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Precious Things

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1905 Friday

Sam Carter pulled her front door tightly shut behind her and just stood in the darkness a moment, reveling in the peace and quiet of her home. She'd been on the run from the moment she'd stepped foot on base that morning – not that she'd recovered from her two-day offworld excursion before that – and she desperately needed an hour to herself before company arrived. Resisting the urge to just dump her things on the front table, she carefully hung her purse in the hall closet and moved through the dark house to the table to set down the mail.

Two hands grabbed her arms roughly from behind, pulling her firmly up against a strong, definitely male body as his lips sank to her neck. She'd wanted a bath, but this was good, too. “We'd better be quick,” she murmured with a smile as her attacker began to nip his way up toward her ear. “Jack's plane lands any minute.”

“I'm not worried. I can take him.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Desk work makes a man old and weak.”

“I don't know. I still think he's pretty cute.”

Irked, Jack spun her around to scowl at her. “Pretty cute?”

With a grin that just wouldn't quit, she prodded, “Adorable? Snuggly?”

“Oh, you're gonna pay for that,” he growled, bending to throw her over his shoulder despite her shrieks of feigned protest. “I am not snuggly, dammit.”

“Of course not.” Her laughter echoed in the dark hall and made the words nearly unintelligible. “You're a sexy, manly.... man. Or something.”

“Or something. Great.” Stepping up to the bed, he tossed her unceremoniously onto it. “Take your clothes off, woman.”

She was still laughing at him, but waggled her eyebrows playfully as she reached for the bottom of the zipper. “Yes, sir.” Her jacket went first, then the long-sleeved black tee she wore at work before he pushed her to her back, his lips once again on her skin. “I missed you,” she murmured as he kissed his way along her collarbone.

“I missed you, too. Caught an earlier flight.” He trailed his way up her outstretched arm, and she knew his target. He always turned the bedside light on when they made love. It had made her uncomfortable at first, but the way he looked at her, touched her, kissed her – like she was the most precious of gems – set her at ease.

True to habit, he flipped the lamp on and sat back on his haunches to drink it all in. But the expression on his face was far from usual. “Why didn't you tell me you got hurt?” he asked, gaze glued to her torso.

“What?” she asked, confused.

The brown eyes that met hers were a bit irked and a lot worried. “What the hell happened to you?”

She couldn't crane her neck past her chest to see what he was seeing, so she shoved him off and headed to the bathroom. Facing the mirror, one hand flipped the light on... and rendered her even more confused. Her lower abdomen was dark, a purple shade that promised a far worse bruise to come. The color was echoed in splotches on her shoulders and upper arms.

Jack's face appeared behind hers in the mirror, watching her expression carefully. “You're telling me you have no idea what did this?”

“Actually, I.... I think I know exactly what it was.” Her fingers tangled in his, but not for reassurance. Lifting his hand, she aligned it perfectly over a set of four bruises on her upper arm.

He could only stare at the reflected image – his hand, and the perfect copy of it embedded in her skin - for a long moment as he struggled to quell the shock, fear, and disgust at himself. But he hadn't grabbed her that hard. He knew he hadn't. And that meant.... “Put your clothes back on.” His voice was far steadier than he'd expected. “I'm taking you to the base.”