Understandings and Misunderstandings
If he went into the house and waited she would be really pissed. She'd probably be pissed anyway but, if he broke in, there'd be hell to pay. So he sat outside, watching, waiting for her to come home.
He'd been through it all: anger; resentment; hurt; bitter regret. Now he felt numb, that was it, numb. Must be the whiskey.
What the hell was he doing here? He couldn't quite believe he was doing this. It was crazy. He didn't do this stuff. This was so not Jack O'Neill. But something had changed. Something had broken inside him and he needed to try and fix it. Otherwise…otherwise he couldn't live with himself, he'd crack.
The effect of the whiskey was beginning to wear off. Jack's system could take a lot of alcohol and he'd certainly had plenty. But its courage inducing effect was evaporating rapidly. What if he lost his nerve before she got here? The great, fearless Jack O'Neill loosing his nerve? It was ridiculous. But he didn't feel great and fearless. He never really had. That was the O'Neill myth. The myth was a handy cover.
He couldn't just let her go. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. So he waited, motionless, in the cool night air.
He’d always thought he'd be happy if she was happy. So, what if he wasn't happy? It didn't matter. As long as she was happy. He'd sacrifice it all for that. He just had to know that she was happy.
18:45, that day
When she'd told him she couldn't come he had backed out of the drink with the guys. He wanted to be alone, get quietly dunk. Hell, he actually wanted to get very noisily and obnoxiously drunk. The sort of drunk that would have him appearing shame faced in front of General Hammond the next morning; noisily, obnoxiously and depressingly drunk.
He found a little bar that none of the others frequented, taking up residence in a dark corner, a surly and solitary looking figure. He was always accusing her of over thinking things. Now it was his turn to over think. It was a lousy habit.
The drinks went down quickly, far too quickly, alcohol being a depressant and all. Deep down he knew that he was probably making himself feel worse. He wanted to feel worse. He wanted to get falling down drunk, and to feel worse. And before that he wanted to get good and fighting drunk and punch someone on the nose. He'd be grateful to be facing Hammond in the morning, feeling a lot, lot worse. He wanted to feel as bad as he could possibly feel. If he hit rock bottom he could only go up again, right? How much worse could he feel? He knocked back one more whiskey, swiftly followed by another, in an effort to find out.
Was he just going to take it? Just let her go? He knew that if Daniel was with him he'd try to persuade him to do something about it. He could picture it, Daniel, pushing his glasses up his nose, leaning towards him over the table and peering.
"Jack, for God's sake speak to her. At least speak to her. Tell her how you feel."
Good old Daniel. Always trying. She knows, Daniel. She knows how I feel. She does know, doesn't she? Maybe he should go over, profess his undying love or something. He could never do that. Never. That was not Jack O'Neill. He didn't do that stuff, and certainly not to his second.
He had thought they had an understanding. One day… How wrong he was, how totally and utterly wrong. But if this was what she wanted, didn't he want her to be happy? Sure he did. He figured that he mostly wanted her to be happy with him, though. But she wasn't. Otherwise she wouldn't…
All this time he had thought there was something special between them. Wrong again. How could he have been so wrong? Nothing special, nothing between them. No siree. It hurt. It hurt so much that it was almost unbearable. He could hardly think straight, hardly breathe, hardly live.
Maybe he should never have left it in room. Maybe he should have taken it out of the room a long time ago. Was there any point in regretting it? He could never have taken it out of the room. That’s what he was best at. Hiding things away, suppressing them, containing them, and controlling them. Hell, sure he regretted it. Just chalk it up alongside that very long line of regrets he had notched up over the years: Charlie; Sara; four months in an Iraqi hellhole, even Frank Cromwell... Too many regrets. This wasn't the worst of them. Charlie was first in line and always would be, of course. But for right now, this would so not be considered as one of the high points of his life.
He had no right. He knew that. No right to crash into her private life. But he was letting her slip away from him. He just had to know she was happy, that was all. Daniel would probably encourage him to ask her. Hey, Sam, are you happy without me in your life? Yeah, sure you are…why wouldn't you be?
Once he had drunk himself into a suitably maudlin state, he left. Daniel was sitting on one shoulder, whispering quietly, and his own alter ego was sitting on the other, shouting loudly.
17:15, that day
Without waiting for a reply to his knock, he sauntered into Sam's lab.
"Carter…?" He was talking to himself. The cupboard was bare. "Sam?" Just in case. Maybe she was hiding under the desk or something. He smiled at that thought. Sure, he might do something like that, but Sam…?
She breezed in, disturbing his thoughts and looking like she was about to go home. That surprised him. Sam never left the SGC this early.
"Sir? Can I help you?" She was dashing over to her desk, picking up her bag. "I left this behind otherwise I'd be gone already."
"Leaving so early Carter? Shame on you. Perhaps I should report you AWOL? That would give Hammond palpitations"
"He knows I'm leaving earlier tonight"
"And I don’t…? Because…?
Avoiding that question, Sam looked at him enquiringly. "So, Colonel, did you want something in particular?"
"Well, Danny, Teal'c and I were thinking of going for a drink tonight. Wanna come with?"
"I can't Sir. Sorry. Not tonight"
"Oh…? Gotta hot date, Carter? That why you're leaving so early? Gotta get all dressed up for something special?" He should have known not to ask, not to be so flippant.
"As a matter of fact, Sir, yes, yes and yes." Hiding her embarrassment with a cough, she smiled brightly at him.
Jack was stunned. He felt he must look like a goldfish, opening and closing his mouth but nothing doing. Sam sensed his discomfort and tried to make light of it.
"Well I do have a life outside of this place, Sir. You kept ordering me to get one, so I did." An even brighter smile appeared on her face and Jack’s stomach took a very nasty turn.
Finding his voice, he stuttered, "You never said. I thought…"
What? Did he think that she was still interested in him? He was disappointed, irate, devastated, if truth be told. She could have said. She could at least have hinted. Then he could have let it go and got on with his own life. Well maybe not that, but he surely deserved to know. He had thought…
"And you didn't see fit to mention it?" The words escaped him before he could stop them. He sounded angry. Crap, he was angry. Sam was caught on the defensive and lashed back at him.
"I'm not sure that it's any of your business what I do off duty, Sir." It came out sounding worse than she intended, but he caught its meaning only too well and flinched inside
"Yeah, I get it Carter! I get it!" And he stormed abruptly from the room.
23:15 that night
She had been in a bad mood all night but tried to hide it. She wanted to have a good time. Wasn't that rather the point of a date? But she didn’t. She knew when it had started. The Colonel. He could be so infuriating sometimes. It really was none of his business. He had no right.
The first thing she saw as they approached the house was his truck, then him. He was waiting. He looked like he might have been waiting a while. Her anger started taking the upper hand. What the hell was he doing here? How dare he come here! He knew she was out on a date. This was supposed to be THAT date. It had been a long time since she…
Frankly, she was glad of the excuse to get rid of Bob. She really wasn't in the mood. Great excuse, beats a headache. Jack was her CO; something important must have come up at work. That he had neatly provided an excuse, albeit a lie, didn't change the fact that she was pissed with Jack. He was so gonna get it. Giving Bob a small peck on the cheek, she got out of the car. Her anger was just waiting for the right time, and that time was quickly approaching.
Stalking furiously towards her house, she barely acknowledged Jack’s existence. She merely gestured with her head for him to follow her inside. Jack's heart thudded desperately. He knew she was pissed. He knew he was for it. He decided to take it on the chin, let her say her piece. Let her scream at him, even hit him if that’s what it took. If they both went into the house guns blazing it would be hell. He was surprised at himself. This was so not Jack O'Neill. He felt a cold dread envelope him.
Only when she took off her coat did Sam let rip. Jack was barely through the door.
"This isn’t business, is it, Sir?" It was said abruptly, rudely, a disrespectful emphasis on the Sir.
"No." Jack was quiet. Subdued. Although surprised by that, it didn’t deter her. She should have realised what it meant, but she ignored the warning signs.
"Ok, Jack!" She emphasised his name, spitting it vehemently, and he cringed inside, externally impassive. She hardly ever called him Jack. It disturbed him that she used his name thus now. "How dare you try interfering with my private life! How dare you wait outside my home for me as if you were my father waiting make sure I came back on time from my date!" Jack was startled by the comparison to her father. Is that how she thought of him these days, protector, father figure, old? Was that how wide the gulf had become? Oblivious, she continued. "You have no right. It’s none of your business."
He knew that was true. By being here, he was making it his business. She was much more pissed at him than he had imagined. This was going to be worse than he’d anticipated.
"I can't…God…! Don’t you think I get lonely? Don’t you think that I long for someone to hold me, to touch me, to love me?" I love you, he thought, but he said nothing, just waited for her to get it all out.
"Don’t you think I need someone to keep me company? To share dinner with, go on holidays with, go places with. Someone to listen to my troubles and my joys, to sit in comfortable silences with and, bluntly Jack, to have sex with? I want something of my own outside of the SGC. I haven’t been…with any man for …a very long time. I can't go on like that forever. I have to get a life. You’re always telling me that. You can't have expected that I'd wait for you!" The emphasis on the final word hit him, hard. It made him sound like something slightly nasty that she'd picked up off the sidewalk. He shrank inside.
But she was right. He had told her to get a life. Repeatedly. Now she seemed to have done that and he didn’t like it. Anyway, he’d meant for her to take up knitting or something, hadn’t he? In his heart he knew that wasn't really what he had meant. He had imagined she should move on and be happy. He had imagined that he could let her go but, deep inside, he had never really expected her to.
In a spiteful and bitter tone, she continued. "You can be so cold Jack, so distant, and unfeeling sometimes. You've been trying to shut me out for so long I'd forgotten we were meant to be friends. How exactly do you expect me to react to that? Ignore it? I can take a hint, Jack." Each time she spoke his name, it was as the very first time she had spoken it tonight. She had never used this tone with him before. It shocked and wounded him deeply. The use of his name rubbed more salt into those wounds.
"We don’t even really know each other." He thought that she probably knew him more intimately than any woman he had ever known, even Sara, but he remained silent. "We've worked together all these years and I might know Colonel Jack O’Neill, but not Jack. You may know Major Samantha Carter, but not Sam. And we will never know." He was screaming inside. It’s not true. Tell me that it isn’t true. Tell me that it doesn’t matter, none of it matters. But it obviously did matter, to her. The words 'we will never know' echoed through his head.
She was so right. The real Jack wasn't a very interesting guy. And he carried way too much baggage. Okay, some people might see him as a hero. He could passably lead a team. He could make people laugh. Make them cry too, he’d found, far too frequently. He might even appear interesting on the surface - as Colonel Jack O’Neill, maybe, but plain old Jack? She would find him tedious within the first five minutes, even though he’d always been able to make her laugh. He thought he had that going for him at least, his ability to make her laugh. It wasn't enough, though, was it? What else did he have to give her?
She was so full of life, so exuberant, so…fascinating; even when she was confusing the hell out of him, explaining some new doohickey, or wormhole physics, or one of those very many things that she was so good at. Okay, it drove him nuts sometimes. But even just listening to her voice… When he wasn’t in a goddamned hurry it was mesmerising. On the other hand, what was he good for? Killing people. He’d discovered that at a pretty early age. And…? He could think of nothing. Not a single thing in his favour that could keep someone like her interested. He hadn’t even been a good father, a good husband. She needed someone who could be, would be. She needed someone who could express himself, tell her how beautiful she was, how bright she was, what good company she was, how much he loved her. She needed someone who would buy her flowers, dine her by candlelight, and take her on romantic holidays…. He was crap at that stuff.
He stood, dumb, saying nothing. The knot deep inside him tightened. The feeling of dread deepened. He wanted to throw up. He wanted to grab her, kiss her, make her understand how he felt. He wanted to beg her, plead with her…. He did none of those things. He was numb, dead, done, finished. His little world had just tilted off its axis. It took so little to devastate him, to leave his soul torn apart; so few words; just a few minutes of time.
He guessed he’d never totally believed that this "thing" with Sam could ever be true. It was a fantasy, a wonderful, exhilarating fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. For starters he was getting too old. She nearly looked as young as ever, the passage of time making her an even more beautiful and captivating woman. He was getting past it, his hair almost totally grey, his skin too big for him, and his health and fitness getting more questionable as time passed. He was a grumpy old man. One look in the mirror told him that he was past his prime and could only go downhill from there.
Apart from that, when compared with her he was pretty dumb. She was so bright, brilliant, a genius in fact. How could she be interested in someone as dumb as him? She was bound to find some good looking, younger, more intelligent, more appealing man. He had always known that…hadn’t he? Hope had been a flame that burned eternally, until now. He had just never realised quite how false that hope had been. How impossible. She probably thought he was a total jerk for even thinking about her that way; a dirty old man, fantasising about a pretty younger woman who was out of reach. The torment of Tantalus.
He’d seen her as the light at the end of his tunnel for such a very long time now that he could hardly imagine his life without her in it. The hard struggle would be worth it all in the end. It was something worth fighting for; safety of the planet, not to mention the rest of the universe, aside. Now the end of that tunnel looked dark and bleak. What was left to fight for? Zilch, zero, nadda, nothing.
He knew that she was right. Everything she’d said. She was always right. How could he continue without hope? How could he turn up at the SGC everyday and see her, knowing that she was with someone else? How could they continue to work together on SG-1 with all this truth now stated so openly and so painfully? But how could he let her go? Surely he couldn’t just let her go? He had to; choice less, he saw that now.
Her anger had dissipated. The little she’d said had contained plenty of meaning and there was even more in the way it was said; hateful, heartless, cold. He still said nothing, just stood there, uncharacteristically still. She had never seen him this still. The tirade of words seemed to wash over him. No sarcastic ripostes, no anger, no lashing back at her. Nothing. And she knew each word had hit him as hard as a bullet. She could feel his pain, his anguish, although he tried to show her none of it. He was bleeding inside. She might as well have tortured him. he would have felt that less. She knew - his whole demeanour, his dull, lifeless eyes reflecting his inner pain. So typically Jack, not meaning to show anything, but he did. He felt it all. Deeply. She might as well have killed him.
"I just wanted to know that you were happy, Sam." He was choked, his voice straining with the words. Then he nodded at her, turned on his heel and walked towards the door.
"Is that it? Jack. Don’t…don’t go without saying anything." She ran to catch him up, firmly grasping his arm, as if that would undo everything and make it better. He shrugged her off, seemingly uncaring of her plea. "Please, Jack. Please! Say something. Tell me that you hate me. That you hate everything I said to you. That I'm wrong!" Answering quietly and deliberately, he turned towards her.
"I can’t tell you that. I don’t hate you. I could never hate you. Everything you said was true. It was all true." And he left.