17

Warning: Language

I started this story, dedicating it to my beta, Nell, and that still applies. In her own words 'we make a great team', but truly this story wouldn't have been what it is without all her incredibly hard work.

And a special thank you to all those loyal reviewers who kept feeding me with their enthusiasm and inspiring me to go that little bit further.

To Hell and Back Chapter 10

As she swung the vehicle round, switching on the headlights, she actually cried out as the half-naked figure landed in front of the car forcing her to slam on her brakes for fear of hitting him. In the glare of the headlights he appeared half demonic and the crashing descent of his two hands on the hood resounded in the confines of the vehicle making her wince.

In the back of her mind she admitted to stunned surprise realizing he must have launched himself from the deck - his left leg was still suffering from his previous injury so the manoeuvre he had just carried out was nothing short of spectacular. But she didn't have time to dwell on her CO's superman tactics.

She didn't cut the engine, just stared at him, her eyes half hooded to hide what was in them. She knew he must be nearly frozen in the chill early morning hour wearing only a pair of jeans, bare foot and bare-chested, but she refused to meet his eye.

He didn't move. Neither did she.

"Carter?" She had no problem reading his lips, but lowered the passenger window a fraction in order for her own words to reach him.

She ignored the unspoken command in his eyes, feeling her face burning and gave her own order, "Get out of my way, Sir."

She noticed his grimace and thought it was due to her form of address; still she refused to be swayed by any of his body language.

"Like I said, Carter, we need to talk."

"Not going to happen, Colonel." She revved the engine in the hope it might encourage him to shift; he remained motionless.

Damnation! She cursed herself for having wasted precious moments writing a short note to Jacob; that's what had done it, given Jack the time to appear out of nowhere standing like a sentinel, barring her way. Damn, but she wasn't in the mood to talk.

"Begging the Colonel's pardon, but-."

"Just cut the engine and get out of the damned car. And that is an order!" he snapped through gritted teeth, sucking in a sharp breath as he attempted to move.

Years of ingrained obedience almost made her comply, until she pictured herself making wanton love to this man and then all form of compliance vanished as she wrenched the wheel in the opposite direction and allowed the car to move forward a fraction. It was his fists that slammed down on the hood this time and his cursing would have had her blushing if she hadn't already been doing just that.

For a moment her jaw jutted out defiantly and she had to wonder how long this stalemate would last even knowing that she had lost this particular battle as she'd lost all previous ones to do with her CO. Her hand hovered over the key, hesitating to give him the satisfaction of knowing he'd won.

Damn, what would it take to just once come out-? Her inner thoughts shut down as she watched Jack begin to sway and just before he decided to use the hood of her car as a place to lie down she noted, even in the car's headlights, that his pallor looked definitely off.

Could he fake that? She was well aware that he was capable of some pretty despicable acts if his own words were to be believed . Sam knew it was within his repertoire to try to put one over on others to gain their sympathy but would he use that trick on her? Yet as she switched off the engine and opened her car door, a little inner voice was telling her that he wasn't faking it. This was for real.

The blood trailing down his shin and pooling at his foot was another indicator that her inner voice was right.

"Ja-ack!" Her tone was filled with reproach and disbelief as she dropped to her haunches to get a closer look at the open gash that ran across the front of his knee. She swore when she realized it was the same injured leg.

Janet was going to skin him alive, but she thought that was after she'd done the honors to yours truly. Shaking her head she looked up accusingly, demanding, "Just how on earth did you manage this?" And jerking her head round, she eyed the deck from which he must have launched himself. Of all the idiotic, bird-brained...

"I don't need you thinking what you're thinking Carter." His voice was thick with sarcasm. "Cuz I'm calling myself everything under the sun and more, you can bet on it."

"Well I bet you haven't thought of all those interesting things Janet is going to be regaling you with, Sir," she answered snidely, uncaring how bitchy she sounded. And taking one of his arms, she pulled it over her shoulder while her free arm snaked around his waist.

He had sulked all the way to the hospital and was still sulking when he was taken into a cubicle to have the laceration dealt with. And it didn't help that the senior nurse on duty, Sister Cross, had wanted him to remove his jeans - which he'd flatly refused, nor was he too thrilled when said nurse had eyed him with a jaded look that spoke a thousand words and proceeded to cut up his injured jean leg, ignoring the death look given her. She had turned a deaf ear as he had complained unceasingly through the whole stitching process. Nor was she terribly impressed when he wanted to know why she wasn't continuing and stitching up the tear in his favorite pair of jeans.

And she'd silently listened to all his reasons why the tetanus should be administered in his arm and then carefully placed the syringe on a cart, turned back to him with a withering glare and tugged down his jeans, paying no heed whatsoever to his growl of displeasure nor to the flush streaking up his neck and face at having been found minus his underwear, which was, he recalled, still lying somewhere in Sam's bedroom. And to cap off the whole humiliating experience, the look of compassion she'd bestowed on Sam as she handed him back into her care assured Jack if nothing else that Sister Cross had attended the same medical school of misery to all colonels as Janet Fraiser.

And his irritation didn't stop at the nurse. He was blisteringly annoyed with Sam and turned on her as he limped along the hospital corridor.

"And why the hell didn't you back me up when I told that harridan all my tetanus shots were up to date, for crying out loud?" And seeing her expression he raised his eyes to the heavens. Oh yes, he'd always known it, the female species was evil. And fixing her with his own 'you'll pay for this big time' look, he was just about to entertain her with his own promise of retribution when both Kate and Jacob came rushing in.

Thinking this whole incident couldn't get any worse, Jack screwed his eyes up knowing it hadn't even started.

It wasn't as if Jack had never been sent to the principal's office; it wasn't as if he'd never stood ramrod stiff at attention before receiving Air Force discipline and it wasn't as if he'd never faced down a senior officer intent on slicing him up into tiny pieces and serving him up as the main course in the officer's mess. Oh no; he'd been through all that and worse. Yet despite all his bitter experiences at dealing with figures of authority, he was finding it difficult to look Jacob Carter in the eye and explain what this whole 'damned fiasco' was about.

He was pretty sure the whole 'I slept with your daughter and when she tried to run out on me I tried to stop her ' thing wasn't going to sit too well with the ex-general/Tok'ra. Speaking of which, he cast his eyes around in the hope he might see Carter. Nix.

"Are you paying attention to what I'm saying, Jack?"

The biting question caused the pain in Jack's knee to notch up a tad, and he failed to hide the grimace that crossed his face as he sat on a hard-backed chair at the breakfast bar.

"I said," he repeated softly yet scathingly, "can you give me one good reason why, when daylight comes, I don't take you by the scruff and kick your sorry ass all the way back to Cheyenne Mountain where you'll face not only the wrath of George and Janet Fraiser, but you'll have the pleasure of sitting through a number of MacKenzie's little heart to heart talks?"

Jacob's uncompromising expression was clearly meant to be received by the chastened recipient and acted upon in a meaningful way.

Jack remained obstinately silent.

What was it, Jack wondered, about Carter's father that had him feeling as if he were fifteen years old about to have the wrath of an overly protective parent descend on him in the most brutal manner possible?

For crying out loud, Carter had chosen him; it wasn't as if he'd seduced her and taken her virginity, no matter that he'd yearned for her in secret ever since Antarctica.

But that was exactly how he was being made to feel and there was nothing he could do to dissuade Jacob from thinking the worst. Unless he spilled the beans on his daughter's actions. And that he could never, would never do.

"Jacob, I need to talk to Carter."

He tried very hard not to sound as if he were pleading though he wasn't too sure it came over as anything other than just that. And if only to himself he admitted that he was at a loss as to why Sam had been leaving when she did.

Hadn't he shown her what his feelings were, and hadn't she done exactly the same? And even if she was having second thoughts on their relationship, worried about her career, she must know he would never stand in her way; she was mature enough to be able to face him and tell him.

She was no coward. He shook his head. It didn't make sense.

Jacob stared hard. "And that would be for what reason?" the older man enquired.

Jack just managed to stop himself from rolling his eyes, having some self-protective intuition kick in that Sam's father might just decide to get close up and personal with his body should he reveal this juvenile response. But he was fast losing the little patience he had remaining and biting off a curse, he ground out,

"Just let me see her, Jacob, for crying out loud."

"Can you tell me why she left me this?" Jacob tossed a page of Sam's handwriting over to him and hastily Jack read through the words, somehow grateful that he wasn't implicated in her hasty leaving.

'Dad,

Couldn't sleep so decided I might as well get an early start instead of tossing and turning. Give my love to Kate and I'll see you when you bring the Colonel back.

I think you're making inroads; just go easy on him (and yes, I know I'm asking a lot, but you can do it!).

I love you.

Sam'

Schooling his features to reveal nothing of what he was actually thinking, Jack placed the page on the table and met Jacob's stare head on.

"Don't you think you should ask Carter that question?"

"I'm asking you."

Jack grimaced. This wasn't looking good. He could feign indifference until the cows came home, but Jacob was like a dentist with a sore tooth. He'd drill and keep on drilling until he was satisfied he'd cleared out the entire gunk causing the pain. Jack was in it deep.

He shrugged nonchalantly. "It seems pretty straight forward to me; she stated it as it was."

And there it was - the gleam of triumph in the Tok'ra's eyes. "So tell me Jack, why couldn't Sam sleep?"

Not a muscle in his body moved, not a breath was taken and yet Jack knew he was busted. Busted big time.

"I don't know," he sighed, his voice a mere whisper.

"I think you do."

"Stop bullying him, Dad."

For just a moment Jacob stilled, and then slowly, melodramatically he raised his arms wide as if totally innocent of the charge. "Hey, I'm not the one who hit him," he countered, turning to face both Sam and Kate.

'No, but you must admit, if only to yourself, that you wish you had had that very opportunity,' challenged Selmak's inner voice smugly, eliciting a frown from the host.

Observing the weary set to Jack's shoulders, Kate decided to intercede on his behalf. "He should be in his own bed, not facing third degree questioning."

Hearing the part about 'his own bed', Jack's head shot up guardedly and he wondered just what Sam had told Kate.

"She's right, Dad."

"I don't need you to be my advocate, Carter!" Jack snapped and caught the disapproving look Kate threw at him.

Her blue eyes flashing dangerously, Sam shot back, "Really? So what do you need me for?"

But it seemed Kate had had quite enough of such to and fro sparring and, brushing past Jacob, she snagged hold of Sam's wrist and tugged her forward to stand next to Jack.

"What is it with you two?" she demanded, spearing them both with a significant glare. "I'm almost tempted to bang your two silly heads together to try and put some sense into them...Jack O'Neill, just stop this nonsense now. And as for you Sam, are you trying to compete with him in his foolish game? The two of you have no excuses in your profession. You've seen too much to be squandering this precious time. It's enough now. Either stop this childishness and face your responsibilities, each one of you, or from this day forth move on."

As Jacob watched the expressions wash over his daughter and his guest, he had to take his proverbial cap off to Kate. If he wasn't mistaken there appeared to be some hint of light shining at the end of an endlessly long, dark tunnel. She was certainly a class act; no one could deny that. Nor was she finished just yet.

"Sam, do me a favor and help the Colonel to his bed. And don't you dare take any of his nonsense if he starts to tell you he can manage, because from where I'm standing he looks as if he's ready to keel over."

Here she stared hard at Jack waiting for any possible argument. None was forthcoming. She nodded approvingly. "It's well past my bedtime, so if no one minds, I'm going to take myself off to a nice warm, welcoming bed."

She started to move away then stopped, turning her head. "Are you coming, Jake?"

There was, Jacob knew, more to this state of affairs, but it seemed that this woman, who held a place dear to his heart, was in control of what, at times, had appeared to be total pandemonium. For once Jack O'Neill was behaving himself.

Jacob's attention shifted as he caught the blush of color wash over his daughter's pale features, obviously from the few words Kate had just whispered in her ear. 'What the hell was all that about?'

But she hadn't finished yet, because bending down to Jack she said something else and again a similar result ensued. Intrigued, Jacob caught Kate's eye, this enigma clearly puzzling him, but with a slight shake of her head he was silently directed to maintain his own counsel for a little longer.

His sigh radiated from deep within, conveying the obvious relief felt in being in bed with the woman who meant as much to him as his daughter. Enfolded in his arms, Kate still snuggled into his neck, revelling in feeling so loved and secure. Such a good man, such a good father and an equally good lover. She was blessed.

"So what did you say to them?"

She smiled gently. She had wondered how long it would be before he asked the inevitable and was quite impressed by his restraint.

"Words to the effect that you have spent too much precious time away from my bed and this state of affairs has got to change. And if the only way to guarantee you in my bed is to make certain Sam shares Jack's, then so be it."

Jacob grunted. "Well that might explain the color in Sam's cheeks but not the crimson flush that hit Jack. Just what did you say to elicit that response?"

From the corner of his eye, Jacob could see Kate grinning wickedly and not for the first time was grateful she was on his side.

"I just happened to mention that you'd be interested to learn how a pair of Simpson's boxers had somehow turned up in Sam's bedroom and that if he gave Sam a hard time, he'd be receiving an uncomfortable line of questioning from a certain ex-general."

"Woman, you are plain evil!"

"Aren't I just."

"I need to know one thing."

She stiffened at the tone of his voice, dreading what was to come.

But as she raised her blonde head, she was stunned at what she saw. There was no mask; no veneer; no superficial act to hide behind, and his vulnerability did what little else could.

Dropping her eyes, she paid an inordinate amount of attention to the act of removing his shoes, seemingly intent on dealing with the laces as if they posed some unfathomable mystery which had to be solved.

It was some time before she was able to speak without the lump that had been constricting her vocal chords affecting her voice.

Still unable to meet his gaze, she muttered hoarsely, "And what would that be?"

She had to steel herself not to strain towards him as she waited for his answer.

"I need to know you'll still be here in the morning."

Blinking back the pool of tears which threatened to erupt from her eyes, Sam tugged agitatedly at one lace, unable to provide any form of response so choked was she. But the silence could only last so long and as she felt the tension in Jack's legs as if he were about to stand, she tugged even harder, preventing any idea he may have had of escape and was rewarded with the removal of one shoe.

Being barefoot, however, didn't appear to be an obstacle and he made a further attempt to rise from the bed upon which he was perched.

"The nurse told you to keep off your leg otherwise you'll-."

"Screw the nurse, and for that matter screw-." It was his turn to have his words cut short as Sam raised her tear-streaked face to reveal the utter grief and torment she was ravaged by.

"Carter." Her name was a whisper of emotion evoking a sensation so fierce that Sam reached out for him blindly.

"I...I couldn't let you die...I couldn't let it happen. I had to do something, anything. I...I only had one living thought in my whole body and that was to keep you with me at any cost. I was willing to do anything and I...I. Oh God, when they told me you'd gone missing ... I...I wanted to-."

Sliding down the side of the bed, Jack settled next to his 2IC, unsure of himself in the face of Sam's confession. But the misery he saw so bleakly revealed had him reaching unhesitatingly to enfold her in his arms.

"C'mere..."

If there was a slight hesitation it didn't last long as Jack began to explain what had happened.

"When I realized where Kanan had brought me I was scared shitless and when the snake scuttled off and left me to Ba'al I was so mad I could have ripped the bastard in two with my bare hands. But later, I was able to see that the Tok'ra had gone back for his mate. He'd risked all and a part of me that wasn't afraid was feeling a kind of admiration because that is what the good guys do, isn't it? They don't leave their loved ones behind."

Sam was so still, not daring to move, barely breathing as she listened to Jack open up to her.

"And so I was put through an unending cycle of torture and sarcophagus until I wished it would all end. I even dreamt that Daniel was with me and wanted me to ascend. Can you imagine how well that would have gone down if I'd joined those hallowed ranks?"

He grinned wryly hoping the levity would mute the intensity of his story. "But in the end, you know what? I was left wondering who was the better - Kanan for doing what had to be done, or me, the self-righteous bastard too indignant at being made a host to understand what life is all about...

And the funny thing is - I still don't know if it was worth it all."

Unable to bear the thought of her CO being so lost in his beliefs, Sam began to pour out all her fears and torments of the last weeks, unable to draw anything but the odd painful gasp of air. With her head hidden in the crook of Jack's neck, she seemed to be burrowing even further into him, unwilling to allow an inch of space between her and this man who was everything to her. Her crying intensified as Jack rocked her in his arms, hushing her with softly spoken words of comfort, her shoulders shuddering with the strain of trying to contain the waves of despair within her distraught body.

"Hey," he admonished gently, "you've got to stop this now. That's an order in case you hadn't noticed, Major."

Gulping in air, she attempted to obey aware that she'd soaked a large area of Jack's shirt with her uncontrolled tears. Drawing away, she searched frantically for tissues. Even in the state she was in, she was pretty sure he'd be none too impressed if her runny nose dripped all over him, too.

"I need the bathroom." And scooting to her feet she practically ran in search of tissues, taking the opportunity to wash her swollen face in cold water.

When she returned, Jack had managed to perch himself on the end of the bed again, but his obvious discomfort was apparent. She moved purposely to the chest of drawers which kept his clothes and rooted out a pair of boxers and a t-shirt and then before pushing closed the drawer, drew out a second t-shirt for herself.

With no show of self-consciousness she stepped out of her clothes, shrugging into one of the t-shirts then approaching Jack she held out his own version of night clothes.

"Come on. Let's get you into these."

He held up one hand while the other snagged one of her wrists, pulling her closer to stand between his knees.

"Why'd you do it?"

Like a startled deer caught in a lion's hypnotic gaze, Sam jerked and drawing in a shaky breath she attempted a rally of magnificent proportion by blinding him with a brilliant smile.

It didn't work. He continued to stare at her with eyes saddened and world-weary.

"Was it just a game, an itch to scratch?"

Her breath caught in pained surprise. "No!" Her vehement denial brought no relief and she repeated the negative again.

Jack's lips turned into a wry smile minus the humour. "So, why the tactical retreat? Did you think I would hold you to some sort of relationship you weren't interested in and put your career at risk?"

She stilled, aware that the man before her was hurting and for once showing his pain.

Again she repeated the simple negative, her own emotion clear as she dropped to her knees.

"I felt..." She struggled to find words that wouldn't allow her vulnerability to be shattered to pieces.

"What? You felt what?" Jack pressed, a frown appearing between his eyes.

"Hopeless."

Bewildered, he echoed her choice of word, his eyes going dull with doubt.

As if sensing his mental as well as physical withdrawal, Sam clamped her hands onto his shoulders, demanding his full attention. She drew in a deep breath, calling on all her powers of courage to face this challenge.

"Hopelessly in love."

There, she'd done it. Done what she'd always promised she would never do after the fiasco of her relationship with Jonas. She had sworn she would never again allow herself to fall so completely under the powers of another man, losing herself so entirely. And then this.

She shook her head, unsure whether to curse or laugh at the irony of fate. This had not been easy for her and if the man before her couldn't sense...

"Idiot!"

It was her turn to stiffen in indignation and she would have wrenched away but for the iron hold on her which fiercely pulled her resisting into his arms, his knees clamping tightly around her.

"No you don't," his voice was low but determined.

And before she could protest, she found she was being kissed warmly and deliberately. She felt the first tremors of apprehension and closed her eyes in anticipation of the flood of desire which she could already feel growing in intensity. The force of her feelings frightened her as she responded without thought or control.

This she accepted was why there was a non-fraternization policy and for good reason. And yet, hadn't they both given up enough and made sacrifices enough? Was it not time for some form of payback? Didn't they deserve a little happiness in all the hell that was going on around them? Was that too much to ask?

Evidently her own father had come to terms with the fact because if anyone was to veto this union, she would have expected it to have been him. But no, for some inexplicable reason that she wasn't going to question, he had put up no objections when she and Jack had retired to his bedroom. There again, they both looked like shit so he could have felt he was on a safe bet. But no, that wasn't how her father operated and well she knew it.

Under Jack's searching lips she could feel herself smile. Clearly he did too, because he paused, drawing away from her fractionally.

"Something funny?"

She was wise enough to realize that mentioning her father wouldn't possibly go down all that well at this moment so Sam merely shook her head shyly and placed her lips back on Jack's.

Over the rim of his steaming mug of Ethiopian coffee, Jacob Carter watched Jack tuck into a breakfast of oatmeal followed by hot toast smothered in butter and honey all accompanied by a large glass of milk. No word of dissent, no grunt of disagreement or frown of rebellion was made; there was simply a total commitment to consuming the meal though he had thought the silver-haired man was looking particularly pensive at times.

'It appears Samantha has had a most positive affect on our Colonel O'Neill,' Selmak noted, mirroring Jacob's own silent thoughts. But before Jacob could make some acerbic inner comment, Sam entered.

Waving down Jacob, who had been about to rise to get her some coffee, she gave him a bright smile which was instantly smothered in a huge yawn which she tried hiding behind her hand.

"Sorry," she said grinning apologetically. "Too many late nights."

Studiously studying the last slice of toast on his plate, Jack kept his head and eyes lowered. He had no wish to be brought into-.

"What about you, Sir?"

If he'd had anything in his mouth he knew he would have choked. No doubt about it.

He raised dark, chocolate eyes to his 2IC, who had taken the seat opposite him next to her father, attempting a neutral expression.

"What about me?" he asked softly. He could see the mischief bubbling inside her and groaned silently. She still hadn't forgiven him. With two pairs of Carter eyes upon him he felt totally exposed.

"I think Sam's trying to find out if you slept alright last night," Jacob explained dryly casting a baleful eye over the man sitting opposite while trying to figure out whether he was pleased that the Colonel and Sam were actually communicating with each other - especially when he noticed how Jack appeared to be avoiding meeting his gaze.

Jacob turned his head to his daughter and asked cheerfully, "So, are you all packed and ready to go?"

Jack couldn't help himself, like a tree root craving water, his eyes were drawn to hers and he felt speared with such an intensity of lust that he gulped in air much like a fish out of water.

"You know Dad, sleeping on it, I-."

He choked, a fine spray of milk coating his toast until he managed to raise a hand to his mouth while turning away from the table, fighting to drag air into his wheezing lungs.

He wasn't ready for the hearty thump between his shoulder blades either and if it hadn't been for Jacob's steadying hand on his arm he might have lost his balance completely. As it was, he managed to retain his seat though his dignity had gone flying out of the cabin's open kitchen window.

"Are you okay, Colonel?"

He screwed his eyes shut at the innocent inquiry, finally finding his voice. "I...I'm fine...I think I'll get some air."

He all but staggered out to the deck, aware that both Carters were following his every move. Once there he dropped onto a chair and aimed for indifferent should either father or daughter appear.

When, he wondered, had he lost the ability to soak up the guilt like a dish towel with spilt milk? He was incapable of looking Jacob in the eye without blushing like a first grader caught cheating in a test and as for facing Carter...He groaned well aware that his overly fertile brain was providing him with a slide show of the previous night's graphic entertainment however, the discomfort came from knowing that Sam knew precisely what he was thinking and seemed to encourage it, which would have been fine and dandy if it hadn't been for Dad breathing down his neck. He was no momma's fool, he knew when he was being sized up and that metaphorical noose was feeling tighter by the minute.

"So how's the knee?"

Annoyed that he was startled, Jack shrugged, attempting casual. "It's fine."

"Are you and Sam fine, too?"

He knew it was coming, but he had expected Jacob to take a little longer getting to the crux of what he was now being asked. And as he searched for an answer which would appease a father looking out for his only daughter, Jacob forestalled Jack's reply, continuing, "Because if you mess with her, I promise I will make your life hell. She didn't deserve Hanson, but it happened. I don't intend it to happen again."

"Jacob I-."

"A father wants his daughter to be happy and for some reason beyond my comprehension, you make my daughter happy!"

Jack snapped his mouth shut, hoping his jaw hadn't been hanging open too long.

"Look, Jacob, I know this might seem like-."

"You may be an almighty pain in the ass when you're recuperating, Jack, but I do know a good man when I see one. Don't you think you deserve something good in your life after all the crap that's been thrown at you? Don't be too scared to reach out for what's there in front of you."

And seeing the younger man about to make some token excuse, he uttered, "And I know the regulations better than most, but there are times when those regulations have to take a back seat. If anyone can deal with that responsibility you and Sam are the ones to do it."

Then narrowing his eyes, he concluded, "I repeat, just don't mess with her or so help me, I'll make Ba'al seem like a second rate hit man. Do you understand me?"

At last Jack met Jacob's eye and kept his gaze locked on the Tok'ra.

"I'll do my best."

As if accepting Jack's sincerity, Jacob nodded adding complacently, "I think I should warn you, Jack, she may be the perfect 2IC but as a daughter she tried my very patience to the limit as a teenager. You may just find you've bitten off more than you can chew in certain areas."

Hoping his expression remained Teal'c-like, Jack willed his features to remain as impassive as the Jaffa's even as Sam appeared behind her father's back giving Jack a self-satisfied grin which gave him a perfect example of how trying Jacob Carter's daughter could be.

It was hard attempting to hold a serious conversation when a minx was running the tip of her pink tongue over her lips in a most suggestive way making Jack's body temperature begin to make a steady climb. He wasn't sure how long he could keep up the act of indifference.

"Sam, if you're trying to make Jack uncomfortable, I'd say you're succeeding. So stop whatever it is you're doing behind my back and go make your father another cup of coffee."

The look of stunned surprise followed by sneaking admiration in Jack's eyes had Jacob chuckling. "You'll learn, Jack. Slowly, mind you. It took me a number of years to get to grips with being father to Sam and you may think you've got a head start being her CO, but Mister, you haven't even touched the icing on the cake."

In the end it was Kate who saved Jack from any further third-degree grilling, demanding that the two 'young' one's be left in peace and that she was ready for a long walk by the river to clear the cobwebs in her sleepy brain.

As the two of them watched the older pair walking hand-in-hand away from the cabin, Sam turned to Jack and smiled a smile of such promise that in looking back at the retreating pair he envisaged the two of them in years to come doing just the same only with a pair of children following on behind them.

It was definitely something to look forward to. He had no doubt there would be some huge barriers to face in their professional lives, but he'd made enough sacrifices to warrant some bending of those iron clad rules. And if anyone could sort it out, General Hammond would be the one. And suddenly, having taken this once forbidden step, the future at last held something so precious that he could actually look forward to something other than a hockey match and an ice-cold bottle of beer. He could believe that he could put the scars of his past behind him, secure in the trust that his life had meaning for tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that.

THE END

That's it. Hope you guys enjoyed it to the very end.

There is another story in the works but I'm away to England for two months to get away from the heat so won't be posting until I return. And then that's only if Nell gives me the all clear.