Understandings and Misunderstandings Part 2: Aftermath
23:30, that same night
The door closed quietly behind him. Quietly? Jack never did anything quietly. That wasn't his way. It disturbed Sam that he had been so quiet, so still. She was shaken, exhausted. Anger stirred again followed by something else. Once she started sobbing she couldn't stop. Her shoulders shook uncontrollably. She fell to her knees, beating the floor with her hands.
Goddamn him! Only he could make her feel this bad. And only he could make her feel better. This she knew instinctively. All the pain and anguish she now felt, regretting her bitter tirade, she acknowledged that she deserved to feel that way; she’d hurt him so very badly. He wasn't going to get over that any time soon. He wasn't likely to forgive her. It wasn't Jack O'Neill. He bore grudges. He bore them for a long time. Probably forever. He could be the Olympic champion of grudge bearing.
What had she said? What had she done? Why had she acted like that? Attacked him, denied the very possibility of any future for them together? His very presence here tonight told her that he still cared for her that way, despite the fact that she had convinced herself he didn't. That’s how she had mentally justified the dating. Well he might have cared before, but now? Now he would never forgive her, would be unyielding towards her. Sobbing more convulsively, more loudly, she felt very sorry for herself as she realised the full impact of her words.
This was it, the end of SG-1, of them. She was certain of that. So impassioned, so cruel, she had sounded like she hated him, had no respect for him. The latter would have cut the deepest. Hate he could probably handle. But lack of respect was a killer. Stupid, stupid, stupid. For an intelligent woman she could be so dumb. Resentment of his cooling towards her had been festering within. Tonight it had chosen to manifest itself and turn her into the bitch from hell.
Perhaps she could retrieve it, save it. She could go over to his place. Force him to listen to how sorry she was. No, she could never do that. Never. Anyway, he'd throw her out on her ear. No matter his feelings, he was too proud to act otherwise.
She had always feared taking that step with him. It scared her half to death. He didn’t know Sam Carter, only 'his' Major. Sam was dull, boring. She led a mainly dreary life outside of the SGC and her friends there. If she let something happen between them, he would find her tedious within the first five minutes. She couldn’t bear to contemplate that she might be a disappointment to him, after all the waiting, the anticipating.
Okay, so she looked pretty good. She wasn’t vain exactly, but was fully aware that she had great eyes, an enticing smile, and a pretty passable body. It wasn't enough. How could that ever be enough for him? Often, he couldn't even listen to her for more than two minutes without his eyes glazing over; interrupting, fiddling, finding the sarcastic riposte. She tried his patience. Frequently. She knew that. How could she not? He made it so obvious sometimes.
Recently he had been more distant and remote, as if he were trying to back away from their friendship and their unspoken understanding with each other. An unspoken understanding about a possible future together. She figured he'd wised up and changed his mind about his feelings for her. That had driven them to this point, driven her to trying to get a life. It had saddened her, shaken her to the core, but she had tried so hard to carry on as normal, hiding her feelings even as he did. God, how she'd missed him.
And yet he had come here tonight. Why had he come here tonight? It was so not like Jack O'Neill. He wasn't a face up to, get it out in the open kind of a guy. Not in that way. As an Airforce Officer, yeah sure, he'd face anything. But personal stuff? It was locked up so tightly inside of him; he would never let it out, never let it go. He kept it all hidden in a special part of his brain that was more difficult to break into than Fort Knox.
So, why had he come here tonight? To declare his undying love? Hardly. So not Jack O'Neill. Just to ask if she was happy? It couldn't be as simple as that. Could it? He wanted to know that she was happy and he would be alright with that? Was he really okay with her having a life, away from the SGC, away from him? His behaviour towards her of late had forced her into thinking that but his actions today…tonight, belied it.
Happy she most definitely was not. Did he really think this Bob guy was a replacement for him? How could he think that? She'd only seen Bob a couple of times before tonight. He was alright. He was good company. He was just a little bit older than her, moderately good looking, held down a very good job. Personality wise he was amusing and interesting to talk with. But he was no Jack O'Neill. He didn’t stir anything within her. She had just been going through the motions. There had been nothing more between them than a few laughs and a couple of chaste kisses. She knew that he'd had expectations for tonight. She had been deluded to think it would get that far.
Jack, on the other hand, stirred so much in her. He didn’t even have to say anything. He just had to be there. His smile, his eyes, his boyish good looks, his humour, his sense of the absurd, his sarcastic wit, his often childlike behaviour, his pretence at dumbness. All that, and the so much more than that made him Jack O'Neill, stirred passions in her that she hadn’t even known existed. He was a complicated and fascinating man.
Daniel came into her mind unbidden. He would probably try to persuade her to do something about it.
"Sam, for God's sake speak to him. At least speak to him. Tell him how you feel."
No. He would never forgive her now. Anyway, he knows how I feel. He knows. Doesn't he? She had been so implacable. How could he know? Maybe she could persuade him. Maybe she could bring him around. He had been so not like Jack tonight. Something was different. Maybe it was enough.
Suddenly she thought she understood something of his recent aloofness. He was being noble, protecting himself, maybe. Did he think she'd be happier without him, somehow? Did he think he should accept what he thought was inevitable, that she would have a life without him in it? Or, perhaps, he'd been scared of his feelings? Running away from them? Something stupid like that. He probably didn't even know himself for sure. He was a master at self-denial. Whatever it was, he'd put up the shutters on what he felt for her. It was very Jack. She should have known, guessed. She had so totally misunderstood… everything.
And he’d come here tonight. It was significant that he had acted so against his own nature like that. The way he’d behaved, the silence, the stillness, the look of pain so intense in his eyes; had to be significant, right? He’d come here tonight and she’d…
With that thought, she pulled on her jacket, picked up her car keys and headed for the door. She had to try. She couldn't just let him go without trying. He was her friend. If nothing else, she didn't want to lose that. Surviving without even that would be too hard, too painful.
Staring hard at the whiskey bottle, Jack sipped his coffee. He didn't really want to sleep, probably couldn't anyway. He felt empty depleted. Not even whiskey was going to fill that sense of loss. Never should have gone tonight, never. Should have waited, but he'd screwed it up. Only one of the most important things in his life and he'd screwed it up.
That was so like him, so one of the many reasons why she would be better off without him. He should have known that she didn't want him anymore. That she was happy as she was. That she would turn against him for trying to involve himself too much in her life outside of the SGC. He should have left well alone. He'd left it too late to change his mind about letting her go. Change his mind? Not that; he'd never really wanted to do that in the first place. He's been trying to bow to the inevitable, a life for Sam without him in it. A life where she could be happy.
Now, he had probably lost it all; her respect, her friendship. That hurt more than anything. He could just about bear to lose his hopes and dreams for the future, but to lose her respect and friendship. That was a killer. He'd already lost too many people, too many friends. Sam was important to him. Her friendship was important to him. So much more important than any temporary satisfaction he could get from kissing her, touching her, holding her, making love with her. More important than that ache he felt inside, that yearning.
The whiskey bottle stared right back up at him, teasing and taunting. Jack poured some into his coffee. Good compromise.
Had he really been shutting her out? He guessed that he had. He'd been more…what was it she'd said? Cold? Distant? Unfeeling? Bad plan. No plan. He hadn't intended…didn't know what the hell he had intended. What had he been thinking? Had he even been thinking? He felt lost, confused.
Was he trying to be a martyr, or something? Sure…maybe... The gallant Jack O'Neill. Sacrificing his feelings and dreams so that the woman he loves can go off and find a happy life without him. How did he ever imagine that he could live with that?
Or was that it ? His feelings for her had got so complicated, he couldn't disentangle them anymore. He knew that those feelings had grown so much deeper over the years. It had been increasingly difficult not to show them, not to act on them. So he had buried them, stomped on them, tried to suppress them even more than ever. He figured he probably had outwardly cooled towards her. Not sure anymore whether it was a deliberate act but it was the only way he could deal with it, live with it.
He had driven her away. He had hurt her. Of course he had. Go figure! If pushing her out of his life had been his plan, he should be overjoyed. Yeah, sure, you betchya. But he hadn't had a conscious plan, had he? He had just…been typical Jack. Now, he wasn't sure about anything anymore. How could he have been such a fool? He had so totally misunderstood… everything.
She had seemingly never reacted to it before today. Never revealed her pain and anguish. Oscar winning performance there, Carter. Good job. She could hide and suppress along with the best of them. They had acted so business-like towards each other at work. He'd missed the camaraderie, the easy banter, missed her badly. He had kind of wondered about the distance she was putting between them. But he had suppressed it all. Tried not to think about it. Not to think she might be responding to his own withdrawal. He was so good at denial; one of the things he was best at. He'd probably only withdrawn further, turning the bad situation worse.
But at least she had still been in his life, the team had stayed functioning. Now he had torn all that apart. They could never pretend this hadn't happened, never survive this. Meaning to reveal so little, he had revealed too much. And she had said very little while saying so much; turning away from him, hating him, losing her respect for him. He'd gotten his comeuppance all right, his punishment for whatever it was he had done. He deserved it all. At least he had no doubts about that. It was only fitting. Living with the consequences, that was going to be real painful.
Sam pulled up outside. The lights were still on. At least that might stop her from having to break in. She would if she had to. She'd do anything to make it right. She'd throw her pride right out of the window to make it right. Anything. So concerned had she been with getting there that only now was she fully aware of her actions. She was panicked, terrified. A Major in the United States Airforce, terrified. It was laughable. It was pathetic. If only she could be certain of how he would act towards her. Only a short time before, she had been sure that he would throw her out on her ear. So be it. Screw your courage to the sticking place, woman. Maybe Lady MacBeth wasn't such an appropriate role model.
At first, Jack ignored the knocking. It couldn't be Sam. She'd made her feelings very clear tonight. Who the hell was knocking at this time of night? He corrected himself; this time in the morning. Had something happened at the base? Was his phone out of order? Had Daniel's car broken down again and he was here seeking refuge? The last thing he needed was a crisis right now. The idea of having to transform himself into full on Colonel mode filled him with no joy. He guessed he should answer it. It might be important. It was certainly getting more persistent.
When he saw her his heart leapt; it took his breath away. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying. She looked a mess. He supposed that he looked no better. He didn't care about any of that. Opening the door wider to let her in, she stepped over the threshold, saying nothing, just looking at him imploringly. And something else was in those eyes too. They reflected the unspoken understanding made between them long ago.
They both silently stared at each other for what seemed like forever. They didn't need to say anything. The fact that she was here told him everything he needed to know. The look of sorrow and longing in his darkened eyes spoke to her of something she had never truly thought possible. He reached for her, pulling her into his arms. And they just stood there for a very long time, holding each other tightly.