It wasn't often that Jack Cooper got upset. Years of military training, and just a naturally easygoing personality helped make him one of the easiest people in the world to get along with. Tonight, however, was a different story.

"Never again!" he called to no one in particular as he came rushing through the door of the apartment, covered in thick, powdery snow from his head to his boots. It clung to his coat, hung off his backpack, and coated his beard. One big, dog-like shake and most of it came loose, the exception being his coat, which, while warm and water proof, acted like Velcro when it came to the white stuff.

"I'm staying home until May!" Jack added as he toed off his winter boots and hung his coat up to dry. The backpack, holding mostly art supplies, granola bars, and drawing his kids at the Y had made him, sat forgotten in the front entrance.

Vermont was finally catching the brunt of the snow squalls that had been slowly creeping across the east coast for the last two months. It was nearly Christmas, and what they had originally thought to be a mild winter, was turning into a sea of white that was as deadly as it was beautiful.

Turning the corner into the open-plan kitchen, he finally began feeling his toes warm. Jack headed straight for the sink first, turning the faucet as hot as he could stand it before soaking his hands underneath, letting his frozen fingers thaw a bit. A happy sort of sigh escaped him as the water slowly brought his hands back to life, his skin turning red in a matter of minutes. Right now, he didn't care whether the heated liquid would chafe his hands, he wanted the comfort it provided and nothing but.

Looking over his shoulder, he shot a smile at the woman who he considered to be his best friend. The one who'd provided him with nothing but comfort, joy, and peace since his return from Afghanistan almost a year ago. The one who could make him laugh with just a look, and the one who never failed to make him feel like he was actually doing well in his life out of uniform, despite what everyone else seemed to think.

"I hope you're not on call tonight. I won't get a wink of sleep with you out there in that hell." Finally done with the water, Jack turned, dried his hands and wrapped two big arms around her tiny frame, hugging her from behind as though he hadn't seen her in years before planting a soft kiss to her cheek with the utmost gentility. Yeah, it had only been a few hours, but he'd missed her.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Looking out through the too small window in front of her, Samantha let out a small sigh, taking in just how much of a mess things seemed to be outside. Or at least, how much of a mess they seemed to be in her eyes. As much as Samantha could say that she loved her job, she was certainly glad she wasn't out there that night. It wasn't that she was being lazy, or that she had better things to do.. she just didn't feel well enough to be out there in such cold weather. Her flu having nearly disappeared, and having gone down to just a cough, she didn't want to risk bringing it back up by exposing herself to such harsh elements. Of course, most people would just say she was being a wimp.. but, Vermont weather just wasn't made for her.

She still liked to joke around that it was the Hawaiian in her that was keeping her from getting used to, or even enjoying a day like that one. In reality, she had just not even tried -- It wasn't her thing. She wasn't going to lie, though, the snow was beautiful -- made everything seem like something out of a movie, or book.. or like she liked to say, 'something that is only nice when you're on the other side, and not right in the middle of it' ... but, she just wasn't buying into the whole white Christmas everyone seemed to be so excited over.

After giving in, and dropping the much too festive blanket she had wrapped around herself back on the couch, she made her way into the kitchen. Intent on finding something to keep herself warm, she dug though the cupboards, finally deciding on some Chamomile tea. It was her favorite, after all.. and it would certainly do the trick. In reality, she had not even cared what it was, or what it tasted like.. she simply wanted something that was hot enough to keep her warm for at least the next few minutes. She had already been sitting down, a cup of the hot liquid in her hands, when the front door had closed shut in what had seemed to her like a hurry. It took her no time to figure out why the hurry, and just who it was. Her best friend wasn't exactly any more thrilled than she was at the kind of cold they were having.

With a smile on her lips, she pushed herself from the chair with enough time to see her best friend walk into the kitchen, and directly toward the sink. Laughing softly, she could help the comment that left her lips.."Body heat.. much nicer.." If asked she would blame it on everyone talking about sharing body heat with the other, but.. it wasn't like she was opposed to the idea in the first place -- it wouldn't be the first time they fall asleep on the same bed, or couch.. or wherever it is they decided to get comfortable.

"No..." Answering his question as his arms went around her, she leaned back against him, turning her head to look up at him. "I don't have to be out in that hell until tomorrow night.." Gently rubbing her hands up and down his arms, she tried keeping him as warm as she could, all the while trying to give him back as much feeling to his arms as possible, knowing he'd been sure to lose all feeling to them on the way home. "We'll figure out how to at least give you a wink of that sleep tomorrow.."

Turning around to face him, her arms went around his waist, playing with the hem of his shirt as she tried keeping her own hands warm. "How about we move far, far away.. where the sun always shines?"

"If only we had the money, darling," Jack said dramatically with a grin, one hand coming up to gently stroke a lock of hair from her face, his blue-green eyes warm in the dim light.

The cold was all but forgotten as he gazed down at her, the worries and stress, the loud scream and boisterous laughs of his kids melting away in the quiet of their apartment. It was nights like these that Jack adored, cozy and beyond comfortable; nights that called for nothing more than a warm blanket, his best friend, and some good food. Despite their frequency, Jack hadn't come to take these sorts of times for granted. He had witnessed hell in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had done things that he would never speak about unless forced by his government. Things that he couldn't bring himself to utter even to Samantha; especially to Samantha.

Nights like these however, when the most stressful thing they had to talk about was what sort of food to make, were the nights that kept Jack sane. He was sure Samantha would never know just how much it meant to him, but he was never above trying to show her in his actions and words.

"How was your day?" he asked as he held her close, not willing to let go quite yet. They had the whole evening to make dinner and watch crappy TV; a little catching up time never hurt anyone.

"You mean we're not going to run off to Hawaii, drinking pina coladas, and the sun hitting us all day long..? " She ruffled her hand over his hair as she talked, a few white flake falling onto his shoulders as she did so. "No more of this white fluffy stuff all over you..." A girl can dream, and a very nice dream that it was. She hadn't been back home since she left all those years back, but she couldn't deny the thought was still there. Someday, she kept telling herself.

Giving him the welcome she had not when he first walked in, her arms wrapped tighter around him, and a soft kiss was placed on his cheek. "Your loss..." She laughed softly; her arms dropping down to her sides once more, but not before giving him another tight squeeze. "Just imagine all the bikini clad women around you that you're missing" Her brown, green eyes locked with his; a small smile touching her lips, even when the thought of him in such a position wasn't all that appealing to her.

"My day.. not bad.. uneventful.." With that being said, she moved away from him once more, moving in the direction of the tea she had all but forgotten when he'd made it in the door. That was something that happened to her a lot; any time he was around, her attention went to him, regardless of what she was doing at the time.

"I think you need it more than I do.." She held the warm cup out to him, figuring he was in more need of warming up than she was. Taking a hold of his other hand with her free one, she started walking out towards the living room, dragging him out with her. Once in front of their couch, she let herself fall back onto it, letting go of his hand long enough to wrap the blanket around herself and motion for him to sit down as well. "Come on..."

"You show me plane tickets, I'll show you a packed bag," Jack laughed softly, having never once had the experience of being somewhere tropical. Coming from a working-class family in Chino, the furthest he'd ever been before joining the army had been San Francisco. Even after putting on a uniform, he'd been sent to the desert and to Europe, both of which were miles away from a sunny beach.

Taking the tea with a grateful grin, he easily let her lead him to the couch. His feet were slowly starting to warm and he was sure that once he was under the blanket, wrapped around her like a great big bear rug, that he would be at the perfect temperature again. Yawning slightly as he set the mug down on their side table, Jack easily lifted the blanket off her before fluidly stepping over her legs and laying down behind her, the blanket thrown back over the two of them right after.

"Sit. Ha! And have frozen feet while you lay there all cozy? Don't think so," he grinned, blowing a raspberry into her neck before reaching for the remote.

It was a side of Jack that no one but Samantha ever saw. Around everyone else, he was a man's man, loud, tough, and in control. With her however, he was just a big puppy dog, alway ready for a snuggle. She was one of the few people who had ever seen him cry, and if Jack had any say in the matter, it would stay that way.

"Well, we know what you're getting for your birthday.." Now, of course the statement was only half truth. She would love for things to be that easy, and would especially love to give him the opportunity of spending some time out in such a nice place, but things were never that simple in real life. They had work; they had responsibilities, and as much as she would love to get away and drag him out with her, it wasn't likely to happen -- not without a lot hard work first.

Once she got comfortable on their couch, and at the feel of his lips on her neck, Samantha couldn't help but move a little to the side, a small giggle leaving her lips. She was a very ticklish person, and it was something that Jack definitely knew -- her neck definitely being a weakness of hers. While he didn't necessarily take advantage of it, it was something that he knew how to use when he wanted to. She couldn't hide that she loved that about him, though. It always helped turn her bad days around; there was just a sort of comfort in having someone who knew you that well.

Turning around to face him, she draped one arm over him, snuggling against his chest to keep the warmth his body and the blanket over them brought. It was a habit they had gotten into in the time they'd been living together, and something she wasn't sure she'd be willing to give up anytime soon. He was her best friend, and the only person who knew everything that could be know about her. She trusted him more than she did anyone else. She had given up on a romantic relationship a long time ago, and it felt nice to at least have a close friend to always go to when things got hard.

She wasn't sure she'd ever really told him that, but part of her knew that he must have at least some kind of an idea. He had, after all, been the only person she'd cried to when things got bad after leaving New York -- and the only person who knew just how much she really wanted to go back in training to improve her chances at work. "You do know.. " She let out a small nervous laugh, tilting her head back to look up at him. "I love having you here, right..?" Hiding her face against his neck, she let out another small laugh, not quite exactly sure how else to react. "It makes a crazy day calmer.."

"All I want for my birthday is chocolate cake. That's it. One thick slice and I can die a happy man," Jack shook his head, his usual happy smile firmly spread across his face, eyes merry and full of life.

For a man who had seen the torture of war, who had stared death in the face nearly every day, he was remarkably well-adjusted. It wasn't quite the case a year ago when he'd first landed on Samantha's door. He had been fresh off his flight from California, and still stinging from both the war and his recent breakup with his girlfriend, who had turned out to be a lying skank who hadn't even bothered waiting for him to leave the country to start seeing other people. He'd had trouble sleeping, and had almost instantly taken to waking up in the middle of the night, padding from his room to Samantha's and snuggling up tightly behind her as though she were his shield from his own nightmares.

When she turned in his arms, Jack's eyes softened, a clear affection broadcast in them, directed solely at her. It wasn't hard to see that she was his favorite person in the entire world. Once she was settled into the new position, Jack couldn't stop himself from gently stroking one big hand over her head, fingers resting on the nape of her neck afterwards, massaging the muscles there gently.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, Sam, you know that," he murmured into her hair, pressing soft kisses there when he was finished speaking.

While he was certain she'd said her day had been uneventful earlier, Jack knew that even uneventful was stressful in the field she was in. It was just one of many reasons that he made sure to do as much as possible around the house; the less stress she had, the better.

The hand on her neck moved to the middle of her back, the heel of his palm digging in just slightly to loosen the knots he could feel there, Jack's face still buried in her hair, as he simply relished the moment.

"Have you had dinner yet, babe?" Jack asked, a touch of concern in his voice; he was like a mother hen sometimes when it came to her, but it was only because he wouldn't know how to be himself without her there.

"A man after my own heart." She smiled softly, pressing her lips to his forehead, a small kiss pressed to it. As much as she liked his answer, just the look on his face alone would have made her smile. He seemed so calm, so relaxed.. so happy. It was hard to believe he was the same man from only a year before.

She could still remember all the nights he spent in her room, not able to sleep because of everything he'd been through. She had hated seeing him like that, and had done everything she'd been able to try and make him feel better. In a way he'd been broken, and she'd been scared she wouldn't be able to get the old Jack back. More often than not, on those nights when she held them while he slept -- trying to comfort both himself and her, she cried herself to sleep. He had been such a big part of her life for such a long time, that she hated the thought of him going through such a hard time.

Now, on the other hand, she held him for the sole reason that it felt good to have him near her. She felt comforted, safer -- happier, even. He had changed her life in such a big way that she wasn't sure what she would do without him around. She didn't even want to know.

Sighing softly at the feel of his hands on her neck, Samantha let her eyes go closed, simply enjoying what he was doing. He was obviously very good with his hands, and she had never been one to protest when he used them on her. She had in fact, made it quite obvious on more than one occasion just how much she loved it. The fact that after a crazy 16 hour shift she could go home to finding him there, and be welcomed in such a way -- it made going home much better still.

"Dinner..." she laughed softly, her hand softly running up and down his back. She should have probably started dinner at that point, or picked something up on the way back home, but after being at work since 5 in the morning, and not getting the chance to get out until a little after six -- she was exhausted. "I was too tired to move when I got here... Work was uneventful, but long..."

Hugging him a little, placing a small kiss to his neck just for the reason of doing so, she added, "you hungry?"

"I'm starving, but you are staying put because I'm making dinner, for you, my sweet," he said, a pre-emptive strike against what he knew to be coming. More often than not on the days she worked the longer shifts, Jack would find himself in the kitchen, making a bit of a mess and a great meal so that she could put her feet up and relax. He'd been teased mercilessly about it by both their brothers, but he knew it made her happy and that was what counted.

Giving her another big bear hug, he turned them so that she was laying on top of him, Jack's hands making quick work of any knots in her back with long, pressured strokes along her spine, every last movement intended solely to help her unwind after a long day. He couldn't imagine working 16 hours doing what she did. Sure, when he made it through the academy, his shifts would be just as long, Jack was sure that they would be (at least somewhat) less stressful than hers.

"What would my favorite person in the world like for dinner?" Whispering tenderly as he finished off her lower back, Jack's hands moved back to her hair, stroking it off her neck and letting it fall down over his arm. He wondered if she knew just how beautiful she was to him during times like these.

"See.. I knew there was a good reason for loving you.." She laughed softly as he flipped them over, her arms crossing over his chest once she was on top of him. In the time they'd been living together she'd never mentioned it, but that had always been one of the things that helped relax her the most. It didn't matter how long her day had been, or just how bad of a day it was -- the chance to lay down and relax on top of him always helped her forget everything else that was going on. Shaking her head, she laughed softly to herself at the thought that he'd become almost a sort of drug to her. She just didn't feel right if he wasn't around.

Her eyes closed, she buried her face into his neck, taking in the smell of aftershave and soap -- something she had come to immediately associate with him. It didn't matter where she was, or who she was with, just the scent alone made her think of Jack. Letting a small smile touch her lips, she placed a soft kiss to his shoulder, a small almost inaudible moan leaving her lips at what he was doing. She felt so good at that moment, that if she let herself, she'd be likely to fall asleep.

After a few minutes of not saying anything, and simply enjoying the massage she was receiving, she moved her face away from his neck in order to look down at him. Lightly biting down on her lip, she let another smile touch her lips. It seemed to her like she could do nothing else other than smile. Her fingers tracing along his sides, she gave a little shrug of her shoulder, before leaning down to place a quick kiss to his nose.

With another smile, she simply answered. "If you're cooking.. anything."

Her own perfume had caused him problems on more than one occasion. It was a popular choice among women and there had been numerous times that he'd found himself on the verge to greeting someone the way he normally greeted her--a hug and a kiss--only to at the last second realize that it was a stranger and not his Sam. It was such a strong reminder of her that he knew he could never attribute it to anyone else.

"Anything it is, then," he chuckled softly, his cheeks turning rosy at the sweet show of affection from her. He basked in those little displays, eyes closed and crinkles at the corners, smile as bright as could be; like a big dog getting its belly scratched. Any time she something, like kiss his nose, or squeeze him tight, he felt whatever weight that was on his shoulders lift. It had been her slender arms that had kept him sleeping peacefully those first few weeks and now, it was that same hold that kept only dreams in his mind during their hours of rest.

"Oh and before I forget, the kids made you some drawings. The topic of discussion today was princesses and I mentioned that I knew one personally," Jack added, giving Sam a sly grin as though nothing but fun and mischief had been involved in the drawings. "Patty told me to tell you that the next time you come down, she's going to sprinkle you with fairy dust--glitter, for those in the know--so that you'll have a good day saving people."

It was clear from how he spoke about them that Jack was incredibly fond of his kids. They ranged in age from two to six, and he doted on them almost as much as he doted on Sam. His warm attitude, tireless patience, and ability to loose himself completely in whatever activity he'd come up with for the kids made him a favorite with the parents as well. More than one single mother handed him her phone number every day, but as always, they'd go into a lopsided, careless ball in Jack's bag, completely forgotten about until he cleaned out the ruck sack for the night. Then, they'd all go into the ashtray, burning along with the ash from the occasional cigarettes he smoked out on their balcony.

Returning the affection with a gentle kiss of his own, applied sweetly to her cheek, Jack slowly sat up, easily moving Samantha so that she was back in her original position.

"Any good stories, hon? Did Mr. Hattison call you again?" Mr. Hattison was their downstairs neighbor and a man who had some very interesting ideas about pleasure. At least once a week, he would call dispatch because something was stuck. The last time he'd called, that something had been a living, breathing, scurrying animal. Jack shuddered immediately at the thought as he reluctantly moved off the couch and to the kitchen, intent on fixing them up something simple but filling.

After a quick wash of his hands, Jack got to work, peeling garlic, melting butter, and boiling water. Soon enough their kitchen would smell like a Michelin-rated restaurant, and it would look like a dumpster. He wasn't the best at 'mis en place' and tended to forget to clean as he cooked, but he never failed to make a great plate of whatever someone wanted and that was why everyone always asked him to whip them up a little something when they were over.

'Oh, Jeez'.. That was the only thing that she could think of at that mention of fairy dust. She would have to remember to keep an extra change of clothes in the car any time she went to see Jack at work. Which basically meant she wouldn't be able to leave the house with just the one uniform. The last thing she needed was to get back to the station after her break, all shiny and glittery; she would never live that one down -- everyone would make sure of it.

As much as she was not looking forward to looking like a Christmas decoration, she couldn't help but love how close Jack was to his kids. There had been enough times when she'd gone to surprise him during her lunch break -- usually bearing gifts in the form of food, but once she'd seen how lost he'd get in the class, she'd leave the food behind with some kind of note to let him know she'd been around. All it took was to see him out there one day, and she could already see what he would be like with children. Some people were born to be parents, others learned -- he was born to be one. It was clear by the way everyone related to him. He wasn't just someone getting paid to take care of kids, he was someone who truly cared about them. In that aspect, Samantha was a typical girl; at the mere sight of him with children, she'd melt. He was her best friend, but she couldn't deny the appeal of the scenario.

She'd been so lost in thought, that she had not noticed what was going on until she felt herself being moved onto the couch. With a little bit of a pout, she looked up at Jack, watching as he started heading in the direction of the kitchen. If she was to be honest with herself, the loss of the warmth he brought was almost unsettling. She knew it probably was not the best of ideas to get so attached to such a thing, but at that moment in time it was too late. Whether she told him or not, she needed him there.

After a few seconds of listening to him talk, she turned over onto her back, her eyes going closed as she talked to him. She was not as comfortable as she'd been a few minutes earlier, but it was warm, so she couldn't complain. Shaking her head at Jack's question, even though she knew he could not see her, she laughed out loud, almost answering his question with that reaction alone. "You know.. I think I'd actually be scared to walk into that house.." Turning back on her side, finding it uncomfortable to talk to him without being able to at least see him, she continued. "I don't even want to know what he has there.. much less what's going on in there."

Pushing herself off the couch, she grabbed the blanket and draped it over her shoulders as she made her way back into the kitchen. Standing behind Jack, she watched him for a few minutes, the smell of what he was so carefully -- even though messily preparing, getting even hungrier than she'd already been. "I'm starting to think he just likes creeping me out a little.." Laughing softly, she brought her hands up to his shoulders, lightly massaging the muscles there. "I gotta say, it might be working."

"After the Gerbil, I never want to see that man again," he made a grossed out face as he stirred the sauce, the shrimp already cooking away in another pot.

Feeling her behind him, he lifted his free hand, his universal signal for her to snuggle up close. With the height difference between them, it made it easy for her to slot in at his side, his barrel chest and big arm more than enough to keep her comfortably snug. Jack barely noticed how much of a 'couple' thing it was to do what they did. To him, it just felt natural. They shared everything, from conversation to food, to living space. Despite the apartment having two bedroom, his remained untouched for the most part. It was simply a closet, a room he went into merely to fold clothes, or play computer games when he knew Sam was busy and didn't want to be bothered. It had a bed, sure, but the sheets were clean and still crisply folded down, military style. Jack hadn't slept in the bed he bought for the last eight months.

Thinking further on the subject, he realized that he'd never even really asked for permission to share her room. The change had progressed wordlessly. Where at first he would come in at some ungodly hour, quiet as a mouse despite his size, and slide in behind her, now, he merely padded in behind her, and sank down onto the cozy mattress as though it were his own room.

A smile graced his features as he took the shrimp off, picking one out carefully and blowing on it until he figured it suitable enough not to burn someone's tongue. Glancing down at Sam, he offered it to her silently, knowing she would tell him if it needed salt or any other spice. She had become his official taste-tester from day one and he valued her judgment above all else.

"Glad you came home in one piece," he murmured, compelled to tell her the same thing every day, just so she knew how much she meant to him. Eyes soft and filled with nothing but adoration for her, he pressed a kiss to her temple as he took the sauce off the burner and set it aside to cool while the fettuccine finished cooking.

She still wasn't sure how the change had occurred, but every day she grew to like their arrangement even more. Most people didn't understand it, and those who claimed to do so, only teased her about it. 'an old married couple' that's what her brother called them whenever he was around. Things had not gotten any better the day he showed up to find them sleeping in the same room. After that night, there was no convincing him there wasn't anything going on between them. In all honesty, she didn't care. Both Jack and herself knew what was going on, and that's what mattered -- and even if there had been more than friendship there, it was nobody else's business.

Taking in a deep breath, she took in the aroma of the shrimp and pasta he was cooking. He had always been a great cook, and she found herself loving moments like that one. With a smile, she took the shrimp she was being offered, savoring it for a few seconds before giving him a thumbs up. "Another successful meal.." She laughed, closing her eyes when he placed the kiss to her temple.

Resting her head against his shoulder, she let an arm drape around him as he cooked. Sometimes Samantha wondered why her life with Jack, and the life she led away from him were so different. At home she was calmer, less reckless.. a lot more like a regular person -- and less like someone who lived for, and thrived on dangerous situations. Her job, her hobbies -- even that afternoon, when she'd helped a guy get a place to sleep in, she'd been taking a risk. It was just the way she was, and without her best friend around to knock some sense into her, and point out when something was probably a bad idea. she wasn't likely to change. She was the type of person to dive head first into anything, regardless of the outcome.

That was probably exactly the same reason why she'd made the decision she had a few days ago. Her job was incredible, and she loved every minute of it, but she wanted to do more; she needed to do more. She hadn't mentioned it to Jack yet, but in just a little over a month she'd be headed out to Texas -- finally able to get the training she'd wanted for a while. It was a good opportunity, one which she couldn't skip out on, and one which she hoped he would join her on. Playing her fingers along his back, she tilted her head up to look at him. "Not your birthday.. and not Hawaii.. but, what would you say to a week in Austin..?" Shrugging her shoulders, she joked, "I can work my ass off.. you can give me a massage to look forward to.."

"It's that training course, right? Your boss told me about it when he called to see if I wanted a ticket to the Christmas party. I say you should definitely go for it. I don't know if I'll be able to get off work that long, but I'll put in the request regardless. Even if I can only stay three days, it'd be a nice break from this crap weather," he reasoned, his face clearly showing just how proud he was of her for taking that next step. He wanted to come for the full week and already, was trying to think of ways to sweet talk his boss, a woman known only for her iron fist, into letting him go the full stay.

Turning off the burners, he lifted the built-in strainer out of the pot and let the water run off the noodles, leaving them just a little wet as he then stirred them in with the sauce and shrimp.

"So what exactly are you going to learn down there? Boss man gave me an overview, but you know me..." Jack made a motion with his free hand, a wordless indication of his difficulty comprehending new information on the first try. It wasn't something he talked about, but it was plain as day to anyone who knew him. His inability to have things sink in on the first try was the biggest reason why he hadn't signed up for the police academy yet. Jack knew he was hiding behind his current job, knew that he could do better, but the fear of failing, especially in a similar field to Sam's, was something he wasn't ready to deal with yet.

Once the pasta was good and coated, Jack began to plate things, making sure each got an equal portion and more than enough shrimp. His attention to detail was unmistakable, and as with anything else he did around the house, it was done with care and a certain, unspoken amount of love. When he was satisfied that everything was to his and Sam's liking, he brought both plates over to their coffee table, making sure none of his prized photography books were in the way before setting everything down and taking his customary seat on the floor; it gave Sam free reign of the couch, still allowed her a clear view of the TV, and gave him ample leg room while eating. All in all, it was the perfect spot.

Ah.. the Christmas party.." Apparently her boss had beat her to it. She had tried mentioning it to him earlier that week, but had gotten so busy with work that she had been unable to get back to him. Now that her boss had done the honors of bringing the conversation back up, it was her turn at convincing him to go. "Yeah.. you've got no option on that one.. you've been outvoted.." In all honesty, she wasn't sure whether he wanted to go or not, but she had every intention on changing his mind if it turned out that he didn't. It was going to be fun, and she wanted her best friend around.

"It's like a mini police academy.." She answered his question, watching as he put the finishing touches to his dinner. They had been living together for about a year, but even then, she was still impressed with his ability to put together a very good dinner. She could easily say he was the better cook in that household. Following him out into their living room, she got comfortable on their couch, smiling a little as she watched him take his usual spot on the floor. She knew his reasoning for it, and she couldn't deny that while for different reasons altogether, she did love it as well. Resting her head on his shoulder, she placed a small kiss to his cheek, softly whispering against his ear. "Thanks.. it all looks good."

As they ate their dinner, she eventually found herself going from her spot on the couch, to sitting on the floor right next to him. As comfortable as she was, and as easy as that position made it for her to touch him, sometimes she preferred the simple contact of being next him. Going back to his previous question of her training, she started once again, her head rested against his shoulder as she did so. "The best word for it is hostile..hostage situations, shootings.. That type of thing.. Once I'm done, I'll be going in those calls as well."

Stretching her feet out in front of her, she smiled softly at him, knowing police work was something he was aiming for, and knowing she'd get the chance of working with him more often by doing what she was doing. "Basically, I'll be working with the police department as much as I will fire.."

Jack stiffened a little at the word 'hostile'. He knew all its connotations full well and while he knew he couldn't stop her from doing it, he also didn't want her to because it increased her chances of being in a dangerous situation; one in which unless he made it onto the brass, he wouldn't be able to help her through. His eyes saddened visibly at the thought of her going into those types of situations and Jack found it hard to control his breathing, images of his own team's medics and what they had to deal with coming to mind.

A hitched breath escaped him before he gave her a forced smile. It wasn't his place to tell her what to do, but every last inch of him was screaming no. Of course, his mind, battered by war and trained to react violently to almost any threat, was in overdrive, showing him only the worst-case scenario, but Jack couldn't stop it any more than he could stop his own breathing. The best thing to do when things got overwhelming in his head was to remove himself from the situation. With blurry vision, Jack slowly extricated himself from his spot and, grabbing his pack of Marlboros, headed out to their balcony to have a smoke and try to regain control of his wild thoughts.

Is this how army wives felt when their men went off to war? Worried every second of every day even though the truth was monotonous and boring? Jack squeezed his eyes shut, willing the image of her trapped in a bad spot to go away. He didn't realize it, but he was groaning as if in pain, the sounds soft and deep, like a bull at the end of a fight.

Watching Jack slowly pick himself up from the floor, and head out in the direction of their balcony, she knew something wasn't right with him. For starters, he didn't smoke -- not in front of her, usually. That was something he usually did when he was alone, or if something wasn't right. Pushing herself up off the floor, she followed him out as well. "Jack..?" She spoke softly, almost as if scared to push him back further into himself.

She suddenly felt the way she did a year back, when he'd just returned from his tours, and had been broken from everything that he'd seen. There were so many things which had triggered that reaction from him back then, that she'd at times been scared to do or say something that might do just that. She had hated seeing him that way back then, and she hated seeing him that way now. He was her best friend, the closest person to her, really, and her inability to do anything to make him feel better, it was an upsetting one.

Standing behind him, she let her arms wrap around him, hugging him tightly to her. While she didn't know what was going through his mind, she knew it wasn't anything little, not when it had gotten him that way. "Hon.. what is it?" She whispered softly, one hand moving to lightly scratch along his back. "You wanna talk to me..?" If things were going to be like they were a year back, she knew it would be hard to get him to open up, but she still hoped things wouldn't be as bad as they seemed to be at that second, and that he'd let her in.

Moving to stand in front of him, she took a hold of his hand, pulling him with her until her back touched the railing. Pushing herself up to sit on it, she pulled him to her, her arms going to wrap around his waist once more. It was a chilly night, and the snow was still falling behind them, only being protected from it by the roof over their heads. In spite of it all, the night was a beautiful one, and she hoped at least that would help clear his mind. "You know I'm here, right.. I can listen.." Shrugging her shoulder just a little, she gave him a sad smile, ".. or I can just sit here with you.. we'll talk when you're ready.."

Jack had learned a lot about communicating in the real world that first year. He'd seen how easy it was to hurt those around him by shutting them out, and while at times it was unavoidable, Jack had slowly learned to control the impulse of keeping people out of his head by just being honest and letting the consequences play out, good or bad. It had been Sam's patience, her willingness to listen, and her unwavering support that brought him to where he was now; well-adjusted, happy, and actually living life.

Taking a drag off the smoke and being careful not to blow it in her direction, he let her move him, finding it oddly amusing that she could do so with the greatest of ease, despite the fact that he was so much bigger than her. When she was settled, he relaxed into her arms, tucking his face down so it rested on her shoulder, eyes, nose, and mouth hidden by her hair.

"I'm scared that once you're done, they're going to throw you into situations that will be dangerous. That you're going to see things first hand that no one should have to face on a daily basis. That you'll end up with a brain that's as messed up as mine." The words were whispered and each syllable held so much anguish that it was nearly palpable. Jack wrapped his free arm around her, the other held out to the side, the smoke off the cigarette blowing away from them.

He blew out a sigh, his chest uncomfortable and heavy, a feeling that he hadn't felt in a good long while. Jack hugged her close as best he could, careful not to lean too hard, in case she lose her balance. While they weren't the highest distance from the ground, it still wouldn't be pretty if she fell.

"It's okay for me to be messed up, but I don't want that to happen to you. The things I've seen...the things you'll see, while not in a war, will still change you and not for the better necessarily. I know I can't make you do or not do something. I know it's not my place, but I just worry and I don't--" The more he spoke, the more choked his voice became, Jack unable to stop the images from coming back. Sure, she wouldn't be in the middle east, dealing with those sorts of terrors, but there was still plenty of horrible things that happened stateside.

Sniffling, he pulled away enough to look at her face-to-face. He managed a wet smile, his eyes uncertain, but still very much filled with the deepest fondness for his best friend.

"I will back your play no matter what you choose. I just want you to be sure, that's all. If you can handle it, then I can as well. I just want you to be sure. Just want you to be sure." The last sentence was whispered, his hand moving from her back to her cheek, Jack cupping it gently before kissing her forehead tenderly.

It was almost as if she was stuck between a wall and a very hard place. In one end, he was her best friend, and she wanted -- needed - to make sure he was okay and happy. While she had been successful in doing so a year before -- not without a lot of hard work and patience -- it seemed that she was failing at that very moment. It was her very decision of going a different direction with her career that had caused that reaction from him. She had mentioned it before, the training, at least, but she had never truly gotten into detail of what it was that she would be doing. While not exactly sure, in the back of her mind she'd probably expected that kind of reaction from him; He'd always had a bit of a protective side to him.

If she was to be honest about it, even if it had been a fairly long time since then, she still had not been too happy when both Jack and her brother had left from the vacation they had both spent with her. She had just met Jack at the time, but something had just clicked between them, and they had been inseparable ever since. She had been going through a very hard time with the loss of her fiance, and the thought that her brother, and someone she'd quickly claimed as a best friend were going to step foot into a situation no one should ever be in, had not helped matters much. It wasn't something she talked about, or even thought about, any more; It was something of the past, and something which she wanted to leave there.

Sighing softly, she rested her forehead against his, smiling softly, almost as if trying to lighten the mood. She knew it wasn't exactly going to be that easy to do; when he got in the mood he was in, it took plenty of work to get him out of it once more -- something she hoped she'd be able to do that night.

Listening to him talk, she placed a quick kiss to his cheek, pulling him closer to her as she pushed herself off the railing. She could tell he was trying to be careful not to hold her too tightly, and she for one was not having any of it. At that moment, she needed him close to her. "No, Jack.. it is not okay for you to go through what you have.. it's not okay for you to live with those things on a daily basis.." Shaking her head at the logic, she lightly tugged at him, hoping to go back inside, but not wanting to rush him either.

"I know what you're doing.. and, I love you for it, I do.. but.. you don't have to put yourself through this." She wasn't just saying it to say it, either. She knew the things she would be walking into probably weren't the best of them, and she would definitely go home on more than one occasion drained both physically and emotionally, but as long as she had her best friend to go home to, and was able to let go of her day and relax, she would be okay. "It's going to be hard.. I'm sure.. but, I'll be okay.. I just need to know that you're there.. that I if I have a bad day I can go home and curl up in bed.. and you'll be there to make me forget about it.."

Running her hands over her face, she let her eyes go closed and let out a deep breath. Looking up at Jack, she tried giving him a reassuring smile. "I just need my best friend there.. everything else will be okay.."

Jack's own eyes were a little wet as he let her move him this way and that, making sure to keep close to her at all times. When she tugged, he flicked the cigarette off the balcony and let her lead him back in. Her words made sense, as they always had, and he nodded even though he didn't say a word. The whole thing exhausted him mentally and he had the zombie-esque face he'd come to her with a year ago.

Once they were back in the warmth of the apartment, Jack took her hand and began walking to their room, intent on doing exactly as she'd described and wrapping her up so that for that night, at least, no one could hurt her. Training or no training, Jack knew the things she would see would leave a mark and that, more so than any gunfire or hostage situation, was what worried him most.

Closing the door behind her, Jack ran a quick mental check of the kitchen, replaying his time there to make sure he'd turned off everything. Satisfied that he had, he let go of her hand and began to undress. Jack hated wearing his street clothes in the house, preferring usually to hang around in lounge pants or basketball shorts and a t-shirt. Tonight however, he was too tired to even bother that much so, as if on autopilot, he simply shucked his sweater, his shirt, his jeans, and his socks and climbed into bed, taking up his usual side and waiting for her to crawl in beside him.

Jack needed her close tonight. Needed to feel that she was there, warm and safe in his arms. She fit together with him as though they were two pieces of a puzzle, and Jack wasn't sure whether it was luck or something more meaningful, but they slotted together perfectly; her head on his chest, his arms covering her back, their legs tangled together. There was no place on earth that was more soothing to him, and Jack knew he wouldn't get a wink of sleep without having that feeling of peace and comfort wash over him like a wave.

He wasn't quite where she wanted him to be yet, but he at least seemed to be letting himself relax a bit. Tracing her finger along his nose, she gave it a small tap, not liking the sight of what looked like tears in his eyes. It had been such a long time since she had seen him that upset, and the knowledge that it was her doing hurt more than she could have ever imagined.

Watching him rid himself of his clothes, and crawl into bed, she smiled softly. At least he was letting go of if enough to let her be near him. Once he was settled in bed, she followed suit, stripping down to her underwear, before pulling one of his oversized shirts over her head. That had quickly become a habit she'd found hard to break, and until he was to say something about it, she was very unlikely to stop.

Crawling into bed next to him, her arm automatically went to drape around him, one foot between his. Most people would find their sleeping arrangements to be odd, especially since they were only friends, both were young, and single; that had not been something to cross her mind before, though. She was comfortable with their choices, and wouldn't change them.

Leaning up just enough, she placed a small kiss to his temple; a sense of Deja vu hitting her she did so. "it's been a long day..." She mumbled softly, her lips brushing over his eyes, before molding her body to his, her head hiring at the crook of his neck. "You should sleep.."

This kiss caused Jack to close his eyes, tears slipping slowly down his cheek as he tightened his hold on her. The feeling of needing to protect her was back full force, and Jack may as well have been standing in the path of a hurricane for how tossed around he felt inside.

Cupping the back of her head with the same gentle touch he reserved for the kids he worked with, Jack pressed kiss after kiss to the top of her head, his face a mask of despair.

"Please, no matter what you do, just be safe, okay? I can't breathe without you." The words were whispered, honest and intense, Jack needing her to know that he could not imagine a life without her in it.

Rolling them over so that she was on top, he used her weight to press against his ribcage, calming his breathing and easing his anxiety. There was no missing the fact that she was there now, despite how little she weighed. She was in his arms, pressing against his chest, and breathing warm against his neck. Everything would be okay.

Jack pulled their sheets and duvet up so that along with his arms and legs wrapped around hers, the linens formed a cocoon around her. He would get no sleep, but at the very least, he could ensure that she did. As he often found himself doing on nights when he was either too tired, or too upset to turn on the radio, Jack began humming softly, the tune on pitch, and the melody slow. Eyes closing, he didn't realize his own body was dragging him down into sleep. All Jack knew as that she was there, she was resting, and that she was safe in his arms.

He couldn't remember the name of the song, but it was something he'd heard dozens of times over, and it was soft enough to lull them both into dreamless sleep.