Just taking this opportunity to thank all of you who have reviewed (some of you many times over!) and made this such a wonderful experience for me. Your constant enthusiasm and encouragement have kept Nell, my beta, and me going. This final chapter is extra long so I hope you will find it a satisfying ending. I must again mention Nell - she is too amazing for words. Her passion for detail is awe inspiring and her additions always made this a better story. Thanks a million, Nell!

Irrevocable Decision Part 19 (Conclusion)

To say that personnel literally leapt out of Jack O'Neill's path was a slight exaggeration but no one, on seeing the focused look on his face, even considered stopping him to make polite conversation.

He was sweating by the time he reached the corridor in which Sam's laboratory was situated, the pain in his leg definitely making itself known in no uncertain manner. No need to check the time to know he'd missed his meds. His ankle was the best time keeper of all.

She was on the phone, deep in conversation when he pushed open her door but he had to give her credit, she didn't bat an eyelid as she muttered something into the phone and put her hand over the receiver. She waited for him to speak, but he simply put on the silent act and hoped she'd crumble before his leg did. In the end she spoke softly into the phone and told whoever was on the other end that she'd get back.

She stood facing him, the only evidence she might just be feeling the strain was the fact she was chewing her lower lip. He was drawn to her eyes, but they were veiled, revealing nothing.

She broke first.

"Janet know you're on walkabout, Sir? Are you cleared to be in this area?"

She knew when to hit low, but he had no intentions of playing by her rules. 'Always take the initiative' – he'd learned that early on in his career and it had served him well.

"Why'd you bring the damned book?" And getting no reply, he continued. "I'm missing something from it."

There was still no reaction.

"The photograph; you forgot the damned photograph," he accused.

She didn't even blink as she replied coolly, "No, I didn't."

"I want it back."

"Why?" Her tone was just short of insolent and he stiffened not liking it.

"It's mine."

She snorted. "You can't cope with the real thing, so what does the photograph do for you?"

He canted his head, his eyes narrowing, the softness of his tone doing nothing to belie his meaning. "You're treading on thin ice, Carter."

"Really?" It was a challenge and he groaned inwardly, at a distinct disadvantage as the discomfort in his leg reached the next level up.

"Just give me the goddamn photo."

For just a second Sam looked taken aback by his belligerence, but going on the attack herself exclaimed, "I wasn't the one who got a friend to act out the role of my lover."

He must have revealed something in his body language because the next minute she had rolled her computer chair towards him, muttering dryly, "You'd better sit down before you fall."

"I'm touched by your concern," he replied flippantly, his irritation clear in his dark eyes as he ignored the chair. She raised an incredulous eyebrow at his stupidity; she clearly knew that he was a hair's breadth from collapse but he refused to accept what was offered.

With a snort of exasperation she moved behind him and shoved the chair against the back of his legs. He came down hard and lips that had been set in a thin line of stubborn resolve released a soft moan of pain before being instantly bitten back. Her hand reached for the phone and he knew who she was calling.

"Don't!" he whispered vehemently. She ignored him but he too was grimly determined. He pushed himself up, beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead as he hobbled towards her putting his hand on her shoulder. His eyes flicked over her revealing his sudden nervousness. "I shouldn't have done it."

Her hand pressing the keys stilled, but she kept her head down, unwilling for the moment to meet his burning gaze. When she did Jack wished she hadn't. Shooting him a reproachful look she shrugged away from his touch moving away from him, keeping her distance.

"Which part?" she asked so softly he could barely hear.

Running a shaking hand through his sweat-slicked hair, he realized that he'd done his running. It hadn't worked and it was now time to face the consequences of his cowardice. "All of it."

"Are you looking for absolution?"

Sucking in a sharp breath he attempted to move forward again but, unfortunately, his ankle had other ideas and he felt his leg buckle. He attempted to twist towards the chair but it was too far and he knew that in the next moment his butt was going to be meeting the hard surface of the laboratory floor.

"Colonel!" She literally flew to get to him, her feet barely touching ground as all her protective instincts once more kicked into full gear and as gently as she could she eased him down in as controlled a fashion as she was allowed given his size and weight. Trying to push himself up, the walls started doing some strange manoeuvres and Jack ended up falling back. Slowly, he became aware that his head was resting on his former 2IC's lap and when he looked up he realized her eyes, that had only a moment ago been coldly antagonistic, were now full of anxiety. For a long moment he searched her anguished features and knew it was time to come clean.

"I have to live with the fact that I was," and seeing she was about to cut him off, he cried, "hear me out, Carter, please! I have to live with the fact that I was prepared to wipe out not only a whole civilization, but to make it a crowning success, my…my best friend." The words choked in his throat and his eyes burned brightly.

"Daniel never blamed you!" she replied forcefully, willing him to believe her words.

"I know. What you don't know is that I..." his eyes dropped away from hers unable to face her open probing. "I…I… Sam, I kept thinking that if it had been you, I…I…."

He shook his head disconsolately, unable to rid himself of the memory that continued to haunt him, faltering in his speech. "You mean more to me than..." His eyes were pleading for understanding at the same time as he was trying to push himself up.

"Ah, crap. I've messed up. I just couldn't face the thought of..." his voice faded and his eyes dropped away in humiliation.

Eyes flashing fire, Sam reached out putting both hands to his face, forcing him to meet her eyes.

"Dammit, Colonel. You know as well as I do that our job is...shit happens. We take note, learn hopefully and get on with our lives. We do a great job. Sometimes we don't, but we keep going. There's too much at stake right now to just give up. YOU can't give up, I won't let you! I have plans, plans that damn well include you. And once our work…."

He smiled wanly, aware that others had entered the room but never allowing his gaze to leave Sam's. "A bit late for that, wouldn't you say?" His eyes were tired and lacking hope. "They wouldn't bring me back from retirement a second time round."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that, son."

Jack's head jerked to the side to find General Hammond looking down on him with a clearly pissed-off CMO at his back.

He would have liked to have questioned his CO on his cryptic words but just then Janet came bursting forward like a bat out of hell accompanied by two hefty orderlies and anything he had intended to say was put on hold as he was bundled onto a gurney, given a look that threatened the direst repercussions, and wheeled back to the infirmary in deadly silence, just able to yell, "I still want that photograph!"

(Later that day)

They sat on the empty beds which surrounded the curtained-off area, wearing grins to put a Cheshire cat to shame.

"I tell you I can do that," the petulant voice of Colonel Jack O'Neill could be clearly heard arguing behind the curtain accompanied by the splashing of water on the floor. This was followed by a sharp smack and an indignant yell.

"Hey! You struck an officer!" O'Neill's indignant voice accused.

"I believe Lt. Lange will attest to the fact that my hand inadvertently slipped, Colonel." The CMO's voice sounded exaggerated in its innocence indicating that there was every possibility of her hand slipping again should the need arise.

As Teal'c's eyebrow rose higher than normal, Daniel tried swallowing his sniggers almost choking when Janet appeared from behind the curtains looking slightly frazzled but clearly determined. Her eyes alighted on Sam and a silent message was sent and returned. Raising her voice, Janet said, "Sam, we're having a little trouble with the Colonel's bed bath. Maybe you could give Lt. Lange a hand. My other nurses are indisposed; the patient isn't being all that cooperative and…."

'No!" The voice from behind the curtain sounded both appalled and outraged.

"I'll help out any way I can, Janet." Sam's clear voice rang out enthusiastically.

"Car-ter!" The warning from her hidden CO was exactly as she'd imagined it and she chuckled in delight.

Janet grinned, a patent gleam in her eye and continued, "Lt. Lange, if Colonel O'Neill continues to misbehave, and I do mean even the slightest infraction, don't hesitate to call for backup. Major Carter has had prior experience in dealing with unruly personnel. Do I make myself clear, Lieutenant?"

"Loud and clear, ma'am." The young voice of Lt. Lange was equally amused. "However, I believe Colonel O'Neill and I will be able to handle this situation."

(The next day)-

"I took the liberty of annotating your resignation, Jack. A proviso was inserted to the effect that should you wish to reconsider your position, this would be acceptable within a period of six months.

Looking freshly scrubbed and boyishly innocent in his hospital gown – Janet had confiscated the pyjamas –Jack listened with a mixture of surprise and embarrassment, but just as he was about to reply to this information, the general held up his hand.

"I don't want you to say anything right now. By my estimation you have another two weeks before that six month deadline is up. I want you to take that time to rethink your position; examine every possibility and then, and only then, do I want you to come and inform me of your decision."

"But, Sir, I-."

"Two weeks, Colonel." And narrowing his blue eyes, he warned solemnly, "And if I were you, I'd take that time to get on the good side of Dr. Fraiser."

Jack met his CO's keen, forthright gaze and returned it sheepishly, and then ducking his head as pink stole up his face, he continued. "I'm sorry, General. I've been a pain in the a-."

"You've been missed, son." The general frowned, hesitating for the moment, looking as if he wanted to say more. He took in a deep breath. "I'm going to say nothing to the others; I don't want any false expectations that may later be shot down in flames, nor do I want you to be pressured into doing something you're not ready for."

The general's tone had grown unexpectedly exasperated and suddenly the mystery of why Jacob had descended on his cabin became a whole lot clearer - the general must have given this information to his friend not realising Jacob would act on it.

"I had every intention of seeing you before the deadline to see if you would reconsider your position, but I was beaten to it. However, I want you to know, the status quo will remain the same unless you decide otherwise. Take this time to reassess your goals, Jack."

(One week later)

He strove to appear indifferent, his eyes on the flat TV screen where a hockey match was in progress; it might just as well have been one of Daniel or Carter's scientific documentaries the amount of attention he was giving to it.

He looked at his mobile resting on the coffee table willing it to ring. Silence. He frowned. He'd thought that their little chat in Sam's lab had sorted out the problem between them, but obviously it hadn't. Making sure she was never alone with him, she'd made the obligatory visits while he was in the infirmary, but since he'd been released and allowed home, she'd stayed away, neither showing her face nor sending a message to explain her absence. And Jack, being Jack had said nothing.

Sighing, he put his hands behind his head, interlacing his fingers to support him. It was no good; he reached for the control and began flicking through the various channels. Finally, his disgust apparent, he switched the screen off and threw the control onto the sofa, muttering an imprecation about the quality of cable TV.

He stood, pleased that his ankle wasn't complaining as much; the twinge was quite bearable though he had been given strict instructions to stay off it as much as possible. Janet had made it clearer than clear that he would be hauled back to the infirmary if she found the swelling had worsened when she made her usual daily house call.

He'd been home for three days now and this was the first time he'd actually been left on his own. Daniel and Teal'c had taken it in turns to 'baby-sit' but Daniel had been called in to the base at short notice when one of the off-world teams had brought back a translation that required immediate attention and Jack had insisted he could survive a few hours on his own without having to resort to calling Teal'c.

The solitude was both welcome and grating. At least he could allow his thoughts a certain amount of freedom but at the same time he shied away from where those thoughts took him.

Moving to the back garden, he settled himself on the swing chair, remembering to hoist his leg up then swore as he realised he'd forgotten the cool beer which would have been something to occupy him. Wondering whether he should make the trip back to grab a bottle, he was aware of the sound of the front door opening and assumed Daniel had returned. He checked his watch. The translation couldn't have been too much of a challenge.

"I'm out back. Grab me a beer will you, and make a wounded man's day!"

He smelt her before he actually saw her arm come over his shoulder to place the bottle in his hand but despite every sense in his body going into overdrive he refused to turn and acknowledge her presence other than to raise his bottle to the sky and say cheers.

He waited, heart pounding, willing his body to conceal his agitation.

Slowly, purposely? Jack wondered, she moved into his line of sight and he knew payback was about to descend on him big time. Dressed in a simple white top, her short skirt revealed more bare, tanned thigh than was surely legal in Jack's judgment. He raised his head deeming it safer territory, but found her eyes observing him coolly, calculatingly; he instantly looked away giving the beer bottle his full and undivided attention.

He felt something flutter down and stiffened staring at the photograph which Sam had dropped into his lap. The two of them at one ofthe SGC'sbarbecues. He'd have remembered that moment even if Daniel hadn't taken the shot; she'd been laughing outright at some comment he'd made, staring at him as if...

'Shit!' Her words, reproachful and angry came back to taunt him: 'You can't cope with the real thing…' Well, the real thing was here and in all honesty he really did wonder how he was going to cope.

"Carter." He congratulated himself on keeping his voice so neutral. "Got yourself a beer?"

"Think I'll pass, Sir."

She continued to stare at him and he had to make a determined effort not to squirm.

"So?" He met her eyes.

She gave a tight smile.

"Been busy?" He had to push it.

"Not overly so."

His eyes narrowed. If she'd come here to...

"So what brings you here, other than the photograph?"

"You."

This time he couldn't conceal his surprise. Whatever the hell she was trying to do, Jack decided she was doing it damned well.

"And?" His frustration was just beginning to show itself.

"Does there have to be an 'and'?"

Utterly confused by the vagueness of her words, he snapped, "Yes!"

He felt like one of her specimens under minute observation in her lab and it was getting to him.

"For crying out loud, Carter, just why the hell are you here?" He had pushed himself up ready to swing his injured leg down wanting to be standing face to face with her, when suddenly, without any warning, she dropped her head and kissed him, her tongue demanding entry as she ground her lips against his.

This was no sweet, tentative reaching out to test the state of affairs. It was a mind-blowing sexual encounter that was having an all too obvious effect on Jack's equilibrium and though words did spring to his mind they never made it to his lips, which were otherwise fully engaged.

Groaning with an overwhelming need, the beer bottle dropped on the deck and his hands reached up to draw her into a closer embrace, but almost as abruptly as it had started, she stepped back, straightened her top and smoothed down her skirt. Then without any further ado, she twisted and headed indoors.

Incapable of speech, he could only turn his head and watch her go back the way she'd come, his expression stunned. His eyes widened as he saw her pause and look over her shoulder.

"All those months you were gone, a day never passed that I didn't wonder." She touched fingers to her reddened lower lip, her head shaking infinitesimally. "I told myself I'd never make the same mistake twice."

And before he could react, she was gone.

'Hell!' He reared up, oblivious to the pain that shot up his leg as he launched himself from the swing chair and hobbled as fast as his ankle would permit.

"Carter!" He found his voice, but as he threw open the front door, his head shooting left and right, his disappointment was complete; there was no sign of her, not even a disappearing car.

Closing the door, he leant against the frame, head hung low, eyes closed, breathless, unable to comprehend just what had occurred a few moments ago.

"F-ck, f-ck, f-ck!" His limp was far more obvious as he crossed the hallway. To hell with Doc Fraiser, he needed a drink, a strong one.

Movement at the corner of his eye had him turning, wondering, hardly daring to hope...

She had taken his favourite spot on the sofa and was drinking a beer, looking so mind numbingly beautiful that he felt an instant leap in his groin. She had picked up the control and was flicking through the programmes. She stopped at Discovery Planet, giving her undivided attention to the documentary on the melting polar icecap, seemingly unaware that Jack was frozen to the spot. Or so he thought.

Not taking her eyes off the screen, she enquired nonchalantly, "Are you going to stand there all day, Sir, because if you are, Janet may have something to say that you may not like?"

He grimaced, willing the heat in his body to subside before he made even more of a fool of himself than he already had. Cautiously, he approached, surprised when she moved her legs to make room for him.

He stared at the screen seeing nothing.

"Carter?" His questioning tone conveyed all the uncertainty within him.

Carefully, she put down her beer, placed it on the coffee table and turned, her eyes pinning him in a hypnotic hold.

And as Jack made to speak, Sam's hand went up. Smiling provocatively, her voice dropped huskily, "That kiss was just payback. I think you deserved it."

She saw him flinch followed by a flash of something deep within his eyes and she smiled. She knew full well he didn't appreciate the attitude she had adopted, but this time she felt it was justified.

"And now..." she rose up to her full height, completely aware of exactly what she was doing to him.

"Carter?"

She ignored his whispered word. "I suggest you get your weight off that leg, Colonel. I really don't think you want Janet dragging you back to the infirmary."

Dejectedly, he stared down at his hands, not wanting to see her go. There were some things he needed to say to her and he didn't know how to begin.

Taking pity on him at long last, she murmured, "By the way, I told Daniel not to return until tomorrow, mid-day."

His head jerked up, brown eyes flashing, a blaze of longing clear to see.

And in disbelief he watched her turn not towards the door to exit, but to the steps leading to his bedroom.

"Carter…Sam," Jack awkwardly called out.

Looking over her shoulder, she gave him a questioning glance.

"Your father was right, you know." Jack moved forward towards Sam who seemed to be firmly rooted in place.

"I am an idiot and more for leaving you without first coming clean…Sam..."

Her hand reached out to place gentle fingers over his lips, her eyes at last softening to reveal such depths that Jack was certain he would surely drown in them.

"And I'm an idiot for letting you go."

A wry smile tugged at his lips. "I was pretty focused."

She rolled those same bewitching eyes. "Tell me about it!"

Suddenly he dropped his gaze, uncomfortable with what he knew he had to say. "I...I need to tell you..."

"I know everything I need to know."

Sam's softly spoken words had his troubled eyes shooting up to meet her understanding ones. Such compassion. He wondered if he deserved it.

She smiled reassuringly, reaching out to run fingertips down his cheek and over his jaw, feeling him tremble.

"I've been pestering General Hammond incessantly for days now and in the end he caved in. He informed me that your commission could possibly be reactivated and he was waiting to hear from you in the next week as to whether this would be the case or not."

She gave him such a luminous smile running her thumb over his lower lip that he found it almost impossible to concentrate on her words. "The way I see it, I'm in a no-lose situation. Depending on your decision, I get to spend the next seven nights, still being under Colonel Stone's command, in the arms of the man I love carrying with me the promise of more in the future; or two, I get the rest of my life with this man. Either way, I win - big time."

Seeing his expression at her use of the 'L' word, a soft giggle spilled from her lips and

for just a moment, Jack had the terrible feeling that Doc's medication must be making him imagine these things, No way would Carter be standing here before him looking like...

Still he faltered. Yet clearly there was something that was making him uncomfortable. His brow creased with intense concentration as he slowly shook his head.

"How...how do I tell someone that I love them when I have no right…?"

Her hand went to his chin, tipping his head up so that his eyes locked onto hers.

"I already know that too," she said with just a hint of smugness. And seeing his apparent confusion, she explained, "You talked a lot when you were burning up with fever."

'Crap!'

Sam smiled at his all too obvious discomfort. She hadn't quite forgiven him for all that she'd been through this past six months; there was still some more payback to come.

Her blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "Yea, it seems at times you found it hard to distinguish between Dad and me."

The appalled look in Jack's eyes told her enough and she had to work hard to hide her amusement.

"Dad did ask me to tell you that he's delighted that you consider him part of the family, though he didn't expect you to take it quite so far."

Groaning in abject misery, Jack could only squirm in horror at what he might have said to the Tok'ra. "Er...what...um... exactly did I...er... say to him?" He was finding it very difficult to hold her amused gaze

She wrinkled her nose and shook her head slightly. "You really don't want to know."

His dark eyes flared in unmitigated horror. "Aw crap!" He just knew that Jacob would have a field day over this and he dreaded their next meeting.

But enough was enough. She wasn't an evil person - not quite. She observed him as he strove to regain his equilibrium and decided that it was time to turn his thoughts back to more urgent considerations. She smiled wickedly as her hand began to make an obvious descent to a part of his body that had no problems focusing on the change in subject matter. His eyes locked onto hers like a heat-seeking missile.

His jaw dropped. His whole body language conveyed his need. And as he watched her give him a look that conveyed just exactly what her intentions were right here, right now, he decided that he could deal with the real thing.

He determined his restraint was pretty pathetic when compared to Sam's and he groaned longingly as he melded his whole body against hers, pushing her up against the wall as his mouth began to make its own investigation of her mouth and neck. Drawing back slightly, Sam could see he had a huge grin plastered over his face as he asked, "What was it that Doc said about my leg?"

Momentarily befuddled - the effects of Jack's attentions was causing her mind to be centred on one thing, and one thing alone - Sam could only stare at him in perplexity. Jack, however, knew exactly where his line of questioning was going. In what seemed a nano-second he reflected that he was, after all, breaking no rules or regulations. The general had been quite explicit about him taking the full time to reach his decision and so, in the meantime, he was still technically 'retired'.

Not only that - he was obeying Doc's orders too - he was about to take the weight off his leg and go to bed.

The End