A Matter of Life and Death
General Jack O'Neill stood at the base of the ramp waiting for his team to come home. Although he was no longer SG-1's team leader, indeed had left the SGC, they would always be "his" team, and special to him. When he was in command of the base he tried not to play favourites, but it was hard. Jack had always worried when they went out there, and was always happy to see them back.
Now, they were greeted by a different General; one who didn't have that history with them but who Jack knew cared very deeply about each and every man and woman under his command, despite his sometimes gruff exterior. Hank Landry was an old friend of Jack's and he had recommended him for this post because he knew the general would take good care of them all.
O'Neill had been lurking around Colorado Springs for a couple of days now, hoping to see his old friends and team mates while there. SG-1 were due back today, but not this early. He drew in a breath as they waited, the base Commander standing by his side looking solemn and trying not to show the tumultuous emotions raging inside, just as Jack did. SG-1 were in danger.
The team had signalled an emergency code and Jack waited anxiously for them to appear, acting against Hank's advice that he should not be in the gate room in case of weapons fire or hostile incursion. Did they think he was afraid of a little weapons fire? Generals shouldn't get in the line of fire, huh? No way was he hanging back when his team was in trouble.
When O'Neill ran down to the gate room, Landry followed and, as they waited apprehensively, so did the SF's, weapons trained on the gaping maw of the open wormhole.
The eerily quiet made Jack almost wish there were weapons fire, anything to relieve the tension. He was unnerved by the silence and an acute sense of foreboding enveloped him. It seemed to take forever for the wormhole's ripples to indicate his friends actually were returning to him at last.
Three figures exited the event horizon and it closed behind them. Three? Mitchell, Carter and Teal'c looked frazzled and shocked and Jack's heart skipped a beat. Where was Daniel?
"Report Colonel," Hank said to Mitchell, and Jack summoned all the professionalism he could muster, guessing from both Carter's expression and Daniel's absence that the news was bad, but not yet willing to believe it. His eyes strayed to Teal'c who was expressionless, and then to Mitchell, waiting for the report with a heavy heart.
"D… Daniel's dead, sir," Sam stuttered before Mitchell could get the words out of his mouth.
Landry looked at Mitchell, who nodded, and then at Jack, whose usually neutral façade appeared to be cracking slightly at that pronouncement. Making a quick decision, based on the fact that Daniel Jackson meant a great deal to his old friend, Hank deferred to his superior, stepping back to let O'Neill take control. He believed Jack probably needed to be in command right now. Taking charge would help him to focus and keep his emotions in check.
"What? You're sure?" Jack replied because it wouldn't be the first time they'd been fooled.
"Colonel Carter is correct O'Neill. Daniel Jackson truly is dead," confirmed Teal'c, grasping his friend's arm in a gesture so typical of Teal'c. It meant he too was upset, that he both sympathised and empathised, and he was there for his friend. Jack suppressed a reaction unbecoming to a General in the US Air Force.
"I'm sorry, sir," added Mitchell and Jack glanced at him briefly with a nod, before turning back to Carter.
"No glowy activity?" Jack asked her, hopefully, still not willing to accept the truth because it was way too painful.
"No sir," Sam responded glumly. O'Neill perceived the self-recrimination in her face and this hurt him all the more because he hated to think she blamed herself. At the same time he also realised he would do likewise. Jack was finding ways to blame himself already, despite that this mission had not even remotely been connected directly to him. He was the guy in charge after all, so it was his fault, right?
Sam detected the deep pain and sorrow in Jack's eyes and his struggle to maintain control. She knew how that felt because she was working hard to keep a grip on herself. Suddenly she understood her ex-CO better than ever before: his reaction to Daniel's ascension - or seeming lack of it - his way of dealing with pain and death.
"Come," he said and indicated that she follow. Turning to Hank he asked, "Can I use your office?" Landry nodded.
"Sir, they should report to the infirmary," Doctor Lam interrupted, concerned that mission protocol be completed. Besides, the two original members of SG-1 looked terrible, dishevelled and in shock. They might need treatment.
"Screw mission protocol!" Jack cried with vehemence, making the doctor recoil. The look of loss turned to fury in the General's eyes told Lam to keep her thoughts to herself. She looked towards her father, who nodded assent. Someone might have to help pick up the pieces later but for now this was probably the right thing.
"Teal'c, Mitchell, report to the infirmary. Carter, you're with me," Jack snapped in his best command voice.
As he gave the order Jack squeezed Teal'c's arm to return his friend's gesture of comfort, hoping he understood. The Jaffa dipped his head in a gesture that confirmed it, and Jack led Sam to Landry's office, firmly closing the door and ordering they shouldn’t be disturbed. Standing stock still in front of her, he stared at Sam but she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, meet his eyes.
"What happened?" His voice was low, and pitched as if he talked to a friend, not a subordinate.
"I… I…" She was still in shock and Jack's heart went out to her.
He pulled Sam into his arms and held her for a long time, saying nothing. Both were mute and neither shed a tear, but their feelings were naked and raw nonetheless. The hug was one of mutual solace, a brief flicker of light in their inner darkness.
"Okay, I can tell you now," she whispered finally. He dreaded hearing the detail but knew he had to, and pulled back without letting her go so he could see her face as she talked.
"Do you want to sit down?"
"Yes sir. Thank you."
He withdrew his embrace and led her to a chair, pulling up another to sit besideher, and placed his arm around her shoulder in a sympathetic gesture, taking her hand.
"It was some sort of sacred ritual thing sir. You know Daniel and his curiosity. The natives didn't like his intrusion. He must have read them wrong… I don't know. I trusted him to be right about their reaction; maybe I shouldn't have. Th-they… killed him." As she spoke, Sam stumbled over the words, her voice catching in her throat.
"Did you see it happen?" he asked and she shook her head and drew a deep breath. He could see she was having difficulty restraining herself, keeping up the military front. "Take your time Sam," he said softly, his voice filled with concern and compassion. Having been unable to bring herself to look him in the eye before, she gazed up at him now and saw her own pain reflected there.
"We were camping just outside of their village." She replied in a more even and business like tone, desperately trying to be the consummate soldier and reign in her turbulent emotions. "Daniel sneaked off to take a look at what they were doing. He was caught. They brought his body to us at the camp. I thought Teal'c was going to kill them all, but he held back at my command." He hadn't listened to Mitchell's initial pleas, but had listened to her intervention, she recalled.
'Good for T,' Jack thought, 'he obeyed Sam in a time of crisis.' It proved his friend had a great deal of respect for Carter. That pleased Jack.
"They told us to leave, sir, but we could not bring Daniel's body back with us. They said to wait a day and we could go back for him. Something to do with purification. Daniel might have understood it. I think it was beyond me by then. I probably lost it a bit sir. Mitchell took control and got us back. He thought it was the best thing to do. Maybe I shouldn't have let him…" The words caught in the lump in her throat
"You did the right thing Sam. It's okay."
Jack's voice was soft and soothing. She wondered how he kept so calm when he must be screaming inside. It was obvious he was straining at the leash, but Sam knew he was a very private man. He would do his mourning alone and she wished it were otherwise.
"It's not okay! It'll never be okay again!" she cried out vehemently. "It was my job to protect him." Her voice was filled with sorrow and regret.
"It wasn't your fault," he reassured her. "You couldn't have stopped it Sam. You couldn't have stopped Daniel either. I know what that's like, remember?"
"Would you feel differently if it was you who had been out there?" She was right, of course, and how could he argue with that?
"Please sir, don't."
"You don't know what I was going to say."
"Just… don't… please."
He understood why she wanted to be inconsolable at the moment. O'Neill had been there too.
He would leave it for now, knowing he still needed to talk to her about it - later. This was enough for the time being. They sat in silence for a while, both thinking about Daniel, and then Jack went to the infirmary while Sam had her post mission check up, and asked Landry to arrange for a car to take her home.
On his daughter's advice, Landry ordered that SG-1 be taken off the mission rota for a few days. Sam could take some time off if she needed it. Jack briefly called the Pentagon, informing them he would be sticking around for a few days and cancelling all forthcoming appointments, not yielding to any argument that he do otherwise.
Teal'c had already left the infirmary and, once he was sure Sam was on her way home, Jack strode purposefully to his friend's quarters and knocked.
"Teal'c? Can I come in?" he poked his head around the door. Lit candles surrounded Teal'c and he sat cross-legged on the floor, as if in kel'nor'reem. Although that unique form of rest and recuperation was longer a requirement in his life, Teal'c continued to meditate. Having experienced that inner peace while inhabiting Teal'c's body many years ago, Jack almost wished he could do the same, but when it came down to it that simply was not the O'Neill way.
"O'Neill, you are always welcome," Teal'c responded solemnly.
Jack sat next to his friend as if he was going to join his interrupted meditation. The action reminded Teal'c of Daniel Jackson. In the absence of O'Neill, the two men's friendship had grown increasingly intimate and Daniel had joined Teal'c in this room many times. It saddened his heart so he deflected away from his own sorrow. There were more important things to consider.
"How is Colonel Carter?" he asked.
"I've sent her home."
"She is not to blame."
"I know, but tell her that Teal'c." Teal'c nodded, his eyes piercing Jack O'Neill's heart.
"You should be by her side at this time of need," he stated.
"I most certainly should not," Jack denied although deep down he wished he could be.
"She requires your assistance, and you require hers."
"And what about you Teal'c? You need nothing?" Typically Jack batted the ball back, but Teal'c was not so easily distracted.
"Colonel Carter's need is far greater than mine, and so is yours."
Jack didn't respond, merely nodded as if in agreement. Frankly he wasn't sure what to think and was finding it difficult to think at all. One thing he clearly recognised, however, was Teal'c did not want to talk about it, or not right now. He could relate to that and wouldn't push the point unless necessity dictated otherwise. He had been there himself and, sometimes, Teal'c could be a mirror image of him.
"I'll miss him," Jack admitted.
"As will I," his big friend agreed.
"If you need to talk T…" he offered.
"I am here for you also, my friend," Teal'c replied, a ghost of a smile on his lips.
After that the silence between them stretched endlessly. It was not uncomfortable, or empty, but filled with comradeship, consolation and mutual support. When Jack eventually got up to leave, Teal'c spoke again.
"You must simply tell her how you feel O'Neill. Do not make your work a scapegoat for what might have been."
Jack sharply sucked in his breath. How did the Jaffa see inside his soul so well?
"Take care of yourself T," Jack responded, ignoring his friend's words because he could think of no adequate response. "See ya later?"
"Indeed," Teal'c replied, a frequently used monosyllabic rejoinder that meant much.
Fearing for the grief of his friends, and how Daniel Jackson's death would impact on all of them, Teal'c was certain that O'Neill and Colonel Carter could ease their heartache by joining as one much more effectively than by remaining apart. It deepened his sorrow to ponder that their reticence made this solution unlikely.
O'Neill didn't know how he got through the rest day, although worrying about the others kept him from thinking too deeply about his own keen sense of loss, and he knew he should keep occupied or he'd never make it. He worked until an ungodly hour, talking to Mitchell about what happened, spending hours on the phone to the Pentagon relaying instructions and dealing with the more important
Eventually he went home, grateful he'd decided not to sell his old house after all so didn't have to stay on base, and suppressing his concern for Sam, as he was afraid of where that road might lead.
It was the very early hours of the next morning when his phone rang, and he was lying in bed wide awake, uneasy and restless, unable to rid his mind of Daniel's death and the memories and heartache it provoked. Jack had tried to sleep, but all his efforts proved fruitless, and he was about to give up and get up when she called. Picking up the phone, he was convinced something urgent must have
happened in DC.
"O'Neill," he said in best military fashion.
"General?" Sam's tone sounded small and forlorn.
"Carter?" He was surprised to hear her voice, but somehow it soothed him, even just that one little word 'General’.
"I can't sleep sir."
"Me neither." There was a long silence before she spoke again.
"J-Jack, I need you." Jack took a deep breath, shocked that she had spoken his name and by the plea in her voice and words. He could sense her desolation.
"I'll be right over." He was up and out of the house within five minutes.
Jack stood on her doorstep dishevelled and in need of shave, his facial hair having grown way beyond five o'clock shadow. His eyes were dark and troubled and she could see he'd had no sleep either. It was raining so hard that he'd got soaked on the way from his truck to the doorway and she quickly let him in.
Sam had been wallowing in self-pity and figured that this was a man who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders; he was in a worse state than her.
"Are you alright sir?" she enquired. "I… I'm sorry I shouldn't have called."
"Yes, you should. Don't be sorry, I'm glad you called. You look like shit Carter." It was true and she chuckled, despite her misery.
"Gee, thanks General. You don't look so hot yourself… sir," she added hastily at the end.
"And when did I ever look 'hot' Carter?" he joked.
Although Sam could have given him chapter and verse, and it probably would have been a very long list, which would have included this very moment when he was wet, unshaven and looking vulnerable, of course she did not say so but just smiled shyly.
"You're soaked General. I'll get you a towel. Do you need to…?" She didn't complete the question, which involved him changing out of his wet clothes.
"I thought you called Jack, not General O'Neill," he said, softly grasping her arm to stop her from moving away.
The words and his gesture destroyed what was left of her self-control and she gasped aloud, tears brimming in her eyes. He pulled her onto a hug and she clung to him, two desolate souls seeking mutual support and warmth. Her tears started, as she could no longer keep them contained.
He was there and his presence was what she needed. His friendship and loyalty meant a great deal to her, more than almost anything else, and Sam was grateful he happened to be in Colorado Springs at this fateful time.
Each sob wrenched at Jack's heart and he swayed with her in his arms, whispering words of comfort, like he might with a crying child. His own self-control was faltering but he had to be strong for her, and for him, because that was the Jack O'Neill way.
"You're making me wet… Jack," she whispered after a while, when the tears allowed her to speak.
"You and me both," he replied wryly, and she raised a small smile, which helped calm her, and pulled away from him at last. His arms felt empty, his soul bereft, and he longed to touch her again but didn't dare.
"Come," she said and led him to her bathroom, fetching him a large towel and her big towelling robe. "You'd better get out of those wet clothes."
"I don't want you to catch a cold." I don't want to be responsible for hurting you too, she was thinking, and he understood that this is what her words really meant.
"I'll make some coffee."
"Coffee when neither of us can sleep. Is that wise?" he quipped but the expression of need on her face forced him to add, "Coffee? Sure. I could use some."
She turned at the door before leaving him. "General?" He gave her a look, "J-Jack? Thanks for coming." He smiled faintly.
"You're welcome Sam." I need you too, he thought, more than ever.
Although he was much taller than her, the over large robe still fit, although his long arms dangled from the sleeves in a slightly comical fashion. As he stood hesitantly in her kitchen doorway, having stripped and dried off, she had an almost overwhelming urge to see what lurked under the white towelling, but quickly suppressed that train of thought.
For a long while they sat wordlessly at her kitchen table, drinking coffee, both deep in thought and grief. "What are we gonna do without him?" she asked, breaking the silent deadlock, voice faltering again.
"I don't know Sam, but we have to go on. He would have wanted that."
"It's not your fault. You mustn't blame yourself."
"How can I not? Maybe if you'd been there…" she tailed off. Jack had suspected she'd have that crisis of confidence and it troubled him.
"I seriously doubt anything would have been different. You're good at your job. Don't doubt yourself. I don't doubt you for one minute."
"I'm a scientist; you're the hero!" she protested, as if all her years in the field stood for nothing. He knew better.
"And a warrior and leader. Don't ever forget that. You and Mitchell make a formidable pair. Mitchell was there too." He reached his hand over to hers and took hold of it, squeezing gently. "So was Teal'c and he has a lot of faith in you. He doesn't think it was your fault. He respects you Sam. You earned that respect and you deserve it, and it means a lot coming from him." She knew that was true.
"You spoke to him?" she asked in a small voice, guilt that she had not done so weighing heavily upon her.
"Is he alright? I should have talked to him myself."
"You still can. He's not going anywhere. He understands and he'll be okay. We all will be, eventually."
"Time Sam, we need time."
"More coffee?" she asked, removing her hand from his and getting up, deliberately withdrawing so that her emotion didn't spill over once more. Her back was turned when she continued. "I loved Daniel. He was like a brother to me."
Immediately, Jack got up, reaching her in a couple of long strides and turning her to face him, his emotions suddenly getting the better of him.
"Me too. He might have annoyed the hell out of me sometimes, but younger brothers do that, don't they? Trouble is Sam, despite that, I can't help feeling…" he hesitated, reluctant to say it but also unwilling to stop himself, "…glad it… wasn't you. If it was you…"
He couldn't finish what he wanted to say because he didn't really know what he wanted to say. If it was her, what? Daniel's loss was bad enough, but that? It was unthinkable and he tried not to examine it too closely because those thoughts struck fear into the depths of his heart. He had faced the possibility of that loss too many times before and it was intolerable.
So instead of speaking he kissed her, without any real thought for the consequences. It just seemed the right thing to do, and he didn't anticipate her warm response. At first the kiss was slightly tentative. He touched his lips to hers softly, as if waiting for her permission to continue. Clearly he felt that she'd provided it because he dared to part her lips with his tongue and encase his own wet warmth inside hers.
She responded in kind and the kiss deepened and flared into an almost overwhelming passion. Her hair wound round his fingers as his held her head, and she caressed his back before moving her own hand to his short grey hair. The feel of her fingers running over his scalp caused him to moan within her mouth and that sent a cascade of desire through Sam.
They pulled apart and simply stared into each other's eyes, both knowing what was about happen; the thing they could no longer stop. Each needed the other, the comfort, the warmth of each other's bodies, the depth of their mutual feelings, and the completion of a dream.
Then she kissed him, her quailing heart emboldened by his recent actions, the tender touch of her fingers a whisper on his face and neck. When they parted again she eyed him intently, noticing he seemed to have dropped a few years and appeared nervous and boyish. His love for her was so starkly displayed in those dark, sad eyes that it struck her like a lightening bolt and she gasped loudly.
He was an open book but she had never turned the page before, had not truly been looking. It was a startling revelation and so obvious that she wondered how she could have doubted it.
"Sam?" he queried uncertainly, not able to fathom her reaction but desperate to gauge where he stood, having finally acted on the impulse he'd repressed for so long. She didn't reply but touched his face lightly and pressed her lips to his again.
The need to tell him of her true feelings was almost too much but she resisted the urge. Daniel had just died and now was not the time for that, but it would be, and very soon. She knew she had the courage at last and hoped she wouldn't lose it again.
Each of her soft caresses soothed Jack's soul and he returned her touch with increasing fervour. They were both overtaken by desire and lust, needing to fulfil that overpowering longing.
No further words passed between them as they wandered hand in hand to Sam's bedroom and made love with a passion. All the feelings that had remained buried for years rose to the surface and, in meeting their sorrow for the loss of Daniel, turned into an irresistible force. While fulfilling their immediate need, their lovemaking was over too quickly for both of them, and they clung to each other afterwards as if holding on to life itself.
"We probably shouldn't have done that," she whispered.
"Do you regret it?" he asked anxiously, holding his breath until she answered.
"No Jack. How can I? Do you?"
"No!" He kissed her again to emphasise the point.
In his heart he hoped this wasn't something that they would both regret later, that it wouldn't spoil their friendship and trust. He sincerely did not want this to be a mere act of mutual comfort, yearning for so much more than that. Had this happened at the wrong time, and in the wrong circumstances? Or had fate found this awful way to bring them together at last?
As he continued to caress her, Jack felt his body stirring again, wanting to be sated and spent once more. This time he made love to her in what he considered the proper way. Having satisfied the initial lust, he took his time, getting to know her and what she wanted, what pleased her. She returned that favour with interest and their lovemaking the second time around was just that - a clear
demonstration of love.
"Jack?" she whispered as they lay in each other's arms again afterwards, "that was pretty special, wasn't it?"
"Yes it was; very special," he murmured in agreement, and they spoke no more, curling up in each other's arms and finding the restful sleep together that had eluded them separately.
The next morning, Jack woke with a start, unable to believe what had happened the previous night, and a feeling of panic crept up on him. Crap! He wanted this so much, but what did they do now? Had he taken advantage of her vulnerability? What if she regretted it?
What they had done, it was wrong. As far as Jack knew, Sam was engaged to another man and he felt like a heel to have slept with her in those circumstances. And Sam was at her most vulnerable. When he thought about it, the word heel didn't even come close. He was way, way worse than a heel. Not only that but she was still in his chain of command. Doubt assailed him and Jack found that almost unbearable because the fulfilment of a long held dream should not feel so wrong.
Sam stirred beside him, opening her big blue eyes to meet the gaze of his dark brown ones. Immediately she smiled and kissed his cheek.
"Morning." It was good to wake up beside him. She felt safe and secure in his arms.
"Hey Carter," he replied.
"Carter? General I…" She sat up, disturbed by the salutation. "Sir I… Carter?"
Sam was thrown into confusion, wondering if he regretted their breathtaking acts of union and love, and whether he would force them to forget and write it all off as a temporary aberration motivated by grief and mutual comfort. She couldn't stand for that to happen now. The bottle was finally uncorked and she longed to drink more of the fine wine it had held in its confines for so many years.
"Sam," he corrected himself. "You Sam, me Jack." He smiled softly and pointed to himself. "Sorry, old habits…" He shrugged apologetically and kissed her hair.
"God, Daniel!" she gasped, her tone gut wrenchingly sorrowful. It was as if she had suddenly remembered, and maybe she had, the fuzziness of her initial awakening having departed. Jack said nothing, merely moving closer and enfolding her in his arms soothingly. They remained silent and thoughtful for a while until Jack extricated his arms from her body and made a move to get up.
"Sorry, gotta pee," he said, by way of explanation.
"Come back," she said in a despondent whisper.
"Where else would I go?"
As soon as he left the room, she missed his warmth, his touch, and his presence. God, the man's addictive, she thought, and I'm suffering withdrawal already!
While Jack was in the bathroom he ruminated about Daniel, thinking his friend would have approved of what had happened between him and Sam. Daniel was very much to the forefront of his mind when he returned to the bedroom. Climbing back into bed beside her, he propped his long lanky frame onto one elbow and stroked her cheek absent-mindedly, saying nothing. Sam's eyes met his unfocused gaze and she wondered what he was thinking, a moment of fear as she tried to determine the meaning of his distracted demeanour.
Plucking up courage to press, she asked, "What now?" Jack was so mentally focussed on Daniel that he misinterpreted her question. His fingers stilled, resting lightly on her cheek as he replied.
"Hank will send in a couple of teams to retrieve his body."
"What?" she queried, startled by his response. "Um, I know," she added, contemplating that regretfully for a short time, but resolutely requiring an answer to her question before she could allow the loss of their friend to overcome her. "I meant us. What about us now?"
"Oh, sorry," he apologised, hastily removing his touch and biting his lower lip nervously, uncertain of her thoughts and feelings and incapable of communicating his without that confidence. "I-is there an us?" he asked, searching her face questioningly.
Jack's self-doubt was apparent in his eyes and, along with those few hesitant words, they unmistakably told her what he was thinking. He looked away, and his inability to meet her gaze and confess his feelings troubled her.
After what had happened, he still feared she didn't love or want him – that their night together had merely been two grief filled souls seeking solace and nothing more. Sam was stunned that he was willing to offer her anything and everything of himself as consolation but also seemed willing to let her go, if that was what she wanted, despite the intensity of feeling she had seen in his eyes the previous night.
Tentatively, she cupped his cheek in her hand, smoothing it with her thumb, and his eyes wandered up to meet hers again. Her heart raced when she realised he needed reassurance and she was taken aback by his hesitation and lack of confidence and belief, but swiftly comprehended his need. She had to speak because he never would.
"I'd like there to be an us," she said, his diffidence changing her mind about this mournful moment being the wrong time to tell him how she felt. It was precisely the right time to confess her feelings. "I love you," she declared, simply, and he was awe-struck.
Jack was barely able to contain his emotions. They all so nearly came tumbling out but an immense act of will on Jack's part ensured they didn't. Sam saw the moment he pulled them back inside again and wondered why? Was she mistaken? Didn't he love her after all? Had she so badly misread him last night?
'Tell me Jack,' she thought, an internal, silent prayer, 'Tell me and I'm yours forever. Don't you know that?'
"I didn't think…" he continued and she sensed his fear, once more comprehending what he was thinking. Jack was confused and uncertain where to go from here. She could see it quite clearly. It was strange that her heightened emotions surrounding Daniel's death had seemingly opened a window into Jack's soul. She knew how he felt about her after all, but still wanted to hear it from his lips.
"Tell me... how you feel Jack. I need… you to tell me," she whispered, urging him to speak.
"Tell you what? That I love you too? You know it don't you?"
His piercing but shy stare betrayed a depth of emotion that confirmed his feelings so completely that Sam was overwhelmed. He smoothed her hair with his long, languorous fingers, kissing her forehead lovingly, a small quirky smile appearing on his lips. Beaming brightly in response, her heart soaring erratically before landing with a thump in her throat, making her body quiver with joy and her voice tremble when she replied.
"Yes Jack, at last I know it. Sometimes I can be so dense."
"You? Never dense. That's my job and you can’t have it!" he joked, trying to relieve the tense and emotional atmosphere encompassing them. Sam chuckled obligingly, tenderly pecking his cheek.
"I wish you knew how long I have longed to hear those words," she said.
"Then I wish I'd told you before."
"But you couldn't?"
"How could I? I shouldn't have said it now, but I'm glad I did. I'm glad you did too. Sam…" he tailed off, unsure what to say next, but lay back and pulled her down with him, hugging her so tightly to his chest that she thought she would sink right into his body.
There were no words, just an overpowering sense of harmony between them. But, eventually, a small voice of doubt nagged once again at Jack, disturbing that accord, and he voiced one of his biggest problems with this newly forged relationship.
"W-what about… Pete?" he asked uncertainly, cringing inwardly and waiting for the other shoe to fall. It just had to, didn't it? Life didn't give him something good without simultaneously kicking him in the ass - it never had. Wasn't taking Daniel Jackson away from them enough payback for his sins, for crying out loud?
"Pete?" Sam seemed puzzled by the question and Jack was surprised.
"You know, Pete Shannahan - you wear his engagement ring on your finger." Jack quipped sarcastically.
"Jack, there is no Pete! I'm not wearing the ring anymore and haven't been for quite a while. Didn't you know? Hadn't you noticed?"
Sam was stunned. How could he not know? Jack was equally shocked by her news, and a sense of relief washed over him. He had to admit that he hadn't noticed and he took her hand to stare at the now naked finger and then lifted it to his lips, smiling in a confused but happy way.
"I… no, I… I knew you'd postponed the wedding, that much was obvious, but I thought it was a temporary thing because of your dad. I figured any time now you'd be walking down the aisle and I was dreading the invitation," he confessed, more frankly than he'd intended. "When did this happen?"
"A few months ago. How could you not know?"
"I haven't been around much, remember? Washington… the Pentagon… No one said anything. You didn't."
"I never plucked up the courage to say."
"Jeez, Sam, I… You needed courage to tell me something like that?"
Jack peered closely into her eyes, understanding totally why she hadn't mentioned it. They never talked about stuff like that. Why would she mention it? It wasn't something that cropped up in their normal conversation. To talk about their personal lives was a rare event, albeit not unprecedented. She probably thought it would be presumptuous to reveal it out of the blue.
"Of course you didn't tell me. Why would you?" he replied in answer to his own question. "We never… I never…" He was momentarily stuck for words. Sam could think of plenty of reasons why she should have told him, but also many why she hadn't. "What happened?" he asked.
"It wasn't the right thing Jack. He was never the right man. It just took a while for me to truly understand that."
"I'm glad you did because I'm a good Catholic boy." It was typical of Jack to try to quip his way out of what he perceived to be an awkward moment between them.
"What the heck does that mean?" she queried.
"It means I know the Ten Commandments so if I break one I feel really guilty." Sam laughed in response.
"Pete and I were never married."
"And that makes so much difference as to whether I'd burn in the fires of eternal damnation?" She laughed again. "There is such a thing as honor Sam."
"I don't think acting dishonorably means you burn in the fire pits of hell Jack. Besides, you're one of the good guys."
He grinned, his response taking a jocular tone. "So you say. But that kind of depends on which particular all knowing God you happen to worship. It's all a matter of perspective."
"Are you feeling philosophical this morning?" she asked with a teasing smirk.
"Right now I…" he paused, wondering what he should say in these circumstances. "I'm just feeling a little happy is all. I probably shouldn’t but I do."
"Me too," she agreed, "in spite of everything."
He was happy that Pete was out of her life, that his rival for her affections had been vanquished. Jack pondered all those months in DC not knowing that Sam had called it off, all the heartache and self-recrimination for having missed his chance. He had thrown himself into the work to forget that, grateful that he was no longer around the SGC to see Sam happily living her life with someone other than him, and envious of Pete's good fortune.
He'd forgiven her long ago for breaking his heart by having made that choice in the first place. She had never really required his forgiveness because he understood that she needed her own life outside of the SGC and that she'd met someone and fallen in love. One can do nothing to control one's heart. Jack knew that only too well, and had believed she deserved that shot at happiness, a family and some stability; someone to go home to, something to look forward to. It was a life he could only wish for.
Now it appeared that she loved him, Jack O'Neill, and that fact was overwhelmingly important to him. Maybe he would get that wish after all. Not much else mattered, except for Daniel. He was saddened that Daniel's death marred this moment, but wondered if the promising shift in their relationship would ever have started if Daniel had come back through the gate alive and well. Jack seriously doubted it. Life and death was full of strange twists and turns and his life had suddenly taken a remarkable and totally unexpected turn for the better, despite the loss of one of his closest friends.
He felt guilty that Sam had brought him this happiness at a time intended for grief. Although his feelings were muddled and complex, if nothing else he knew for sure he loved Sam and wanted to be with her for the rest of his life. Did he have the right to feel any happiness when Daniel had been taken from them so abruptly? Obviously Sam was burdened with similar thoughts and he fervently hoped their guilt didn’t spoil what they had now found together.
Jack held her close for a while as they both thought about their friend, Daniel. He would be sorely missed. Softly kissing her face, brow and hair, he told her again how much he loved her. She needed to hear it and he needed to say it. She did the same.
Suddenly life seemed too short to waste any more time with their doubts and fears. They should take advantage of whatever time they could spend together; time was the most precious commodity they had. It was ironic that they had been shadow boxing with each other for all of these years and it took the death of a close friend to get them to finally admit their true feelings, to bring it all out in the open and to act upon their love.
But neither of them could dismiss or forget the fundamental and heartbreaking loss that had brought them together and, thoughts turning gloomy and ponderous, Jack abruptly withdrew his embrace, sitting up and scrubbing his hands through his hair.
"I can't believe he's gone," he said, "and just because of his stupid, child-like curiosity. The number of times that nearly got us killed… and now… Damn it, that's so unfair! Daniel deserved to go out in a blaze of glory!"
"He didn't deserve to go out at all," Sam observed, sitting up alongside Jack and grasping his arm. His mood had darkened so suddenly that she was taken by surprise and it tainted her own.
"No he didn't," Jack agreed in a whisper, trying to beat back the encroaching darkness.
"I'm so sorry!" The exclamation was wrenched from her heart and Jack looked up at her to see tears starting to brim in her eyes.
"Sam, baby…" His heart was doubly broken by her primal cry from the heart, and the loss of his old friend, but focussing on someone else's pain gave him the ability to curb his own.
"I know how much you loved him, Jack. He was important to you!"
Reaching over to take her hand, he bit his lip fretfully, not sure he was capable of providing the solace she needed, and cursing himself for getting so angered by Daniel's wasteful death just moments before. It was his fault Sam was so upset again now. Damn it!
"He was important to all of us, Sam," he said in a low, soothing tone, gently squeezing her fingers.
"I screwed up!" she snapped angrily and he thought the anger might be more productive than tears but could see she was barely containing herself in that respect either.
"You didn't screw up. He screwed up!" Jack retorted, his annoyance rising again when he considered she was blaming herself for something that was Daniel's fault. "Jeez, if he wasn't already dead I'd kill him myself for breaking your heart."
Dropping her hand he placed an arm around her shoulders, urging her to bury her head in his chest, and he felt her shivering shudders as she started to weep quietly.
"I hate that you're in such pain," he mumbled, feeling powerless to comfort her adequately, little realising that Sam always found his embrace soothingly reassuring.
"Me too!" she sobbed, "I hate that you are as well! I lost him. He's never coming back, not this time. It hurts so much. I lost your best friend and now… well, now… being with you made me so happy, Jack, and I shouldn't be happy, not now!" Her words about being happy echoed his thoughts, and he struggled to fight it for both of them. Perhaps it was wrong to be happy at such a time, but it was
equally wrong let their desolation swamp those feelings and destroy what they had created together.
"Daniel would want you to be happy, Sam, he'd want both of us to be happy," he replied, but as if she hadn't heard, Sam continued to rant.
"He snuck out without any-any… how could I know?" her sobs became louder and more pronounced now, tugging Jack's heart painfully.
"You couldn't." She had swayed back to the inconsolable woman of the previous night and he didn't know what to do or say to appease her, so he simply continued to hold her, rocking her soothingly.
"I was supposed to protect him," she continued and Jack thought maybe this angst and ire was better pouring out of her system then lurking within. "God, now I know what you must have been going through... How did you get through it? What's the secret?" She shrugged off his embrace and glared at Jack as if defying him to find her a simple solution to her grief and self-recrimination.
"No secret," he replied calmly, "I don't have an answer for you, Sam, just a whole heap of questions like everyone else. You get through it because you do, you have to, and in whatever way you can. My way isn't your way. You can only do it your way."
She looked irked by his lack of an illuminating response and her eyes narrowed as she continued to stare at him in something approaching an accusation. Jack attempted to take her mood swing in his stride. Grief took many guises, and was a roller coaster ride of emotions. He knew that very well.
"You always seem so…" she started.
"Cold?" he interrupted and she was shocked by that response.
"No! I wasn't going to say that!"
"Cold? No, not that." But as she said it she realised her words were a partial lie. Sam could recall occasions when she had considered him cold and unfeeling. The time when Daniel had ascended, for example, and he had forced the team back to work almost as if nothing had happened. Now she realised she had been wrong to attribute those feelings to him; so very wrong. The window into his soul told her so.
"Sometimes I thought you, well, thought that," he replied before she'd had a chance to clarify.
"Maybe I did, and I regret that because I know it isn't true," she responded, taking his hand in hers and squeezing, "I think I mean… crap! Composed, maybe, unbreakable."
"Unbreakable? I wish!" he collected his thoughts and admitted, "Sam, this is killing me as much as it's killing you."
"You weren't there," she retorted, and he thought maybe that did make some difference, but was angered that she appeared to dismiss his feelings.
"You are still my team!" he said, expressing his resentment and confirming it by pulling his hand away from hers and withdrawing his embrace. Sam regarded him regretfully, not having intended to hurt his feelings, and kneeled on the bed so she could enfold him in her arms. It was her turn to offer him comfort.
"I didn't mean… Jack, I'm sorry. You feel everything so deeply, don't you?" she commented and Jack wondered how she had come to that understanding because he'd tried so hard to button everything up so tightly.
She caressed his back, a physical expression of her heartfelt apology He didn't answer and she didn't expect him to, he simply let her keep holding on, enclosing his arms around her to mirror her gesture. She pulled back her head, kissing him softly on the lips, and he responded by deepening the kiss.
"This might make me feel better," she whispered when their lips parted.
"Me too. I'm here for you Sam. As long as you need," he replied softly, committed to her forever if that was what she wanted. He'd been thus committed for a very long time, his heart entrapped and entranced by her, unwilling and probably unable to break free.
"I'll always need you, and love you," she muttered and Jack smiled at her words, truly believing that to be the truth for the first time.
"Then I'll always be here."
"You're right, Daniel would want us to be happy, especially together," Sam said.
"I know. I’m gonna miss him."
"Me too. But we have each other, and Teal’c; that’s important."
He smiled into her hair but said nothing in response, instead abruptly changing the subject as if suddenly recalling his responsibilities.
"Sam I hate to get all practical on you but I need to make a call."
"Sure. We both need to get up and go into work I guess."
"No. We both need some time and we also need some time with Teal'c. I'll only go in if I have to. They aren't expecting me back in DC for a few days, and the SGC can probably live without you for a while. Someone will call if the crap hits the fan."
"You mean we aren't indispensable after all?" Her smile made his heart beat faster and he laughed quietly.
"I guess not. Disappointed?" he grinned, pausing contemplatively, "Now that is a sobering thought."
The call he wanted to make was nothing to do with work, but everything to do with friendship. He dialled up the SGC and asked for Teal'c.
"Teal'c, how about you, me and Sam spending some time together today? Come over to Sam's, but give us a couple of hours okay?" He could almost sense the Jaffa's smirk on the other end of the phone. "Don't smirk T," he admonished.
"You took my advice O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, pointedly.
"Then this provides something with which we can comfort ourselves my friend. I am most happy for you both."
"That's sweet T," Jack's tone was sarcastic, "but don't get too carried away."
"There is a problem? May I be of assistance?"
"No problem. Well no more than usual."
Jack was determined to find a way around the major problem, the regs, assuming Sam wanted to. It seemed she did.
When he had finished on the phone he returned to Sam's bedroom. She'd dozed off again and he smiled at the sight of her sleeping. She looked so beautiful, so peaceful. It lifted his heart. She must have heard him as she woke and looked at him for a long moment.
"You know what you said about when did you ever look hot Jack? Well how about right now?"
"You think I look hot?" he queried with an arched eyebrow.
"Pretty much all the time actually."
"Oh!" He grinned shyly, looking embarrassed.
"Come back to bed?" she asked, his boyish expression lifting her heart, making her smile and her thoughts turn to seduction.
"Teal'c's coming over in a couple of hours."
"That gives us plenty of time for what I have in mind General O'Neill."
"Oh?" he replied with a gleam in his eyes, "Anything to oblige you Colonel Carter."
His moment of awkwardness gone, Jack slipped in beside her and they made love for the third time with Sam taking the lead. Hot was a pretty good word, he thought. Later they took a shower together, and then made coffee and had a late breakfast. Teal'c showed up shortly afterwards.
Jack drove them all out to Manitou Springs and they wandered around the narrow, twisting streets looking in the quaint shop windows and drinking the spring water from the spigots provided for that purpose. Then they went for a late lunch and talked about Daniel, his foibles, irritating habits and loveable traits. Jack figured this would help them all to start mourning properly and get on with life, as Daniel would wish.
His cell phone rang while they were eating and it was Hank to let him know that Daniel Jackson's body had been retrieved without any problems. It was both a relief and a sorrow. They were silent for long while afterwards, just taking consolation from each other's company.
As they were in the area, they drove on to the Garden of the Gods to marvel at the beautiful red rock formations and watch the sun set upon them. Jack always thought they looked so special in the setting sun.
He had kept a polite physical distance from Sam in the company of Teal'c, although many meaningful looks had been exchanged. Their friend was pleased, therefore, to see Jack reach for Sam at last, slip his arms around her waist and nuzzle into her hair. She raised her lips to his and drew him into an affectionate kiss. Their mutual love radiated from them and Teal'c smiled, feeling some warmth from it. At least something good had come out of all the heartache. It was a small consolation.
As it darkened, they returned to the truck and Jack drove them back to Sam's. Both Sam and Jack tried to persuade Teal'c to stay longer and, although he had enjoyed their company, and their solace, he insisted on taking his leave, determined they should have time alone. They waved goodbye to him as he drove away.
"I guess I should go home," Jack said when he'd gone.
"I could use some clean clothes."
"Then can I come with you?"
"Sam, if you never left my side again I wouldn't complain." She smiled shyly in response.
"I… I'll get some clothes?"
So they went back to Jack's and ordered pizza, sitting out on his back porch and listening to music. Unlike the previous night, it was warm and dry, a slight breeze cooling them.
"Sam, will you dance with me?" Jack asked out of the blue. He'd always wanted to dance with her but never managed to pull it off.
"Sure, in the yard."
She smiled, letting him take her hand and lead her down into the yard to dance. He held her close, their cheeks touching and their breath in each other's ears.
After a while it started to rain softly and they ignored it, choosing instead to risk getting wet and continue their dance. Sam thought it romantic to dance in the rain with Jack. He hardly even noticed the rain.
"Sam? Is this thing truly real? I don't want it to end."
"It doesn't have to end Jack. You doubt me?"
"Well… you know… Pete…" he faltered, "I guess I kind of gave it my blessing but it was killing me."
"I'm so sorry."
"You have nothing to apologise for," he countered insistently. "You never belonged to me. I had no right to have expectations."
"But you did have a right Jack. Why do you think Pete and I split? I realised what a big mistake I was making. How dumb could I get? He could never have made me truly happy; he would have ended up suffocating me. There is only one man I want to spend the rest of my life with."
"Oh? And do I know him?" he asked cheekily.
"Possibly," she replied with a titter. "All I know is that I want to get to know him a whole lot better."
"So this is it?"
"This is it." He responded by lightly kissing her cheek, still swaying her in his arms to the strains of the music.
"Sam, it's raining," he declared.
Neither of them made a move to stop dancing.
"You know it's not going to be that simple, don't you?" he said.
"Yes it is. We'll find a way around everything… tomorrow. Anything's possible Jack."
Now that she held the man she loved in her arms, Sam genuinely believed that. Having longed for this for years, now the time had come it was as wonderful as anything she could have dreamed. Jack also marvelled at the fulfilment of the long held dream and hoped Daniel was looking down at them and smiling.
"We'll find a way around everything *and* save the planet?" He asked.
"Sure we'll save the planet Jack. But all I'm worried about right now is saving us. So, let's not think about tomorrow until it comes."
That was such a non-Carter like thing to say and Jack figured he liked this Sam - loved her! Tomorrow they would deal with it all; Daniel's body, mourning his loss, the regulations, and the rest of their lives. For now there was just the two of them, the music and the rain - and they sealed the bargain with a kiss.