Inside he was hurting like hell. Damned if he was going to show it though. He wanted Sam to be happy even if it was at his expense. That did nothing to ease his pain, but did help him to keep up the act. He’d lost her to some son of a bitch cop. A cop, for crying out loud!
Not only that, but this guy obviously did not trust his girlfriend. Jack had done some checking. He knew that Pete had been in touch with the FBI, trying to find out more about Sam’s background. The guy had also had the all out gall to follow her when she was at work. He could have screwed the whole operation; nearly did. Jack was surprised that Sam hadn’t been pissed about that. Maybe she had, but Jack had seen no sign of it. Afterwards things had seemed so perfect between the two of them. It made him want to puke.
Jack had said nothing to Sam about any of this. It would probably be him she would be pissed at, not Pete. It wasn’t worth risking their friendship for. If the guy had screwed the operation, if one of his people had been hurt? Then he would have spoken and acted, he wouldn’t have a choice. However, he did have a choice, and chose to remain silent.
Much as he might hate that she was with someone else, he wanted to do nothing that might wreck her relationship with this guy. If Pete was wrong for her it was for Sam to decide, not him. But, by God, if the guy hurt her in any way Jack would make him suffer. He had a pretty vivid imagination about how he might do that. It had almost become a fantasy that he would relish fulfilling. He might like the idea better if it didn't mean that Sam would have to get hurt to enable him to fulfil it. He didn’t want that.
If Jack was honest with himself, he was pissed with Sam. The promise she had made to him at the SGC Christmas party had been broken. He remembered her words very clearly, would never forget a moment of that night. She had told him she would wait until they could get their chance to be together; forever if necessary. To Jack a couple of years seemed like a very short forever. Forever meant forever. He was willing to wait as long as it took. If she had not made the promise, he would not have expected her to do likewise. He had asked her not to make promises she couldn't keep, but she had. Jack was bitterly disappointed and hurt; it had broken his heart.
This did not spoil his complete trust of her as his 2IC and friend. He knew she would be there for him if he needed her, in both capacities. Trust her with his heart? Never again. How could he do that? She had let him down badly and his heart lay in tatters, shredded parts of it left a trail in his wake wherever he walked. He determined to harden it; to cover it in a thick layer of ice that she would never break through. It would be difficult for him, but he had to do it for his own self preservation. It hurt too much.
The pain was excruciating, but he’d suffered worse and pulled himself out of it; Charlie, for example. His heart still ached for Charlie sometimes and he wondered how long it would ache for her. Not the same thing at all, but he figured that he might also have to live with this ache, and the regrets, for the rest of his life. Jack's love of Sam was for life, not just Christmas, and he had hoped she felt the same.
It could be hard facing her each day knowing that she was happily in love with another guy. However, he relished her friendship and didn’t want to spoil things between them. Despite everything she was important to him, even though she had broken her promise. That promise had given him such hope for the future where now he had none.
So Jack concentrated on his job and keeping his team and friendships together. That one of his team members was the source of his pain did not help him much. He would cope, he had to. What else was he to do? He did not want to contemplate losing her friendship as well as her love. It would rip a huge hole in the fabric of his life and he had enough of those already.
Thinking of his team made Jack chuckle to himself as he recalled Teal’c’s reaction to the whole Pete mess. Teal’c was not aware of the promise Sam had made to her CO, no one was. This was not the sort of thing that Jack discussed with anyone. Teal’c was very keenly conscious, however, of the non regulation feelings that O’Neill and his 2IC had for each other - correction on the 2IC half of that equation.
Teal’c had been at pains to tell Jack about Sam’s reaction when they had thought him lost with Maybourne. At that time Sam herself had been missing on the Prometheus. Teal’c had known Jack was upset about it; hell, everyone had known. Even Hammond was cognisant of the fact that Jack’s feelings ran a lot deeper than they should in his position as her CO. Jack had done his damnedest to hide what he felt, apparently without much success.
After the whole Pete incident, while he was still residing in the SGC infirmary, Teal’c had paid O’Neill a visit in his office. Jack had been trying to concentrate on the paperwork for that mission and failing miserably. Teal’c had stood in front of his desk bowing, with a glimmer of a smile on his lips.
"I could arrange for an accident to befall DetectiveShanahan, O’Neill." The smile made it appear that he relished the prospect, and Jack believed that he probably did. Teal’c did not take kindly to his friends being hurt. His loyalty pleased Jack and, if truth be told, so did the sentiment. He would be quite happy to arrange a little accident himself.
"What, T, persuade the Doc to kill him with kindness?" Jack quipped in response.
"I am sure that I could arrange something far more deadly and painful, O’Neill." His friend replied, the smile turning to a fully fledged grin.
"T old buddy, I appreciate the offer, I really do. But making a martyr of the guy is not gonna help."
"You are certain?"
Jack merely nodded a response, which Teal’c returned in kind, turning to leave the room immediately after another short bow.
Of all his team, Jack knew that Teal’c understood him very well indeed. There was a huge gulf in their culture and ages but they were like two peas in a pod; their experiences as warriors made this so. This was something that Jack came to appreciate and depend upon increasingly as the years went by. He trusted Teal’c totally, more than any other person he knew, and admired and respected the big guy immensely. He was a good friend who would kill, and risk his own life, out of personal loyalty. It comforted Jack to have such steadfast support from his friend, particularly in the face of the tumultuous changes in his life, and in SGC relationships with the outside world and universe as a whole.
He and Daniel could be pretty tight too but, lately, the younger man had been preoccupied with Sarah, and they were all upset about Janet's death, which tended to overshadow everything they were feeling right now. No doubt Jack’s pain had not escaped the attention of the archaeologist but he would never raise such an issue with Jack for fear that he would be barked at. Daniel knew full well that Jack rarely talked about his personal life or feelings. It served Jack right that he had no one that he could discuss this with, although he doubted he wanted to discuss it at all. Ignore it as best he could and bury it; bury it so deep that his heart would forget the dull ache that had plagued it since he’d found out about Sam’s paramour.
The upshot was that he was not looking forward to that evening in the least. Sam was having a birthday party. That she opened up her house for a party signalled something significant to Jack. This Pete guy had loosened her up. Jack hated that with every fibre of his being. It was him that should have had that privilege. He resented it, but tried to remind himself that he was happy if Sam was happy. Yeah sure you betchya!
Jack knew that Sam was hoping the party might help them with their mutual sorrow for the loss of their close friend; act as a catharsis of sorts. It was probably a forlorn hope, but well intentioned. Things had been a little screwy at the SGC lately. Face it Jack, he thought, things are always screwy at the SGC, but they seemed worse than ever since Janet's death. Everyone on the base had taken it badly.
Sam had even come to see him in the infirmary, clearly upset, and he knew she would never have done that under normal circumstances. If nothing else it had reassured him that their friendship was still on a firm footing. That was some small comfort. He had needed her consolation just as she had needed his. It was a small thing but of vital importance to Jack. He would always be there for her and she knew that. It left a small flame of hope burning inside of him that he didn't even dare examine too closely. That way lay more pain.
He figured Pete would be at the party and dreaded seeing them together, all nice and cosy in their mutual happiness. He felt the puke factor increase a notch. Jack had thought of a number of excuses that could get him out of going. All were pretty lame and obvious and he couldn't bring himself to use them. All that special ops training and he still couldn't provide himself with a decent cover. Go figure! He was simply stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea and didn't know whether to swim for it, or face the fire. He wanted to go; he didn't want to go.
Jack was not one to show his feelings but Janet's death had affected him deeply. He may hide it close inside as this was his way of dealing with loss and pain, but that didn't mean that he didn't feel it. He knew his friends also felt it intensely and this was one reason why, in the end, he had decided he should go to this party. It was important that he be there for them. And who knows, maybe it would act as a kind of catharsis after all. He, for one, could do with it.
Having tried on half his wardrobe getting ready, he resorted to his original choice of shirt, light blue. It was a color he knew suited him. Knock her dead, Jack! Unfortunately he was not in the least confident that it would have that effect. Lover boy would be there. He hoped he didn't botch it tonight. If he appeared overly bright eyed and bushy tailed it might be suspicious.
He fingered the small package that he took out of a drawer. It was a birthday present. He had wrapped it for Sam before he had even known about Pete, not sure if the time was right. It was something that had spoken to him of her, was perfect, so he had decided to give it to her as a symbol of how he felt. Crap, he should have got something else!
He didn't know that he could give it to her now; how that might appear or how inappropriate it might be. Swallowing his sense of dread he slipped it into the pocket of his jeans believing it would probably stay hidden there for the whole night.
As he was leaving the house he predicted that he would be too embarrassed to give it to her, too nervous of her reaction, and too insecure about whether this was the right time to even contemplate doing such a thing. It was too intimate, something he did not associate with him and Sam right now, despite the intimacy of the embrace they had shared that day in the infirmary.
All evening they covertly continued to steal glances at each other, quickly withdrawing their gaze and looking embarrassed when caught out. Jack wanted to sink into the floor every time she caught him in that admiring act. He hated that she might have an inkling of what he felt about this situation. It made him feel foolish and clumsy. She could so easily do that to him.
A man of 50 plus shouldn't be like that. He should be dashing and debonair, oozing self confidence, not like a kid in the playground who saw someone else kissing the girl he had a crush on. So much for macho.
He sincerely wished that what he felt about Sam was merely a crush, then he could get over it, but knew that it was very much more than that. After all these years his heart could still quicken at the very sight or sound of her. When he had entered the party it had done precisely that. It was one of those rare times that she was wearing a dress. The dress was a simple, straight, sleeveless black number that showed her figure to advantage without being outrageous or overt. A far cry from the outfit she had worn at that Christmas party, but she looked very sexy in it nevertheless. He rarely saw her legs unless in uniform and couldn't help looking, wondering why she showed them off so infrequently.
She had smiled and waved as he came in. The smile had totally melted the ice he had been trying so hard to form around his battered heart. Not that he'd ever had much luck in forming that barrier to encase his suffering.
"Sir, I'm glad you made it." She said, having interrupted a conversation she was having with Reynolds to welcome him.
"I wouldn't miss this for anything Carter. Happy birthday." He smiled but kept his distance. "Drinks?"
"I'll take you over and fix you one." She said, the perfect hostess.
As they chattered inanely while she fixed him a drink, Jack eyeballed the room, looking for Pete. He must be around elsewhere.
"Where's Pete?" He ventured.
"Oh, he couldn't make it. Big case he's working on."
Most of the tenseness left Jack's body at those words. He wouldn't have to see them together after all. Not this time. He suppressed a smile.
"Oh, I'm sorry. You must be disappointed." He hoped he sounded sincere and, up to a point, he was. He didn't like that Pete's absence might spoil the occasion for her.
"I'll live Colonel. I managed for a long time without him in my life. I think I can stand one night, even of it is my birthday." Sam suddenly reddened slightly, as if she realised that Jack was the last man on earth she should say such a thing to, and he probably was. Jack hoped that his thoughts did not show on his face. His mind turned to all those long years of nothing, for either of them; loneliness and yearning all come to nought. He was relieved to be interrupted by Daniel bounding over enthusiastically and Sam left them to talk, mingling with the other guests.
Jack tried his best to socialise, be the life and soul of the party. His heart wasn't in it, but his acting skills were. He and Sam didn't get any further opportunities to speak to each other. He was tired; having to make such an effort to appear cheerful was getting to him, as was the general noise level. So he wandered off to have a few moments of peace and quite, finding the spare bedroom the most peaceful spot in the house. He'd sit there for a while, get himself energised again, and rejoin the party. Nobody would miss him for a few minutes.
"Colonel?" She spoke softly, not wanting to wake him too abruptly.
He mumbled, then said "Huh?"
"Whe… Where am I?" He said groggily, opening his eyes and peering at the unfamiliar surroundings. Hey, there's Carter, he thought, what the heck…?
"My spare bedroom Sir. My place? My birthday? Party? Ring any bells, Colonel?" She teased him gently.
"Wha… Carter?" O'Neill shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs.
"You fell asleep, sir."
"Party! Yeah sure. Sorry Carter. I'd better come down and be sociable again. I only sat down for a few minutes of quite. How long was I out? I'd better…" He started to get up.
"Everyone's gone Sir."
"Gone? Oh." Oh! He thought, I'm alone with her in her house? So not good. "Oh… ummm…I… bathroom?" Jack felt embarrassed to be caught napping at her party, and that they were alone; he was suddenly shy and tongue tied. He'd fallen asleep in her spare room in the middle of the party? Christ! How pathetic was that?
"Help yourself Colonel." She replied, indicating the way.
He disappeared to splash his face with water to wake himself up. His felt a little unfocussed and his head definitely needed to clear. He stared into the bathroom mirror, not really looking at his reflection but thinking about how foolish
he felt. Some big impression you made, O'Neill, he thought bitterly. Goddammit! Falling asleep at a party was something old men did, not Jack O'Neill. Face it Jack, he thought, finally looking at the lines etched into his face and the grey hair, you are getting old. It was the last thing he needed to highlight to Sam but he couldn't have emphasised it more clearly by his action tonight. He cursed again in frustration.
When he walked into the living room she was standing with a glass in her hand, eyes closed, swaying slightly to the music. She looked beautiful and he wanted to reach out for her, snake his arms around her waist and kiss her delicate neck. You should so not go there, Jack, he admonished himself. Taking a deep breath he coughed to indicate his presence. She jumped at the sound.
"Carter, can't you just call me Jack for a change? It's your birthday, for cryin' out loud!" She smiled in response but Jack cringed inwardly at his own words, wondering what had possessed him to seek that familiarity.
"Maybe if you stop calling me Carter, sir.
"Yes, ma'am, I mean, Sam." He smiled at her crookedly.
"Besides, it not my birthday anymore. It's way past midnight."
"It is?" He looked at his watch. "What did I miss?"
"Apart from Daniel doing a striptease, and Teal'c joining in, you mean?"
"Wha…? You ARE kidding, right?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out," she teased, adding, "Jack."
His smile was even more lop-sided this time, causing Sam's heart to race. He could still do that to her. She had thought she was moving on, freeing herself from his grip and getting a life, but she wasn't. It hit her that it was all a sham. She would never get over this man. It was all one gigantic mistake. She wanted to be happy and had convinced herself she was. What a fool.
When he had walked into her house her heart had hammered at the sight. He was wearing a light blue shirt, looking just as her befuddled brain had conjured him while stranded on the Prometheus. It had served to bring it all back to her; the decision she had made to strive for someone in her life that was attainable; to take a risk for once.
Jack walked over to her thinking he should leave but not really wanting to go. He'd hardly spoken to her all night. As he approached a new song started. It was "Some Day We'll be Together", the same song that he and Sam had danced to that very first time at the Christmas Party a couple of years ago. His heart shattered as he recalled it yet again, and Sam detected his discomfort.
Impulsively, she grabbed him, pulling him close to her, dancing with him once more. He recoiled and she felt like he had slapped her in the face.
"Please don't do that Carter."
So it was back to Carter, she thought, noticing a brief flicker of pain mar his handsome features. She had hurt him deeply by trying to move on, she knew that. He moved further away from her, the song driving him from her, the memories too bitter sweet to want to recall in her presence.
"I…I'd better leave." He said, turning from her towards the door.
"I hurt you. I'm so sorry, Jack. Please stay and talk."
"Talk? You're asking me to do the one thing I'm crap at Carter."
"Try? Please Jack?" She stubbornly persisted with calling him Jack, fully aware what his own reversion to Carter implied. He was trying to keep those thick, tall walls of his up, trying to protect himself from her.
"I don't think…" Jack started. He had promised himself that he would never let her close to him in this way again. Couldn't he even keep a promise made to himself?
"You let me go Jack, urged me to move on without you." She said, willing him to turn back and face her. She wanted to see his eyes. They spoke the volumes that his voice never would.
"I never let you go Sam, not until it was obviously what you wanted. What other choice did you give me?"
"I meant before this thing started with Pete. It was why it started." That made him turn towards her. He was angry and expressing it openly for the first time.
"What? What the hell are you talking about? I never let you go back then. Never. Did we have a conversation that I wasn't aware of?" His voice was raised and his tone sarcastic and bitter. "
Kind of." Her reply gave him pause. Instead of a retort, he looked at her enquiringly. "Will you let me explain? Please? If I can. I'm not sure it's going to be that easy to."
He nodded acquiescence but said nothing, waiting for her to continue. She had peaked his interest. Let her go? That was ridiculous. Whatever happened his heart would never let her go, even if he did; but he hadn't.
"Sit down? Drink?" She asked.
"Ok. Beer?" He sat down in a comfy chair and Sam went off to find a beer, relieved and a little surprised that he had agreed to stay. She came back with two, passing him one and taking a sip of her own before sitting on a nearby chair.
"I don’t know where to start." She said, looking frustrated that she couldn't find the right words.
"The beginning is generally good." The sarcastic tone was there again. Sam wondered whether he would really listen, understand, and forgive. He had seemed to understand her need for Pete; for someone. He had never shown her how pissed he was inside, how hurt. She thought he had accepted, but he hadn't. Who could blame him? How would she feel if their positions were reversed?
"When I was stranded on the Prometheus I talked to my dad." Jack merely raised his eyebrows and didn't comment. "A vision of my dad, a hallucination. My head was hit pretty hard, remember? He asked me if I was happy."
She paused. He could see tears pricking in her eyes and resisted the temptation to reach out to her. He wanted to hear this.
"So? What you say?"
"I said yes, but it wasn't true and he knew it. He said I was content, satisfied, in control. I was missing something vital in my life and that I didn't even realise what that was - what he was talking about. He reminded me I was alone, told me about my mother and how she gave his life meaning and made him happy. He wanted that for me."
After another lengthy pause, Jack spoke at last. "You wanted it for you. It was you that conjured it right?"
She nodded. Jack well understood those feelings of loneliness, of missing something special and important. He felt it frequently. At least he'd had those good years with Sara. Sam had never really had that.
"He said I'd denied myself love because I thought it would always end in pain and loneliness and urged me to let go of the things that prevented me from being happy."
"Me, right?" It made Jack feel desolate when Sam nodded her confirmation.
"Later on you came. It was you who forced me to save myself, made me continue to fight."
"At least I was positive."
"You called me Samantha."
"Well there you go then. It definitely wasn't me." She laughed at his tone. "You like being called Samantha?" He questioned but Sam merely shrugged as if she weren't sure. "What else?" He should let her finish.
"I…I… This is hard." He could hear her voice choking slightly and again stopped himself from touching her. That would be fateful. Let her explain.
"Got another beer Carter?" He thought the request would give her time to collect her thoughts, but saw her wince when he called her Carter again.
As she got his beer, he wondered where all this was leading and hoped to God she wasn't planning to announce wedding plans or something equally dreadful. He might find it difficult to control his reaction in that situation; it was hard enough already. He tried to prepare himself for the worst. When she returned he could see that his ploy had worked. He toyed with the beer, not really wanting it. Sam continued, more composed.
"I asked what would happen between us if I quit the Air Force, or whether it was an excuse." She saw Jack's look of surprise. Quit the Air Force? That it was even a consideration stunned him. "You said you would never ask me to do that."
"At least you hallucinated me in character." Quipped Jack, unable to resist the jibe.
"Are you taking this seriously Jack?"
"I'm listening, aren't I? I'm sorry, Sam. Please…" He indicated that he still wanted to hear what she had to say, and was wondering what else she imagined he had said. So far it sounded a lot like something he might have said, if this conversion had really taken place. The hallucinating him in character thing was no joke; she knew him well, maybe too well.
"I asked you if that was because you didn't feel anything for me." She surprised him once more. Sam had doubts about his feelings? He said nothing. "I told you I'd let you go if I knew that." She paused and sighed to herself, continuing, "you asked me if that would be easy."
"And was it?" A bitter tone had crept into his voice again but she didn't reply to that, only continued to recount the story. She could hardly bring herself to look him in the eye, so concerned was she that she would see something that she didn't want to see, which would only make this worse.
"You told me you were a safe bet…"
"Safe bet?" He couldn’t help but open his mouth. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Safe bet? He felt he should be insulted she thought that but was not sure he understood it. "What did I mean by that?" She looked at him then and saw his confusion.
"I think you meant that I deserved more, that my father was right, that I deserved happiness. I think you meant that I was after the unattainable with you to stop myself from taking a risk with my life, to risk getting hurt. While you were in my heart I would never move forward with my life. I would fall back on you, use you as an excuse. I think you meant that I should move on, spread my wings and get on with it. That I should move on without you."
"Oh?" Jack was finding it hard to know how to react to this, keeping both his anger and sorrow tightly locked down.
"You said you'd always be there for me, no matter what."
"That part's true." A ghost of a smile appeared on his lips and she returned it.
"I know." Another pause and Jack waited silently, biding his time. "That's it." Sam concluded.
"More or less."
"So what did you thank me for, later, in the infirmary? For letting you go, for saving you? For something else I never really did?"
"I don't really know."
"It was never really me Sam. They were your thoughts, your interpretation of me, and of your father. It was what you wanted."
"I know. I had to… had to find out. I had to find out if I could let go, find happiness with someone. I don't know how else to explain… let's face it, our situation was entirely hopeless." Was it? Thought Jack. I always had hope. "I had to take a risk, risk the hurt that I was avoiding. Do you understand?"
"Sure. You persuaded yourself that you would never be happy with me, that nothing could ever happen between us. So you decided to let go, move on. I get it." He was trying hard to understand but kept thinking about her promise. Could he ever understand why she had broken that promise? Could he ever forgive it?
"That wasn't quite what I said." She replied.
"I really hoped you'd understand."
"You ask me why? Because I've hurt you and I need you to know why."
Jack was puzzled by the response, still unclear where the conversation was leading them. He had behaved as the perfect friend and CO recently, hadn't he? Why would she need to explain this to him? It wasn't that they needed to reconcile. He accepted that she had her own life to lead, that she should be happy, despite the promise. Accepted it, yes, but that didn't mean he liked it.
"Why? Why is it important that I know? The question is do you think you did the right thing. Are you happy?"
The whole conversation was slowly killing him, the pain only increasing as she explained. He understood alright. He understood that she no longer wanted him. What the hell did it matter why she didn't?
"It's important that you know because I hate that I made you unhappy, Jack. I care about you."
"And I care about you. You now that. So, we have a little mutual admiration society going here! But you didn't answer my question, Sam. Are you happy?"
"I thought I was, but no, I'm not."
Jack leaned back in his chair, sighing and rubbing his head in frustration. He didn't understand what she was trying to tell him. Was she trying to say she regretted it?
"Sam, you know I'm a little dense. You need to spell things out to me. I'm not sure what you're trying to tell me here."
"Goddammit Jack, I'm trying to tell you that I still care for you. That I'm sorry. That I feel the same way about you that I always did!"
Jack drew a deep breath. He hadn't expected that and wasn't prepared to merely accept it as the truth. She was looking directly into his face now and could see the shock of her words clearly, along with the hurt he had obviously been bottling up. She would never have guessed it from they way he had behaved towards her, but she knew him well enough to know.
Sam had been trying to hide from that up until now, convincing herself that he really had let her go. She had never wanted to hurt him but had always known deep down that her relationship with Pete would do just that. It was foolish of her. Jack did not deserve that pain, as if he didn't have enough if it already. Eventually he spoke.
"Sam, do you remember that promise you made at the Christmas party?"
"That I would wait forever?" As if she could forget that night. It had meant so much to her, and she had reneged on her promise. She despised herself for it.
"That's the only one I remember. There were more?" It was biting; he could not help but show his ire. Once more, she felt like he had slapped her in the face. Inside she was begging him to give her a chance to redeem herself in his eyes. She knew he would never have taken such a promise lightly. God, Jack, please forgive me, she thought.
"What do you expect from me?" His anger was mounting.
"I don’t know. Forgiveness?"
"I'm not sure I can give you that!" He snapped.
Sam was stricken and looked it. "You'd never trust me again?"
Jack paused for a long time thinking about it while Sam waited, needing his answer.
"I don’t know." He said eventually.
The look on Sam's face told him that it wasn't what she hoped to hear. She wanted forgiveness. He could be parsimonious with forgiveness. She looked hurt and he felt guilty, wondering why he should feel like that when none of this was his fault.
"Jack, I was still just leading a different life until a new one came along."
He remembered her using those words that night. She was telling him that she still had expectations for them; that the promise still held, despite everything. It was what Jack wanted, but he thought it a hollow victory in the circumstances. He was confused and didn't know what to do, so he struck out defensively.
"Did you know that the bastard asked a friend in the FBI to check up on you, Sam?" He was feeling a little spiteful; had to hurt her, get some revenge for his pain. "Not only does he follow you while you're working, endangering his own and everyone else's lives in the process, to say nothing of the mission, but he has the nerve to run a check on you. Trusting soul is he?"
Sam was shocked by his spite, and words, feeling defensive herself in the face of his stubborn anger.
"Pete did that? You feel it necessary to tell me that to what…? To try and drive a wedge between us? Jack you are a total bastard yourself sometimes."
She was angry. Having bared her soul to Jack, telling him why she broke her promise, that she still wanted him, she took his reaction as a rejection and it stung. She was too late and the realisation made her strike back. She'd screwed it up, her whole future. Sam wanted to burst into tears but held back, thinking Jack would just see that as a weakness he could further exploit. He had been leading her on; reeling her in like one of his non-existent fish.
Jack meanwhile, abruptly understood that he was being childish and cutting off his nose to spite his face. She had been giving herself back to him, reaffirming her feelings and he was foolishly rejecting the thing he most wanted. He did not truly wish to hurt Sam, why would he? He loved her; still did, always would.
So much for hardening his heart towards her. He couldn't do it and he wondered how much heart stomping he would let her get away with before he could truly let her go. How much was he prepared to put up with? For the second time that night he thought he was being pathetic.
"I'm sorry. I never intended to tell you. I was just…lashing out." He shrugged at her, knowing she knew him well enough to understand. "I didn't want to spoil your happiness Sam, please believe that. If the guy is a bastard I always hoped you'd find out for yourself before he hurt you too much. I just… I'm sorry. Please let's not argue about it Sam? Please." The volume of his voice had lowered considerably and his tone was conciliatory, giving Sam pause.
"I don't want to argue with you Jack." She responded, seeing a chink in his armour that she could widen; a way in. Take advantage Sam, she thought, before his mood changes again. Jack had been a roller coaster ride of emotion within the space of the last 10 or 15 minutes. He was certainly a bumpy ride, but then so was she. It would be one hell of a life together.
Silently she got up and went over to the stereo, programming what she now thought to be 'their' song to play again. At the opening refrains of "Some Day We'll be Together" she reached her hand out to Jack.
"Dance with me Jack?" It almost sounded like a plea. She knew that if this didn't work, there was no hope.
Jack took her hand and got up, abruptly pulling her to him. Sam squealed as he took hold of her, then leaned into him, encircling him in her arms, and moved around her floor, transported as if on air. This time, there was no one around to watch and spy on them; to report them. He was beginning to think that he might give her the birthday present after all. Later… much later.
Jack held the back of her head with one hand, softly stroking her hair while the other enfolded her waist. He pulled her tighter, wanting to feel her breath on his face, in his ear once more. He sighed at the feel of it as she swayed along with him, making no objections to his tighter embrace. In response, she reached her own hand to caress his cheek, then his neck, leaning back to look into his eyes. Once again she saw the desire she had seen that night at Christmas.
His lips touched hers, lightly, as if he were seeking permission to go further. When she didn’t stop him, he sought entrance to her mouth and, once opened, his tongue met hers and they kissed, passionately. He stopped dancing, getting too involved with the kiss. The hand that held her waist massaged and kneaded at her back, over her dress. Sam pulled away from the kiss, looking back into his eyes.
"God Jack, don't do this unless you mean it. Don't do it and try walking away again. I won't. Not this time. The promise holds. It'll always hold."
His only response was to smile and pull her towards him again, locking her in another kiss. Sam assumed he did, therefore, mean to continue with it, and she gave herself to him freely.
When he woke the next morning Jack was surprised to find himself in a strange bed, blond hair in his face and eyes. He was momentarily shocked when he remembered that he was spooned against his second in command, arms wrapped around her naked body. Then he relaxed and allowed himself to enjoy it. Oh boy, it had been quite a night.
He lay still, trying to recall every detail and found both his heart and his body responding to the memories. Wow! Something had happened between them that he had begun to believe would never be possible. It was still impossible, but he resolved to worry about all that later. They needed to talk about it.
He was almost dozing again, with both memories and fantasies running through his head, when he felt her stir in his arms, and stretch. She turned herself around to face him.
"Morning gorgeous." She said, and Jack raised his eyebrows in slight surprise, and joy.
"Gorgeous?" He smiled and Sam's heart quickened. Only Jack could smile quite like that. It was one of the things that attracted her to him. His smile could light her whole life in a brief second. He didn't do it frequently enough for her liking. All too often there was so much bad stuff going on that it didn't allow a smile, particularly lately.
"Well, I don't know what you see when you look in the mirror Jack but, when I look at you, I see gorgeous."
Sam smiled and kissed him briefly on the lips. Jack positively grinned at her, the compliment making his heart leap and his insides quiver with pleasure. She didn't see the lines and grey hair he had seen earlier, or she didn’t care. That brought him joy. He lightly ran his fingers down the curve of her face as she stared at him with those big blue eyes that he loved so much, and then he leaned his forehead against hers, rubbing noses 'Eskimo kiss' style. He took a deep breath to inhale the scent of her. This just felt too good and he wondered what could go wrong. Please, nothing go wrong, he prayed. His physical need made him reluctantly draw away from her.
"Sam, I need to…um, pee. Don't move from that spot. I've got plans." He smiled, waggling his eyebrows suggestively, and then kissed her nose and went to the bathroom.
She watched him leave, admiring his nakedness. He's got a great ass, she thought, sighing contentedly, a great body. He knew what to do with it too. The memories of sex with him the previous night came back to her in a rush and jolted her with feelings that coursed through her body at the thoughts.
He was so much better than Pete that it had surprised, if not stunned her. She hadn't known. How could she? Is this what she had been missing out on for all these years? Pete had been good, no doubt about that, she had enjoyed sex with him, but Jack…? He was in a class of his own. She wondered what it would be like once he'd got a bit more practice in and curled up at the thought in delight. She was going to get the chance to find out. He'd given her that chance.
After what she had done, how she had hurt and betrayed him, she was honored that he was so willing to forgive, to let her into his life. She didn't deserve him to love her like that. He would die for her, live for her, and love her in a way that no other man would, or probably could. The relationship they had built up over the years, the feelings they had for each other, were all special; something only their shared lives could provide. Jack's return interrupted her musing.
"Hey, gorgeous." He said, smiling brightly, a gleam in his eye.
"I know what you want, Jack O'Neill." She teased. "But I need to go where you've just been." She was mocking in her tone and, as she rose and walked to wards the door, he grabbed her gently, pulling her to him and kissing her with a passion she returned.
"Don't be long." He whispered as they drew apart.
"No worries on that score, Colonel."
She saw his face register the use of his title, his thoughts turning to the practical. Damn! It had just slipped out. How do you call someone Jack when you have called them Colonel or Sir for so many years? She hoped the obstacles that lay before them weren't going to be insurmountable. She took his hands.
"Jack, we'll deal with it later. Please?" She implored him, worrying that their moment had been spoiled. He nodded assent and she let go, leaving for the bathroom. As she had done before him, he admired her naked body as she walked, trying to memorise every contour. Time enough for that, he hoped fervently.
When she returned he was lying on the bed, waiting. He wanted to make love to her again more than anything else he could imagine. As she walked towards him she saw something on the floor and bent over to pick it up. It wasn't hers.
"What's this?" She held it up for him to see.
Her present! He'd forgotten all about it and it had stayed hidden in his pocket, only to fall out, probably when they had stripped each other the previous night. Their clothes had just been tossed to one side, carelessly. Sam was surprised to see Jack redden slightly. He's embarrassed?
"I, ummm… it's… it’s your birthday present." She thought how much like a little boy he looked as he stumbled over his words, barely audible. He looked so young, shy, reticent and, quite frankly, appealing. She wanted to seduce him right there and then, but first the present.
"Why didn't you give it to me yesterday?" She was curious as to why he had held back on her birthday.
"It didn't seem…" he paused, grasping for the right word, "appropriate."
"May I open it?"
"Sure, it's your present."
Sam studied the wrapping, perfectly done, but a little crumpled from the time spent in his pocket. She pondered whether he had wrapped it, or the store? She sat beside him and took his hand.
"You haven't given it to me yet." She said, passing the gift over to him. She could see his trepidation as he took it, and then passed it back.
"Happy birthday, Sam."
He kissed her cheek then sat back to watch her open it. Excitedly she tore off the outer wrapping. Inside was a small black box. They both gulped at the same time, Jack concerned about her reaction when she saw what was inside, still unsure it was the right thing to do, Sam wondering exactly what the small box contained. She smiled at him uncertainly and his breath quickened with his nervousness. Get it over with Sam, he thought. She opened the box, gasping at what was inside, undecided about what it meant.
"A ring? Jack…" her thoughts went unsaid as he rapidly tried to explain.
"Its not an… it's not… It wasn't meant…" He was utterly flummoxed, not knowing what to say. "It was my Grandmother's, Sam. I was sorting through some things a few months ago and saw it again. It was just so perfect for you I wanted you to have it." Now both of them were blushing right up to the roots of their hair.
"Oh… I… Jack it's so beautiful."
It was made of antique gold, the band divided in two at each side to support the centre. An unusual setting. Four beautiful opals were it's crowning glory. Probably never intended as an engagement ring then, thought Sam, opals were bad luck for engagement rings. Nestled beside each of the four opals, which looked light blue but were no single colour, were four tiny little emeralds. At the very centre was a small garnet. She had never seen anything quite like it. A thing of beauty. It had been his grandmothers and he was giving it to her? She was moved.
"What does it mean Jack?" She grasped his hand again, looking closely into his eyes, and he met her gaze.
"It means forever, Sam; that I'll be here for you always." In response she squeezed his hand, lifting it to her lips and kissing it softly. She had never realised that Jack could be this romantic. The irony was that he probably didn't even believe it was romantic.
"Will you put it on my finger?" She asked, turning his hand palm upwards and placing the ring in it's centre. She held her left hand out to him.
"You want…?" He didn't finish. He knew that she was also providing a symbol; she could never wear it on that finger in the real world, not unless they made this public. Don't even think about all of that at the moment, O'Neill, he chided himself. Live the moment.
"Yes I want, Jack."
"I hope it fits."
"We can have it adjusted. Jack?" She waved her hand in the air and he chuckled.
"Give it here." He snatched at her hand, placing the ring on her third finger, and she leaned into his ear to whisper.
"I love you Jack. It was always you."
Briefly she thought of Pete, how her relationship with him had prepared her for this moment with Jack. It was ironic.
Jack said nothing in response to her declaration, merely pulled her closer, nuzzling into her neck. He loved her and both of them knew it. Nevertheless he wasn't ready to tell her that yet. Voicing it was different to feeling it. He still had to forgive her for her betrayal. He couldn't trust her not to break his heart again but thought it was worth risking that agony.
Possessing her lips with a kiss, he started to caress her gently, desperately needing to make love to her again. Her response showed her to be more than willing. It had been a long, dry few years for Jack and he had a lot of catching up to do. He wondered whether she had always been like this or whether Pete had taught her a thing or two, cursing himself for even thinking like that. He could destroy them and that wasn't what he wanted. So he pushed it to the back of his mind and made love with abandon. He loved her. Maybe it was enough and he could learn to live with the rest.