Never Alone: Full Disclosure
Immersed in working on her laptop, Sam heard nothing, feeling rather than hearing him enter the room. Gasping with surprise, she looked up to meet forlorn darkened eyes staring at her from the doorway. Jack said nothing: no hellos, no apologies, not even a small "hey", but none of that mattered to Sam. His eyes spoke the words he was unable or unwilling to voice. He was there and needed her, that much was clear, and it was way more than enough to know that simple fact.
Meeting his silence with silence, Sam simply rose from her chair and approached, opening her arms and pulling him into them. At first he didn't react, his body stiff and unbending, but then she felt the rigidity and tension of his muscles loosen and relax into her embrace, his arms then moving to tighten around her body as if his life depended on that warmth and comfort.
The only movement was the rocking and swaying of their bodies as they held each other close, and the only sound was Jack's heavy breath in her ear as he tried to reign in pent up emotions. When he buried his face in her neck, Sam could have sworn she heard a small sob, and she squeezed him tighter, not sure if she was mistaken but knowing if she wasn't, Jack wouldn't want her to see his misery.
After the longest time of simply holding each other close, Sam slowly pulled back, searching his eyes and finding a disturbing bleakness within. Taking his hand in hers, she led him to the couch, urging him to sit, bending and running her fingers through his soft grey hair. His dark eyes glistened with moisture, but he was in Jack-like control of his boiling emotions, tearing his eyes away from hers as they showed what he didn't want to reveal.
Sam crouched in front of him, removing his shoes before sitting beside him and pushing his head into her lap. Jack swung his legs up onto the couch and let her hold him and stroke his face and hair with her delicate fingers, closing his eyes and content just to be there with her, knowing she knew and understood. No words were required, and none were exchanged.
Later, at some ridiculous hour of the morning, Jack woke, head still cradled in her hands. Sam's head lolled against the back of the couch and she slept, peaceful and beautiful in that restful repose. Reluctant to wake her, he merely stared at her lovingly for a while, contemplating what a lucky man he was to have such a woman love and care for him. Reaching up a hand, he softly ran his thumb over her cheek, a small quirky smile on his lips. Then he sat up, softly kissing her brow.
"I'm so sorry, Sam," he whispered to her sleeping form. "Please forgive me."
Heart heavy with guilt and dread, he soothingly urged her awake and led her, half asleep, into the bedroom. With tenderness that many would not believe was possible from such a man, Jack removed her clothing, and she murmured, partially opening her eyes. He bent to kiss her cheek, sliding her between the sheets and encouraging her to continue her slumber.
Filled with remorse that he had let her hold, comfort and love him having said nothing and deserving none of her consolation, Jack didn't slip in beside her. What he had wordlessly allowed to happen when arriving had been wrong on so many levels and he couldn't bring himself to follow one, or many, wrongs with yet another.
He had so needed that comfort, to feel Sam's touch and embrace, that he'd selfishly said none of the things he needed to say, nothing to right the sins he had committed against the woman he loved so deeply.
"You're a bastard, O'Neill, a total shit!" he muttered under his breath, wrenching his gaze away from her peaceful and innocent beauty. "She's earned better; a way better man than me."
Moving away and back into the living room, he stretched out on the couch and, despite the guilt in his soul and some brief musings about what he should tell her the next morning, he fell into a deep restful sleep, the first decent night's sleep he'd had in days - the sleep of the damned.
Sam awoke next morning, an arm stretching out to meet nothingness beside her and she opened her eyes with a start. The sheets weren't crumpled on the other side of the bed, and the pillow showed no sign of his head having rested there. This both puzzled and disturbed her. Where was Jack? Hadn't he slept?
Filled with concern, she got up and hastily grabbed a robe to put on, checking spare beds before quietly poking her nose around the living room door and finding him asleep on the couch. Setting off to the kitchen, she poured some orange juice into a glass and returned to the living room, sitting on a chair to watch her fiancee as he slept and await his awakening.
She supposed he'd been too restless to settle beside her and, not wishing to disturb her, had ventured here to think whatever tumultuous thoughts he was thinking, eventually falling into a fitful sleep. Sam was well aware his mother's death had traumatized and distressed him, probably way more than he was ever likely to admit, perhaps even to himself. His uncharacteristic behaviour in LA and on his return last night, as well as his failure to contact her while in Chicago, told her a lot about his feelings, maybe more than he imagined she would know or understand.
Over the course of their relationship, she had come to learn and comprehend so much about the man she loved. Sure, he could still be a conundrum and surprise her, but that inner darkness he had revealed was less of a mystery to her now. She couldn't hope to understand or even know all of it but what she did know and understand was enough. Even if he never mentioned Chicago and his mother's death, even if he never alluded to their argument in LA and his errant behaviour, she could forgive him that and live with it.
His arrival the previous night had been totally unexpected. She'd believed he was flying straight to DC, and it was a good thing he'd come to the Springs, to her, right? He'd needed her. It was both that simple, and that complicated.
He stirred and the movement pulled her away from those thoughts as he opened his eyes. She smiled as those eyes met hers, and Jack thought he couldn't wish for anything more. Wordlessly, he arose, taking a hand in his as he loomed over her and kissing it gently before briefly disappearing to the bathroom. When he returned, he bent to kiss the top of her head, reaching to remove the orange juice from her hands and taking a large gulp.
She said nothing, trying to fathom the raging emotions in his eyes and deciding some lovemaking might be exactly what he needed to salve his soul right now. She wouldn't be averse to the notion either. So she spoke at last.
"Come to bed? Make love to me?"
Standing and moving to kiss him, she was taken aback when he turned his head away to avoid her lips, and caught her arms to gently discourage her.
"Jack?" she queried quietly, a look of puzzlement on her face. It was unusual for her lover to reject a sexual advance.
"I'm so sorry, Sam," he whispered, the first words uttered since his surprise arrival, or at least while she was awake to hear them. "I love you." Jack noted the small smile that appeared on her face, but she said nothing for a long time.
He let her go and one of her fingers ran gently over his chest. "Love you too," she muttered, surprised when he moved away, stalking over to the window, opening a curtain and, with his back turned, peering out into the bright blue sky of the day. Sam knew when to take a hint. Something profound was troubling Jack and she assumed it was his mother's death and events in Chicago, so she waited for him to speak, willing him to turn and face her, but he didn't.
"I'm an ass," he said at last.
"You can be." She longed to offer him the comfort of her arms and lips, the warmth of her body, but instead she simply stared at his back, not making any move towards him while she decided how best to handle this obviously bleak mood. "I thought you were going back to Washington."
He turned to face her at those words. "I couldn't. I had to see you. I had to show you how sorry I am. I can't do that down a phone line. You know me and words." The smile of his small self-deprecating chuckle did not reach his eyes.
"How was Chicago?" she asked, sensing much disquiet, so hurriedly added, "It's okay if you don't want to talk about it."
Briefly, Jack looked pensive, biting his bottom lip and, with pangs of concern, she wondered what was going through his head. Before he replied, Sam noticed him pull a mask over the boiling emotions that had previously dominated his expression, eyes and demeanour, but the quiet and sorrowful tone of his next words did nothing to dispel her unease.
"Um, let's go make some coffee. I need caffeine. There's some stuff I want to tell you, need to tell you." It was true that he needed the hit of caffeine to bolster his courage, but also the act of making it would give him more time to think and put off, if only for a few minutes, the confrontation that was an inevitable consequence of what he had to confess.
Her eyes remained captured in his gaze and she knew immediately something was wrong, something more than the death of his mother and the funeral, and wanted to press for more. Instead, she nodded agreement and followed as he decamped to the kitchen.
They remained mainly silent, Jack insisting she sit at the table while he made the coffee, and refusing her offer of breakfast. The silence was only broken once they were sitting with a drink in front of them. Normally such a silence would have been intimately companionable, but not this time, and Sam waited anxiously for Jack to find the right words and reveal his troubled thoughts.
Jack's head was reeling with words, both right and wrong. What could he say and how would whatever he said affect their relationship? He loved this woman so much and the idea he might lose her made him sick at heart. But surely he wouldn't lose her, not now? He had to believe that. He could have decided to say nothing but couldn't live with lies, not with Sam. Never.
Long silent moments followed during which Jack fidgeted and tried to cover his discomposure by fiddling with his cup, thus exposing his turmoil more than he realised, but eventually abandoned the cup, grasping her hand and settling his previously wavering gaze on her eyes.
"Something happened in Chicago, I, um, I met someone." His words were quietly hesitant but Sam had no thoughts in her head about what he might be hinting at. Why would she have any suspicions about fidelity or betrayal?
"Oh?" she queried, waiting patiently for clarification. Jack steadfastly held her gaze, although that was hard as he was so ashamed of what he was about to reveal.
Then he began, the words tumbling out in no planned or considered way, merely the truth he needed her to know, and all the time he kept her gaze trapped in his, willing her to understand and forgive, and to know he loved her and only her, always and forever.
"An old flame came to the funeral. I didn't even recognise her at first. Jean Kelly, the first love of my life I guess. We were close. As intimate as two people can be at that age when you're too young to take it all the way. I got packed off to Minnesota and we never saw each other again. We went for a drink after the funeral, catch-up, talk about old times, all that, and-and one thing led to another and-and… aw crap…!"
Sam's face sported a surprised, verging on shocked, expression and she snatched her hand away from his, suspicions aroused. Although he had said nothing overt about what might have happened, her brain filled with confused and anxious thoughts. 'One thing led to another? It sounds like he meant… it sounds… no, not Jack! Never Jack!'
"What the hell does that mean, one thing led to another?" she asked accusingly, voice raised with irritation, while her mind waited for the clarity it required.
"Not quite what you might think."
She breathed a sigh of relief and then considered those words. "Not quite? What exactly?" She glowered at him momentarily, and then her gaze dropped away and she uncertainly stared at some point of nothing on the table waiting for more.
Taking a deep breath, he garbled his words. "Um… w-we kissed. We fumbled bit. I went back to her place and…" The look on Sam's face as she looked up at him in wide-eyed horror and disbelief made him pause.
Sam was appalled, the implications of his revelation jostling for attention inside her head, but she took a deep calming breath, determined not to overreact until she knew more. Was Jack trying to tell her he'd cheated? Jack O'Neill? It seemed so unlike almost everything she knew and believed about him that she could barely think it could be possible. Not Jack. Never Jack. He was a principled man, a good man - the best.
"Exactly what happened?" she asked coldly, dry mouthed, not sure she really wanted to know the answer to that question, but realising she had to face up to whatever it was he'd done. She was wondering why he had to tell her. If she didn't know then they didn't have to face the consequences, and she dreaded what those might be. "S-something… more happened between you?"
"Something, yes. But we never had sex, if that's what you're thinking. We-we… just… I needed… shit! I'm so sorry Sam. I don't know what to say, what to tell you."
Jack longed to tear his eyes away. The pain he saw in Sam's was close to unbearable, and he recalled the hurt he'd seen in Jean's when he'd come to his senses as they crossed the threshold of her bedroom. They never made it to the bed, never took their mutual desire and desperate need beyond the kind of heavy petting they'd known in their youth, not even that far, but they'd came close enough that they were left frustrated and irritated.
Jack couldn't do it, couldn't be wholly unfaithful to Sam and, more to the point, he didn't want to be. Amongst the desolate wretchedness, the disquieting and unexpected sense of terrible loss, and the consequent urge for devilment, Jack had found the will to fight the demon, and won.
Nevertheless they had gone far enough, much further than he should have allowed. Anything beyond a kiss was too far, or even a kiss, and he had gone for it almost without a struggle. Falling over himself in his desire to escape, Jack had apologised to Jean wholeheartedly, knowing he was entirely to blame for letting it go that far, and called a cab, returning to the hotel.
As soon as he got back to his room, he thrust himself under the shower in an attempt to scrub away his shame. And scrub he did, hard and long, willing the hot water to soothe his dark, battered and guilt-ridden soul. Then he leaned heavily against the wall in despair. His eyes scrunched up into a twisted travesty and he grasped head in hands, squeezing firmly to try easing the thumping ache in his head. He couldn't stop thinking… thinking… thinking…
Crap! What had he done? Fist found wall and he yelped as the pain shot through it and up his arm and, once again, threw himself at the mercy of the water's power, soaping up and scrubbing some more. Nothing worked and, in a supreme effort to find comfort, Jack satisfied his now raging frustration with a fast, furious hand.
He almost called Sam then, but couldn't bring himself to talk to her, not on the phone, not with the weight of so much guilt on his shoulders. Instead he called the airport to change his flight plans and packed his bag, making it to the airport with minutes to spare before the Colorado Springs bound plane took to the air.
Although he had made up his mind he would tell her all about it as soon as he got to Sam's, once he'd arrived Jack lacked he courage to speak up, so said nothing, instead doing what he needed most, sleeping in the comfort of her arms, and cherishing every moment as if it might be the last, because maybe it would be. If he had destroyed what they had, he would never forgive himself, and he wasn't sure how he would live with it, or without her.
"Exactly how far did it go?" she asked through thinned lips, in a tone of barely suppressed anger and pain.
He could see the fury flash in her eyes and briefly turned away from her scorn, but not for long. He had to face this, whatever the consequences might be, and Sam deserved to know the truth. She'd earned that, and way more. His actions in Chicago might have belied his respect for her, but Jack held this woman in very high esteem and hoped he could convince her of that, and that he could be trusted despite what had happened.
Sam, meanwhile, couldn't quite comprehend what he was telling her. So they hadn't had sex, but what had happened? They'd kissed and that was bad enough, though not unforgivable, but what did he mean by fumbling? How far had he gone? Sam was now determined to hear all of it so she could consider what to do in the light of full disclosure, so she was willing to listen, to get to the truth, although her resentment smouldered inside ready to burst forth at any moment.
"I'm waiting Jack. I'm listening - for now," she replied with a coolness that gave a lie to her tumultuous feelings and thoughts, narrowing her eyes and crossing her arms in front of her in a defensively closed posture.
"For crying out loud, how much detail do you want?" he asked plaintively, overwhelmed by shame.
"You think I'm going to make this easy for you, Jack O'Neill," she snapped, loosing some of her ire. "Think again!"
Jack totally understood why she was pissed with him. How would he react in similar circumstances? Not well he realised with rising nausea, not well at all.
"We came this close to going the whole way," he confessed, holding his thumb and forefinger so close together you could hardly see the space between. Jack didn't know what else to say, what else she needed from him, but he'd do anything, including beg if necessary. "But we never even took our clothes off, Sam. It was… we were like two young teenagers in the back seat of a car. I-I groped her, I kissed her. Bad enough, I know, but that's all that happened."
Maybe it wasn't as bad as she might have imagined, but Jack was right to say it was bad enough, and Sam was furious, giving full vent to her anger at last.
"How… how could you walk into my house and say nothing? Let me take you in my arms and sleep with your head on my lap? No wonder you didn't want to make love this morning, you bastard!" she screamed angrily, throwing her coffee cup at the wall with rage, rising from her chair and unexpectedly swinging for him. The flat of her hand hit his cheek with a stinging slap and Jack reeled, shocked by that reaction, but willing to let her beat the crap out of him if that was what it took.
For a moment, she loomed over him menacingly and Jack made no move to defend himself, his eyes almost begging her to do her worst. Then Sam held her hand to her mouth, gasping in horrified disbelief at her action. "Oh my god!"
"Don't pull your punches, I deserve it," Jack responded in a small voiced whisper, rubbing his reddened cheek and wincing. She just looked at him in dismay, still disbelieving she had hit him. Then she moved away, thumping the counter top to loose more of her fury at Jack, at herself for losing control and at the world in general.
After that she started pacing the room feverishly, taking deep breaths, trying to calm down and not even attempting to avoid the shards of coffee cup and splattered beverage strewn over the floor. She said nothing until throwing herself back into the chair, determined to approach this like the adult she was instead of the scared, angry and jealous teenager inside who was trying to sabotage her best efforts.
"So, what… you groped her, you kissed her? What Jack? What does that mean?"
"You want the gory details?" he asked, slightly taken aback, although he figured he probably shouldn't be surprised. What would he want to know if she had confessed something similar? Everything? Nothing? He guessed he probably would never even have let her get this far before walking out in fury and with a broken heart, and had to admit he admired her restraint.
"Yes, I want the fucking details, you moronic bastard. You've come this far, although why I'm not sure, but finish it, damn you! What the fuck were you thinking?"
He'd hardly moved since starting his confession but now sat forward and sunk his head into his hands, humiliation overcoming him. Despite her military background, where she encountered vulgar language on a daily basis, Sam rarely used it herself and for her to use that particular crude expletive right now told him much about her pent up emotions. The humiliation he felt was probably nothing to what Sam was feeling right now. He deserved to feel humiliated, and humbled.
"I wasn't thinking," he said, disconsolately. "I wasn't thinking about you at all. I was totally self-centred. I wasn't really thinking about anyone but me and what I wanted and needed. And what I really wanted and needed was consolation, Sam. I didn't really want the kissing or anything else, and I didn't really want Jean. I just… I needed company, I needed warmth and friendship." He scrubbed his hands through his hair in a hopeless manner, sighing and thinking he was saying this all wrong. With the inadequacy of his words, Jack felt didn't feel he has any hope of making her understand.
"Well it sounds like this went just a little bit further than that Jack," she spat, anger resurfacing. She was impatient to get more, more detail and more of an explanation.
"I know it," he admitted, looking up at her again and attempting not to shy away from her wrath by keeping his eyes firmly fixed on her face. Jack searched her eyes only to find her need for more, so resigned himself to providing it, however hard it was for him to tell her, however much he didn't want to cause her more pain. Hadn't he caused enough heartache already?
Sam kept thinking this situation was crazy and tried to quell the rising sense of panic. Surely it just wasn't possible? Not Jack. Never Jack. She had trusted him, had never believed anything like this would happen, but it had. How could she trust him now? How could she forgive him? How could he have let it happen? They had been so happy, or so she thought.
Everything inside her was screaming he'd wronged her, but at the same time she reasoned he was grieving, and understood his need for consolation and friendship, but this… She felt tears of her own grief and heartbreak in her eyes and tried to blink them back and keep herself under control.
Jack could see the internal fight she was waging and it broke his heart that he was the cause of all this anguish. "I'm not sure I can ever find the right words, Sam, the right words to explain, the right reasons and excuses."
"You know I'll do anything… anything to take your pain away. Anything to make it right." He paused and she said nothing, waiting for the more she expected and needed. Sam's patience was wearing thin and Jack could see that from the dark expression in her eyes, so he stumbled on.
"It all seemed so innocent at first. It was good to see an old friend at the funeral. I guess it felt good that someone cared enough to come. She suggested we go for a drink and I'd been going to drink alone but the idea of company, well, I never thought I wanted that. I thought I wanted to tackle it all alone, hide away as much as possible to lick my wounds. That's one of the reasons I didn't want you there, but it seems I needed it after all."
"Jeez, the number of times I wished you were there," he admitted, starting to get animated at last and gesticulating with his hands in a typically O'Neill like way. "So many times I regretted leaving you behind, so many. I would start to call and lose my nerve because I couldn't face up to how stupidly wrong I'd been, or how I'd behaved towards you before I left LA. I guess…"
He could see she still needed more and sighed heavily, wishing Sam would react, but she didn't, merely waiting in silence. Her watery eyes and pinched pink cheeks were the only outward signs of the commotion he knew must be raging inside her. She was right to be angry, right to be hurt, and he was entirely in the wrong. He knew he couldn't shift or shrug off that responsibility, and didn't want to, but he hardly understood how and why it had happened himself, let alone have the ability to explain it to her satisfaction.
"Okay, so we talked for a long time, catching-up and reminiscing as I said, and-and she leaned over to kiss me. I-I didn't even think about it, just pulled her into my arms and kissed back… wanting… needing… something, almost anything, I guess." Jack kept his eyes on her as he spoke, continuing without much of a pause to allow her to comment, knowing if she wanted to, she would.
"It was all my fault, Sam. Jean might have started it, and that surprised me. I had no idea she-she still yearned for that after all these years, but none of it is her fault. S-she kind of hinted at having sex and I was horny as hell, and lonely as hell too. I'd just been to my own mother's funeral, damn it. I was pretty upset. More than I realised. I was angry, hurting, hating myself for hating her, hating myself for loving her. Just hating myself I guess. I was always unworthy of love, Sam; hers, or she didn't seem to think so, Sara's, yours… But right at that moment, it was what I needed, or the closest I could come to it."
Those words saddened Sam deeply. Jack did deserve love. He'd fought for it and earned it from at least two damned good women, if she included herself, and possibly more than that. How could he believe he was unworthy? She almost folded then, her desire to ease the awful self-hatred eating at him close to overwhelming, but she stopped herself. She still needed answers to the many questions raging in her head, and she deserved to get them before she could decide how to move forward.
Faced with silence and not much clue as to what Sam was thinking, Jack persisted. "Grief does weird things and sometimes makes you do weird things – things you wouldn't normally do. I figure you already know that." He looked at her confirmation that she understood that much but didn't find it, although he suspected she did know it.
"But I'm not trying to make excuses, I'm just trying to explain. I need to understand it as much as you do. I-I'm a one-woman man, not really the unfaithful type, I hope you know that. Maybe you don't, but I'm not. It might be asking a lot, but you have to trust me on that one."
Sam could see that truth in his eyes and realised she did know that, or had certainly suspected it. All that time they had worked together, well, Jack wasn't exactly Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise. She realised that for all she knew he might have been unfaithful every day to Sara while they were married, but she knew Jack well enough to know that was unlikely. Also, for all she knew, he might have gone home from the SGC to a different woman each night, but that was equally unlikely. Jack O'Neill might have been something of a dark horse, keeping much of his life and thinking to himself, but her gut instinct and knowledge told her he wasn't that man.
When she said nothing, he continued to provide that detail he was so embarrassed to reveal, but she seemed to crave so much. "We got a cab back to hers and might have got a little too carried away, I guess. I don't think I was even trying to control it or hold it back."
It was then that the tears started to roll down her cheeks. It wasn't uncontrollable weeping, but her emotions had certainly got the better of her. Jack gasped in dismay but understood the last person she needed comfort from right now was him. Her expression of fundamental sorrow on her face tore him apart.
"Sam, I don't want to hurt you like this. I don't want to tell you all this…"
"But you're going to aren't you?" she said with a cracked voice wondering if she really cared that he could see her pain so openly. He didn't deserve to be let off lightly, and she needed to hear, however reluctant both of them were to deal with this in so many ways.
Jack, meanwhile, could feel the emotion of the moment starting to conquer him too, and sympathetic tears, maybe some for him as well as Sam, pricked at his eyes but they didn't match hers by dampening his cheeks because he used everything he had to rein them in.
"When I say we got a bit carried away in the cab, I mean… nothing really happened. I-I just groped at her breasts a bit, you know?" His expression was so bleak and full of self-loathing that Sam's heart wrenched for him again, but she steeled herself to think about her, and not him. Screw him! However, she couldn't staunch the flow of water from her eyes and Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out some clean tissues, handing them over to her.
"What about her, Jack. What was she doing all this time?" she asked though the tears, her first words since he'd started on his sorry tale.
"Um, you really want to…? Shit Sam, don't put yourself through this." He paused but could see a look of determination on her face even while she wiped her eyes and blew her nose with one of his proffered tissues, and this forced him to continue.
"I-I think she was kind of feeling up my crotch." He sucked in a breath, "And I was getting hornier, I remember that. When we got to her place I so nearly... In the hall we-we… I know it was way more than I should have allowed, and it wasn't exactly innocent, but it wasn't much more than had already happened. M-my hand might have wandered under her skirt and grasped at her thighs and I-I remember her breasts…"
"Then we made our way to her bedroom and… we never made it inside. I clearly recall your face coming into my mind, although I'm not sure why exactly because before that I don't really think I was thinking much of anything. It was like I w-was on autopilot or in a trance or something. But that's when I pulled back and stopped it. I came to my senses, walked out and went back to the hotel."
"Were you drunk?" she asked when she found her voice. Her head was reeling with this information. How could he have forgotten about her so easily?
While he pondered his reply, his gaze awkwardly shifting away from Sam's and roaming down to his now stone cold and untouched coffee, Jack wondered what was going through her head at these revelations. Perhaps he could have found a whole host of excuses for what had happened, but when it came down it, he had none and wasn't prepared to let himself get away with any easy way out. Truth or nothing. That was not only the best he could do, but he also knew it was his best shot with Sam. If he tried to cover up anything, if he lied even a little, they'd be finished and he still held some vague hope they could get through this mess.
"I'd been drinking but I wasn't drunk," he replied at last. "A little merry maybe, but not drunk. Stop trying to find excuses for me, Sam. I betrayed your trust and I don't know if you'll ever be able to forgive me for that, but I hope you can because I'm not sure what we'll do if you can't." Eyes resting on her at last, he was surprised to find her tears had stopped and her unforgiving and angry expression had softened. "I stopped it before it went too far, Sam. I really hope that counts for something."
"It does," she responded, looking thoughtful for the longest of silences, during which Jack waited mutely for judgement and retribution, the lengthy moments of agony almost too excruciating. "I'm thinking," she added, knowing he was desperate for a response, as if her physical attack and the tears hadn't already told him almost everything he needed to know.
Sam's emotions were akin to a long dormant volcano, bubbling and boiling deep down, an eruption due at any time. Quite honestly, she didn't know what to think. She needed time to digest this confession and reflect.
"What do I do, Sam?" he asked eventually, his expression desolate and fearful and his voice almost a whisper. "Tell me what to do. Tell me how to make it right."
"Make it right? Can you do that?" Sam wasn't sure she knew the answer to that question so knew damned fine Jack didn't.
"I don't know. Can I?"
She didn't reply, instead muttering almost as if to herself. "I never imagined you cheating on me, Jack. I always thought you were the faithful type."
"Cheating? Do you really believe that's what this was?" he protested defensively but wondering if he had been. Just because he and Jean hadn't had sex… Crap! "I know I did some things I shouldn't have, and I know it was wrong, but cheating? I don't really believe I was cheating, or not like a couple of people our age might think of as cheating. We aren't teenagers even if our hearts sometimes still seem that young. I am the faithful type, I told you that." She looked at him sharply as if wishing to catch him out in a lie. "I can see why you might have a problem believing that, but I am. You know it, don't you?"
His eyes were imploring her to understand and she hesitated momentarily before responding. "Yes, I know it. Or I thought I did." Her volume increased a notch with a slightly hysterical tone. "I need to think about it, Jack. I need some time. I want to be alone to think. I don't want you distracting me."
"You want me to leave?" His voice wavered emotionally, as he considered the connotations of that decision.
"Yes. For a while, Jack. Just give me a while. I'm still too angry, too upset. I can't think straight right now." The calmness of her tone did not match her words, but he could see she was restraining herself and was grateful for that. It was something to hang onto. At least she hadn't unceremoniously dumped him. "W-why don't you go out for a run or something? Maybe by the time you get back…"
By the time he got back, what? She'd be ready? She'd have made up her mind? He'd be judged and sentenced? What? He didn't voice his disquiet but just nodded and turned to leave the room to change, turning back briefly at the kitchen door. "I love you Sam. Don't ever doubt that."
Then he was gone and it wasn't until she heard the door close behind him that Sam let rip and allowed her tears to fall in shuddering sobs and gasps.
Once he left the house, Jack felt more desolate than ever and longed to punish himself, so started off with way too much speed. He tried to clear his mind of thought, and often he could succeed in doing that, let himself be almost absent while running, but in these circumstances that was way too hard and he was thinking far too much and too darkly for his own good.
Realising he hadn't actually drank anything that morning, certainly no water and not even the coffee, commonsense prevailed and he broke off to buy a bottle of mineral water, before attempting to better pace his run.
Jack wasn't sure how long he should leave her to think about things, so he determined to leave it as long as he could bear it. But he felt like crap so decided the run was probably a bust and sat in the park watching kids playing and ducks swimming up and down on the pond, thinking about how much he loved Sam and wanted to be with her, and hoping she felt the same way and could forgive him and trust him again.
He dreaded that he'd screwed their whole relationship up when he'd worked to hard to let her know him and love the person he really was rather than the man who had once been her CO.
Back at the house, Sam tried her best to stop feeling sorry for herself and think things through, getting up to clear away the broken cup and the now drying coffee from the floor. She still wasn't certain she'd heard enough to make up her mind, or understand what happened. But if Jack didn't understand it himself, what hope did she have of fathoming it?
Did he truly believe he hadn't been cheating? She wasn't sure what she thought of that, but could kind of see where he was coming from. The distinction in his mind seemed to be that he hadn't had sex with the woman and Sam could relate to that in some ways. If he had, she might never be able to forgive him, as it stood his was a mild transgression by comparison.
One of the things that mattered most to Sam was what lay in his heart, and she believed his feelings for her to be genuine, powerful and deep. She didn't really think for one moment that his love for her had waned or strayed and that was crucial to how she reacted to his indiscretion.
Jack was probably right to link his actions to his grief, albeit that she didn't believe he was trying to find excuses for his behaviour. She knew from bitter experience that death and grief could make a person behave uncharacteristically, and Jack had so many unresolved issues with his mother that her death must have hit him harder as a result. That kind of thing could haunt a person for years after the death of a loved one.
She recalled his words about being unworthy of love and they made her feel sick at heart for him. His childhood had been painful in too many ways and she knew he'd never believed his mother had loved him, but hadn't quite fathomed until now what a dreadfully deep impact this had had on his psyche. That apparent lack of love must have been very hard on a young boy and Jack had done well to come out of it as a relatively sane and normal man and make ten years of marriage to Sara work so well, the ten years before they lost Charlie that is.
That loss had tipped him over the edge. His demon had been loosed and had destroyed his marriage and everything he held dear. He'd done pretty well to recover from that blow too, and the many other setbacks he'd suffered over the years.
Even a little bit of knowledge about the human mind told her people who had been abused and unloved as children were frequently abusers themselves, and found love and relationships a hard if not impossible struggle. Often they couldn't really believe in or experience love - they didn't believe they deserved it and couldn't give it because they didn't really know or understand what it was.
Jack, however, both knew and understood how to give it. She was certain of that because he already had given his love to her, and continued to. He was a man with much love to give, indeed was full to overflowing with it. This was something she had never truly understood until they had embarked on their romance, and it had taken her by surprise. A very pleasant surprise it had been too. It seemed, however, his ability to accept being loved was badly damaged by his upbringing. That was a basic flaw and she was distressed for him.
But, fundamentally, he was still the good, decent and honorable man she had always believed him to be, although he had many great reasons not to be. He had overcome his background against all odds and she admired that about him. Now, to have that painful past and so many questions and heartaches left unresolved by the death of his mother, knowing he could never resolve any of it -that must be very difficult for him to accept.
She could understand why a demon lurked within him and sometimes caused mischief and mayhem. Jack, of course, would never seek for someone or something else to take responsibility for his actions and would find that excuse unacceptable, which is why he might never have been able to articulate any of this effectively, or even understand it. She had been surprised, if not shocked, by his brief but telling expression of it.
As she mulled all this over, she made another cup of coffee to compensate for the one she hadn't drunk, needing a routine task to occupy her while she pondered. Sam had searched his face and seen the truth amongst the self-hatred, love, contrition and guilt, and as she went about her routine, an argument raged inside her head. His confession hurt, no doubt about that, and she was angry. The notion he might cheat on her was painful in the extreme, but that was simply not like Jack. He'd stumbled, sure, but hadn't fallen. To her surprise, Sam realised she sincerely believed that.
Jack's pain, confusion, doubt and solitude had driven him towards consolation, and she could rationalise that, but in the end he hadn't truly erred, either in body or spirit. Sam knew he loved her deeply, and she returned that love and believed they were meant to be. In the final analysis, it was almost as simple as that. Not for the first time, she cursed herself for not having followed him to Chicago despite his wishes. She should have been there.
It wasn't that she believed he'd go running off to be unfaithful to her each time they were parted, she knew in her heart that wasn't true. One mistake does not negate many years of deep abiding trust and respect. But had she been there, she would have been able to console and soothe him when he needed it most. Instead he had yearned for and required that so very much and she hadn't been there to provide it.
She could have kicked herself for that because she had suspected he would find his mother's death more difficult than he had wanted to admit to either her or himself. That didn't mean she would shoulder the blame, and Jack wouldn't want her to do that either. He wouldn't even comprehend why she might try.
On the other hand, she was angry with herself for wanting so much to be able to forgive him. She loved him, and wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. What he had done had not changed that. But this didn't mean she would let him walk all over her and treat her as he pleased. She'd broken two engagements to stop that happening, and would break theirs as well if she had to.
Some women might give up and never be able to trust their partner again after a confession such as Jack's but Sam wasn't one of those women. She didn't expect Jack to be either superhuman or a saint, although she did expect him to be faithful. But she understood why he questioned whether or not he'd truly cheated because when it came down to it, she didn't really believe he had either, and she didn't believe he would ever do it. His heart and soul belonged to her and with her, and she knew it.
Having had this internal debate, Sam felt much calmer and more able to deal with the crisis. No way would she give up on Jack because of one relatively minor transgression that happened when his thoughts were in turmoil and he wasn't his real self. He had stopped it before it went too far. As she had told him, that meant a lot - it meant almost everything.
Their love was rich and deep and it was going to take way more than these events to drive them apart. That didn't, however, mean she was going to let him off easily. He needed to understand that, love him she might, but she would not put up with just about anything to get him or keep him.
The house was silent as he opened the door, wondering what sort of reception would greet him. Peering gingerly around the living room door, his heart sank when he saw the grim expression on her face.
Sam had been over the arguments in her head a number of times and now Jack had returned and was probably expecting her to know her mind - and she did, didn't she? Or maybe she still needed some answers.
"I, um, am I back too soon?" he asked and she shook her head, indicating he should come in.
She looked uncomfortable perched on the edge of her own couch and Jack didn't attempt to sit beside her, fearing she would reject that proximity and choosing instead to sit on the armchair opposite.
"You don't want to take a shower?" she asked.
'What do you think? I need to know what you're feeling Sam. Please!' he thought. The words were desperately seeking to exit his mouth but he didn't let them, schooling himself to look composed and wondering whether she was doing the same and that's why she looked grim. He could wish, couldn't he?
"No. I um…" he left he sentence hanging and she nodded silently to acknowledge the words, not speaking for a while. The silence of waiting was killing Jack.
"Sam, what…?" he started after a long uncomfortable silence. Again he didn't finish and realised how terrified he was of what she might be thinking and what she would decide to do now.
Then she started. "So you believe you haven't cheated in your heart? Is that what you're trying to tell me, Jack?"
"But what the hell am I meant to think? That you didn't cheat? That somehow kissing and fondling this old flame of yours doesn't count for anything?"
"No. I could never ask that of you. I know it counts for something." He hung his head and allowed his eyes to roam over the carpet at his feet instead of meeting her hard gaze. "I know I did you wrong, Sam. I just don't know how to begin to tell you how sorry I am."
"Why did you tell me? I would never have known."
Initially Jack appeared to be puzzled by her question and then he shook his head sadly. "You really want me to lie to you?"
"Yes. No. Actually, I don't know. Sometimes it's better not to know things."
He looked up, unsure how to react to that and studied her for a while before replying. She turned her big blue eyes to meet his dark ones, surprised by the watery turbulence she found there. Jack was a man who could stay detached and emotionless under pressure, but the range of emotions in those eyes was staggering.
"I don't want that for us," he said in a low tone, stumbling over his words in a voice quivering with restrained emotions. "I don't want to have to lie, or to live a lie with you. You, this relationship and our life together are too important to me for that. I need you to trust and respect me more than anything. Love me too, I hope, but trust, respect; they're… so…" Frustrated by his inability to communicate, or so he supposed, Jack thumped the coffee table with the hand that, until then, he'd been using to articulate his words. "Shit! Damn it, that hurt!" he cried.
For the first time, Sam noticed his hand was bruised and swollen and she wondered what he'd done and when. No doubt trying to punish himself. She'd been too distracted to notice and regretted that but appeared unmoving, not yet reacting to his words, or at least covering her reaction well.
"I know I'm asking a lot, Sam," he continued, attempting to break through. The silence she greeted his words with made his heart break as Jack's hopes faded. 'Hit me, do anything, but not this!' he screamed in his head.
"I guess maybe I'm asking too much. I-I don't know how it happened. I don't know how I… Jeez, what was I thinking? I guess I wasn't. I-I just… I can't even start to make excuses, or ask forgiveness… You're worth more, way more."
She still said nothing, but small droplets of water in her eyes matched the tears verging on the brink in his. Jack wanted to take her in his arms, anything to comfort her, him too, but he couldn't. He didn't deserve that comfort even if she did and, at the moment, he had no right to comfort her. How could he when it was his actions that had broken her heart?
"I don't know what to say or do," he persisted. "What happened, it wasn't right and maybe it's unforgivable. But what happened wasn't… I didn't… aw, crap!" Jack paused, searching for words that didn't sound trite, but could find none. Trite would have to do. "I belong to you, Sam, body, heart and soul. I guess that sounds pretty hollow in the circumstances, but it isn't; I promise you that. I love you."
Having thought she'd got her emotions under control, they started to spill over again and tears fell once more. She was moved by what he told her, but realised she was still angry. But, how far could she punish him? She knew Jack was tearing himself apart inside because he'd hurt her and that was something he would hate himself for doing. It wasn't right to cause him pain in return when, although she might still be angry, she knew what she wanted, and what she wanted was Jack O'Neill. This was what he wanted and needed to hear more than anything.
"Sam…" he started, upset by her tears, but she didn't let him continue.
"Don't!" she cried out, voice catching in her throat. "My turn to talk I guess. How do I…? Christ. I'm nuts!" This time, she paused to search for the right words and when she spoke again her voice and demeanour had calmed again as she considered the outcome of her internal debate, which had raged inside her head a quite few times while he'd been out.
After some consideration, she carried on. "A lot of women, I guess they'd think I should dump you, shouldn't ever trust you again, all that. I'm annoyed with myself because I keep thinking that's how I should feel and react, but that's not what I want. I've known you for a long time, Jack, a very long time. You're one of the good guys, an honorable man. I'm not trying to find excuses, or maybe I am, I really don't know, but you were hurting, lonely, angry and hating yourself, but you fought and overcame the demon."
Jack breathed a ragged and emotional sigh of relief because it was then he knew she did understand, and maybe even forgave, and the faded hope of salvaging their relationship returned.
"I told you I wouldn't let that demon tear us apart and I meant it," she added with a sniff. "Come over here and hold me?"
He started to rise to his feet, shakily, but sat down again without approaching her. "I… Sam, I can't. I… You blame the demon? Well lucky me, but it's part of me, not an excuse or even a good reason." He wasn't prepared to let himself off lightly anymore than he expected her to.
"But I know you, Jack. I know you wouldn't do that to me. Not that man I love and respect so much. He would never do that." Although his guilt still weighed heavily, those words lifted his leaden heart and he marvelled at her faith in him. He didn't deserve it, or her.
"Oh god, you're way too good for me," he whispered, this time allowing himself the luxury of joining her on the couch and pulling her into his arms. Jack knew he was unworthy, but it seemed Sam didn't. How could he fail to be moved to the core by that?
"You're a son of a bitch, Jack O'Neill, but I love you. I can't help that. I guess I'll always love you."
"Yeah, well the bitch is dead, but I'm still her son all right." He kissed her hair as Sam's head burrowed into his chest. "One of these days maybe I'll do something you could never forgive."
"I hope that never happens," she replied, deliberately ignoring his reference to his mother, as she wasn't sure it was a subject they should get into right then. This had to be about them, and if he needed to talk through his feelings about his mom, he'd do it when he was ready, which might be never. Sam was well aware of that.
She looked up into his face, needing to give him a warning shot over the bows before they closed this discussion down.
"This time, well, this time… I guess I don't see what happened as cheating, not truly cheating… but if you ever do anything like that again I'll have your balls for breakfast, I swear." she said in a calm, calculated tone. "I might love you but I'm not sure I'd ever be able to forgive you. A lot of women do, or seem to, but there are lines that shouldn't be crossed if you want to keep that trust and respect."
"Never gonna happen. I promise. You think I want to risk losing you? I thought maybe I had, but… Jeez, Sam, why would I want any other woman but you? I'd have to be crazy, right?" She nodded agreement and a brief smile flittered across his face before his expression became sombre again. "I'm not sure I'll ever forgive myself for being so mindlessly dumb, so how can I expect you to forgive me? For a small moment in time I forgot you, forgot us, forgot everything I hold close in my heart. How could I do that? I'm so sorry I hurt you. I hate hurting you. Hurting you hurts me too and I loathe myself for doing it. I never intended… " His contrition was perceptibly genuine and Sam interrupted. She didn't need more words. He'd said enough and what they both needed now was time to heal.
"I know. Shhh, it's all right," she responded. Her hand smoothing through his short hair and she kissed his neck before burying her face in it. "Everything is going to be fine, you'll see."
They hugged in silence, until Jack shattered the quiet with words that took Sam by surprise, his tone filled to overflowing with wretchedness.
"I'm so sorry, Jack," she replied, not sure what else to say, but starting to caress his back in a gesture of reassurance. She wondered what she would see if she looked into his eyes right now, but didn't pull her head up to find out.
"I-I guess I didn't expect to feel like this."
"She was your mom. It's never easy to lose a parent."
"I thought I hated her."
"But you don't?"
"I don't know. I… don't know." He sighed in a way that told her he was irritated by this uncertainty, and Sam felt him shudder in her arms.
"It's okay to be confused, Jack, and to be sad."
Although he said nothing more, and Sam didn't push it, Jack clung to her, ever more amazed at her capacity for love, no holds barred. It was him she loved like that. Him! That was everything he could have wanted and way more than he could have wished or hoped for. He was still pretty sure he hadn't earned it, which didn't mean he wanted it to ever stop. He would make himself worthy; he would make it up to her.
Once again he realised that adversity had brought them closer together rather than tearing them apart, and was truly grateful for that blessing, loving her more deeply and powerfully than ever.