd seen Jack O'Neill at his best and thought he'd seen him at his worse ... but whatever had gone on through the years they had served together, he had never seen Jack in this state.

He knew they were very worried about Jack's state of mind at the rehab and he had that morning, after much debate, reminded them that Sam was a serving member of the USAF and hinted that she was serving out of the country - knowing that they would instantly wrongly put two and two together given the current situation overseas. Hopefully when they returned Jack's counselor would have been able to prepare himself to talk to Jack and though the complete truth could never be told, at least they would understand that Jack was not merely missing his wife, but in fear of her life.

**********

Jack listened - or rather half listened to his counselor, AJ, however his ears pricked up as the man's tone and words changed. It startled him at first how understanding the man was about Jack's feelings and for a few minutes Jack wondered how on Earth AJ knew about what was really happening. As he continued to listen however, it became apparent that AJ thought Sam was overseas, with the current conflict.

Jack wasn't a stupid man, contrary to what some people thought. He could be really dense, when he wanted to be that was, but it suddenly hit Jack, that regardless of where Sam was, the fears - the threat - was very real. Just because they thought it was on Earth didn't mean it was less dangerous. His own situation highlighted that point very well ... and he was able to identify with what the counselor was saying.

How the hell had Sara coped all those years he was away - and with a young child to take care of as well? He felt ashamed that he hadn't given her feelings and fears more thought all those years ago...

As they talked Jack's perspective changed a little. He confessed that he was worried sick - yes ... but also that he wanted to share his progress with Sam and it hurt that she wasn't there. The very fact she wasn't took the joy out of the advances he was making, and if he was honest about it he felt hurt, perhaps a little bitter even, about that - almost as if she had deserted him.

When he was back in his room after the session, Jack thought about what he had discussed with AJ. Although he couldn't feel there was anything tangible that had helped during their talk, for the first time in the past three weeks, his soul felt a little less bleak.

**********

Jack's heart almost stopped as he listened to the phone ringing. It was 0500 and he had yet to retire to bed ... what he had been feeling all night had gone beyond restlessness...

It took several rings before he managed to pick the receiver up. His head was telling him that they wouldn't be calling with bad news ... they would have sent someone. His heart was racing and he swallowed the bitter bile that rose alarmingly.

"Jack, they're home."

Three words he had longed for. The three words he had ached to hear. Three simple words that reduced him to tears...

"Jack? Can you hear me? SG-1 are safe."

The receiver slipped from his hands, banging the cabinet as it dropped, swinging freely.

He hunched forward in his chair, his shaking hands covering his face...

**********

The Center was soon buzzing with the news. When Jack had dropped the receiver and Landry's shouting wasn't acknowledged, he had Walter contact the staff on another line. The sudden appearance of an orderly in Jack's room brought him out of his stupor.

Jack was agitated. After his initial shock had receded he had spoken again to Landry, but Landry insisted that Jack shouldn't worry. Everyone was alive, a little banged up though, and Landry said he would come to brief Jack later that day.

Jack's worry refused to be quelled. Landry coming over personally? Why hadn't Sam called him? He demanded Landry put her on the phone ... just what the hell was going on?

"Jack, take it easy, please. Sam is okay. She's in surgery at the moment."

"Surgery? Christ Hank, what ... what's happened? I should be there."

"Jack, calm down. Look, I promise you she's okay. There isn't any point you coming here now." He hesitated and Jack could almost hear the unspoken words `you'd just be in the way'. "They're re-setting a broken arm, but other than a few cuts and bruises she's doing alright. Doctor Jackson has a mild concussion, and Teal'c is confined to the infirmary for twenty four hours for observation. Mitchell hasn't been de-briefed yet. Now that's all I am going to tell you on an unsecured line, General."

The `General' pulled Jack up short. Landry was right. He was acting like an idiot ... Sam was safe ... they were all safe...

"Sorry Hank... I ..."

"That's okay, Jack, believe me, I understand. I'll see you later, okay?"

Jack nodded, too exhausted to realize Hank wouldn't see it as he replaced the receiver.

Sam was alive. She was home. She was safe... Sam was home...

He let the words chant around in his brain, trying to come to terms with everything he had bottled up in her absence. He felt like bursting ... he wanted to yell and scream... He wanted to walk out of there and go to her... He smashed his fist down on his useless thigh ... useless ... that's what he felt.

**********

Within four hours, Landry presented himself in full uniform to Jack and informed him he had the car and driver waiting outside ready to whisk them to the SGC. Jack didn't hide the surprise he felt and Landry gave in to the smile he had been hiding.

"You are still a General and Head of Homeworld Security, albeit on medical leave, Jack."

Landry's brisk and no nonsense manner helped Jack hold it altogether as the arrangements were made for him to leave the rehab center, possibly for an overnight stay at the Cheyenne facilities. Landry was quick to assure Freund that the best of anything the General needed would be acquired and full medical assistance would be readily available if necessary. The staff rallied round, facilitating a smooth exit, ensuring that Jack would have everything he immediately needed.

**********

As soon as they were in the car and on their way to the mountain, Landry filled Jack in on the details of the mission, having de-briefed Mitchell. He proudly informed Jack that SG-1 had managed to extract themselves from a potentially lethal situation when they got caught up in what appeared to be a civil war on the planet they had been visiting.

"Sam will be fine, Jack. Caroline is very good at her job you know."

Jack nodded, smiling a little, knowing that Lam was Hank's daughter. "I wouldn't have appointed her otherwise, Hank."

Landry nodded his agreement. "Sam was coming out of the anesthetic nicely as I left. You can see her straight away."

Jack nodded and turned his attention to the view out of the window, signaling the end of the conversation ... to him the car was traveling much too slowly...

**********

Landry was saluted smartly as they cleared security and Jack caught the guards eyeing him a little strangely. Just as he was about to inquire of the Airmen what was on his face that was so fascinating, the guard nearest to him straightened and saluted, somewhat nervously, even though Jack wasn't in uniform. The other guard touched his cap with respect.

"General O'Neill, sir, it's an honor, sir." The first Airman blushed right to the roots of his hair, obviously expecting a dressing down for being so bold.

Jack recognized the guard who saluted him. Despite what people thought, and the front he presented, he knew all of his people by sight and name when he had been at the SGC. No doubt there were many changes in the base personnel since he had left - the other guard was new to him.

Jack acknowledged the guard with a brief nod. It was up to Landry if he wanted to make anything of it... Jack certainly didn't.

Landry quickly moved them on. Thankfully, because of Jack's tendency to constantly roam the rehab center in his chair, he managed to get himself along under his own steam at a reasonable pace. He was exhausted, but there was no way he was giving in to it just yet. The painful and raw blisters that had formed when he had first began to wheel himself around had hardened on his palms, and the leather fingerless gloves he wore when on the move offered him some protection - protection he was very thankful for at the moment. Despite all that, he knew he would pay later...

Jack resolutely kept going. He knew the way to the infirmary by heart. He didn't slow his pace, and neither did Landry, as people they passed called out subdued greetings to him ... it seemed everyone at the base was aware of the circumstances of the visit.

Dr Lam was waiting in the corridor just outside the infirmary, and Jack stopped dead. For a moment the white coat and dark hair in the low light reminded Jack so much of a time when Janet Fraiser had stood there, waiting to give them their post mission checks ... or just plain annoy Jack himself. He half expected her to order him in for an examination - he knew without a doubt that Janet would have - when Lam merely smiled and led the way further down to a private room, Jack heaved a sigh of relief and followed her immediately, barely hearing Landry excuse himself.

As Lam held the door open she spoke in a whisper, reassuring Jack that Sam was only sleeping and was doing fine. Jack glided in past her, coming to a halt just a few feet inside the room, barely noticing as the doctor closed the door as she left.

His eyes took in the low light and the absence of any monitoring equipment or blood and fluids - that was a good sign. Someone, probably Lam herself, had thoughtfully lowered the bed. His wife's blond hair was matted and more than a little dirty on the pillows that propped her up, but it had never looked so good to him. As he wheeled nearer he could see puffy bruising, stark in its intensity on her pale face. He positioned himself right up next to the bed and with trembling hands cupped her hand within both of his. Her left arm was encased in a cast and propped upon a pillow at her side.

She sighed deeply and murmured, her head moving slightly on the pillow, her tongue brushing at her lips, as if seeking moisture.

Her eyes flickered open just a little and her mouth quivered into a weary smile as she focused on him. "Hi."

"Hi yourself." His voice was just as low and as hoarse as hers.

Jack felt the tremble building and his right leg started to dither. He swallowed harshly and fought to calm himself down. The brief spasm of pain in his leg shook him a little and he coughed and pulled back, searching for the paper cup of ice chips that was almost obligatory here...

Fumbling a little he offered the cup to her. She didn't speak, seeming to sense his need to take things slowly, and she gave a contented sigh as she savored the half melted chips, clearly relishing the coolness as they eased her dryness.

"Thanks."

Jack replaced the cup without speaking, but all time his eyes never left hers. He needed to fill his mind with her, feel that she was safe ... to imprint that image in his brain.

The slow track of tears down his face as he stared at her went unheeded and he clenched her hand tightly within his, bringing it up to his lips, placing a gentle kiss on it.

"Hey honey, I'm okay ... things went a little ..."

"You were several days overdue," he interrupted, "SG-1 were declared MIA, Sam."

"Oh, God, Jack... I'm so sorry - you must have been so worried ..."

"It's okay you're back, everyone's okay."

**********

As Sam looked at her husband's face she knew it was far from okay. She felt so guilty at leaving him in the first place, going on that mission, but he had insisted that she carried on with her job - and that was what she did. That the mission turned into such a SNAFU quite early on hadn't helped. They'd spent a great deal of time in enemy territory, ducking and hiding from their captors once they were free, and she had lost track of just how long they'd been gone. Oh God, Jack must have been...

"I'm so sorry, Jack ..." She realized with dismay that she hadn't been back for him to come home for a planned weekend. "I missed our weekend."

"S'okay ... couldn't have gone home without you, they wouldn't let me. I can go home just as soon as you're okay though."

"We can sort out the next weekend ..."

"No, I'm coming home for good, not a weekend."

"Jack, honey, I thought that ..."

"I'm coming home, Sam, just as soon as you're out of here. I can't stand it anymore ..." His voice cracked and he ducked his head, avoiding her gaze.

She felt so tired and her arm was painful, but she knew her husband was hurting just as badly, if not more than she was. She changed the grip of his hands and squeezed his fingers. "Jack, you can't just leave ..."

"I can. I was supposed to go a couple of weeks ago ... they said that I ... that I ..." He broke off suddenly and he expelled a sobbed breath.

The dawning of light hit Sam hard. He'd been stuck in that center, worried sick about her and all that time he should have been at home with her. The guilt reared up and hit her full on.

She winced as she rolled, trying to pull him into a hug with her one good arm. "Oh, God, Jack. Please honey, I am so sorry that I wasn't here."

His head down, he leaned into her awkward embrace and to Sam's horror she felt his body beginning to shake. She rolled further and tried to pull him closer, despite the pain she felt. Tears of her own rolled down her face as she kissed the top of his head, fighting down the sobs that were building inside as the pain she felt for him racked through her. She wasn't there when he had needed her ... she was off on some godforsaken planet ... getting nowhere but shot at ... for what?

"That's it," she vowed, "that was my last mission, I promise."

"No." His voice was muffled and hoarse.

"Jack, please honey, I can't do this anymore ..."

His head rose up from beneath her chin, pulling back to avoid hitting her. "No." His eyes were brimming and red rimmed, his face wet with his tears, his body still trembling. "He ruined one career."

Sam shook her head, at first not grasping what he was saying. "What?"

Jack's eyes blazed. "Minucos, I won't let him ruin your career as well."

Sam felt fresh tears beginning to track down her face. Her throat ached as she stared at him wordlessly. He held her hand up to his lips and his shoulders shook as he drew a ragged breath.

She became aware of the door opening in her peripheral vision and saw the flicker of white coat in the dull light...

"Out, please ... leave us alone," she ordered, thankful that whoever it was, probably Lam, discreetly left.

Sam pulled Jack to her again and let him cry out all his anger and frustrations.

They held onto each other tightly for a very long time, each crying for the other ... and for what they had so very nearly lost once more...

**********

"I'm sorry General, but until Mrs O'Neill is fit it just isn't possible ..."

"Why?" interrupted Jack. "You've spent the last few months making me independent and it's certainly cost enough ..."

Stu shook his head. His patience was wearing a little thin under the eagle eyed General who was just not taking no for an answer.

"Your wife isn't independent herself at the moment. She needs assistance with ..."

"I can help her. Look, if I was already out there and this happened - what then?"

Stu raised an eyebrow. The man had a point... "Then you would probably just struggle on with it, sir. However, you don't have to do that ..."

"I want to." The General turned his chair around then sighed and swung it back.

For someone to want to do things the hard way made a refreshing change. Most of the Center's clients were wealthy and in no hurry to do things for themselves, and wanted the easier option. Then again this man had certainly provided them with a fresh outlook since his arrival and he hadn't needed dragging into the therapy program. If sheer guts and determination had anything to do with recovery, then the man would win his battle without a doubt.

"Driving?" Stu sat straighter, thinking of one possible problem. "Uh, Mrs O'Neill cannot drive at all at the moment. You would be ..."

"I can get a driver and a vehicle, besides there is always a thing called a cab ... perhaps you've heard of them ..." Jack's voice rose a little.

"I'm sorry, General, but there is no need to take that tone."

The man shrugged. "I want to go home."

"And how does Mrs O'Neill feel?" Stu put out his last objection.

"Mrs O'Neill wants him home," interjected the voice from the doorway.

Stu didn't miss the way O'Neill's face lit up with surprise and happiness. The look the man exchanged with his wife was filled with such obvious love that he felt a sudden urge to call his own wife just to hear her voice.

Mrs O'Neill stepped fully into the room, her eyes never once leaving her husband's face. She held out her good arm, taking the General's hand and squeezing it tightly.

**********

Jack had never been happier to see Sam, but he acknowledged that she was looking far from her usual self. The cast was partially hidden in a sling and although the bruising had receded to mostly yellow, it stood out on her too pale face.

He brought her hand up to his lips, his eyes fixed on hers. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be ..."

"Daniel brought me over, he's waiting ..." Sam indicated the adjoining room.

Stu rose, obviously feeling like an intruder between them. "I'll go and join him, let you talk this over - call if you need me."

**********

They barely acknowledged his departure and he closed the door softly behind him, moving out of the bedroom and into sitting room of the general's suite to find Doctor Jackson. The doctor, and his frequent companion, Mr Murray, had visited several times in the past week, both to stay with General O'Neill and to take him to visit his wife. They were clearly very close friends with the General and knew how badly his wife's absence had affected him.

"Doctor Jackson." Stu greeted the man with a handshake. He had been put right at their first meeting regarding the man's non medical doctorate. "I gather you are aware of the General's intention to go home."

Jackson smiled. "Uh, yes. Jack definitely wants home. Seriously though, I know Sam wants him home as well. Will you let him?"

"I can hardly stop him Doctor Jackson, and if anyone can cope, then I am sure those two can. But the last thing we want is Mrs O'Neill struggling out of a sense of guilt."

"Sam doesn't want him home out of a sense of guilt - she wants him home because for some strange reason, that I could never quite fathom, she loves him."

"It won't be easy though."

"Uh, well, yes, Jack was never one for the easy road and Sam seems hell bent on following him."

Stu smiled. "I've read the General's file - habit of a lifetime huh?"

Daniel smiled and nodded.

"I guess I had better go and begin the paperwork then... I think you should see if you can persuade them to hang on until the end of the week, just to give Mrs O'Neill a little more time."

"Me?"

"You're a very persuasive man, Doctor Jackson, I'm sure you can use your talents to help them both see the positive side of a few more days. It's been a pleasure to meet you again, sir."

Freund couldn't help the smile that escaped as he saw the expression on the other man's face and he bid a hasty retreat in the light of a victory - well of sorts. The General was going home, but in a few days. That would give him a chance to get the home visits and ongoing therapy sorted out.

**********

Daniel was eventually joined by Sam and Jack, both of them looking much happier now they were together. He broke it gently about leaving at the end of the week, but Jack's expression darkened at the news. He was frustrated, Daniel knew, and extremely homesick. He pointed out what Freund had said about it giving Sam further time to recover and Jack visibly calmed down. He watched as Jack regarded his wife's face closely and then nodded at Daniel.

"Friday - and not a day longer." Jack's voice was almost a growl and Sam looked down and laughed, giving the hand she held a quick shake.

"Friday," she agreed, bending to kiss Jack.

As Jack's arm captured his wife gently, Daniel made himself scarce. They served a good cup of coffee in the restaurant and that would be much better than watching his friends making out like teenagers.

"You've got an hour," he warned them before closing the door firmly behind himself.

The difference in Jack when he was with Sam never ceased to amaze Daniel and although he knew that the man had loved Sam for a very long time, it had always been an emotion he had been forced to stifle. To watch it finally blossom and grow and with it the man, was something that Daniel was extremely glad to witness. Sam too had some surprises. It was a very beautiful woman brought at last to life that gazed adoringly at her husband, not the soldier, or the `Sam' he knew of old.

Daniel's pace picked up a little and he turned the corner of the corridor. He fondly remembered Sha're and what joy she had brought into his life, the effect she had had on him and how he had felt ... and how he had felt losing her. He slowed a little and sighed deeply, knowing just what effect it would have if either of his friends lost each other.

Jack hadn't said a lot on their journeys to and from the mountain, but his body language had spoken reams, his somber mood only lifting as he entered his wife's room ... the journey back from the mountain becoming steeped in misery yet again.

Daniel had been surprised to receive a call from Jack early that morning, at a time he knew was normally reserved for intensive gym work. What wasn't a surprise was the state of mind his friend was in. Jack was agitated, his words veiled with the torment he was suffering, saying nothing tangible - actually saying very little, but it was what he didn't say that worried Daniel. He had tried to reassure Jack that `they' weren't actually `throwing away the key' ... but even when Jack eventually hung up, Daniel knew he hadn't actually managed to calm his friend down.

He practically tore himself in two to find a way to help without causing Sam further upset. Thankfully Teal'c came to the rescue, the simplicity of the answer astounding.

"It is O'Neill's desire to be with his wife."

"Uh, yes ..."

"And Samantha desires her husband." At Daniel's nod, Teal'c continued. "Then we must strive to bring them together as soon as it is possible."

Daniel shook his head, sighing. "Oh ... we need to speak to Doctor Lam first."

"Indeed."

In fact Lam hadn't needed much persuading - she was all for it. There was nothing to stop Sam being discharged from the infirmary and going home in a few days and from what she had witnessed of the General's abilities so far and from what she knew of the man, she had every faith they would be able to cope ... after all, they had friends to help if need be... She reminded Daniel that both his friends had had numerous injuries in the past and told him that her predecessor, Janet Fraiser, had commented frequently in her notes on the benefit an early discharge from the infirmary had on their recovery.

After his talk with Lam, Daniel headed straight for Sam's room. As soon as he mentioned he'd had a call from Jack and began to give just a hint of what he thought Jack was feeling, Sam was practically half way out of bed...

After much deliberation and pleading from Sam, Doctor Lam agreed to release her temporarily, provided she came straight back to the infirmary after the visit.

**********

Jack watched from the main entrance as his wife and Daniel left the building. He knew she was exhausted and he felt a little angry at himself, that his behavior had dragged her all the way over here when she should have been resting.

The guilty flush over both Daniel and Sam's faces when he had asked if she had been discharged had said it all.

Watching until they disappeared from his sight, Jack swung his chair around, intending to wander a little, get his thoughts together ... and plan his departure ... He knew Friday just wouldn't come quick enough for him.

Downey blocked his way and Jack felt his temper rising.

The man obviously knew he was treading on thin ground and he held up a hand in a placating gesture. "I just want you to know, what I said... I had no idea that your wife... I saw how she ..." His voice died a little and he cleared his throat nervously. "I am sorry for what I said. I hope your wife is okay."

Jack's temper hovered. He eyed the man contemptuously and then swung his chair around, moving off in the opposite direction he had intended ... but it didn't matter - what mattered was that he got away from that creeping two faced son of a...

"Jack!"

Jack didn't hear the voice at first, he was so caught up inside...

"Jack, wait up!"

Jack halted, the squeal of the rubber on the tiled floor reverberating through the corridor.

"Jeez O'Neill, they shouldn't give you wheels!"

Jack's face broke into a smile. "Finney!" ...Well the day was looking up already...

**********

Jack sighed heavily. The night sky was calling to him and the sudden yearning he felt to be out there was strong. He had been home for over a week now, but settling into a routine just seemed to emphasis how much he had lost. To never go through the gate again, to never set foot on an alien planet...

The warm hand that gently grasped his shoulder gave it a comforting squeeze.

"Okay?"

Nodding, Jack brought his hand up to grasp the one on his shoulder, drawing it closer so that he could kiss it softly.

"Yeah, just thinking ..."

"Oh, now I know there's something wrong."

Jack managed a little laugh and playfully dragged at her good arm, pulling her around to bring her onto his lap.

"Nah, I'm okay, honestly."

"You miss it." There was no question, just a statement.

"Of course, who wouldn't? Hell, I missed it so much when I got the SGC command I felt like ordering every mission had to have a general in tow."

"Oh, the brass would have loved that ..." Sam rubbed her cast against his shoulder.

Jack grinned and gave her a mock grimace. "Itchy?"

"Youbetchya."

"I've got something for that, Mrs O'Neill."

Turning her head, Sam brought her face to his. "Oh?"

Jack nipped her lips gently. "It's very good ..." He ran his tongue over her lips before taking another nip. "It's very soothing ..."

Sam's breathing hitched a notch and he felt her writhe on his lap a little.

"Very ..." Nip ... "Very ..." Lick ... "Soothing."

"Bed?" she suggested breathily, her eyes darkening with desire.

Jack's grin was wicked, downright evil, as he drew his head back to regard her face. "Uh, no actually, I was going to suggest you get that bottle of calamine out of the cupboard ..."

Sam pulled back and aimed a swipe at him, jumping to her feet. "You've got a count of ten to get out of here, before I take revenge!"

Jack's eyebrows danced in amusement. "Oh ... the revenge might just be worth hanging around for ..." He saw Sam's expression darken. "Uh, no, on second thoughts ..." Jack unlocked his wheels and swung around to move inside, stopping when he was partway through the doorway, effectively blocking it. "Last one to the bedroom is a geek!"

**********

It was great to have him home, even greater to at last spend time with him. Since their marriage they hadn't actually had much free time together and even though it wasn't as she had quite expected it to happen one day, she was enjoying it, or rather him, immensely. The last few weeks, although not without problems, had continued to bring them even closer together.

Although Jack had continued to receive work, and he plowed through it, she knew it bored him more than a little. The guest bedroom had become a study for him and she was a little amazed at times just how many documents were amassing. Another little gem he had managed to keep hidden - up until now that was - was his ability on the computer and she had often found him in the middle of something beyond her own capabilities. The encryptions he applied deftly, she had to admit would have take her some work to crack, and she was no slouch.

Although the work was not actually `top secret' it was certainly not menial, and the alarm system had been upgraded accordingly, courtesy of the USAF. When she saw Jack so engrossed in his job, she often wondered how Maybourne was fairing. Although Jack hadn't shared anything further with her, she hadn't asked him anything either.

The cast had a while to go before she could lose it, but she had to admit, as much as it was inconvenient and very frustrating at times, it had a value. Because she was limited somewhat, she found that she had to ask Jack for help. She knew he was feeling somewhat useless and was in danger of losing his identity ... but in a way, her dependency on him at times seemed to help. It also hit her hard that if she felt this frustrated herself with just a broken arm ... what the hell was he going through?

For the time being the physical therapy was being done by home visits, with Jack traveling up to the rehab unit twice a week for pool therapy and ongoing assessments. Sam accompanied him occasionally, although after the first visit she debated making an excuse not to go again. She had caught herself daydreaming, watching him carrying out a task, his movements sure and graceful. His upper body strength had developed, and his frame although still lean, showed off the muscles on his body, flexing as he pushed himself. He was keeping his promise ... giving one hundred and ten per cent ... and then some ... His eyes had made contact with hers and she had blushed madly at the wicked thoughts that crept into her daydreams ... oh yes, that upper body strength had its uses...

In the end she decided to continue to go with him ... what happened when they got home was too good to miss.

**********

Jack cursed as he knocked the table in the kitchen hard and the coffee mug, although not falling, spilled most of its freshly made contents all over the newspaper he had just put down, ready to read. Cursing again, he fetched a cloth, mopping up the spill.

The hairs on his neck stood up alarmingly and he threw the cloth down and swung his chair around. As he did, he caught sight of a figure leaning against the doorway to the lounge.

"Christ, are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

"Now, why would I do that?" Harry Maybourne straightened and moved into the lounge area, casually taking a seat in an armchair, placing the bag he was carrying at his feet. "Don't mind if I do, Jack, thanks." Maybourne mimicked a drink with his hand.

"I see you haven't lost your touch when it comes to breaking and entering."

"What? Did you think a simple alarm could keep me out?"

Shaking his head, Jack poured another coffee, bringing both into the lounge area. Jack handed a mug to Maybourne before wheeling himself to a position opposite.

Jack indicated the bag with a nod of his head. "Hope you're expecting to stay - not."

"Now I'm hurt. I travel all this way to see how you are doing .,."

"Well, I'll give you that ... your highness's kingdom is a hell of a long way ..."

Maybourne grinned. "Actually, Jack, I was talking about Jamaica." Harry laid the mug down and picked up the bag, unzipping it quickly. "I brought you a present."

Jack shook his head again, his grin widening. Life was never dull with Maybourne around.

**********

When Sam returned home she found her husband stretched out on the couch and Maybourne in a chair, the two men snoring softly in front of the blaring TV. Quelling her surprise at seeing Maybourne, she grabbed the remote to turn it down and found her husband regarding her blearily.

"Was watching that."

Sam cocked her head, wondering what on Earth Jack had hold of.

He grinned and shook them. "Maracas," he explained unnecessarily.

"I can see that, but what are they ..." Sam gave Maybourne a pointed look, "doing here?"

"Oh, I sense ..." Harry's quiet voice came from the deep recesses of the chair.

"Shut up, Harry." Jack gave Sam a disarming smile and pushed himself up a little, Sam automatically assisting him, albeit a little awkwardly with one arm, until he was upright.

"Oh, that's a good bit ... wonder how many cars they went through filming?" murmured Harry as he peered closer at the TV screen. "Good job the bad guys are lousy shots."

"Nearly as bad as you, except when you're real close that is," retorted Jack, obviously referring to the time when Sam had been captured by Adrian Conrad and he'd taken a bullet in the back and arm. Thankfully he'd been wearing a vest, but he still complained he should have had sleeves in the damn thing.

Maybourne raised his eyebrows, giving Jack a pained look. "For that, I won't buy you any more DVD's - I told you, I did not shoot you. Cross my heart." His grin widened as he brushed a hand over his stomach.

Jack's face paled and he stilled.

"What?" Harry was obviously puzzled, but Sam picked up on what had upset Jack straight away.

"It's nothing, Maybourne." Sam grabbed at the DVD cover from the table as a distraction. She shook her head as she read. "Starsky and Hutch? That was from the hospital ..." She bit her bottom lip, giving Maybourne an accusing look. "You were there ... how did you get in?"

Maybourne shrugged. "I have my ways."

Jack seemed to have recovered himself. "Being lower than a snake's belly helps somewhat though."

"That's gratitude for you ..." Harry snorted.

"Ah ..." Jack held up a finger. "Don't let's go there again ..."

The impending silence was suddenly broken by the rumbling coming from Maybourne's stomach. "Sorry ... haven't eaten since the plane ..." He gave them a hopeful smile.

"Pizza?" asked Jack, his look to Sam also hopeful, one which she couldn't dash ... and she smiled in return.

**********

Sam ate with them, listening to their comfortable banter, occasionally joining in. She yawned and thought about leaving them to it, however before she could escape, the men headed for Jack's study. She sighed and cleared up the boxes and napkins and settled down to watch the DVD.

**********

"Hey sleepy head. Come to bed."

"Mmmmph?" She peered up sleepily.

"Come on, bed."

"Maybourne?"

"I'm not sleeping with him."

Sam slapped his arm and rose up with a groan, as she looked around for the man in question. Jack busied himself turning off the TV and he ejected the DVD.

"Called a cab. He's gone to a motel," he called over his shoulder.

Sam nodded, far too tired to be more than a little curious.

"I've locked up. Come on."

They snuggled down in bed and Sam lay on his chest, her left arm in its cast carefully placed on him.

"So then, who did you prefer?"

"Hmmm?" she murmured sleepily.

"Starsky or Hutch?"

"What?"

"Who did you like best, Starsky or Hutch?" he asked again.

"Actually, I preferred Huggy."

"Huggy?"

Sam murmured her affirmative.

"Huggy ..." Jack's voice held a hint of disgust. He looked down at Sam, and dropped a kiss on her head. "I knew you had peculiar taste in men ..."

**********

Jack spent the next few days, aside from his therapy sessions, installed in his office, but there was no sign of Maybourne appearing again. Sam was aware that something obviously had stirred Jack into action, and she couldn't deny she was worried. It was Jack's focused outlook that stopped her from interfering. She was seeing him as a professional - a man on a mission, almost as if the last few months had never happened.

Jack had been busy in his office almost all week and Sam felt bored without his company. She'd been going into the base doing a little lab work and catching up on reports to kill some of the time that seemed to hang so heavily without him.

Daniel and Teal'c had been over as usual, but Jack was hung up with incoming calls and kept excusing himself, even to the extent that Daniel inquired what was going on.

"Just something at Homeworld," offered Sam by way of an explanation. Lame - she knew, but it was the best she could offer, not knowing much more herself.

"Is everything all right with you two?"

Sam blushed. "Yes, it's just that something is going on in DC. He's not normally this busy." It wasn't a lie exactly ... something was going on.

Thankfully Teal'c changed the subject. She could kiss that man at times.

**********

It was a couple more days before Jack emerged from his office fully and Sam was shocked to suddenly realize how tired and stressed he looked. He spent the morning lazing around, flicking through the channels, seemingly oblivious to her. Finally she decided enough was enough. He could at least put her mind at rest ... or failing that, tell her the worst.

She blocked his view of the TV and snatched the remote out of his hands.

"Okay, what's going on? I've been more than patient."

Jack leaned to one side, trying to see the screen around her.

"Ah, here ..." Jack's finger was pointing at the screen, his expression hard to read, and Sam swung around, curiosity getting the better of her.

She watched in amazement as the news broadcast unfolded its latest headline story...

"The nation reels in shock as authorities made simultaneous arrests in Washington DC, Los Angeles, and New York today. Sources in the government have stated these arrests follow extensive investigations into offences involving matters of national security. Three arrests have been confirmed, however no further details have been released as to the nature of these offences. When asked if there would be any further arrests, a spokesperson said 'That is not out of the question.' The high profile of the persons arrested, in both the highest ranks of the military and the government, has analysts speculating ..."

Sam sat down and watched in amazement as the names were given out. "Holy Hannah!" she exclaimed and grabbed Jack's hand, giving it a tight squeeze. The newscast didn't give any more details and it became obvious that no further information had been released.

She switched off the TV and turned to face him. "Is this what you ...?"

Jack's expression was not one of victory. There was nothing triumphant in his expression, if anything it was rather sad. "This is what I told you about."

"You don't look like someone who should be celebrating ..." she prompted, watching him carefully.

"I'm not. I'm sick to my stomach that these people could be involved in this. These are people we trusted to run the country, Sam. I just unleashed the dogs, that's all. It was Maybourne's statements that led to the evidence being found. That was the key to the whole thing. Now I've got to get Maybourne back home, out of the way. He should have been long gone before these arrests, but there was nothing I could do. Now at least I'm out of hospital and hopefully in some position to help. " He looked up at Sam and she could see the worry in his face. "We have to move quickly. It'll only be a matter of time before someone puts two and two together. We might have these men, but it's only the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot more ice under the water."

Sam was stunned. When Jack had explained some of what was happening all that time ago, she hadn't digested just how thin the air was around the people involved. She would never have dreamed that these people were ... traitors. She moved closer to Jack, not allowing him any chance to pull away and she held him tightly. The thousand and one questions she had could wait, just a little while longer...

**********

Jack didn't want to worry Sam with the details of the operation. It was better that she knew as little as possible, and if she hadn't been approached by Maybourne, she would have been none the wiser. Jack berated the man over that, but what was done was done and he accepted Harry's explanation. He had been concerned that the attempt on Jack's life was a result of the investigation and that was why he had broken his cover to Sam.

Now all Jack had to do was get Maybourne back home without arousing any suspicion, and the only way he could do that was through the Stargate. The lift that had been arranged to Earth in the first place had been one way. It had been purely by chance that Jack had managed to organize it, grabbing Thor to one side after a meeting with the President and using him to get his message to the Tok'ra.

Jack sighed. It was a pity he couldn't get hold of his little gray buddy now ... maybe they could have worked on his legs. He sure as hell didn't trust the healing device, even if those nut jobs at Area 51 hadn't screwed with it. He shuddered - he'd seen the last lot of experiments with that ... but Thor was in another galaxy. He just hoped the little guy was okay.

Jack returned his focus to his immediate problems. Getting Maybourne through the gate involved putting someone in the SGC in the know. There was no way he could pull off anything on his own, at least not in his current situation.

Sam's arrival drew his attention back to the present and he welcomed her with a hug.

She returned it with vigor, sighing wearily. "Phew, what a day. We are packed out with refugees from PG8-488. I'm glad I really don't have to be at work." She indicated her cast with a smile. "Never thought I would have cause to be thankful for this thing, huh?"

"Refugees?" Jack's brain began working.

"Yes, unfortunately. SG-11 were there when a dam ruptured ... we're waiting for the water to recede from the gate area. Until then we're stuck with seventy-two of their people who would have drowned otherwise."

"How long do you think they'll be here?"

Sam shrugged. "A couple of days, the level is already dropping. What do you fancy for dinner?"

"You."

Sam laughed and drew him close. "I don't think a diet of just me is enough."

"Oh, I don't know ... I know I couldn't live without you, Sam."

Sam brushed at the hair on his forehead, her eyes regarding his intently, obviously a little taken aback at his sudden seriousness. She suddenly hugged him tight, drawing him into comfort...

**********

Jack quizzed Sam in increments about the refugees. By bedtime she'd had enough and prodded him to spill what was going on.

"Nothing."

"Ouch, liar. You can tell me you're bored - yes I can buy that. You can tell me you need something else to occupy you - yes, that's okay too, but when you start on alien culture - I know there is an ulterior motive."

Jack waged war inside himself. He didn't want anyone to know of Maybourne's existence on Earth, let alone his departure. Anyone involved in aiding the man if it came out ... not only careers, but lives, would be at risk.

**********

Jack lay wide awake beneath his wife's draped body ... actually plastered was more the word that could describe how she lay on him. He sighed and rubbed his hand over her back in a light circle, her murmur and sigh as she wriggled even more over him drew an unconscious smile from him.

He had to get Harry home. No if's and but's - home. The return of the refugees was the perfect reason to open the gate - something that couldn't be easily concealed. There would be nothing to suggest anything covert ... but he had to get Harry to the gate.

Jack knew more than enough about the SGC's security to get Maybourne into the mountain - it was leaving it that was the problem. For every person entering - a person had to leave ... unless they were struck from the records as KIA. Security would certainly flag up the discrepancy.

Jack couldn't hack the SGC system from home - he had to be there and that was another problem ... or maybe not. There was no reason at all why Jack shouldn't visit the SGC, especially in light of the latest events - afterall, a fresh threat assessment would be expected everywhere now.

**********

Jack debated long and hard over how much to involve Sam. He did not want to risk her career or her life, with the slightest hint of a connection - the fall out and possible reprisals would be going on for a very long time from the initial arrests and the less she or anyone else knew the better. His own part in instigating the operation would come to light soon enough, he knew that the mirage he had set up from the start would only provide so much cover...

In the end he knew he needed Sam's cooperation - just a little - more than anything else, he needed her to actually just ignore certain things. That being said, it was easier than done ... being a fine and upstanding officer he knew it would sit hard with her and go against the grain - grain that he had severely and repeatedly rubbed the wrong way over the years she had served under him. He just hoped she could go along with him - just this one last time.

**********

Sam knew Jack was up to something. He'd been buried in his office and the phone and computer were red hot. He'd shown little interest in anything else except the refugee status at the SGC and Sam's mind was working overtime...

It was late evening when Jack finally immerged and his body language almost made her want to stand at parade ready.

She tried to force herself to relax, even though she was actually sitting up straight, waiting.

His face was serious and she knew that whatever he was going to say was troubling him greatly.

"Sam ..." He hesitated and ducked his head for a moment, before taking a deep breath, his head rising so that he could look straight into her eyes.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked, her voice and face as neutral as she could make them.

There was a flicker of surprise of his face, barely there before it was gone. "Actually very little, but it's more like what I don't want you to do."

Sam's eyebrows rose as she gave him a questioning look. "You are so going to have to explain that."

Jack sighed. Maybourne had to go home - nothing more - nothing less...

**********

Maybourne bitched as he put on the uniform. "I've been a number of things over the years ... but a chauffeur?"

"Aide, Harry, you're my god damned aide." Jack sighed. "Do you want to go home or what?"

Maybourne sighed. "Yes, surprisingly enough I do. I wasn't meant to be here this long either and ..."

Jack shook his head. "I'm sorry, Harry."

Maybourne hitched at the creases on his trousers as he sat down. "Hey, it wasn't your fault you got yourself shot."

"But you are here because of me. If I'd died you would probably have been stuck here hiding out for the rest of your life."

"And if it weren't for you, then I wouldn't probably have had a rest of my life in the first place, a very good rest of my life I might add. You didn't need to have the Tok'ra do what they did ... you could have dragged me home to face charges."

Shrugging, Jack swung his chair around, looking out of the bedroom window.

Harry sighed and rose. He stood behind the wheelchair and placed a hand on the man's shoulder, half expecting him to shrug it off, but when he didn't... "I did what I did for my country and yes, I wanted the power, the fame ... some of the fortune, but I wore my uniform with pride, helping protect our world. We're not so far apart Jack, you and I ... never were, never will be. We do what we do to survive and ensure that the Earth survives ... just a little differently that's all. If a man names a price I know you will turn your back. I'll ask how much - that's the difference between us." Maybourne dropped his head, his voice lowered to almost a whisper. "Whatever happens, Jack, no matter how this pans out, I am glad I came."

Jack raised his head a little, the beginning of a smile unmistakable on his face. "Me too, Harry, me too."

**********

Maybourne checked his rear view mirror casually, before glancing at his companion. "Does Sam know we're coming?"

He saw the uncomfortable expression that flickered briefly over Jack's face.

"Sort of."

"Sort of?"

"I've warned her that she will probably recognize my aide and that my visit is not expected. Landry doesn't know you, that's a bonus."

"You play things pretty close to your chest, Jack, I'll give you that."

"I don't want her any more involved in this than she has to be. If this so much as breathes on her career ..." Jack left the statement unfinished and he turned his head to face the side window, seemingly intent on the passing scenery.

Shrugging, Maybourne turned his attention back to the road. He had gone through his mental checklist for the mission ahead and knew that a hell of a lot was riding on Jack's ability to use his position of command. He couldn't help worrying - although Jack's position was a heady one indeed, his current medical condition and undefined actual status could go against them.

The ID card Jack had given him was good - very - but he didn't ask where Jack got it from. He quelled the urge to laugh again about the name ... Major Kenneth Hutchinson, indeed!

The rest of the journey was made in comparative silence. Harry confessed inwardly that he felt more than a little nervous - things could go belly up pretty damned quickly if he was recognized and he would be arrested on the spot - and it would probably be the end of O'Neill's career as well. He knew the man well enough to realize that Jack wouldn't have given any thought to the possible rewards the whole operation could bring, nor would he have baulked at the dangers involved. If Jack was caught aiding him, under any circumstances...

Jack directed the car over to the VIP spaces. To Harry's relief, gate security didn't give Maybourne's ID more than a cursory glance, once they saw who was with him that was.

As Harry held the chair in position for Jack, he took a deep breath - round one...

Never before had the corridors seemed so long and so bright - hell, had they turned the lights up especially for today? Harry kept his hat pulled well forward and brandished the clipboard and pen he carried like a weapon. Jack was giving him the full tour spiel, his subtle hand signals pointing out the cameras as they moved, right up until they hit the last security checkpoint.

Maybourne's heart missed a beat when a general he assumed was Landry and a posse of SF's were waiting for them by the security desk. He slowed his pace slightly, letting Jack get a little ahead and drew to a halt a respectful distance away, giving a crisp salute.

**********

Jack's calm demeanor and a ready smile rolled along with him. The General would have had word just who was on his way the moment Jack's car left the outer gate security. He knew the `welcoming' party would have spooked Maybourne a little - maybe he should have warned him ... nah ... much more fun this way.

"Hank," said Jack, offering his hand to the SGC's CO. Using the General's given name was an indication of the status of the visit, after all, Jack wasn't even in uniform.

"Jack." Landry shook his hand, but his expression was guarded.

"Hank, this is my aide, Major Hutchinson. Major, this is General Landry, Commander of the SGC. Major Hutchinson needs bringing up to speed regarding the program here." Jack drew brief attention to Maybourne, before drawing it away again. "Perhaps we can use the briefing room?"

Landry dismissed the SF's and walked beside Jack, Maybourne keeping pace, but hanging back slightly. The corridors were a hubbub of activity, and more than one person greeted Jack welcomingly, but he didn't pause, just returning their greetings with a brief word and a smile.

It seemed strange to Jack to go the long way round and use the elevator for the briefing room rather than the stairs, but at last they were there.

"You'll need to ask the sergeant to step outside while we talk, Hank." Jack indicted the SF stationed by the door with a nod.

Not hesitating, Landry dismissed the man and then waited while Harry made like the perfect aide and pulled a chair out to make room for Jack's wheelchair so that he could take his customary seat at the head of the briefing room table. Jack ignored the other general's inquiring look, indicating the expanse of glass that looked out over the gate room. "Major, take a look."

Maybourne moved over to stand and look down through the huge window. "Goodness." He cleared his throat and continued to stand as if frozen by the sight of the enormous ring below him.

Jack didn't even try to hide his grin. Landry would just think him amused by the Major seeing the gate for the first time.

"I'm sure you didn't come over just to show Major Hutchinson the gate."

Twisting in his chair, Jack turned back to face Hank, his smile fading. "Well, kinda. Officially, that's the story. Major Hutchinson here needs to assist me on a higher level than previously and will be privy to everything that comes out of the SGC, so I think it's important he understands just what you do here."

Hank Landry drew himself more upright. "Unofficially?"

Jack looked down and tapped the briefing table with his thumbs for a few seconds, before looking back up, his tone becoming serious. "You've seen the news regarding the arrests?"

Landry nodded, but didn't speak.

"There will be more, Hank. There's another imminent arrest in particular that is closer to home. He's been involved with the SGC on and off for the last several months."

If Landry was surprised by this, his face certainly didn't betray him.

"Who?"

"I'm not at liberty to divulge that information, but I need your cooperation."

It took Landry all of two seconds to respond. "What do you need?"

Biting back the sigh of relief that threatened to escape, Jack gave a brief smile of thanks. "I need access to the SGC's computers ASAP."

"I've got seventy-two refugees going back to their home world today, Jack, you couldn't have timed it for a worse moment."

"Really? Are they the ones from that flooded village Sam told me about? " At Hank's nod, Jack continued. "That shouldn't be a problem. In fact, it might be the perfect chance for Hutchinson to get a taste of how going through the gate feels, don't you think? I take it you've got a team or two going with them?"

"Yes, but ..."

"Then there's no risk."

"Sir?" Maybourne injected the right amount of apprehension in his voice and swung around from the window.

"Yeah, you can be back in time for dinner."

"I'm not sure sir that I ..."

"Nonsense," replied Jack quickly, "this is an ideal opportunity for you to see exactly what goes on down there ... out there ..." Jack waved his hand dismissively.

"Well ..." Landry hesitated.

"Great, that'll keep him outta my hair for a few hours." Jack dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "He's okay, but needs a little loosening up, bit green yet, one trip through the gate will sort him out. You'd be doing me a favor."

Hank smiled, and Jack breathed a quiet sigh of relief that his friend had taken the bait.

"All right, sir." He rose. "We need to get your man kitted up and I have to get things rolling in the control room, if you'll excuse me ..."

"Great. I would come down and see what's new there, it's been a while, but ..." He indicated the flight of stairs in the corner of the room. "I'll have to give it a miss this time. I can get the ball rolling from the computers here as soon as I help get Hutchinson kitted out." Jack swung his chair back from the table. He moved off briskly, not giving Landry any chance to object. "Major," he called out over his shoulder. "You're with me."

"You can use my office if you need more privacy."

Jack shook his head. "Thanks, but I'd prefer to use one of the ones out here." He rolled over to the observation window and looked down, his voice lowering. "I can see the gate from here." He was embarrassed at the rather wistful tone he could hear in his own voice and spun abruptly, moving toward the elevators. "Come on Hutchinson, let's get you ready."

**********

Landry watched as Jack and the major disappeared through the open doors of the elevator, and couldn't help smiling as the whining voice of the aide carried...

"Sir ... we don't have to ... I don't think ..."

The poor man had no chance. Not with O'Neill...

**********

Major Christy reported to the briefing room as ordered and Jack signaled him over to the small computer desk he'd had set up by the window.

"Sir?"

"I'm sure General Landry has informed you that my aide will be going out with your party Major.

"Yes, sir."

Jack continued. "However Major Hutchinson will not be returning with you. He has his orders - you have yours. Any questions?"

If the officer was surprised, he hid it well. He knew Jack, he had served under him at the SGC and Jack knew that he would follow the order.

"Understood, sir. Will the Major require any assistance?"

"Negative. The Major will depart soon after your arrival on the planet - alone." Jack looked down at the gate room. "Your team looks ready Major, you may join them."

"Sir." Christy stood briefly to attention before leaving the briefing room. Jack looked out the window. The gate room was gradually filling with people. He spotted Daniel moving amongst the refugees and felt a momentary flutter of concern. Shit- if Daniel spotted Maybourne... He barely managed to hold back a loud sigh of relief when his friend finished his farewells to the villagers and left the room.

There was the sound of footsteps and Jack turned as Hank appeared at the top of the stairs. "Sorry, there was a problem at the labs that couldn't wait." He came to stand beside Jack.

"Labs?" Jack couldn't help being concerned.

"Nothing to worry about," offered Landry quickly, obviously assuming Jack was worried about his wife. "If there's nothing you need, perhaps you'll excuse me for a short while?"

Nodding, Jack returned his attention to the computer, his fingers moving deftly over the keyboard, pausing briefly as the chevrons locked into place and the bright circle below him spewed forth its liquid light. For a few seconds he was entranced - it just never got old for him.

The SG team began shepherding the refugees through the stabilized wormhole and Jack continued to watch, his fingers stilled on the keyboard. At long last, the last of the refugees were through and Maybourne began his ascent up the ramp with the rear party. He reached the top and half turned, his face in darkness under the helmet he wore and lifted his hand in a quirky salute before disappearing into the rippling light.

The wormhole closed down and the iris began to close.

Shaking himself out of his stupor, Jack quickly began typing again, not stopping as Hank came back into the room.

"What time is your aide due back, Jack?" asked Landry, stepping closer.

Jack's fingers continued to flash over the keyboard, until, with a flourish, he hit one last key, finally facing Hank.

"What aide?"

Landry's puzzled expression lasted for a count of seven. "What's going on?"

"Nothing."

Landry stood glaring, his arms folded in front of his chest.

"You sent a man through that gate - why, who was he?"

"There is nothing in the records, no evidence of anything except that I visited here today."

Hank opened his mouth, obviously about to speak, then stopped and glanced toward the desk before, with a look of sudden comprehension, he glared at his fellow general. "What did you do to the computers?"

Jack stared at Landry for half a beat. He knew the man, knew his integrity - and that was the reason he had recommended him as his replacement. This was the moment his plan could fall apart, taking him down with it, but the risk had been worth it - Harry should already be safely back in the arms of his many wives.

He kept his voice as calm and as firm as possible. "There is nothing to see here today and you can make that an official order."

"And if I don't like that order?"

"If you feel that you would be complying with an illegal order then you know what to do. Trust me, Hank, these are my orders and my responsibility." Whatever happened, Jack had been careful to not implicate anyone else. His career might be over, but no way was he prepared to ruin someone else's.

Hank stared at him, his expression carefully neutral. "I'll choose the trust, Jack. That I'm certain there'll be absolutely no evidence to back up any objections I might have has nothing to do with that decision. There's one hell of a mess out there at the moment and I don't want the SGC caught up in anything. What you said earlier ..."

"That's gonna happen, but there is no way in hell he'll be taking the SGC down with him. Like I said ... there's nothing to see here, nothing."

**********

Jack flung the garden hoe against the fence with an exasperated growl.

The damn thing was too long ... the damn grass was too wet ... his damn chair was too heavy...

He tried to swing his wheelchair and his temper soared when it wouldn't move without a fight ... snarling and cursing he struggled as his wheels tore at the grass, creating a muddied furrow. He briefly debated trying to get out of his chair, but then hit on the bright idea of using his right leg to put a bit of power behind it ... the crack of the wooden fence panel put paid to that idea and his chair slewed sideways, almost unseating him.

"Fuck!" He glared at the weeds in the border that were mocking his attempts to be rid of them ... plus his knee hurt. It probably hadn't been the smartest move to use his right leg ... given that it was still attached to his bum knee.

Therapy was strengthening his right leg and he had gained quite a lot of control over it, much to his joy, but to his disgust his right knee had certainly seen better days and there was no way he could progress to even trying crutches. The therapist had told him in no uncertain terms how far he had to go before attempting that ... and yes sir, years of practice on said crutches didn't count!

Jack pushed furiously at the wheels, but they still wouldn't budge. He was stuck fast - just like his damn life - stuck and going nowhere. He'd waved Harry goodbye and gone home, knowing full well it was probably the last time he'd feel that sense of adventure that set his pulse racing.

Life sucked!

**********

Daniel rang the bell again. Nothing. He sighed and glanced at his watch. Jack was expecting him and seeing that Sam was at the mountain - strictly light duties, of course - then Jack had to be in ... unless of course... Daniel's heart jumped a beat as he wondered if something was wrong. He had learned the hard way to be patient when waiting for an answer at the door as it could take his friend a while to get there... He checked his watch again - way too long.

Opening the door cautiously, Daniel made a point of calling out loudly. He'd already walked in on his friends in a 'delicate' situation once ... and once was enough. He'd never seen Sam go so red before - but then again, he couldn't remember himself that shade either.

There was no response to his call and Daniel made his way through the lounge, calling out as he walked. As he was wondering whether to knock at the bedroom door he caught sight of the rear patio door open, the sheer drapes blowing a little in the soft breeze and the sound of a disgruntled curse drifted in.

**********

Jack had managed to pick the hoe up and in the process of trying to turn and keep hold of it at the same time, had covered himself in mud. To add insult to injury, it started to rain heavily as well... He cursed and the wheelchair moved a little forward then slipped back.

"Christ almighty!" he roared, lifting his head up to the sky. He was tired, aching, wet ... thoroughly pissed at himself and...

"Jack?"

He turned his head slowly. He knew the voice alright and he could hear the amusement in it ... yes he was thoroughly pissed...

**********

Daniel couldn't help the smile that crept over his face. Jack looked like a knight, albeit a knight on wheels, rather than some mighty charger.

The garden hoe was poking out like a lance and Jack was leaning forward, hands on his wheels, his face wearing a thunderous expression, looking as though he was ready to plow through an opponent. Daniel straightened up and tried to wipe the smile off his face - he didn't fancy being the opponent, though the thought of Jack charging a Goa'uld wielding such a weapon brought the smile back...

"What's so fuckin' funny, Daniel?"

The growl in Jack's voice might have wiped the smirk off many a man's face, but Daniel wasn't one of them ... and the smile broadened.

Daniel saw a brief flash of emotion flicker across his friend's face, but it was gone before he could quite...

"If all you've come to do is take the piss out of a cripple, then fuck off!"

Daniel could have crawled inside himself when he realized what Jack was thinking. "Oh God ... no ... Jack I ... shit!" He was off the porch within seconds and by the side of his friend, heedless of the rain coming down and mud that had been churned up.

Jack put up an arm as if to fend him off and Daniel felt such a huge bastard... "No, it was this." He indicated the hoe, "You look like a knight of the round table ready to do battle ..."

Jack threw him a puzzled look at first, then the light seemed to dawn. "A knight?" He looked down at the hoe and a grin lit his face, but didn't reach his eyes and his words were more than a little bitter. "Some knight I'd make huh? More like a damsel in distress."

"Trust me on this, Jack, you are nothing like a damsel in distress. Need a hand though?"

The rain was coming down even harder now and Jack peered up. His t-shirt and light pants were soaked through. "Well, I thought if I waited long enough I wouldn't need a shower "

Daniel shook his head and grinned. He took hold of the chair's handles and with a great deal of difficulty began to turn it. "Jeez," he puffed, "I don't know what you're eating ..."

"Perhaps you're just not fit enough Danny-boy, maybe Mitchell isn't working you hard enough ..."

"Huh!" Daniel heaved and Jack used his hands on the wheels and together they managed to get it to the ramp. Daniel hesitated whether to continue on up, but one look at his friend's exhausted face removed the hesitation.

**********

Once on the porch, Jack swung his chair around and looked at the mess he had made on the lawn. The weeds looked even bigger from up here and they were mocking him. "Darn weeds," he growled.

"You were weeding?" asked Daniel incredulously.

Jack felt a flash of irritation. Daniel still seemed to find the whole thing funny, while Jack was so frustrated and disappointed with himself. He'd been out in the garden for what seemed like hours and what had he achieved? Zero, zilch, nadda .... absolutely fucking nothing.

Rubbing his hands over his face to try and wipe off some of the rainwater, he growled an answer. "No, doing the laundry ... of course I was ... well, at least I was trying to ... damn it to hell ..."

**********

In the few patches where it wasn't dripping wet, Jack's hair stood up in messy spikes. Smiling at his friend's appearance, Daniel shook his head. "Well Sir Lancelot, can I interest you in a hot shower?"

Jack sighed heavily. He looked absolutely exhausted. Daniel took the hoe from him and propped it up on the porch before taking hold of the chair once more.

"Stop!"

Daniel nearly had a heart attack. "What?"

"We can't go in like this!"

"What?"

"I only cleaned the floor this morning. You are not going to track this lot through."

Daniel looked down at his own shoes and there was mud - sure ... however, the chair's wheels were encrusted... "Jack, I think it's more important that we get you out of those wet clothes, you're exhausted."

"Take your shoes off," ordered Jack.

"Jack ..."

"Quit whining. Grab that hose and wash off these wheels before you take them off."

"Take the wheels off?"

"Your shoes, idiot."

Daniel saw Jack trying to suppress a shiver even as he spoke and he shook his head. "Look, if you go down with something Sam is going to kill me. Trust me, I can clean a floor, I'm not ..." He stopped speaking.

"What ... useless? Helpless? Yeah, well maybe a clean floor isn't the be all and end all of your world Daniel, but it took me two freakin' hours this morning ... exciting huh?"

Biting his lip, Daniel gazed down at Jack who was beginning to shiver in earnest now.

"Oh forget it." Jack rolled his chair through the doorway, cursing as he went.

Daniel cursed himself silently. He had put his foot in every conceivable hole possible all within the space of ... oh, twenty minutes of visiting his friend ... Jack could be very prickly to deal with on the best of days and today was so not one of them.

He straightened and took a deep breath before following Jack into the house. Muddy tracks led straight to the main bathroom which had been converted into a shower room for Jack and it was here he found him struggling to get out of his soaked clothes.

"Look, I'm sorry I ..." Daniel died a thousand deaths as he realized what he had been going to say and his face must have displayed his horror.

"What, put your foot in it?" Jack shook his head and pulled at his shirt, popping a couple of buttons in the process.

"Yes. Jack, you are not a helpless ccripple," he stuttered slightly over the 'c' word.

Jack took a deep breath and stilled his movements, his eyes closing. "God damn it Daniel, I feel so useless " His voice was barely a whisper.

Daniel hesitated, then came closer, sitting down on the toilet seat so that he was level with his friend and he touched him on the arm gently. Jack's eyes opened at the contact and Daniel's heart contracted at the pain and confusion he saw in them.

"Sorry."

Jack's apology took Daniel by surprise. "You're sorry? For what?"

"For living I think. Look, I'll understand if you don't come round any more. I know it's awkward for folk ..." He gestured at the chair with one hand and shrugged.

"Jesus Jack, do you really think that I'm that shallow? I know we've not been as close friends as we used to be, but for God's sake, you have been in DC for several months and pretty much before that running the SGC took up ninety percent of your time, but ..." Daniel drew a deep breath. The thought that Jack thought he visited him out of some sort of duty... "I admit that sometimes it is awkward, but not because you're in a wheelchair, but because I'm frightened of upsetting you, hurting your feelings. I am frightened ..." Daniel shook his head and bit at his lip anxiously. "I am frightened of saying the wrong thing. I hate seeing you in that chair, and I want you to be okay, be back to normal ... ah, shit, see ... normal? Huh, what's normal? I want you to walk again. I want to visit you, spend time with you as a friend. It hurts me to see you in that chair Jack, but what would hurt most would be if you had died, because that way I would have lost you completely."

Jack stared back at Daniel before looking down at his hands, his eyes dark and his face unreadable.

Daniel rose. "Now, either you let me help you, or I get on the phone and call Sam."

The barest of smiles began to tug at Jack's mouth as he looked up. "In that case Daniel, how can I refuse?"

Eventually Daniel had a very exhausted Jack stripped, ready for the shower and he left him to get washed.

"I'll go get some soup or something on the heat. I could sure do with something warm. Yell if you want me."

**********

Daniel finally persuaded a very reluctant Jack to get into bed. Jack only agreed when Daniel told him how tired he looked, and how upset Sam would be if she found him like that when she got home. One thing Jack didn't want to do was cause Sam any more concern, so he begrudgingly complied, pulling the covers up almost over his head as soon as he was under them, as if he was wanting to hide from the world.

"Not so much of a good way to spend an afternoon off huh Daniel?" said a drowsy Jack.

Daniel sat on the foot of the bed, watching as Jack yawned sleepily. "Oh, I don't know, I got to spend some time with my best friend."

Jack smiled slightly, his eyes were already closing. "Me too." He paused, and Daniel thought he had drifted off to sleep, but he began talking again, his voice soft. "I took Charlie to the park one afternoon and the heavens opened on us ... and I trailed the pram through the house when we got back. You should have seen the look on Sara's face ... oh boy, was she mad ... Daniel?"

"Yes, Jack?"

"Don't forget to clean the floor before Sam comes home."

Daniel sighed and rose. "I had better get dinner thrown in for this ..."

The only response was the soft gentle snore from his friend...

**********

Her fingers tracing across his stomach and Jack flinched and bit his lip as the tickling sensation became too much.

"Keep still," complained Sam.

"Can't ... oh ..."

"No, it's an `a'."

"No, I meant oh as in ... oh never mind."

"Never mind what?"

Jack caught at Sam's hand and trapped it beneath his own, moving it lower. "I know a better game."

"You didn't guess."

He couldn't see her face, but he knew she was pouting and his other hand brushed at her hair, urging her to lift her face to his.

"Okay, I'll do a forfeit ..." Tugging her closer, he brought his head down to capture her lips with his own.

Sam giggled into his mouth and pulled back. "I haven't said what the forfeit is yet."

Jack manhandled her across his body and Sam shrieked and twisted to pull a pillow across with her good arm, bringing it round as though to thwack him with it. Jack blocked the movement and with a quick twist of his wrist the pillow fell helplessly to the floor...

The phone's shrill ring interrupted the kiss that had begun and Jack groaned. "Leave it."

Sam nipped his lip gently. "It might be important."

"And what's more important than this?" Jack pouted. Sam laughed and rolled off, a little awkwardly as the cast got in the way, to grab the receiver from the cabinet on her side of the bed.

"Hello."

Heaving himself up, Jack awkwardly rolled on to his side and began stroking her uppermost thigh. He tucked his head into her neck, nibbling and licking at it, delighting in the shivers that ran through her, totally oblivious to the conversation until Sam wriggled away and sat up on the bed.

She clamped her hand over the receiver and hissed at him to stop. "Jack, it's ... behave ..." She squirmed as his mouth fastened on her breast and tapped her cast on his head - and none too gently at that.

"Ouch ..." He rubbed at his head and looked up to catch her face turning bright red and a huge frown forming. "Who the hell ..." He caught the receiver as Sam thrust it into his hand and he was almost tempted to throw it back ... until a voice shouted, "O'Neill!"

Jack put the receiver to his ear, his eyebrows rising as he listened.

"Sir, uh, sorry... Oh ..." He tried not to squeak as he spoke and he hurriedly cleared his throat, pulling a face at Sam as though to say `why didn't you warn me?' but she merely stuck out her tongue in response.

Jack rolled onto his back and tried to concentrate on the call, but it was difficult as a hand began to roam his body. "Uh, yes sir ... I see." He slapped at the hand and tried to capture it to contain it, but Sam was way too quick and grabbed at another bit of his body...

"No." The hand stopped and Jack hurriedly spoke into the receiver. "No, sorry, not you sir ... ah, sorry ... do go on ..." and the hand continued, despite Jack trying to roll to evade it. He bit back a yelp as her mouth joined in the assault...

**********

Sam never thought Jack could wriggle so much and she was enjoying the payback tremendously. Despite the shock of having the President of the United States on the other end of the phone, she was enjoying her revenge ... every damn second of it.

She latched onto his hip with her mouth and bit down and he bucked and squeaked ... General Jack O'Neill squeaking! Huh, go figure and she almost let go as the giggles began to overtake her.

"Yes ... I ... okay, yes I admit that I ... yes ..." Jack sighed heavily, "It was my doing ... in two weeks?"

Sam stilled as she heard the hitch in her husband's voice, wondering what he was agreeing to.

"I got that, yes sir... Yes. I will... Yes, I'll pass the invitation on and thank you... Goodbye, sir."

Jack's hand, still holding onto the receiver, hit the mattress hard. Sam wriggled and sat up. "What was that about?" Curiosity overrode the need to continue her revenge.

Jack sighed as he handed her the receiver. Sam leaned across the bed to replace it in its cradle and let out a shriek as she found herself hauled back in her husband's strong arms. "Jack don't... What did he want?"

"Fall out."

"What?"

"There's a series of preservation meetings being set up in DC, the week after next."

"Preservation?" echoed Sam, a little puzzled.

"Yeah, you know, the usual, minimize the fall out, cover their fat asses ..."

"And what about yours?"

Jack threw her a hurt look. "My ass is fat?"

Smiling, Sam shook her head. "You know what I mean. How does this affect you?"

"Hopefully it shouldn't, but the President wants the I's and T's dotted and crossed and we've got to be there."

"We?"

"Well, you're not involved in the meetings, but I've been told to extend the personal invitation of the President and the First Lady for us to join them for lunch."

"Lunch? At the White House? With everyone?"

"Nope, just you, me and Mr and Mrs Hayes."

Jack chuckled and Sam tried to haul her eyebrows back down from their surprised position, but wasn't having much luck. "Oh ..."

Jack interrupted her with a groan.

"What?"

"You are so going to say, `what am I going to wear?'."

"Was not."

"Was."

"Not."

"Was."

"Not... I was going to say ..." Sam thought frantically... "I wonder if I can get rid of this before then?" She held up the cast. "I mean, it won't go with anything I've already got ..."

Jack laughed as he pounced on her and began to tickle her and she squirmed.

"Submit!" he yelled.

Sam tried her hardest to wriggle out of his arms to escape the tickling from his fingers ... not that she had much chance of that, the muscles in his arms and chest were not just an arresting sight but were very, very effective ... but she had one trick up her sleeve...

Jack's tickling stopped as she latched onto his mouth and wriggled herself over his groin, his fingers changing their motion to stroking...

Sam reared up and he grunted in protest, but ceased immediately as she grabbed hold of the lifting bar with her good arm ... her face alight with a mischievous grin...

"Oh, I am sooo glad you had the ceiling reinforced," he murmured, the glint in his eyes matching her own.

**********

"Aww, come on Sam, wouldn't you like to stay here?"

Jack smiled winningly up from his position on the bed as his wife bent to step into her dress. It was a sky blue that perfectly matched her eyes and Jack knew she'd only bought it a week ago - especially with this trip in mind. Inwardly he sighed with resignation, knowing he was fighting a losing battle, but he couldn't help trying... Sam just looked so damn sexy in those stockings and stilettos...

"Wouldn't you rather get to bed early? We have a big day tomorrow."

"You're whining, Jack." Turning as she spoke, Sam sat on the edge of the bed and presented her back to him. "Zip me up."

"I'd much rather it stayed unzipped." But his fingers were already tugging at the tiny piece of metal and he felt a momentary pang of regret as her bare back gradually disappeared under the soft fabric.

Sam just laughed as she stood, adjusting the sling on her left arm as she did so, before going to his wheelchair and awkwardly pushing it closer to the bed. "We didn't come to DC just so we could stay in the hotel room. The reservation is for seven thirty and it's fifteen after now. Get a move on, General."

Giving up the fight, Jack took her outstretched hand and pulled himself up and over, easily maneuvering into the chair. Once he was settled, Sam knelt to slip on his shoes, then rose, waiting until he had put his suit jacket on, before giving him a long, and for Jack very frustrating, kiss.

"I'm not that hungry. Are you sure you wouldn't like to skip dinner?" One last try only got him a light whack on the arm as a reward and they were soon out the door.

They had decided to eat in a nearby restaurant the hotel had recommended, only a few doors away. Sam had checked it out earlier in the day, making sure it was wheelchair accessible, and was pleased to find it was. She had taken the chance to peruse the menu and found several of their favorites listed.

Despite his protests that he wasn't hungry, Jack's mouth was already watering at the prospect of good food and even better company. Sam hadn't had a chance to get dressed up and go out for months - not since - no, he wasn't going to think about that now. He was going to enjoy himself.

Sam held the restaurant door open and Jack wheeled himself in, taking a look around as Sam entered behind him. The interior was modern, crisp and clean, yet welcoming, with none of the ornate features far too often found in expensive establishments. The tables were dressed with simple white linen cloths, a single slender red candle burning in the center of each, echoing the red and white color scheme of the rest of the room.

Jack smiled in satisfaction.

"Good evening, Madam, Sir. Do you have a reservation?" The man who greeted them fixed his attention on Sam.

"We have a reservation for two. O'Neill."

He checked the list, then, his eyes flickering over Jack, he nodded, glancing around the room. "Yes, of course. If you would follow me?"

Jack turned the chair and with some difficulty followed the maitre d' down the narrow space between the tables until they reached an area by the door to the washrooms where a lone table sat in solitary splendor.

"But..." Jack looked up at the expression in Sam's voice, seeing her frown. "I asked to be seated by the window."

"I'm afraid those tables were already reserved, madam."

Jack looked around the almost empty room and raised an eyebrow. "Doesn't look ..."

The other man interrupted, and speaking without looking at them, turned away to gesture to a server who was placing elaborately folded napkins on a nearby table. "We have more diners expected later. Fran will be your server for this evening. If there is anything you require, just let her know." And with that, he hurried off.

Jack watched him leave, only half his attention on the young woman's rapid explanation of the specials.

"Jack ..."

Feeling Sam's warm hand on his arm, Jack swung back, moving the chair to better position it at the table. As he did so he bumped against the leg, making it shake and spilling a little of the water the server had placed near Sam.

"Damn - sorr..."

"It's okay, sir, not a problem. I'll just get a fresh cloth." The young woman beamed down at him before addressing Sam. "It'll give you time to help the gentleman choose his meal. I'll be right back."

"Choose his meal?" Jack just restrained himself from giving her an audible growl as she walked away. "What the hell is that suppose to mean?"

Sam couldn't seem to meet his eyes. "I think I'll have the lamb, with garlic prawns to start."

"Sam ..." Jack stopped, deciding not to press the point, not wanting to spoil the evening. He picked up the menu and began flipping the pages. There were several dishes he liked the look of, but it would be better not to choose something too rich - his system didn't seem to cope with it as well as it use to.

Their server returned and replaced the cloth, but retreated again when Sam told her they needed more time. Jack had finally made up his mind, deciding on a simple steak with mushroom sauce, when the sommelier approached.

"Would you like to order drinks?"

Jack nodded at the man and exchanged his menu for the wine list. He only needed a quick glance to spot a red they both particularly liked and give the order. He was still engrossed in his meal selection when the sommelier returned with the bottle.

"Madam?"

Looking up, Jack found the sommelier had poured a small amount of wine into his wife's glass and was watching her with an inquiring expression.

"Excuse me?" Despite his best intentions, Jack found himself raising his voice a little. It wasn't that he felt he was any more qualified to taste the wine than Sam, but he had chosen it, he had ordered it, he was going to pay for it, and he was damned well entitled to be the one to taste it! "My legs might not be too good, but my taste buds are fine."

The sommelier turned, his dismay obvious, and Jack could see the moment he realized his mistake. His face flushed a slight red as he hurried to put wine into the glass Jack extended. To his credit, he appeared genuinely embarrassed.

"I'm very sorry, sir." He stood back as Jack took a sip and smiled when Jack nodded. Filling the two glasses, he then retreated, his place taken by their server.

After ordering their meals, Jack and Sam sipped at their wine in silence. Jack was still on edge, his good mood shattered by the treatment he had received. It didn't help that other diners were constantly brushing past him in an effort to reach the bathrooms and that every time the door opened a wave of cool air, smelling strongly of cleaning fluids, hit them.

"What time does it start tomorrow?"

Jack was pulled from his brooding by Sam's question. "At nine." He paused as the server placed their meals in front of them, before continuing in a low voice. "I really don't have a choice, you know. I need to be there."

"Yes, you do." Sam gestured at her plate. "Would you?"

"Pass it over." Moving his plate aside, Jack made room for hers and proceeded to cut the meat into bite size pieces. "At least you've got an excuse to be there with me for part of the day." He glanced up, pausing in his task. "I'm pleased that you were asked."

"Any idea who will be there? Other than the obvious, of course."

"General Jumper for sure. Probably some other brass, seeing the President's attending." He passed the plate back.

"Including you." Sam smiled at his grunt of disagreement. "You're brass, General Sir."

"More like tin, Colonel." Jack hid his smile by taking a mouthful of steak. "Umm, this is good. Tender."

"It's barely cooked." Holding a forkful of the juicy red meat up, Jack waved it in Sam's direction and grinned as she pulled back. "Eww - keep that away from me."

The minor annoyances of the beginning of the evening were forgotten as the couple began to enjoy themselves, laughing and finally relaxing. For just a brief time Jack could almost imagine he was just a normal average guy out to dinner with his gorgeous wife. They finished the wine while taking their time over the dessert menu, and ended the meal with a liqueur with their coffee.

Having had just enough alcohol to feel mellow, Jack was inclined to be forgiving of the restaurant staffs' earlier behavior. The food had been superb, and he appreciated the gesture of the complimentary liqueurs the maitre d' sent over with their coffee. The room had filled up as the night wore on, and the tables by the windows were filled with diners, so perhaps they had been placed in the only available space. He had to concede that his wheelchair did take up rather more room than a normal chair.

"We should be getting back to the hotel."

Jack heard the wistful note in his wife's voice, but had to reluctantly nod in agreement. "Yes, we have an early start. Anyway," he added, keeping a completely serious expression on his face, "we need to burn off all the calories we've just eaten. It's a scientifically proven fact that if you engage in strenuous exercise straight after a rich meal the fat molecules don't have time to bond with your hips or stomach."

"The fat molecules don't bond?" Sam raised an eyebrow and smirked in his direction. "You sure of that?" When he nodded, she reached over and took his hand. "Did the article recommend any exercise in particular?"

"Uh huh." Turning her hand over, his fingers began to trace light patterns on her palm. "And I really feel I need far more practice in that area. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." He grinned and cocked his head to one side. "Think you can help me overcome that?"

"Oh yeah!"

Sam's low, throaty answer sent his senses into overdrive. He kept his eyes fixed on hers as he beckoned to the server, gesturing for the bill.

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

The night air was chill, and Sam was grateful they only had a few yards to go before reaching the warmth of their hotel once more. She pulled her light wrap more tightly across her shoulders and smiled to herself as she thought of one way she could warm up, with her husband as a willing participant.

She knew Jack had only been partially joking when he made that crack back in the restaurant about the flesh being weak. Although he had regained a lot of sensation, it was erratic and unpredictable and despite her efforts to reassure him, she knew Jack felt he had failed her. She struggled to convince him that the emotional side of their lovemaking was just as important to her as the physical.

She gave a small snarl of frustration, mixed with not a little affection. Jack could be such a male at times - let's face it - all the time - but she wouldn't want him any other way.

She was pulled from her thoughts as the hotel's automatic door swished open and a bulky figure slammed into her, almost throwing her off her feet.

"Sam!" Jack's anxious cry had her turning as she grasped her still weak arm, the sudden pain making her groan.

"Hell! Sorry, lady. Are you okay?" A wave of beery breath engulfed her and she pulled back. The man who had collided with her, swayed, and put a heavy arm around her shoulders, tugging her toward him. "No hard feelings?"

"Are you all right, miss?"

The weight of the arm suddenly lifted and the drunk was pushed back to reveal the concerned face of the hotel doorman.

"I'm fine." Blinking to clear the tears of pain that threatened to spill despite her words, Sam managed a reassuring smile. She searched the growing crowd of onlookers, beginning to panic when she realized Jack was nowhere in sight.

Then a very angry voice cut through the murmuring, "Move! Now!" and Jack appeared from the back of the crowd, his face thunderous. "Sam, are you okay? Your arm?"

"It was just a bump. Nothing to worry about." Sam took a few steps to meet him and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing tightly. She could feel the hard bunch of muscles twitching under her grip. "Forget it. Let's get inside, I'm cold."

Her words had the desired effect. Jack stopped glaring at the now quiet drunk and his face relaxed a little, the tight frown of worry still there, but lessening. He gazed at her with a searching look as if checking to see if she was telling the truth, then gave a curt nod. Without another word, he turned and entered the lobby, shepherding her protectively in front of him.

It was another few minutes before they managed to approach the elevator. The desk clerk had come out to see what the commotion was about and was anxious to make sure Sam wasn't hurt. It was only with some argument that she managed to persuade him not to call the hotel doctor to check her arm.

Giving a sigh of relief, Sam made an effort to regain some of the good humor she had felt when they left the restaurant. Ignoring the other couple waiting for the elevator with them, she looked down at her husband, seeing the tell-tale signs of a still simmering anger.

"Jack, I'm fine, really." She crouched down, balancing precariously on her high heels, to bring herself to his level. Once more he nodded, still not speaking, and Sam put out her hand to stroke a finger down his cheek. "What about you? Are you all right?"

To her dismay, he moved his head away. "Yeah, I'm okay - why wouldn't I be?"

Seeing how upset he was, Sam was reluctant to continue the conversation, especially with the interested stares of the other couple on them. A soft ding alerted her to the elevator's arrival and she stood.

"You're so good with him, dear. I don't know how you cope with your poor arm." Sam turned to find the middle-aged woman following them into the elevator and speaking in an obvious stage whisper. "I'm a martyr to my darling Kevin, with the way he suffers from his gout, so I know what it's like."

The older man with her grunted, his eyes fixed on the now closing doors.

"You have to have so much patience, don't you." Sam opened her mouth to answer, but was too late. To her profound horror, the woman patted Jack on the shoulder and, in the sort of slow, loud voice normally reserved for very young children, spoke. "You're very, very lucky to have such a devoted wife to look after you."

"Gwen - this is our floor."

"Oh, so it is!" She looked up and gave a start of surprise. "It was lovely talking to you dear. Now remember - patience is the key."

Sam couldn't bring herself to say anything as the couple exited the car. She heard the man speaking while they walked down the hotel corridor.

"I don't know why you always waste your time speaking to unfortunates."

His wife's reply was cut off by the closing doors.

Sam stood for a moment, almost too afraid to look at Jack, imagining how he must be feeling.

"Poor bastard." She spun, to find Jack looking up at her with a very sardonic smile. "I couldn't imagine what it would be like being married to someone like her - what with talking to people like us and all."

The man never failed to amaze her.

**********

Jack lay with one hand behind his head and the other lightly resting on Sam's naked back. She was snoring ever so gently, in that very ladylike way she had that she hotly denied whenever he mentioned it, but for once the sound didn't make him smile. Over and over the events of the evening replayed themselves in his mind, from the table by the washrooms to the woman's comments in the elevator.

The worst moment had been when Sam had been hurt. Someone had pushed his chair to one side and he had found himself shoved away, unable to get to her as other people had rushed to her aid.

He had been useless. Worse than useless - nothing more than an annoyance that was in the way. An object, not a human being.

And although he had laughed off the woman's words, her dismissal of him as if he was an imbecile unable to think for himself had hurt, deeply.

He couldn't wait to get home and forget the whole trip.

But he had the terrible feeling the rest of his life would be strewn with evenings like this one.

*********

"Well?" Jack raised a quizzical eyebrow and waited.

"Almost." Sam brushed yet another piece of what to Jack seemed like imaginary fluff from his shoulder and finally stood back, her gaze roaming over his body.

If only it wasn't clothed in blue fabric, he'd think she was actually interested in more than just fluff. Or maybe she was ... he recognized the gleam in her eyes and smiled smugly.

"You like what you see?" Instead of answering she just smiled back, so he spoke again, looking at himself in the mirror. "The tailor did a good job."

His uniform had needed extensive adjustments, something neither he nor Sam had even thought of until almost too late. He was lucky it was finished on time. To his surprise it hadn't needed taking in because of weight loss - he'd actually bulked up his upper body with all the exercise, especially his arms.

Time to get the dog and pony show on the road. The brief sleep he'd managed the night before hadn't refreshed him at all and by the time Sam woke he was already feeling the effects of being over-tired. Goodness knows what he'd feel like after a morning of meetings. Still - it had to be done. The fallout from the investigation Maybourne's information had started was just beginning to hit and the President and the Joint Chiefs needed to make sure all the i's were dotted and all the t's crossed. His debriefing was just the beginning.

He watched as Sam slipped his feet into his shiny dress shoes. At least she didn't have to wear her uniform - her attendance at the White House was unofficial, President Hayes having been kind enough to invite them both to lunch with himself and his wife after the debriefing. He had been worried about what she'd do to occupy herself until lunchtime, but when he had voiced his concerns she brushed them off, muttering something vague about having plenty to do.

"Ready?"

He gave her a nod. "As I'll ever be." Slipping his gloves on, he turned his chair and waited for Sam to open the hotel room door.

**********

Sam waited until the door was shut behind her husband, brief butterflies of concern fluttering in her stomach for a moment. This was Jack's first day in uniform since the shooting, and although on the surface he appeared to be taking it all in his stride, she had seen his expression when the first curious stares started as soon as they reached the hotel lobby. It was one thing to be in a wheelchair - that wasn't such an unusual sight - but a two-star general in full uniform and dripping with ribbons in a wheelchair certainly was. Jack's face had hardened into granite the moment the whispers and pointing began. She was grateful the official car was already waiting for them directly outside the entrance and that their driver was obviously well prepared, assisting Jack into the rear seat with little fuss.

Jack's appointed aide, Major Bradley, was there to show them to the meeting room, and had barely stopped talking from the second they arrived, filling Jack in on any slight changes to the agenda that had been made since he last spoke to him before dinner the night before. The two men were so engrossed in their discussion that they barely acknowledged Sam's presence - until they reached the door of the meeting room. Then Jack had stopped and with nothing but a long, heated look, had told her without the need for words just how much he wished she could be in the room with him.

Then he was gone.

For a moment Sam stood staring at the richly varnished wood of the door, well aware of the watchful gaze of the two guards standing to either side of it, then she shook herself out of her reverie and turned, striding down the corridor.

She had plans.

**********

"And we're walking."

They actually said that. Sam couldn't help the grin of total pleasure that grew as she obeyed the guide's instructions, and together with the rest of the small tour party, followed the woman up the hall toward the Map Room. Sam was fascinated by the guide's ability to walk backwards while talking and gesturing, appearing almost as good at it as Jack - except that her husband had the added skill of being able to shoot high powered weapons at the same time - hopefully a skill the tall middle-aged woman had no need to emulate.

Jack would kill himself laughing when he found out how she spent the morning, but with all her visits to DC and even living there for a time, she had never had the opportunity to tour the White House. She had attended the occasional meeting and reception there, but never seen the main parts of the house. She had managed to book a last minute tour place by using some of her contacts - another fact that would amuse Jack greatly. Oh well, she thought with a smile, it was about time she had some fun.

She hadn't mentioned last night to him when she'd finally woken, but it was obvious he hadn't had a good night's sleep. She knew if she asked him he would put it down to worry about today, but despite his efforts to hide it, the whole evening had upset him. So many simple things, but put them all together and they had built into a mass of hurt for him. She wished there was something she could do, but she realized she couldn't shield him from that type of behavior - it was something they unfortunately would both have to learn to live with.

"And we're walking."

Smiling again, Sam followed the pack.

***********

"I think that's all, gentlemen." President Hayes glanced at General Maynard and received a nod of agreement. "Thank you for your time. We've done a lot of work this morning, but unfortunately we still have much to do. Please keep yourself available for follow-up discussions at a later date." He stood and the others around the table swiftly followed - with one notable exception. Hayes couldn't help the concerned look he shot at Jack O'Neill. The man was looking worn out.

The room began to empty and O'Neill sat in his wheelchair, waiting for his turn to exit.

"General O'Neill, if you would stay." Henry saw Generals Jumper and Maynard pause and addressed them. "There is no need for you to wait."

Once the room was clear Hayes walked back to the table, taking a seat and putting himself on the same level as O'Neill as the general spun his chair to follow him.

"How are you, Jack - really? And I don't want the usual clap-trap you give when you're asked that."

"Fine, Mister President, thank you."

Sighing, Henry rubbed a hand over his jaw, the passing thought that he needed a shave crossing his mind before being replaced by mild exasperation. He should have known better than to expect Jack O'Neill to answer that question honestly. He debated pursuing the point but decided against it, instead opting for a more subtle approach.

"Your information was invaluable, Jack, in fact without it these people would still be getting away with what is essentially a betrayal of their planet. I've got no idea who your sources are ..." He held up a hand to stop the general's obvious protest in its tracks. "and I'm not going to ask, but I wish there was some way I could reward them for their courage in coming forward."

"There's no need. They're not the sort of people who want or expect rewards."

Henry was sure he saw a small smile of amusement cross O'Neill's face as he spoke, but it was soon concealed, replaced by something he couldn't quite place. The general's fingers were tapping lightly on his chair arms.

"Something on your mind, Jack?"

"May I speak frankly, sir?"

Allowing Jack O'Neill to speak frankly might not be the smartest move he'd ever made, Henry thought, but he hadn't been elected President because he was a coward. He nodded. "Of course."

It was as if his words had set free O'Neill's fidgeting hands. They rose and he began gesturing. Henry was sure that if the general had been able to walk he would have been pacing across the carpet. "What exactly do you want from me, Mister President? You've blocked my medical retirement, but I can't see the head of Homeworld Security rolling around the corridors of the Pentagon in his wheelchair."

"Why not?"

O'Neill's hands stilled, the right one raised, and the man frowned, his puzzlement plain to see. "You mean as a civilian?"

"No, I mean as a general in the United States Air Force."

"But ..." O'Neill's hands began moving again, both of them held out at his sides, indicating the chair. "I can't ..."

"Are you saying that a person in a wheelchair is incapable of holding a high ranking position, a position of trust?" Hayes didn't allow his delight at the direction the conversation had taken to show, frowning as if in displeasure. "Someone should have told the thirty-second President. FDR was elected to four terms, all of which he served while paralyzed from the waist down." He waited for the implication to sink in. "Don't think a little thing like being in a wheelchair is going to get you out of your duty to your country. You're far too valuable to take off the hook and throw back in the pond, General O'Neill."

**********

Jack knew Sam was worried by the way she was constantly glancing over at him throughout lunch, but he couldn't keep his attention on the meal - he had way too much on his mind after his talk with Hayes. He had, of course, responded politely to the First Lady's queries about how he felt being back in DC and had laughed when Sam had to admit to them all how she had spent the morning. Mrs Hayes had told them she had hardly ever been in many of the rooms featured on the tour herself and they had spent a very amusing few minutes imagining what would happen if she tagged along with a group.

All in all it had been a very pleasant meal, with Jack finding himself far more relaxed in the company of the President and his wife than he would have imagined possible. But now, as they finished their coffee and prepared to leave, he couldn't help his attention wandering again. He needed to talk to Sam, but it would have to wait until they got back to their hotel.

At least the journey back across town wouldn't take anywhere near the time it had this morning. President Hayes had offered them both a lift, saying he was going their way anyway, heading for some visit to a community project. He brushed aside Jack's objections and had, with a short phone call, organized the slight diversion from his route.

They left the White House by the private entrance, and Jack found the presidential limousine had even more room than the car they had arrived in. The President's Secret Service agents had given them both some rather searching looks, but nothing more, and Jack had the feeling the whole thing may have been planned well in advance. He wouldn't put it past Hayes to do that - in fact after today he wouldn't put it past Hayes to do anything!

As he expected, the trip was short, all other traffic pulling over well before they approached making for a straight run through the city. Hell - even the traffic lights were green all the way - pretty cool.

Jack had to admit he thoroughly enjoyed the car ride. He was used to riding in limos, but this was special, proving that even a cynical hard-assed old soldier could still be impressed, and he was far more relaxed by the time they arrived at the hotel than when they had set out, already anticipating the planned visit to George Hammond's house that evening.

The retired general had called to arrange it straight after the President ordered Jack to DC. No way could Jack be convinced Hammond was sitting back and sniffing the daisies - he had his finger as firmly on the pulse of anything to do with Homeworld Security and the SGC as he did when he ran them. Jack smiled to himself - George had been their rock in all this, ready to drop everything and come running whenever the many crises hit. SG-1 being posted MIA was a case in point. Jack knew those hadn't been some of his better moments and he cringed as he thought about how close to the surface his emotions had been. Sam's disappearance had almost tipped him into the pit of despair he had been hovering on the edge of since the shooting. But George had been there, quietly supportive, but knowing when to back off, ready to pull him back from the brink. Jack owed him more than he could possibly repay.

A twinge from his bum knee brought Jack out of his reverie. Rubbing it, he looked out the heavily tinted glass, Sam's conversation with Hayes coming to a halt as the hotel came into view.

**********

"Thank you." Sam nodded to the large man in the black suit who held the car door open for her. She stepped to one side and waited as Jack's wheelchair was unloaded and he transferred himself into it. They seemed to be attracting quite a crowd of interested on-lookers, understandable given the President of the United States was now at the hotel entrance with them, shaking Jack's hand.

Her husband looked mighty fine in his uniform, his chest covered with ribbons and the stars shining on each shoulder. She knew most people were watching President Hayes, but she only had eyes for him. No one could outshine Jack O'Neill in her view, not even the President.

The President got back in the limo and the barricade of Secret Service agents that had surrounded them faded away, leaving them both watching the departing cavalcade of vehicles.

"I don't know about you, but I could do with getting out of these clothes."

Jack's words pulled her attention back to him and she grinned, already planning exactly how she would help him achieve his goal of getting out of the uniform. Yes ... very, very slowly, and with a lot of 'assistance'... She tried to hide her slight blush as her imagination ran riot.

They turned toward the entrance.

And there, right in the doorway, stood the couple from the previous night. The woman's face was a picture - her mouth was open and she was gulping like a fish out of water. Sam narrowed her eyes as she saw exactly where the woman was looking - straight at Jack. She could almost see the drool.

She straightened and put her hand on Jack's shoulder. "We must remember to make a note in our diary, dear. The First Lady is planning another intimate luncheon a week from Thursday." She ignored Jack's confused look, giving his shoulder a squeeze to warn him to go along with her.

It was petty she knew, but she was going to milk this opportunity for all it was worth. She started walking toward the doors, stopping as she came level with the couple. "Oh, hello again. Beautiful day isn't it?"

And she knew Jack was her perfect match when he added. "Come along, darling - I've warned you before about talking to unfortunates."

**********

The music was quite loud, but the songs were good and surprisingly enough Jack actually recognized some of them.

Despite wishing desperately for the first hour that he had never come, he was beginning to relax and enjoy himself - not that it would have anything to do with downing four beers ... nosireee!

Daniel tapped him on the shoulder. "I have just remembered something."

Taking a slug from his bottle, Jack waited... "Well?" he demanded when Daniel didn't continue.

"Uh, yes ..."

"Daniel, you are drunk."

"No. No I am not. I've only had the same as you."

"Guess again, you've had another three on top of mine."

"Really? Now then, where were we? Ah, yes I figure you owe me and Teal'c ... sorry, Teal'c and I ... an apology."

Jack cocked his head, along with an eyebrow. "An apology? For what?"

"For not inviting us to the wedding."

"Can we discuss this tomorrow?"

"I might forget by then."

"I can remind you," pointed out Jack hopefully.

"Remind me of what?"

Jack laughed and shook his head. "Okay, then I'm sorry."

"For what?"

Jack backed his chair off, struggling to get his wallet from his trouser pocket. "Daniel, it's my turn for a round, but you'll have to go to the bar for me ..."

Daniel obliged and didn't even ask for the money. Jack laughed again and replaced his wallet as he watched him disappear into the crowd.

Reynolds sat down, puffing a little. "I'm too old for this," he sighed.

"It's not that you're too old, it's the girl ..." advised Jack in a serious tone "... that's too young." He watched the woman rejoin her friends across the room ... she couldn't be older than her early twenties.

Dick Reynolds gripped Jack on the shoulder. "Thanks buddy, I never thought of it that way. Jeez, Jack, where the hell are you getting that muscle from?"

"Therapy works you harder than the Air Force. Maybe I should suggest that all the Colonels have a more thorough physical huh?"

"Argh, come on ..."

They were interrupted by the return of Teal'c who was supporting a rather drunken Walter. "He is beyond my control O'Neill."

Jack couldn't help the snort of laughter that escaped him. He had to admit that the sight of the drunken sergeant clinging oddly to the massive bulk of Teal'c, half asleep with a beaming smile on his face, was funny. "Time to put him in a cab I think."

"Indeed."

Teal'c looked less than amused at the situation and was trying to shrug the hapless drunk off into a chair ... and only partially succeeding until Mitchell helped apply a little more force. Walter found himself firmly connecting with the chair before sinking his head over his arms and slumping forward onto the table, almost upsetting the drinks that remained there.

Looking quite pleased with himself, Teal'c took a long drink from the glass he had retrieved in the nick of time from the table.

Dave Dixon clapped Jack on the shoulder from behind and leaned down, his voice quite loud, despite the intention of whispering.

"He's really knocking it back."

"Walter?" asked Jack puzzled.

"Nah, T man. I put four vodkas in that on the last round."

Jack regarded Teal'c curiously. He had never seen the Jaffa drunk - in fact before losing his symbiote it was an impossibility ... however, things could get preeeetty interesting... He grinned and held up his bottle. "Go help Daniel at the bar Dave, and make mine a double!"

Dixon straightened up, nodding. "No problemo ..."

The next couple of hours became fuzzier for Jack. It seemed the doubles kept coming and some kind person had gotten Walter into a cab ... seemed Cam wasn't as drunk as the rest of them - perhaps - possibly ... oh well, who actually cared?

He couldn't remember leaving the last place and this new place was kinda ... interesting ... along with Teal'c's smile that was growing wider by the moment as the rather athletic dancer was presenting her almost naked rear, a rather nice rear, Jack thought, for closer inspection.

As Teal'c leaned forward, his large hands outstretched to cup the buttocks presented to him, the dancer laughed and moved away with a shimmy, bringing herself in line with Jack.

The guys were whistling and calling out to her and she played up to her admirers with even more erotic moves.

She turned around and Jack found himself with a lapful of an almost naked woman, which for some reason he found hilarious.

"Yo, handsome," she drawled, her hands running along his shoulders and down his arms, squeezing his biceps, the glint in her eyes unmistakable as she moved her hips, circling them enticingly.

"Jeez, he's married honey, give us other guys a break," called Mitchell as he leaned over with a twenty and tucked it into the waistband of her panties.

The girl leaned forward to kiss Jack full on the mouth, a kiss that Jack returned willingly, before giving him a broad wink and moving on. The guys erupted, whistling and shouting ... wanting some of the same... "Hey, it was my twenty," complained Mitchell.

Teal'c leaned toward Jack, regarding him with a somewhat bleary expression. "Should I have given her money as well, O'Neill?"

Jack couldn't answer for laughing. Teal'c pulled at Daniel's jacket, obviously meaning to ask the same question, however he caught the man somewhat off balance and Daniel found himself on the floor, wondering what hit him...

The drunken indignant expression on Daniel's face set Jack off laughing even harder and Teal'c's own deep laugh joined in as they watched poor Daniel make a couple of attempts to rise, with no help at all from his so-called friends. He finally managed to bring himself upright by using Jack's chair for support.

**********

The next club on someone's `gotta go there' list and Jack found the getting there and into it, a blur. Dixon had vanished by this time and Reynolds was getting to the `I'm going home in a minute stage'.

Teal'c also suddenly found he could not replace his glass on the table ... and he was greatly puzzled why he seemed to be hitting mid air ... and further puzzled by Daniel's drunken explanation as to why ... which seemed to amuse Mitchell greatly.

"They make a great double act," slurred Mitchell.

"Hell yeah," agreed Jack. He was past the merry stage himself, in fact he was past the anything stage and he had great doubts he would be able to wheel himself anywhere at the moment. He just hoped T could still see enough to steer later ... maybe it wasn't such a great idea letting his `designated driver' get so wasted...

He used his right leg to kick up at the Jaffa. "Hey T, lay off the booze."

Teal'c raised one eyebrow. "I have not laid anything on the booze O'Neill."

Jack shook his head. "Just remember, we got Sam to answer to later."

Teal'c grinned. "Samantha is not my wife O'Neill."

"You think that'll save you?"

The Jaffa's expression faltered and everyone burst into laughter...

**********

Sam couldn't help keep checking the time again. She was tired, but didn't want to go to bed until Jack was home safe. She'd half expected a call much earlier in the evening to go and extract him after the fuss he had put up about going in the first place. She knew he'd only actually considered it because it was `the guys'.

She hoped against hope that he'd have a good time, he deserved a break. He'd been putting in more hours than ever lately, getting busier and busier. Twice in as many weeks she'd come home to find the house almost surrounded by security and one or another of the Chiefs of Staff that had been there for the day.

All work and no play ... oh, well, at least no play outside of the house that was. Sam sighed and sank back into the couch with her hot chocolate, peering at the clock again over the rim of the mug as she inhaled the aroma ... oh, that reminded her of Jack so much - warmth and chocolate - the unique aroma of his body, the delicious essence of him that matched his eyes... Sam shivered lightly and pulled herself together - and peered at the clock again. Where the heck were they, for crying out loud?

Pacing was ... not good. Not at two am. Nope. Someone would have called if there had been an accident - wasn't as if half a dozen air force people would remain anonymous very long. She eyed her cell phone and checked for the fifth time that the battery was okay and then checked the house phone line again. All working.

Oh God, what if he'd gotten into a fight? She knew how some things upset him, and although he'd shown remarkable restraint lately when someone insulted him, although usually without meaning to ... if he had a beer or two...

She picked her cell phone up and punched the speed dial for Daniel's number and then sighed and shut it off. If she caved now and called Jack wouldn't be pleased ... the wife checking up on him...

**********

It was past three am when they finally wandered out of the club. Jack wasn't sure if it was the alcohol or the driver that caused the weaving - in the end he thought it was both ... Teal'c had almost run him into a nonexistent doorway twice.

After bidding the others a good night, Teal'c, Daniel and Jack grabbed the first cab after Jack gleefully pulled rank on their demands to keep partying - or perhaps it was the `think of Sam' comment that did it?

**********

Sam sat up blinking rapidly in the dim light, trying to focus on the lounge room clock, wondering what had woken her, until the distant sounds of disharmonious discord reached her brain.

"At 'em boys, give 'er the gun. Down we dive, spouting our flame from under, Off with one hell-uv-a roar! We live in fame or go down in flame, Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force."

She half debated scooting to the bedroom to feign sleep, but in the end the volume of the discord and concern for their neighbors won - not to mention curiosity. Although she did actually recognize the words to a degree, the tune wasn't quite as it should be.

Sam opened the front door to see Jack swerving to one side in his chair and Teal'c half falling over the back of it as it left the path. Daniel was swinging precariously on the gate.

"Here's a toast to the host Of those who love the vastness of the sky. To a friend we send a message, Of his brother men who fly."

"Sssssshush," hissed Sam furiously.

Jack broke off from his singing.

"We drink to those who gave ...." Teal'c's voice boomed on...

"Heeeeeey honey ... I'm hoooooome - back up, T."

Teal'c quieted immediately and heaved the chair back for all he was worth, Jack hanging on for dear life, and swung it around to directly face Sam where she was now standing at the bottom of the ramp.

Sam folded her arms and glared.

"Uh, back up, T," slurred Jack again as he caught sight of her.

"I am backed up, O'Neill."

"No I mean, um, never mind. Why didn't you remind me to put my Kevlar vest on T? Hi hon." He gave her a beaming smile.

"Daniel," called out Sam.

Daniel stopped swinging and lurched off the gate, staggering up the path to join them.

"Hey, Saaaammmm," he sing-songed.

"For goodness sake, you'll wake the neighborhood. Get inside, all of you."

"You heard the lady, have at em boys!" yelled Jack.

Sam had to step aside quickly to avoid being mown down in the rush. She sighed and moved up the ramp last, grimacing as Daniel tripped over the non-existent step.

"Oh, god, three drunks? Teal'c is actually ... no, he couldn't be ... could he?" She raised her eyes heavenwards and walked in, closing the door behind her.

"You talkin' to yourself, Sam?" asked Daniel. He had the foolish `I'm drunk' grin plastered to his face.

"What the ... what were you thinking of, letting ..."

Jack wheeled himself forward. Teal'c staggered and then recovered as his leaning post moved unexpectedly.

"Sammmm." Jack caught hold of her hand, trying to pull her closer. "Miss m ..." He hiccoughed and grinned at her foolishly.

"God, Jack, how many have you had? What if ..."

"O'Neill has been enjoying himself, as have we."

"Uh, need the bathroom." Swinging his chair around, Jack hesitated for a moment, before wheeling himself with determination in roughly the right direction, albeit in a weaving pattern.

Sam winced as the chair hit the wall, gouging some of the plaster as he passed it and the loud bang of the bathroom door as he plowed into it made her cringe.

Daniel slumped down on the couch, giving a little laugh, followed by a hiccough.

As soon as Jack was out of sight, Sam furiously turned on her team-mates. "I don't believe you guys, a quiet drink you said? What the hell were you thinking of letting him get in that state? Suppose something happened? And you two ... what if something had happened to him, what if he needed help ... and ..."

Teal'c moved closer. "The intention was for O'Neill to enjoy himself with friends. I believe the intention has been accomplished. His friends also enjoyed the evening and his company." The large man swayed a little as he spoke. "Indeed, I have enjoyed myself immensely."

"Me too," Daniel muttered quietly from his position on the couch.

Sam felt the anger draining out of her, and although it wasn't completely dispersed, she felt a little ashamed of rounding on them like that. It was as Teal'c had said - she'd been so worried that ... but she couldn't protect Jack from the world, much as she wanted to. She couldn't wrap him in cotton wool... "The spare bed is made up, you guys had better crash."

"You will require some assistance with O'Neill?"

Sam shook her head. "If I need you, I'll shout, okay?"

"Indeed."

**********

It seemed an age before Sam managed to get Jack settled into bed and quietened down.

He hugged her tightly to him, kissing the top of her head.

"Love you." His words were slurred, but none the less genuine for it.

She raised her head to smile up at him. His eyes were almost closed, but he still had the half assed grin on his face.

"Backatya flyboy," she whispered.

"Don't be mad."

"I'm not mad at you."

The lids closed. "At Danny and T."

"It's okay, I'll even cook them breakfast later to make up for it."

"Revenge huh?"

Sam swiped at his shoulder and his eyes flickered open, revealing just a slit of brown.

"Owwww," yelped Sam suddenly, rising up.

Jack's eyes opened fully in alarm. "Sam?"

"Jeez, Jack ..." Sam scrunched up, rubbing at her ankle furiously.

"What?" Jack was struggling to rise now, trying to roll himself a little toward her.

"You kicked me."

"Didn't."

"Did. That wasn't funny, it hurt."

Jack looked at her wide eyed in innocence. "Honey I didn't. Maybe its cramp?"

"Jack I know the difference between ..." Sam broke off, stilling herself as she regarded her husband with a wide-eyed stare.

"What?"

Sam shook her head slowly, her eyes traveled down the bed, searching the rumpled sheets.

She didn't miss the second movement... "Oh Jack," she said breathily.

Jack was staring at her as though she'd lost her mind. "What? I'm too tired for that ... not that ..."

"Ass," she hissed and grabbed his left leg. This time they both saw the flick of the sheets as it bucked.

"Must have been the Guinness ... I didn't drink any of that other stuff ..." whispered Jack.

"What stuff?" asked Sam, puzzled.

"You know - the one that reaches the parts that others can't reach ..."

Sam was staring at him as if he'd truly lost the last of his marbles. "What?"

"You know Heineken ... refreshes the parts ... it was ... well a few years back ..."

Sam shook her head. She couldn't believe it was almost dawn and he was discussing old beer ads when his leg had just...

"A few years back?"

"Well, a lot of years back ... when I was stationed in ..." his voice died and he looked down at his leg again. "Did that really just happen or am I really that wasted?"

"Yes, Jack, yes to both."

He lay back down, a huge shit eating grin on his face. "Well, waddayaknow hon ... waddayaknow."

**********

"I do not understand, O'Neill. Why do the people of your planet inflict such pain on themselves?"

Jack grunted, completely unable, and to be honest, uninterested, in yet again explaining to Teal'c why the drinking was worth the hangover. Anyway, he wasn't one hundred percent sure, right at this moment, that it was.

"Good morning." Sam breezed up to the table, putting down the plates she carried with an audible thump that had the two men wincing. "I thought you'd be hungry, so I made bacon, eggs and pancakes. Enjoy." She beamed brightly.

Narrowing his eyes even more than they already were, Jack glared up at her. "You're a cruel woman, Mrs O'Neill."

"I have no idea what you mean." Sam continued to beam, but Jack detected just a touch of malice in her tone. "It's a bright sunny morning. The birds are singing and the day can only get better." And with that she burst into a rendition of 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning.'

Jack covered his ears, but that brought his head down and thus his attention to his plate. His stomach lurched a little ... jeez, how come numb legs meant more of a hangover now? He never used to suffer like this...

"Good morning Daniel, slept well I trust?" Sam's cheerful voice rang out loud and clear.

The unintelligible reply brought a smile to Jack's face as he swung around a little to see just how badly Daniel was faring...

Staggering toward the table, Daniel groped his way onto a chair, auto pilot guiding him to the waiting coffee. He clenched it tightly, groaning as he tried to sip some.

Jack saw the evil smile on Sam's face as she reappeared in the dining room with another two plates. Thumping one down in front of Daniel, she then sat down with the other for herself.

"I know you like your eggs runny, Daniel," she said, smirking.

Daniel looked down and gave a wide smile. "Oh thank God, food." He fumbled for his fork and began to tuck in with gusto.

Catching Sam's eye, Jack smirked at her disappointed glare, only to regret having done so as soon as he heard her next words.

"Eat it before it gets cold, honey."

Jack manfully tried to tackle a bit of pancake, but it was hard when your hand was shaking ... and Sam's pancakes were a bit `bouncy' at the best of times.

The table lurched suddenly as Teal'c rose in a hurry. "I am feeling quite unwell O'Neill ... I ..."

He tried to offer his friend a sympathetic look, but failed miserably as the Jaffa staggered from the table and shot off in the direction of the bathroom. "Well, waddayaknow ... his first hangover!"

"Eat," commanded Sam.

"Hey, I still outrank you ya know," whined Jack.

Sam shot him another glare and he raised the hand holding the fork. "Uh, okay ... okay ... I get it ... look eating ..." He hurriedly dug the fork into another bit of pancake.

He had a horrible sense of deja vu and for one awful moment thought he might be stuck in another time loop, forever doomed to eat bouncy pancakes and barely cooked eggs in lieu of Froot Loops. The few mouthfuls he managed before Sam took pity on him seemed to take forever, but finally her glare was beginning to soften...

He tried giving her a smile and thought it was working until she turned away when Teal'c returned to the table, groaning.

"I must apologize. I do not know what came over me."

"About a pint of vodka," mumbled Daniel with his mouthful.

Jack almost choked on the piece of pancake that was gathering age in his mouth and hurriedly spat it out into his napkin, earning another glare from the love of his life.

"Hey, aren't you guys eating?" Daniel reached out with his fork and snared some of Teal'c's bacon and Teal'c pushed the plate toward him, gratitude lighting his face.

Jack reached out his hand, about to do the same with his plate, but one look at Sam's face stopped him.

Finally, unable to take his friend's zest for food any longer, Jack groused, "Why are you so chipper?"

"What?" Daniel looked up, his mouth half full of egg. "I didn't drink much last night."

"Then why did you proceed to expel the contents of your stomach on my feet in the second night club?" Teal'c inquired, his face thunderous.

"I did?" Looking even more bewildered, Daniel returned to chewing, finishing his mouthful and taking another with evident relish.

Teal'c rose again. "I ..." He hurried out.

Sam half stood, as if about to follow him out, but Jack put a hand on her arm to stop her. "Leave him. He'll be okay." He turned to Daniel "Don't let on who spiked his drinks," he whispered.

His wife stared at him, aghast, her voice horrified. "You let someone spike his ... oh God, don't tell me it was you?"

Jack had the grace to look a little abashed. "No ... well, not really ..." He thought hurriedly ... was knowing as bad as doing?

"You spiked Teal'c's drinks, Jack!" exclaimed Daniel.

"Oh for cryin out loud, no, I didn't spike T's drinks!"

"What is this spiking of drinks to which you refer?"

There was complete silence that lasted endless seconds...

"I'll go make the bed."

Jack's cry of "Traitor!" followed Sam out of the room.

Her answer was tossed hurriedly over her shoulder as she disappeared. "No, just a tactical retreat, General."

Jack stared pleadingly at Daniel. 'Help me' was lit on his face, but Daniel's head ducked down to his food. Jack was surrounded by turncoats. He turned back to meet the accusing stare of his friend. Jack blurted out the first thing he thought of. "You see, T, there was this little bet. You understand about bets, don't you? You've made enough of them over the years at the SGC."

"Yes Jack, do tell, what was the bet?" chimed in Daniel.

"Ah." - Jack's brain still hadn't managed to catch up. He searched desperately for an answer - an answer that wouldn't get either him or Dave Dixon killed by an irate Jaffa. "That I could out drink you."

Teal'c's eyebrow rose. "Were you aware of this bet, O'Neill?" Before Jack could answer, he continued. "And of how ludicrous it was. I obviously have a far greater capacity for alcohol than you."

Jack swallowed and turned his chair, pulling out from the table and moving closer to the snickering Daniel. "Okay then, smart ass, who was the drunkest?"

Daniel's eyes shifted away as he drew back a little in the face of Jack's obvious ire. "Ah, I have no idea." It was remarkable, Jack thought, how he suddenly found the whole situation much less amusing now that Jack was within striking distance.

"I was not drunk at all, O'Neill, merely happy to be in the company of my friends and colleagues." If Jack hadn't seen Teal'c's behavior with his own eyes the night before, his solemn, dignified pronouncement would have made him think twice, but he knew... There wasn't much he remembered clearly, but one thing he did... He took a deep breath and sang as loudly as he could - "Off we go into the wild blue yonder." His resulting thumping head was worth it, just for the expression of embarrassment on the big man's face.

"Sound familiar?" He couldn't help his self-satisfied grin. "I suppose asking either of you for an unbiased opinion is expecting way too much. Let's face it - I'm the only one who remembers every detail of last night, and let me tell you..." He stabbed an accusing finger at them. "I'd be a bit careful around a certain Master Sergeant. Wouldn't want to go slap on the iris just because someone was less than sympathetic when he was in need of a helping hand."

Teal'c's small groan of distress almost made Jack's whole painful morning worthwhile.

"Speaking of an unbiased opinion," Jack paused, then bellowed, "Sammmmm," wincing as the sound of his own voice reverberated from one ear to the other, banging his brain along the way.

"I'm busy."

Her voice didn't sound that far away. Okay, the witch had been listening ... that was a given... "Who was the most rat ... who was drunkest?"

Her face popped around the doorway, her expression an absolute picture. "You all staggered in here after waking up the entire neighborhood and you want me to vote on who was the biggest idiot?"

Well, put like that ... no he didn't...

Daniel let out a snicker of amusement that was quickly stifled as Jack glared at him and rolled his chair a touch closer.

**********

Sam decided it was time to intervene, being careful to conceal the fact she had been laughing hysterically the whole time she was listening at the door, she came fully into the room. "I think it's safe to say you were all completely and utterly wasted."

She began to clear the plates from the table, the clattering making all three men shudder and Jack swung his chair to get out of the way, catching Sam's foot with his wheel. She let the plates drop onto the table with a bang and yelped out in pain.

"Oh God, Sam, I'm sorry hon ... are you okay? I didn't mean to..."

Sam hobbled to sit down on the nearest chair rubbing her ankle. "It's okay, you just caught me on the same spot you did last night."

"I hit you last night?" Jack's face paled dramatically.

Sam saw his face and quickly shook her head. "No, well, not on purpose ... when you kicked me ..."

"I kicked you?"

"What is this you speak of?" Teal'c rose, drawing himself to his full height.

"He kicked you?" asked Daniel, standing as well.

"Hey, hold on ... I don't remember ..." Jack's face scrunched up in thought.

Sam hurried to explain herself. "No, it's okay. He didn't do it on purpose. Don't you remember Jack? Your leg?"

Jack looked genuinely puzzled. "My leg? I kicked you with this?" He indicated his right leg with his hand.

"No, you ass, you kicked me with the other one. Don't you remember?"

Jack looked down at his left leg. "I thought ..." His face took on a look of distress. "I thought I'd dreamed it."

Grasping his shoulder, Sam bent to reassure him. "No, it really moved."

"Uh, you guys were going to tell us this, when exactly?"

Sam shrugged. "I thought Jack had told you while I was in the kitchen. I didn't realize he didn't remember ..."

"It really moved?" asked Jack, his voice sounding a little off.

"Yes, it really moved. It's a good sign isn't it?" She smiled encouragingly.

"Indeed, it begins as it was with your right leg, O'Neill," offered Teal'c, his smile bright as he moved to stand beside Jack.

"Well, you had better hurry it up and get some feeling in it," said Sam. The men looked at her questioningly. "Then I can kick you back." She gave a small laugh. "It hurts you know?"

"Want me to kiss it better?" offered Jack, the glint in his eyes showed he was recovering nicely from the shock.

Sam's smile broadened as she settled herself onto his lap. "Oh, I can think of better ways you can make it up to me ..." She waited a full beat before laying down her hand. "You guys can take me shopping and buy lunch."

"Uh, don't we have to be somewhere?" squeaked Daniel, giving Teal'c a warning glance.

"I do not know of such a place Daniel Jackson. However, if the wife of O'Neill wishes to shop, then so she shall."

Daniel and Jack both groaned at Teal'c's words.

"Jaffa revenge," mumbled Jack as Sam burst into laughter.

"I am sorry O'Neill, I did not capture what you said?" inquired Teal'c politely.

Jack bit back the response on the tip of his tongue ... and shrugged instead.

"Financial return is an unpleasant difficulty, O'Neill."

Jack frowned. "Teal'c ... uh, the expression is payback is a bitch."

"That is what I said O'Neill."

**********

Sam couldn't help the gleeful expression she wore as she finally ushered the reluctant men out of the house, closing the door with a bang. She swung the car keys around in her fingers and watched with satisfaction as Jack winced, quickly donning his sunglasses. "Neither of you are fit to drive, so I'll have to do it I suppose." She quickly reached the gate and swung it open...

The wood shuddered and the whole thing lurched to one side before hitting the ground with a dramatic bang.

Sam stood opened mouthed for all of a count of two. "Daaaaaaaaniel!" she bellowed.

**********

"Another trip?" asked Sam as she watched Jack re-fold the papers that had come by special courier.

"Damn."

"Any ideas what this is about?"

Jack made as if to shrug, but caught the movement and looked up at Sam. "I could hazard a guess."

Sam couldn't help the look of surprise at his confession.

Jack grinned. "Sharing remember?" Sam smiled and indicated for him to continue. "I have a feeling that things are getting even more heated in DC."

Sam had to admit that the house felt like a conference facility at times lately. "And?"

"And, hints have been dropped about me going back - full time."

"You couldn't get any more full time than the hours you are putting in now," said Sam with a frown.

"Ya think?" Jack frowned. "Well, I've got a meeting with Hayes the day after tomorrow."

Sam's face fell. "I can't come, I'm due out on ... oh, hon."

Jack's face fell as well, in genuine disappointment. The only bright side would have been having Sam in DC with him.

"Whatever you decide will be fine by me, I want you to know that."

Jack snorted. "If they think I'm going back ..."

**********

Swinging his chair back from the desk, Jack sighed heavily. He hadn't exactly been looking forward to this meeting, and now, he was positively loathing it.

Henry Hayes had been his usual charming self, right up until he hit Jack with the orders.

"I don't want to come back to DC, Mr President. If you don't like the job I'm doing from the Springs, then fine, I can resign."

"That isn't an option, Jack." Hayes rose and casually moved over to the drinks cabinet. He lifted the bottle questioningly. Jack shook his head so Hayes continued to pour himself a glass.

The meeting had been scheduled late and it was now early evening.

Hayes sighed and returned to his seat, sporting the drink. "Jack, I am sorry that you have to return to DC, I can have your wife transferred here if that's the problem."

Jack's eyes flashed and Hayes winced, clearly knowing he had just committed a deadly sin in the eyes of O'Neill.

"Don't you dare. Her career is important to her. She loves the job she's doing."

"Look Jack, I'll lay it on the line. Your orders are to report to Washington DC as Lieutenant General O'Neill by August tenth."

"What?"

Hayes sighed and rolled his eyes. "Your orders ..."

"No, as what?"

"You didn't think we were going to leave you as a Major General did you? As Head of Homeworld Security, your rank should befit the role."

"With the utmost respect sir, I couldn't actually care less about the rank. I would do what I have to do without ..."

Hayes raised his hand. "I know Jack, believe me, I know. That's one of the reasons why I need you here. I know I can trust you to do whatever it takes. Your part in taking down those traitors... I know you instigated the whole thing. When I think that the deputy chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee was also involved... I also know there's a hell of a lot more we need to worry about. I want and need you here."

Jack shook his head stubbornly. "I'm sorry. I can't do it. You can have my resignation now if you like."

"General O'Neill." Hayes rose and paced towards the fireplace. "We are a nation at war - hell, we're a planet at war actually. No resignation."

"I am not going to risk my marriage."

"I'm not asking you to. We can fly you down every damn weekend if that's what you want, fly Sam up here whenever she's free... I don't care what it takes."

"I do."

Henry Hayes emptied his glass and poured himself another. He sat back down near Jack and regarded the man seriously. "What can I offer you? What will it take?"

"Nothing. I want my wife to continue to do what she loves doing and she does damn well, saving the world. If I can't be beside her at the SGC, then I will wait at home for her."

"Damn it, Jack, listen ..."

"No ... with all due respect sir, I have been listening all of my adult life. I've gone above and beyond the call of duty. I've served my time, now I want my life."

"You're too valuable."

Jack's fingers began to drum on the arm of his chair. "No one person is indispensable, sir."

"That's where I disagree, General. I've been watching you for a long time. I've made a few judgments in my life that haven't always been for the best - but believe me when I say you are the one person that has made an incredible difference to this world and will continue to do so."

Jack's eyebrows rose and he shook his head. "How many of those have you had?" He indicated the glass Hayes held.

Hayes frowned for a moment and then snorted. "Not enough to deal with you apparently."

"Let me carry on as I am or retire."

"Not an option."

"There are always options!" Jack's voice rose. He was tired and the headache he'd been sporting for the last hour was banging kettle drums, totally out of tune...

Hayes stood. "You would be bored out of your mind."

"Well, Mr President, I have news for you - not many people consider I have a mind ..."

"Don't you give me that bull, General O'Neill!" Hayes's voice rose as well.

"I've got two wheels instead of legs - folk just see this, not me!" Jack thumped the arm of the chair.

"You telling me you won't come back to DC because you're in a wheelchair?" shouted Hayes incredulously.

The doors were flung open suddenly and two Secret Service agents came rushing in, weapons drawn.

Jack swung his chair around to face the men, freezing as he found two handguns aimed directly at him.

Hayes yelled. "What the hell is going on?"

The men gave each other a quick glance and then shouldered their weapons. "Begging your pardon sir, we heard shouting ..."

"And you'll be hearing more shouting. Out!" bellowed Hayes.

The men backed out quickly, obviously a little embarrassed.

**********

Hayes stood fuming, glaring at the now closed doors. "Idiots." Quiet laughter came from behind him and he turned to find O'Neill's face full of amusement, the general making no effort to hide it. "You think that's funny?"

"Yes, sir, I do. The President of the United States and a general in a wheelchair yelling at each other because the general's been given a promotion. Must have looked a bit odd."

He couldn't help it, watching Jack's smile broaden, the whole situation began to ... yes it was funny ... and he joined in the laughter.

**********

They sobered a little and Hayes got back down to business. He sat and stared straight into Jack's eyes, letting his vulnerability and sincerity be known. "Give me one year. One year, that's all I am asking. If things don't work out ... then I will accept your retirement or give you whatever assignment you want. We need someone like you looking after our asses here, Jack. I need you."

Jack scrunched up his eyes then closed them, taking a few deep breaths to give himself time to think. One year. In one year perhaps he could get himself on his feet - literally ... one more year out of his life. Why the hell ... What he had said earlier about people just seeing the wheelchair ... it wasn't all bull - he hated the chair with a vengeance, he hated the way he was treated, oh not by everyone, but too many, too many people just saw the chair.

He opened his eyes and found the President still regarding him, a silent plea in his eyes. That the plea was genuine, Jack had no doubts ... one year ... he just hoped Sam would forgive him for taking their marriage long distance again. But being Jack O'Neill, he had to have one last dig... "So ... when can I borrow Air Force One again?"

**********

Sitting forward in his chair, Daniel closed the report and looked slowly around, trying to come to terms with what he had just read.

If anything reminded Daniel of his friend's position, it was Jack's office. It seemed even bigger than the last time Daniel was in it, so many months ago, with its large windows letting in plenty of natural light and its furnishings solid and expensive looking.

Piles of folders were stacked neatly on the desk along with more in and out trays than Daniel had ever seen in the one spot. In the middle of it all sat a coffee mug and a plate holding the remains of a sandwich - it was clear Jack had only managed to snatch a few bites while working.

Jack was staring at him, obviously waiting for some sort of response to the information Daniel had just been given, information that came as a complete shock to him.

"I can't believe it. Are you sure he's guilty, Jack? I mean, he's the International Committee civilian representative, he's not military."

"Daniel, look you know how things and folk can be deceptive. You've been around the universe for long enough now. Just because he's a civilian ... have you watched the news at all lately?"

Daniel glared as Jack shook his head and sighed. He just couldn't believe he'd been taken in by Guzy. His head spun with the implications. "I handed him everything, didn't I? I gave him everything he needed to keep on ..."

Jack raised his hands, stopping Daniel in mid-flow. "Hey, quit. It isn't your fault. Guzy was good. He wouldn't have been appointed as the IC rep otherwise. He checked out one hundred per cent at the time, just like all the other damn traitors. It took me ages to find the evidence to ..."

"You found the evidence?" echoed Daniel. Jack stiffened, waiting for some kind of insult no doubt, but Daniel was feeling betrayed by someone he considered a friend, someone he had trusted with what he considered to be matters of vital importance to the SGC, to the Earth ... and he missed the O'Neill defenses kicking in.

"Yes. Look, Daniel, can we drop this?"

"What the hell made you suspect him? I mean, I worked with the guy on a fairly regular basis, you could have only met with him a half a dozen times ..."

"I can't discuss the details with you. You don't know how much ..."

"Can't or won't?"

"Both."

If Daniel had been completely with it, he would have seen the warning light in Jack's eyes, but as it was...

"Fine. You pin stuff on someone and ..."

"Pin? Pin? Fuck." Jack swung the chair around and slammed the folder he was holding down on his desk.

Daniel looked aghast. "God, sorry Jack ... I didn't mean that how it sounded." The three stars on Jack's shoulders were caught in a patch of light, making them gleam and Daniel was reminded of something else - the man in front of him wasn't just Lieutenant General O'Neill, Head of Homeworld Security and one of the most powerful people in the country, he was also his friend.

**********

Jack's face was grim. "The man is guilty, Daniel. Get over it. He abused his position and the trust placed in him. He sold out."

Daniel sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I'm sorry ... it's just such a shock ... I ... how many more of them are there?"

Jack shrugged. "Who knows? At least as far as I can tell the SGC is clean - for the time being - and several officers have been cleared. Don't take it personally. There'll always be someone out there ready to sell their ..." Jack paused and looked down at his hands, clasping them together firmly.

"Soul to the devil?"

Jack nodded. He'd done that a time or two in his career, but never for what these men had done, never for money, power ... never to betray his country, his world... "Yeah, I guess."

"Jack?"

Jack glanced up, to find Daniel looking him in the eyes. "Yes?" He was tired - weary of all the intrigue and the politics, sick of being the one responsible for so much. And most of all, he hated the way people looked at him now, as if he was some sort of executioner, even Daniel. He waited, his nerves on edge, for Daniel to continue.

"I just want you to know, that as much as I miss you being out there with us, watching our six, I am really, really glad we've got you here and you're still watching out for us."

Jack swallowed harshly, totally taken aback by Daniel's words, and his eyes diverted back to his hands, before he swung around to his desk. "Yeah, well, someone's got to, huh?"

Daniel smiled and nodded. "Yes, Jack, and I am glad it's you."

**********

Sam took a last look at the arid world she'd been eating, sleeping and trudging around on for the last two and a half weeks. She was glad to be going home, but what she wasn't glad about was the fact that home would be empty.

She watched as Daniel meticulously dialed, pausing before he hit the center of the DHD, giving her a smile. She'd been quite ... testy on this trip. Even Cam had kept his distance, not wanting to end up on the hit list...

Teal'c however, bless him, had taken it in his stride. Then she caught sight of the Jaffa as he moved nearer the gate and the look on his face - was that relief?

Sam shrugged her pack higher, pulling at one of the straps, trying to get more comfortable. She was dying for a long cool shower, very long - to get rid of all the sand that had collected in the most uncomfortable of places. She was trying to decide whether to call Jack or hit the showers first. After checking her watch, she decided that as it was almost 0400 hours at home, she would be better hitting the showers.

Daniel stood beside her as she sent the GDO signal. "Showers or phone?" he inquired.

"Shower," responded Sam.

Daniel frowned and clicked his fingers together. "Okay, I owe you," he called across to Mitchell as they prepared to enter the Stargate.

Sam shook her head. "When will you guys ever quit that? Daniel, its 0400 hours at home - you think I would disturb Jack at that time?"

Daniel looked a little sheepish. "Well, after that time ..."

"Jack's in DC and we are not overdue."

Mitchell grinned. "Right, almost on time - for a change."

**********

Sam felt like running down the ramp, she was in such a hurry to hit the showers, hoping she could get one before her post med, but she held back with the decorum that was expected of a senior officer.

Unexpectedly, General Landry was at the foot of the ramp and Sam wondered for a moment if there was anything wrong, given the time, however his ready smile dispelled any alarm. "Welcome back SG-1."

"Thank you sir, you're early, we're early ... nothing much to report though," responded Mitchell.

"De-brief in two hours then. You can hit the showers first, SG-7 are holding things up in the infirmary."

Sam smiled in relief, passed her weapon to the nearest SF, and once past the general, broke into a fast trot, the guys just behind her.

"Hey!" Mitchell called after her as she raced down the corridor.

Glancing back over her shoulder as he called out, Sam banged straight into someone, throwing them both off balance.

The first thing that registered was the class A's and a chest full of medals ... trust her to run into some brass... "Oh, sorry sir... I ..."

The second thing that registered was the clatter of something falling and the hands that gripped her arms...

Startled, she looked up and found herself staring into a familiar pair of eyes.

"Jack?" Sam gasped out in surprise. Stunned, she took a step back, her eyes glancing down, then up again. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed as she took it all in - or tried to.

"Uh, you trying to put me back in that chair?"

Sam's mouth opened and closed. Her hands both rose of their own accord to touch the beloved face of her husband as she removed the space between them, a lone tear beginning to trickle down her cheek, its moist run slaking a path through the dust on her skin. "When ... I mean ... oh, God, I don't know what I mean ..." the last words came out in rush as her heart sped up, trying to burst its way out.

**********

Daniel, Teal'c and Mitchell halted as they realized just who it was that was standing there.

Daniel saw the cane as it hit the floor and swallowed the lump that rose in his throat. Jack had been back in DC for the last few months and that had put Sam through such an emotional tug of war that Daniel had been on the point of pushing her into a transfer. There was no way Jack could escape his duties without resignation under normal circumstances, but given the current political climate, that wasn't even an option.

To see Jack finally on his feet, albeit with a walking stick, was something he had never fully believed would ever happen, at least not without some alien intervention, but...

He knew he was grinning like an idiot, he couldn't help it, as he watched Sam throwing herself against Jack, their arms embracing each other tightly, their love burnishing as bright as any star that Daniel had witnessed.

He exchanged a brief, but knowing look, with his team mates, their grins just as foolish as his own as they quietly crept past the couple locked together, lost in their world of each other.

**********

"Oh my... I can't believe ..."

"You came back early. I was going to surprise you at the ramp."

Sam grinned. "Well, surprise would be one word you could have used. When ..."

"Sam, can we talk sitting down somewhere?" interrupted Jack.

"Are you okay? I didn't hurt ..."

Jack shushed her with a quick kiss. "Nope. But you're going to have to pass me my cane and let me lean on you a bit. I don't do long distance yet."

"When did you? Oh God, every time I go off world I miss ..."

"No, you didn't miss it. I was keeping it as a surprise. So even if you hadn't been off world, you wouldn't have known."

Sam regarded him solemnly, weighing up whether he was being truthful, or just trying to ease the guilt she felt at leaving him.

That was how she felt whenever she stepped through the gate - that she was leaving him behind - and she was tired of it. There was no way that he could be beside her once again, out there ... and she wanted to be with him, to stand beside him. She never wanted to leave his side again. There was only one way that was possible though ... just one.

"Jack, we really, really need to have a talk."

**********

Doctor Hill sighed and turned the page. She hated doing her bit for the journal. She never knew what to write. She hated to write about disappointments ... but there were never enough miracles about either. Well, not that she knew of ... unless...

**********

She had to shake herself to close her mouth from its drop jaw position at the vision that presented herself at her door at precisely 11.15 am - right on time.

"General O'Neill?" she gasped, standing up.

"Yes Ma'am." Fortunately the General stepped right in and closed the door behind him.

"Good grief, you are a sight for sore eyes, young man."

The General snorted. "Young?"

Hill couldn't get over the vision, splendid in his uniform, literally dripping with medals - an absolutely resplendent example of raw masculinity ... as her nurses would have said ... boy - was he hot!

Hill wished herself ten years younger. No, make that twenty, maybe she could have given Samantha O'Neill a run for her money...

Ahem... She pulled her mind out of the gutter and back to work.

"Certainly younger than me... Please sit down, General. I must say how marvelous you are looking. I simply can't tell you how absolutely delighted I am at the progress you have made."

The General carefully placed his cane against the desk and perched his hat on his knee. "Sorry about this, I just came from a meeting ..." He indicated the uniform with his free hand.

"Please don't apologize. It's nice to see such a splendid uniform, makes one proud to be an American. Even though I live in DC, I never tire of seeing such finery." `And if they all looked like you DC would be over-run by females pretty damn quick!'

The General shifted in his seat a little as Hill perched on her desk, scanning through her files and notes, as well as the ones she had received from the Springs re-hab center.

The Doctor quickly checked through the latest test results and then gave the General a thorough medical, questioning him about his daily routine now he was back in DC.

She lectured him on the importance of keeping up with his strict fitness schedule, but from her examination, she knew he was certainly adhering to it.

All in all, his progress was quite remarkable. She thought back over the last couple of years - how close he had come to dying and what he had gone through. The man had quite literally been to Hell and back.

Finally finished with her examination, Hill glanced up at him, seeing the start of a small frown, She knew the General had reached the `wanna get out of here' stage quite a while back, but he had remained quiet and biddable, much to her surprise.

"All done."

The General smiled at her announcement and she moved to her desk from behind the screens to allow him to finish dressing as she made some notes in his files.

"Do I get to throw the cane away anytime, Doc?" He came out from behind the screen, finishing up buttoning his jacket, his limp far more pronounced without the aid of his cane.

Hill shook her head regretfully. "I don't think so. You've beaten huge odds on getting this far. You've regained a great percentage, much more than I would have even dared to speculate on, but you now have to accept that you need some assistance with walking. Your right knee isn't in the best of health either. Treat it with respect, or you'll find yourself back in surgery quicker than you would like."

He grimaced, but nodded. "Point taken, Doc."

Susan Hill finished up her notes quickly, sensing the man's building impatience.

"Are you back in DC permanently?"

"For the foreseeable future, unfortunately."

"Unfortunately?"

"Sam's still in Colorado."

"Oh dear. You must miss her greatly. I must say I was surprised that you weren't retired."

"Not as surprised as me. It seems that for the time being, my services are indispensable." The General rose, obviously wanting to be going.

Hill stood and moved around the desk, standing closer to him. "Well, I can't say that surprises me, General. I would like to see you again in a couple of months. However in the meantime, if you need anything, please don't hesitate to call."

General O'Neill stood a little straighter, bringing the cane in closer to support himself. "Thanks Doc, for everything. I really mean that." He held his hand out.

Doctor Susan Hill stared up at him. He was one of the miracles. Ignoring the hand, she enveloped him in a hug before she realized what she was doing. She pulled back quickly, two bright spots of color staining her cheeks and looked up expecting him to be ... well, anything but amused.

He grinned down at her, his amusement quite apparent.

"Sorry, General."

"Jack. The name is Jack, Doc."

She blushed even harder when he returned the hug.

**********

Officer Jolen and his partner, Dow patiently waited in General O'Neill's outer office until the General's secretary indicated that they could enter.

Jolen barely hid his surprise at how well O'Neill was looking. He thought back to the man he had last seen in his wheelchair, waiting to leave the hospital...

The General looked up from his desk. "Take a seat ... Officer Jolen and ... ah, I know we've met but ..."

"Dow, sir," said the officer politely as he sat.

"Now, to what do I owe this pleasure?"

Jolen couldn't help but smile at the brisk manner of the man. He'd kept himself up to date with the General's career - and what a career. O'Neill was steamrolling through the Washington DC power set. He knew he hadn't been dealing with an ordinary hero...

"Minucos's lawyers are trying to build a case for an appeal."

Jolen watched the General's face carefully. He was good ... very good ... not so much as a flicker.

"And?"

"I just want to assure you that there is no doubt as to his state of mind, in that he should never see the light of day again. Even if the appeal was, for any reason whatsoever, upheld, he would stand trial for attempted murder."

"And that is meant to reassure me how?"

Dow coughed to clear his throat. "Well, yes sir... I can see ..."

The General leaned forward, clasping his hands together. "Pray tell, Officer Dow, just what can you see?"

Jolen smoothly brought the attention back to himself. "Minucos's lawyers are about to release a statement that the high powered arrests of so-called traitors are simply aliens taking out the government bit by bit."

The General's teeth ground together. "Did anyone ever tell you what happens to the messengers of bad tidings?"

Jolen released a tight smile. "Minucos has also recently visited the dentist."

"Officer, if you think I give a damn about the ..." The General's voice lowered to a growl.

"He requested that all his fillings be taken out so that the devices the aliens implanted in them can be examined," finished Dow quickly, giving his partner a pointed look - obviously not wanting to upset the General further.

O'Neill leaned back in his chair, his manner relaxing somewhat. "And of course x- rays were taken?"

"Yes sir. They were clean as expected and the results have been documented. Minucos's allegations were also recorded and documented. There may be a two minute wonder as the claims are, ahem, filtered to the press, but we want you to be fully in the picture, no surprises." Jolen reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a large, fat envelope. "These are transcripts of the interviews, sir. You may find them ... reassuring." He placed the envelope on the desk and rose. "Thank you for your time, General. If you need anything or have any questions, please don't hesitate to call me."

**********

Jack sat eying the envelope for a while after the officers had left. He couldn't say that Minucos had been put completely out of his mind - nothing could ever erase that episode from his life. Taking a deep breath he steeled his resolve. He thumbed the intercom and put calls and visitors on hold until further notice ... and began to open the envelope...

It was well after lunch when Jack leaned back into his chair. He knew he had hated Minucos with a vengeance, not only for what he had done, but for what Jack himself had lost. However, always in the back of his mind had been the idea that perhaps it wasn't really insanity that had caused Minucos to act as he did, but actual knowledge or even the promise of money. Some of his hate drained as Jack carefully folded the transcripts and placed them back into the envelope.

He rose with difficulty, being stiff and tired after such a long day, and moved across his office to open his personal safe and carefully place the envelope inside. As he closed the safe door, he knew he was closing the door on that episode in his life. Minucos was clearly insane. There were no doubts, no shadows lurking ... the guilt he felt died along with much of the hatred.

**********

Jessica sighed and sipped at her coffee gratefully. Since General O'Neill had gotten his third pip and yet another office assistant for her, you would have thought the work would have eased up slightly, but no - things were busier than ever. She knew the other secretaries were a little jealous of her extended duties and the generous salary that went with it, but she earned every last dime. A little over three years ago, she would have never dreamt she would put this much of herself into her job, but she loved it.

A busy but interesting job, and a boss who could not only charm the birds out of the trees, when he wanted to that was, but could curl toes at a hundred paces of even the most stalwart of brass that dared to brave his wrath on a bad day. Jessica adored her boss. She'd gotten over the `lust at first sight' with him ... well, almost, and settled down to a `walk over hot coals' and `crawl on broken glass' for him on daily basis.

The other year when she thought he'd been retiring forever ... she shuddered slightly and clasped the mug tighter, drawing warmth from the china.

The outer office door opened and she heard the murmur of voices, before the brief tap on her own door followed. No-one got to see General O'Neill without going through her, and she had earned the reputation of a pit bull if it concerned protecting him.

However this was one visitor she knew the General would be delighted to see and she rose to meet the woman who entered, a ready smile on her lips.

"Afternoon Jessica, how's the bear been this morning?"

Jessica laughed. She loved it when Sam, as she insisted she was to be called, interrupted her husband's working day. "He's been rather tied up in the office all morning. The phone has been red hot."

Sam shook her head and pulled a face, obviously imagining what it was doing to her husband's patience.

Jessica saw the light go out on her switchboard, indicating General O'Neill had just finished a call. "You can surprise him now if you would like to. I can hold any further calls." The man practically walked on air when his wife was around and after a good lunch, he positively whistled through the rest of the long day, so it was an absolute pleasure to see his wife come visiting.

Sam's smile faltered slightly, her hand fluttering and smoothing the front of the dress she wore. Jessica gave her a puzzled look, wondering why on Earth she looked ... well, hesitant...

"Thank you, Jessica, I will."

**********

Sam took a deep breath and gave a brisk tap on her husband's office door, opening it more or less straight away, before she could change her mind. Now that the moment had finally arrived...

Jack O'Neill looked up with a frown that dispersed the instant he saw who it was.

"Hey." He rose up from his chair with more than a little effort, obviously stiff from sitting for too long. His gait was still a bit awkward as he moved around the large desk, leaning on it for support.

"Where's your cane?" chastised Sam lightly, coming over to hug him.

Jack frowned. "It's here ... somewhere ... haven't needed it yet since coming in, haven't been out of the damn place. Have you come to spring me?" His handsome face lit with expectant hope.

Sam shook her head and sighed. She took a tiny step back and grasped his hands in hers. "I just wanted ..."

"What?" interrupted Jack, obviously puzzled by her demeanor, a worried frown appearing. "Are you sick? Are you okay? Sam?"

Sam smiled. "No Jack, at least not yet, though I am told that morning sickness could strike at any time between six weeks and up to four months."

**********

Jessica heard the yells and pushed the door open quickly, wondering what on Earth was going on...

It was the talk of the Pentagon for days ... how Lieutenant General O'Neill had swung his wife around and around and how ecstatic he was on being told ... they were expecting a baby.

**********

Epilogue

The light rain began and the slow walk turned into a trot.

"Want me to take over?" asked Daniel.

"Want me to fall over?" asked Jack.

"Good point."

"Why are we making haste, O'Neill? Are we late?"

Jack O'Neill spared Teal'c a brief glance before gazing down at the well covered stroller. "Well ... yes, good point too."

They finally reached the house. The rain water dripped off of them, but their charge was safe and sound.

Hurriedly unlocking the door, Jack made to grab the stroller, but Daniel stilled him with a hand on his arm.

"Wheels, Jack."

With a grin, Jack looked down at the stroller's muddy wheels. "Yes they are, Daniel."

"Ass."

Jack leaned down and unzipped the waterproof covers, picking up the precious bundle, cooing with a smile that threatened to split his face into two. "Come to Daddy. Uncle Daniel and Uncle Teal'c are just going to clean up while we get the coffee on."

Daniel shook his head, the water beginning to trickle uncomfortably down his collar. "Gee, Jack, thank you."

"Wanna clean the house instead?"

Daniel grinned, remembering that day Jack had been stuck in the garden in his wheelchair. "Point taken Jack, point taken."

Teal'c nodded in graceful defeat. "I will assist."

Jack smiled and cooed at his bundle once more and pulled himself into the doorway with the help of the strategically placed safety rail.

"I didn't get dinner last time," whined Daniel as he suddenly remembered.

Jack completely ignored him, walking into the house.

Sighing, Daniel eyed the muddy wheels. "I had better get fed this time," he raised his voice so that it would carry. "And coffee, want lots of coffee." He caught Teal'c eyeing him strangely and grinned, shrugging.

"I shall procure some water."

"Great idea, Teal'c."

**********

"Come on slowpoke. Coffee's getting cold."

Daniel sneezed. "There are three wheels on the stroller Jack ... they were three verrrry muddy wheels ..."

"I concur. It is good that on Chulak these carriages are not in use."

Jack laughed and grabbed hold of his cane from where he had left it hanging from the counter top. "See what a grouch Uncle Daniel is when he hasn't had his coffee fix?" He clucked the baby under the chin. "I was going to get one of those papoose things, but the doc reckons it would throw my balance off, too much on the old knee ..." He indicated his right knee with a tap of the cane.

"So holding onto the stroller instead of the cane ..."

"Ah, don't let's go there, okay ... I get enough off Sam."

"Get enough of what, O'Neill?"

Jack shook his head. "Am not going to touch that one, T. Now then, it's nap time ..."

Daniel grinned as Jack left the kitchen. The man was pure Daddy mush...

**********

Sam caught sight of Teal'c in the lounge as she let herself into the house and she wandered through to greet him. Daniel was crashed out on the couch snoring softly.

"Hi, Teal'c. Where's the terrible two?"

The Jaffa didn't need to ask to whom she was referring. He inclined his head with a smile. "They had need of a nap."

Sam smiled. "Won't be long." She made her way through the house, not stopping to check the nursery. She knew exactly where her family would be. Opening the door, she crept in softly.

It was always a sight that melted her heart, her husband stretched out on the bed, their child sleeping safely in his arms. She moved silently toward the bed and leaned over to kiss her husband on his forehead, before reaching over him to brush their baby's mop of sandy hair, inherited along with deep brown eyes from Jack.

"Hey." Jack's voice was slurred with sleep.

"Hey," she whispered back.

Wordlessly he lifted his free arm and she eased down onto the bed and joined him, her arm enveloping them both as she spooned against his body.

So secure, so loved ... cherished. That's how she felt in his arms.

This was her family... This was what she was fighting for.

**********

"So... I guess dinner is up to us again huh?" murmured a sleepy Daniel.

"Indeed Daniel Jackson, indeed."

**********

The End

Author's Notes:

Okay first thing I have done in .... well can't remember ... Flatkatsi assures me it's a vignette ... no real warnings except it's 3 am and I have a temperature and feel like crap and can't sleep and this fermented itself into my fried brain.

**********

By the time you are reading this, the fic had moved on from a vignette to a full blown story. It was pulled and stretched - along with me - by Flatkatsi. She didn't quite kick and scream but no half measures, no quarter given ... she wanted my blood, sweat and tears and she got them! This is the result of it. I hope you enjoyed.

**********

Acknowledgements for song and advertising slogan used in Part 84

Off We Go

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

(The Air Force Song, Robert Crawford)

Words and Music by Captain Robert Crawford, 1939 as the "Army Air Corps Song." reportedly renewed 1977 by the USAF

*******

Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach

*****


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