"General?" She was surprised by his appearance on her doorstop. They rarely made unplanned visits to each other off base, only in cases of emergency. What had happened? "Is everything alright, Sir?"
"That's what I came to ask you Carter. Can I come in?"
"Sorry. Of course. Can I get you a coffee, or something?"
"Sure. Coffee's good."
He followed her through to the kitchen, watching in silence as she made coffee and led him into her living room with it. They sat down together on her couch and she looked at him expectantly.
"So, what brings you here, Sir?" She asked.
"I just..." He paused, seemingly a little unprepared, "I just wanted to see how you're doin'."
"That's good of you Sir. I'm fine."
He merely cocked an eyebrow to query her statement and she looked down at her coffee cup, unwilling to meet his inquisitive gaze. His eyes showed his concern very clearly and made her feel slightly self-conscious. When she didn't answer his unspoken enquiry, he continued.
"Don't kid a kidder, Carter. You don't have to lie to me. I thought we were friends. You haven't been yourself and I wouldn't expect you to be. Jacob... well, we'll all miss him, but he was your father. I want you to know that I'm here for you... if you need me."
She looked up at him again, a faint smile meeting his concern.
"I know that, Sir, I really do."
"Good. I know you've got Pete, so you don't need me around, but..."
"Pardon?" He was taken aback, not sure of her meaning.
"There's no Pete anymore. We broke up."
"Oh!" Why hadn't he known about this, he wondered? He should have known, it bothered him that he didn't and he wasn't quite sure how to react - happy for himself or sad for her. "I'm sorry Carter. What happened? When?"
"I broke it off just after dad died."
"Wasn't the timing a little off?" He wondered if it was one of those dumb things you do when you're grieving, instead of the level-headed decision it should have been.
"It wasn't anything to do with dad dying. I knew before that. I just... it took me a while to figure it out is all."
"Oh," He paused to study her, "well, if you need a shoulder, Carter, I'm here."
He was a little flustered by her break up with Pete. Although she had expressed doubts she never got to finish what she was going to say to him because Kerry had been there. That had been pretty embarrassing. Talk about bad timing!
"I can't think of a better shoulder." She smiled, but still looked sad.
"I'll keep it vacant for you." He offered, moving closer and placing his arm around her shoulder. She leaned her head on it, taking his hand and caressing it just as she had the day her father died. Jack's stomach was in knots with a mixture of anxiety and pleasure.
"I'd like that... Jack."
He froze, arching his eyebrows in surprise, heart hammering. Jack?
Suddenly his mouth was dry and he imagined he'd croaked rather than spoken it. Instead of replying directly, Sam appeared to change the subject.
"Dad really liked you."
"And what about you?" He replied, nervously steering the conversation back onto the track he believed it had been taking.
"I really like you too." She confessed, simply.
Jack nodded and squeezed her hand, running his fingers through her hair affectionately.
"So I do okay in the Carter book, huh?"
"You sure do. More coffee?" She asked abruptly.
Suddenly feeling awkward, she let him go and stood up before he could say or do anything more, going back out to the kitchen. He followed her again, watching her fiddle with the coffee pot and mugs, her back turned towards him. He had an overwhelming desire to walk over, enfold her in his arms and kiss her delicate pale neck, which he quickly suppressed.
"I wish you'd told me about Pete." He said.
"I was going to. Things have been a bit... It's been hard. It hasn't really been that long."
"No. I just... wish you'd said something."
"What would you have me say?" She said a little too sharply, turning to look at him.
"I don't know. I-I... Crap! We aren't going to get into an argument are we?"
"No, I'm sorry. You're right, I should have told you. I just... I didn't know how to, or what you would think when I did. I'm sorry. I'm a little edgy."
"I think, under the circumstances, you have that right."
"Not with my CO."
"I'm here as your friend."
She nodded and turned back to concentrate on the coffee, needing to break the hold of his eyes. That could be tough to do with Jack sometimes.
"Besides, Jacob asked me to look after his little girl." He added.
"He did? Is that why you're here? Well, I'm not his little girl anymore. You don't have to."
"But I'd like to." He stopped breathing, awaiting her reaction.
"I'd like you to as well." She still had her back turned, playing with the carafe of coffee, unable to face him. "But..." Again he held his breath. But? For crying out loud, hadn't there been enough buts already? "But, I'm not ready Jack." What the heck did that mean?
"I-I don't understand." He stammered.
Summoning some courage, she turned to look him right in the eye.
"I mean dad just died and I need some time."
"Oh. So, do you think you'll ever be ready?" He asked gingerly.
It seemed they were almost talking in code, but it was a code that they both understood very well.
"I think so"
"Okay. Then I'll be, waiting."
"Will you? I hope so because I'd like that a lot."
"You must know I will, Sam. Always."
She smiled and he returned it, both looking like a pair of gawky teenagers. And this was how they reached their understanding: their time would come and it would be soon. Now that they both knew it was possible, and what they wanted, they were both happy to wait a while longer, despite that they had already waited what seemed to be an eternity.
They returned to their previous position on the couch, Sam's head on his shoulder, his arm around her, holding hands. Nothing more; it was enough to be going on with.
"Are you really sorry Pete and I split up?" She asked, breaking the now comfortable silence.
"What do you think?" His tone dripped with sarcasm.
"You came although you knew Pete might have been here, Jack. I appreciate that."
"Actually, I knew he wouldn't be here. I called the cops to find out if he was on duty. He's still in the Springs. Is he staying here?"
"You called the cops?" She laughed.
"What's so funny? I wanted to catch you alone."
"I'm glad we're alone, although there's always the risk of Daniel. His timing generally stinks." She joked, and Jack grinned to himself. How true that was.
"If he shows up I'll whup his ass." He declared.
"So... about Pete?" Jack asked reluctantly, not really wanting to talk about him but needing to know what her ex was up to.
"He's not staying in the Springs; he's transferring back to Denver PD."
"That's a relief." He admitted.
"He isn't a threat to you. It doesn't matter where he is."
"I guess I'll feel better if I know he's not hanging around."
"Me too. Jealous?" She dared to ask it. He had barely shown his feelings about her relationship with Pete and she wanted to probe a little further, if he'd let her.
"What do you think, Sam? I tried hard to be happy for you and convince myself that you were doing the right thing."
"You never thought he was right?"
"What do I know? I'm not exactly objective. It wasn't my call."
'It could have been.' Sam thought, but didn't say anything. It was way too complicated to be that simple.
"Unless you really need to talk about this, do you think we can change the subject?" He asked. He didn't even want to remember that Pete existed, let alone talk about him.
"Okay. We don't have to talk about him. So, what else did dad say to you?" She was more than a little curious.
"If I told ya, I'd have to shoot ya." He joked.
"Funny. I'm serious!"
"I know, but that man to man stuff is just as private as that woman to woman stuff, Sam."
"So you aren't telling?"
"No. Sworn to secrecy."
"Goes with the job."
"And this has exactly what to do with the job?"
"Well, it's a hard habit to break. Besides, I am still your CO."
"Don't I know it!"
"I guess maybe I'm gonna have to do something about that one day."
"Or I am."
"We'll cross that bridge..."
There was more silence as they pondered that disagreeable fact, which Jack eventually broke.
"He did say he liked me, which was cool."
"I already knew that."
"I know. I'm just sayin'..."
"Uh, huh. Any other scraps you wanna share? After all, it must have been one of the last conversations he had before he died."
"Hey, don't pull that one on me Sam. That's not fair. You think you're going to guilt me into talking about it?"
"Worth a try." She grinned wickedly. "I'm just curious."
"He was a good man. Isn't that enough to know?"
"Yes he was, wasn't he? There was a time when I thought he wasn't. I feel a little guilty about that."
"You shouldn't. He knew you loved and respected him. You had all those extra years, remember?"
He was thinking about their short conversation in the observation room just before Jacob died. If that had never happened he might not be there now and this gave Jack some pause for thought.
"Of course I remember. I'm glad you were there Jack."
He was uncertain whether she referred to him being there on that particular day, or for the past few years. In the end it didn't matter which because his response would have been the same.
"I guess I'm glad you're in my life Jack. That day, all the days, and especially today."
"How about tomorrow?"
"And the day after."
He squeezed her affectionately and she lifted her head to look into his eyes.
"And the day after that?" He added.
"Are you makin' fun of me?" he chuckled.
"Would I do that to a superior officer?" This time her tone was definitely mocking. "Anyway, isn't that more your style?"
"Yes sirree, I love making fun of superior officers."
"And more junior ones."
"It's one of my many talents."
They both laughed and then fell silent. The room was darkening around them, the day drawing to a close, but they ignored the onset of night for a while. Jack was thinking about what Jacob had said about having faith. He had lacked faith but figured that some of that had been restored today.
Although he was reluctant to move, breaking the spell and bringing this moment to an end, Sam had asked for time and he wanted to let her have it. This had already gone beyond what it should have and they both had some thinking to do.
"I guess I ought to get goin'. If I hang around much longer you might never get rid of me." He said after the longest time.
"I'm not sure I want to get rid of you exactly, but you're right, you should go."
She had similar reasons for agreeing, but was also reluctant, and sounded regretful. They had said so little but it had meant so much. They got up and she put on some lights, walking him to the door.
"If you need me, just call. Anytime, Sam." He said as he crossed the threshold.
She nodded and he turned away, walking towards his truck. She watched and thought he wouldn't turn back, but he did.
"I had a crazy thought." He said. "How about we all go to the cabin for a few days. You, me, Daniel and Teal'c.
"All four of us? To Minnesota?" She walked over to him.
"Know any other cabins I might be referring to? It could be fun to get the old team together; a little R&R, maybe a spot of fishing: loons; loofahs; sky-blue waters; yadda." As he spoke, her grin broadened.
"Mosquitoes?" She cocked her head, her smile teasing.
"Well, nothin's perfect. What do you think?"
"I think I'd like that."
"You would? You mean I finally get you to the cabin? Great! The guys can play chaperone. You know what will happen if we go alone and, however much I would like that..." he tailed off.
"Yeah, that thing that would inevitably have happened if I'd accepted any of your previous invitations."
He smiled, wanting to kiss her but knowing it would be the wrong thing to do right now.
"I'll see if I can persuade Daniel and Teal'c."
"Cool! Okay. I'm really goin' this time."
Impulsively, she kissed him on the cheek, whispering in his ear.
"I do love you, Jack O'Neill."
He grinned boyishly, nodding, getting into his truck and trying not to look back, but he couldn't help himself and he gave a small wave. As he drove off he was thinking, 'Me too, Sam, me too.'