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Jack O’Neill has had quite a few morning-after experiences in his life; some that he would really like to forget. After all, it’s not the everyday person who wakes up next to a relative stranger only to find out he’s been given the craziest STD of all time: accelerated aging.

Yeah, that was a morning after Jack would love to take back or just forget all together.

The awkward ones are almost as bad. The mornings when he wakes up and the light of day cruelly announces that whatever comfort was found in the dark came at far too high a price for either of them. Those morning-afters are commonly followed by the exchange of hollow pleasantries, carefully averted eyes and the hasty retreat of whoever is in foreign territory.

Not that they have all been disastrous. A small handful stand out as precious moments that Jack rarely lets his mind dwell on for fear of somehow wearing them thin or corrupting them with knowledge of who he’s become or how badly those relationships ended. The endings have become his companions more than the beginnings.

For a long time Jack was convinced that would be all he’d have: endings.

But things have a way of aligning, slipping into place in a way he never dared imagine and Jack O’Neill is left contemplating a morning-after he had almost given up on.

Predictably, Sam and Jack embark on a relationship by doing everything backwards, falling into her bed in the middle of the day. This first time is neither rushed with pent up need, nor shrouded in darkness and heavy coverlets. Instead each movement, touch, taste is brilliantly illuminated by the mid-day summer sun blazing through a wide-open window.

As it should be between two long-time friends, there is no embarrassment, no thought of hiding less desirable aspects with strategic lighting; just the full unforgiving blaze. Jack thinks they’ve earned the solidity of memories cast in firm forms.

As the lazy afternoon stretches long, Jack runs his hands down Sam’s skin bathed in sunlight and says, “Now can I take you out to dinner?”

The bed shakes with her throaty laughter. He’s not sure if he’s just imaging that it sounds more genuine and free than ever before. Maybe he just hopes it does.

Dinner outlasts the stubborn summer sun as they relish in just being another pair of people doing normal people things.

She even lets him pay.

But hours later, when Jack walks her up to the door and kisses her under the porch light buzzing with kamikaze insects, he says, “Goodnight, Sam,” and steps away.

She only looks startled for a moment before her face softens. Going inside with her should never be a given and he knows her well enough to allow her time on her own to process.

Of course, Jack is also smart enough to show up at her house the very next evening as the sun sets. Processing is all well and good but they’ve already wasted so much time.

The light squeezing through the slats of her blinds to paint across their skin is vermillion with a tinge of orange this time. It reminds him of the brilliant autumn forest planet they’d discovered in a lighter time. A time when they hadn’t been too rushed or worried to take the time to introduce Teal’c to leaf pile diving. Even Daniel had taken part, sneezing the entire time. A perfect burgundy leaf had stuck to Sam’s head like a crown, and she’d smiled and walked around like some forest goddess for the rest of the mission.

He likes that her skin does this to him; makes him remember the good times in strong, solid Technicolor.

As the dark of evening creeps upon them she places a hand flat against the center of his back and asks him to stay.

“Undomesticated equines,” he counters and they fall back onto the covers, giggling in a way they would both deny under pain of having to campaign for Kinsey. But as with most of their plans, this one is derailed less than fifteen minutes later when Sam’s phone rings.

“Colonel Carter,” she says into the phone, still swatting playfully at Jack’s wandering hands but her face quickly morphs into seriousness. “Whoa, Cass, slow down. Shhh…I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay?”

By the time she’s off the phone Jack is already up and getting dressed. She reassures him that Cassie is fine, explaining that she just needs Sam down there for a couple of days.

“I’m sorry,” she starts to apologize but Jack cuts her off, pulling her back into his arms for a quick goodbye.

Cassie is something that never needs to be explained between them.

A whole week passes before Sam shows up on Jack’s porch under the light of the full moon. She still has her luggage in hand and he likes the idea of coming home meaning him and not a house.

They sit on his back porch and she fills him in on the last few days. Their hands tangle together, broaching the distance between their chairs. Jack watches the way the moonlight makes her hair sparkle silver and washes all color out of their skin as if they were statues carved of marble.

When they eventually surrender to silence, Jack stands up and leads her back into the house. His room is carefully ringed with dozens of candles and she helps him light them without comment.

As much Jack thinks Sam deserves romance, the candles are not about flowers and whispered sweet-nothings. Seeing her skin in the golden, flickering cast of firelight pays homage to a decade of campfires, nights spent close but always just enough apart. The tinge of smoke in the air conjures memories of long hours spent sitting watch on a hundred different planets. Good times and bad times, bitter and sanguine. But they were their times. And so are these.

He loves that she understands this without a word being spoken between them.

This night there is no talk of leaving, just the gentle surrender to sleep as the candles burn down around them. But the insistent peal of a pager shatters the illusion that they may yet enjoy a full night together. Sam is hopping around the room pinching out candles and pulling on clothes before Jack is even fully awake.

Jack groans inwardly when he realizes what is happening but is careful not to make any comment. He understands this part of her life too well to suddenly start playing the ‘you work too hard’ card.

For a moment Sam looks like she is waiting for the chastisement, as if she has resigned herself to such reactions from the people in her life. Jack just heaves himself up to kiss her sloppily and mumbles, “Come back if you finish before morning, okay?”

She momentarily seems to forget about her search for an AWOL sock and regards him with gratitude that he doesn’t deserve nor need. In her hand, the pager buzzes again, refusing to be ignored. He raises an eyebrow at her continued lack of momentum but she just shakes her head and smiles, finally pushing away from the bed, stealing one of his socks as she goes.

“And call me if this turns out to be the apocalypse or something,” he calls out after her.

He can hear her quiet laughter as she walks out the door.

A few mornings later, Jack’s a little disoriented when he opens his eyes to find someone else with him in his bed. But then he remembers her sliding in next to him in the pitch black of night. It’s a little strange that despite all the hours spent with each other—in beds and otherwise—this is the first time he has woken up next to her.

Her face is turned away from him, but the sheet is pulled down all the way to the upward curve of her hip. Sam’s skin by the soft first light of day, it may just be his favorite version yet.

His fingers skim over the exposed flesh, dipping into the hollows of her body and smoothing over marks and scars that only make her more beautiful to him.

She shifts under his careful ministrations, turning her face to his. They both stare for a while, maybe looking for awkwardness or regret. But this morning there is nothing left but rightness drenched in ambient light. It’s no minor victory for them to end up here enjoying their first morning-after together.

This is not lost on either one of them.

“I’m thinking it’s time I taught you my secret omelet recipe,” Jack says.

A lazy grin spreads across her face, her feet tangling with his. “Sounds perfect.”

It really does.