Story Notes: Sequel to Understandings & Misunderstandings Part 2: Aftermath. You need to read the first 2 parts to understand this one.

Huge thanks again to Bonnie, my wonderful beta, who made so many improvements to my original text. Bonnie's efforts on my behalf aside, any mistakes are mine. Also, thanks for those of you who have been giving me more encouragement with such great feedback, and a desire for this story to continue. There could be more life in the old dog yet (g)


Understandings and Misunderstandings Part 3: The Inevitability of Feeling

Finally they pulled away, looking at each others faces. No words had been spoken between them. Sam had been sobbing quietly into Jack's shoulder. As ever, he had been trying to keep control of his own pent up emotions. Jack O'Neill didn't do the sobbing thing. Only in his most private moments. And rarely. Jack reached up his hand and lightly brushed her cheek. It made her tingle, shiver slightly, and she leaned into the caress.

Flippant, a ghost of a smile on his lips, he said, "Hey, come on in why don't you?" leading her into the living room. "Drink? Coffee?" Sam shook her head. Nervously, sudden shyness overwhelming them, they sat opposite each other. Time for talking. This was hard.

"I'm so sorry, Jack…I'm just so sorry…" Not knowing what she could say or do, she tailed off.

"Me too. It doesn't matter" She was here, wasn't she? That's all that was important.

"Yes. It does matter. I was… I don't know why…" Again, lost for words, how could she explain? Surely he deserved to hear her explanation. She owed him that. However, she remained silent.

"I understand Sam. It's all right. It was all true. I deserved every word. I've been a total ass….but…. it will be OK. I promise." Jack prayed that he could keep that promise.

She couldn't believe he had just let her in like this, brought her into his house and held her like that. It was so unexpected. So forgiving. So accepting. So not like Jack. Where was that O'Neill stubborn streak, the O’Neill pride? Then again, how well did she really know this complex man that was Jack O'Neill? She had been right about that, if nothing else.

"Bob and I…we never…um…you know…we never…" Sam was embarrassed that she had just blurted it out like that, almost without thinking. Somehow she knew that he would want to know but would never ask. He needed her to have kept the faith. She suddenly understood how hurt Jack was because of her lack of it. It was the one thing she could give him.

Jack felt a sense of relief. He hadn't realised what it might mean to him if she had slept with the guy. It shouldn't matter, but it did. He cared about it. Crazy, maybe, but he did. Sure, he'd have lived with it, and he would never have even known for sure had she not told him. It wouldn't make a difference in the end because he loved her anyway. He'd stayed true to her since they had been forced to confess their feelings in that humiliating way, so long ago. It was corny and stupid, he knew, it was probably even a cliché, but that did not make it any the less sincere. Somehow, her words assured him that their silent pact had remained unbroken, after all.

He merely said. "I'm glad."

Continuing to stare at her, he still found it hard to believe that she was really here. It meant a lot to him. It denied some of what she had said to him earlier. Maybe that broken thing inside him could still be fixed after all. He still wasn't totally clear about where he stood with her, but she was here, that was the important thing.

The depth of his feelings for her frightened him. His uncharacteristic behaviour scared and surprised him. How far was he willing to go for her? Jack knew that if he had opened up to Sara just a little, they might still be together. He didn't want to make that same mistake again. He was fighting against his own nature, and the Jack O'Neill myth.

After the longest time, Jack shifted uncomfortably and, to cover his discomfort, coughed and asked Sam if she was sure she didn't want coffee or something. She snorted.

"We're a great pair for avoidance, aren't we, Jack? We gonna talk, or what?"

Jack fiddled with his hands, trying to look anywhere but at her, then he sighed.

"OK. Where do we start?" Taken slightly aback that he might be willing, Sam got up abruptly. Walking over to him, she took his hand, squeezed it lightly then sat down on the floor at his feet, resting her head on his lower thigh.

A quip about worshipping at his feet passed through Jack's head but he thought better of it. Not a good time for that. He felt a thrill go right through him and tenderly touched her hair, running his fingers through the thick golden locks. Sam moaned slightly, reaching for his hand and softly caressing his knuckles; his touch made her flush and she quivered slightly.

"I guess I did a lot of talking already. Your turn?" She was still avoiding, didn't know what she should say, knowing full well that it should be her that started it. He deserved that. She looked up at him and he shook his head. He couldn't bring himself to say much of anything yet. This opening up idea was harder to do than he had expected.

Sam saw the look in his eyes. He's not ready. "So." She sighed, "I get the go straight to jail card, right? I guess that’s only fair. I need to say some stuff." Jack needed her to say it, she thought. Although she fought against the Carter exterior, she knew hers was not as Teflon coated as Jack's. She was much more inclined to wear her heart on her sleeve. He had more to hide from, more to protect. She wanted to know so much about him; the good and the bad; the dreams and the nightmares. Penetrating the O'Neill armour might be an uphill struggle and she doubted her ability to get far. However, she realised that it was her turn to start, by confessing some of what lay in her heart.

So she told him. Told him how lonely she'd felt without his friendship; how she'd hated being shut out from him; how she'd missed him. That was why she'd bottled it all up inside her. She told him a lot of things that she might never, normally admit. Who was it that said seize the moment? What happened right here and now between them could totally change their lives. She had to seize it, it was the only way forward now.

He'd guessed some of it, but liked hearing it anyway. She was talking about her feelings, an event worthy of a diary entry it occurred so rarely. This time when she spoke his name, it was softly and sweetly. It filled his heart with joy. He didn't get to do joy that often anymore. It was a novelty.

Running out of steam, she drew to a halt and he bent to gently kiss the top of her head, tilting her face towards him. He drew a deep breath, hoping the air would give him courage, and then laughed bitterly.

"I knew you weren't happy and I wanted you to be. Maybe I thought I should let you go, I don't know anymore. But I was losing control and had to get it back. I…" He sighed. "I… don't… I'm hopeless at this stuff, you know that." Shrugging helplessly, he was frustrated at his inability to express his thoughts. She smiled to herself. So like Jack.

"I was… afraid." Both of them were shocked that he'd said that. "I closed up, Sam. It was stupid. I can be such a jerk sometimes." He continued to stroke her hair as if the movement of his fingers could reveal everything to her without him having to say anything; the stroking was more frantic, more desperate and totally sub-conscious. He wasn't looking at her, couldn't look at her.

"I hurt you and I hurt myself. It felt like I'd cut off my right arm. A cliché, I know, but there it is." Slightly flippant, a cover for the feelings that were threatening to overwhelm him; threatening to make him reveal more than he wanted to right now. He paused to get himself back in control. Maybe he should just come out with it all, tell her everything. He wished he could do that; hoped that he wouldn't. "I didn't want to let you go."

"You did, though"

"Nearly did"

"If I hadn't come here tonight?"

"Who knows? It doesn't matter. You're here. Its all that counts"

What it lacked in quantity it gained in the eloquence with which it spoke to her. Jack had a knack of saying so much by saying very little.

"Jack, you don't have to say anything. I know you haven't got a clue what to say." It was then that he looked at her. That was weird, an echo of another Samantha, another time. A time when he had not fully understood how he truly felt about her. Sure, he'd been attracted to her as soon as they'd met. Who wouldn't find her attractive? She was a beautiful woman; you'd have to be blind not to notice her. But there was a bit more than that, a spark. Something. It was so inappropriate that he had buried it straightaway, tried hard to ignore it. He'd been doing that ever since.

That was how it started. They talked and then talked some more. Not about what was in their hearts but about inconsequential things. It was like being on a first date. They were just Jack and Sam, trying to get to know each other. Not a Colonel, not a Major; not a CO and his second in command. It wasn't as either of them had feared; neither had found the other tedious within the first five minutes.

At some point Jack had coaxed her to join him on the chair. His knees being what they were, she squeezed next to him, and he wrapped his arms around her, resting her head on his shoulder, his head on top of hers. They continued talking for most of the night, waking later that morning curled closely in each others arms.

The End

End Notes: Constructive feedback always welcome!

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