“ Nobody holds me like you can.
Lately you’ve been holdin’ me back.
It’s time to let you know it’s time to let me go.
Gotta get a hold on myself.
Reckon I need to see a few new places
Little time alone will do me good
Bein’ without you I’ll be thinkin’ about you
Gotta reach beyond you, beyond.”
~ ‘Beyond You’, ~Crystal Gayle.
When did everything get so out of hand? When did it become wrong to want to be happy, to want to be with the person who might possibly be the person you’re *meant* to be with?
When did it become so wrong to love someone, to want them to love you in return and to want to show the world that it was real and mutual and more than anything you’d ever felt before?
When did forever stop lasting forever? Was it when we stopped believing in it, or when we stopped fighting?
I made a silent promise that I would wait for you forever, a long time ago, in a room where confessions that had no right to be witnessed were spoken and hidden in the back of our minds and deep within our hearts.
A promise I broke.
Forgive me, Jack. Please.
I’m still waiting for you; it already feels as if I’ve been waiting for an eternity but I’d wait another if it meant we could be together.
Until then, I don’t know if I can wait alone.
They say misery loves company. I assumed the same was said about loneliness, which was why I ended up in the bar in the first place. I don’t know what possessed me to go alone, Janet had asked me to go out with her for a girl’s night almost every day for a week but I kept turning her down and eventually, she stopped persisting.
The bar wasn’t a usual haunt for the guys from the base to spend their downtime, which is probably one of the reasons I chose it. It was a smoky, atmospheric place. The kind you think about when you picture an off-the-road small town bar where all the locals go and drink until the small hours of the morning. I didn’t know it existed until I stumbled across it while driving aimlessly along all the little back-street roads I could find.
It was a quaint place, one that wasn’t used to seeing new faces or so I assumed by the looks I received from the patrons who were already glued to the bar like barnacles on a ship’s hull.
“ Can I help you, Ma’am?” The bartender, a kid who looked too young to be drinking over half the stuff on the menu let alone serve it, asked me timidly when I walked up to him.
“ I’ll have a beer, thanks.” Okay, so not the most original choice of drink, but it wasn’t the kind of bar I could ask for a margarita and expect the bartender to know what one was. Shuffling nervously, the kid got me my drink and I paid him, with cash and a somewhat futile attempt at a smile, making my way to the darkest corner of the bar I could find.
For two hours, I sat, nursing one beer after another, moving only to purchase my next drink. The other drinkers seemed to forget about me and get re-absorbed in their own troubles, leaving me to mine, and to dwell on why I’d ended up here in the first place.
Frustration. Loneliness. Despair. All the gloom and depression that came with knowing I’d more than likely found the guy my mother, and after she had died, my grandmother and interfering aunts, kept telling me was out there somewhere, waiting for me to find. Everything that came with the knowledge I’d found him, but couldn’t actually be *with* him.
It wasn’t fair. It’s still not.
Getting drunk in a bar in the middle of no way didn’t give me the answers to all of my questions. Getting drunk wouldn’t lead to finding my happy ending, my perfect fairy-tale twist that would make everything all right.
I knew that. But I did it anyway.
At some point during my drinking binge, someone who was also there drowning his sorrows joined me. How do I know that? Because I woke up in the same cheap motel room as the guy.
Thankfully, we were both fully clothed and from our positions – me on the bed, him half on the floor – it looked like we pretty much passed out before we had the opportunity to make any mistakes I’d spend the rest of my life regretting.
As quietly and as painlessly as I could, I got up off the bed without disturbing him too much. I couldn’t remember his name, but at that point, my head was acting as a playground to a band of drummers and the contents of my stomach were trying admirably to put in a reappearance.
I got to the bathroom eventually – after fighting with the door that happened to stick, just my luck – and stared into the mirror. The woman who stared back wasn’t me. She couldn’t be.
Her eyes were rimmed with red; there were mascara streaks down her cheeks. She looked worn, haggard and very old. She looked haunted, pained and lost.
That wasn’t me.
If anyone on base saw me like that.. They’d probably swear I had a twin sister no one knew about. Major Doctor Sam Carter does not look like that. She’s organised, responsible, a person to be respected and, dare I say it, she seems to have a reputation for being Miss-Perky-Glass-Is-Half-Full.
This isn’t Major Carter looking back at me. This is Samantha Carter. Sam, the woman. The one who I’ve been neglecting for so long, too long.
The one who wants to have the chance of having a life and sharing it with someone, possibly having children, before it’s too late. The one who doesn’t want to keep putting off the future out of fear it will never come.
“ Um. Hello?” The groggy, nervous sounding voice alerts me to the fact my drinking partner is awake and no doubt wondering what the Hell happened the night before. Join the club, mister. Oh, and if you find out, be sure to let me know, okay?
Closing my eyes against the image of someone I used to know, I tilt my head back as far as possible, stretching the cramped muscles in the back of my neck. “ I’ll.. I’ll be out in a minute!” Seems so inadequate, but it was all I could think of to say. It was apparently enough as moments later, I heard the sound of his feet shuffling away from the door.
Shaking my head gingerly, I fill the porcelain sink with cool water, forcing myself not to think of how grimy the porcelain actually looks. I console myself with the thought that if I do catch anything from sleeping in this flea-ridden dump and using the very basic and unclean facilities available to me, at least I’ll have an excuse to avoid going into work and facing the inquisition I know will come from Janet, and possibly my team, when they see how rough I no doubt look.
Once I’m done and look as presentable as I’m going to get, I leave my sanctuary of the bathroom, tugging on the loose now-crumpled shirt I’m wearing, trying to look a little less nervous than I feel.
“ Hi.” My drinking partner looks up from his place of sitting on the corner of the bed when I enter the room, and I take very little satisfaction in seeing he looks as bad as I do. And he seems just as nervous. Picking at the edge of the tattered comforter, he looks up at me with apologetic brown eyes. “ Listen.. I don’t know if I did or said anything last night.. I can’t even remember if we exchanged names.. But if I did, I’m sorry. This isn’t.. you know.. usual for me.”
“ Apology accepted if you accept one from me,” I somehow manage with a weak smile. “ Looks like it’s a morning of firsts for us both. I’ve never.. never done this before either. Though I don’t think anything actually *happened*, I think we just kind of.. um.. passed out.”
Relief crosses over his features and he grins fully for the first time. It’s a nice grin, a warm, friendly one that sets me at ease and reminds me of someone else. It must show on my face as his grin disappears and he’s on his feet, walking towards me. “ Hey, are you okay? You look kinda.. pale.”
“ Just suffering from a hangover,” I tell him, being at least fifty percent truthful. His closeness is off-putting, and a little.. disturbing. “ I’m a little fragile. I’m not used to drinking this much.. At least not without being with my friends.”
Nodding but seemingly unconvinced, the guy – who’s yet to introduce himself – takes a step backwards, as if sensing my discomfort. “ I’ll.. um. Just go and get cleaned up. I found some Advil in my briefcase if you want some. There’s a glass of water on the table.”
“ Thanks.” I smile weakly and make my way over to the bedside table he pointed to, gratefully taking some Advil with a gulp of water as he closes the door behind him.
I can’t exactly leave. It would be.. rude. I did just spend the night in the same room as the guy. Even if I still don’t know his name. So I sit down on the bed and wait for him to resurface, knowing our next meeting face-to-face will be as awkward as the first and will probably end in one, if not both, of us leaving the motel and vowing never to speak of this night ever again.
Works for me.
After about ten minutes, he returns, looking much better than he did before. His black hair is damp and slicked back and he looks almost human. Almost handsome. My eyes travel downwards and my cheeks immediately feel hot. His shirt is undone and showing a lot more flesh than I’m comfortable with seeing.
Shaking my head, and wishing I hadn’t, I avert my gaze down to my hands and wait. I don’t know what I’m waiting for, but if he’s waiting for me to make the first move.. We’re gonna be here for a *long* time.
“ So.” He eventually speaks, making me look up at him. He’s grinning again and a lock of his hair has fallen in front of his eyes.. He has lovely eyes. “ My name’s Karl, by the way. Karl Peterson. I don’t remember if we were properly introduced..”
Smiling in spite of myself, I stand to take his offered hand, laughing inwardly at the absurdity of the entire situation. Here we are, two strangers who happened to wake up together although nothing happened, introducing ourselves as if we were business acquaintances. “ Nice to meet you, Karl. I’m Sam. Samantha Carter.”
“ Nice to meet you too, Sam.” His grin never faltered as he took my hand in his, not shaking it, just holding it encased within his own. A warm blush climbed up his cheeks as he realised he was still holding my hand and he let it go, ducking his head. He moved over to the bed and sat down, still unable to meet my eyes. “ I meant what I said earlier. This isn’t something I’d usually do.. so I don’t exactly know where to go from here.” He looked up, smiling shyly. “ It’s not every morning I wake up in the same room as a beautiful woman and can’t remember how I met her.”
Blushing, I sat down on the opposite side of the bed. When was the last time someone ever called Major Carter beautiful? Someone who was human, anyway? Thank you.. I think. And it’s not usual for me, as I think I’ve said. So this has all the makings of a really awkward encounter.”
“ Nothing happened,” Karl spoke up after a few moments of silence, and I can’t help but hear the slight regret in his voice. Why would he regret it? Do I have any reason to regret it? “ It was all perfectly innocent,” he continued, looking at me as if seeking my agreement.
“ Perfectly,” I concurred with a smile. “ Perfectly innocent.. apart from all the alcohol we must have consumed in order to get us to this point in the first place.”
Grinning, Karl nodded. “ Yeah. Apart from that.” His grin faded as he sighed and pulled more of himself up on the bed, leaning against the headboard. “ I don’t know about you but I definitely had a good reason for drinking as much as I did.”
“ Wanna talk about it?” I know I sound hopeful. I’m trying to prolong this chance encounter as long as I can. I know that when it’s over, real life is going to invade again and I have to go back to being Major Carter, putting life as Sam on hold again, until I’m free to be with whom I want to be with, or until I have another brief lapse of sanity. Besides, he’s not bad looking and he seems to be a genuinely nice person. Is it so wrong of me to want to have a semi-normal conversation with someone that isn’t usually confined to the bottom of Cheyenne Mountain?
“ Sure, can’t hurt and it might let me leave here with a little part of my reputation still intact.” Karl nods and grins again, closing his eyes as he begins to talk, unaware of my scrutiny or at least choosing to appear that way. “ To cut a long story short.. I came home from a business trip early yesterday to find an unexpected welcoming committee.” I look at him questioningly, but don’t press him for any information he might not be willing to give. “ My girlfriend,” he explains with a pained smile. “ And my best friend. Together. Well. You can imagine what I’m getting at..”
I nod and swallow the lump in my throat. Poor guy, no wonder he was out to get drunk last night. “ Your girlfriend.. You were together long?”
“ About three years,” Karl tells me sadly. “ I’ve known Paul, the guy she was with, for fifteen years, though. I guess the fact it was him hurt more than the fact she was cheating on me. If it had been anyone else..”
“ I can’t imagine what it must be like,” I told him sincerely, leaning over to place a comforting hand on his arm. “ I’m sorry.”
“ Thanks.” He grinned at me though there was still pain flickering in his eyes as he covered my hand with his own. “ Well, we’ve done my sob story and determined why I was wasting the contents of my wallet. So now it’s your turn, what were you doing there?”
Rolling my eyes at his tact, I sigh and move my hand away, unsure of what to say and unsure as to where I start. I’m in love with my Commanding Officer and can’t be with him unless one of us quits and that won’t happen until the world ends or one of us dies? “ It’s complicated,” is what I settle for in the end.
“ Does ‘complicated’ have a name?” Karl asks smartly, chuckling a little as my eyes snap up to meet his again. “ Hey, come on. I told you my story. Least you can do is tell me yours.” He tilts his head to one side curiously. “ I’m finding it hard to believe anyone would cheat on you so..”
“ To have someone to cheat on you means having to have someone in the first place,” I comment softly, if not a little bitterly. My gaze strays to a point on the far wall where the cream coloured paint is flaking off the walls, showing glimpses of the red wallpaper beneath. This day can’t get any worse, so I see no harm in telling him the truth. Even if he is a stranger. It always helps to talk to someone, or so I’m told, and it seems everyone else I know is somehow connected to the situation so Karl looks like my best bet for an unbiased sounding board. “ I’m in the Air Force. The guy.. the ‘complication’ in particular happens to be my CO.”
“ Air Force,” Karl interjects with a small grin. “ That’s cool.”
Shaking my head slightly and smiling despite myself, I continue. “ I don’t know how much you know about the USAF, but there are rules that say a subordinate can’t get involved with his or her Commanding Officer. Colonel O’Neill is my CO which means we’re forbidden from having any type of relationship with one another because of regulations.”
“ So.. what?” Karl looks at me in concern. “ You guys didn’t.. He hasn’t been pressurising.. He isn’t being a bastard to you or anything, is he?”
The urge to laugh is almost over-whelming. It’s kind of sweet that this guy I’ve only just met is concerned for me. Crazy, but sweet. “ No, no. Nothing like that,” I hurry to assure him. “ Nothing’s happened. Colonel O’Neill.. Jack wouldn’t do that.” Something in my face must soften as I speak Jack’s name as Karl grins at me in understanding.
“ You love him.” He tells me gently. Nodding, I don’t even try to deny it. I’m tired of denying it. “ And he loves you.”
“ He cares about me,” I correct him with a smile. “ A lot. But it doesn’t change things. We’re not allowed to be together, it’s as simple as that. Last night..” I sigh heavily. “ I was sitting in my apartment, depressing myself by thinking we’ll never get to be together because neither of us can leave our jobs behind at the moment and ended up in the first bar I could find that no one I worked with went to. You know the rest.”
“ You ended up in a motel room with me,” Karl adds wryly. “ Interesting conclusion.”
“ Yeah.” I give him a sidelong glance. “ You don’t happen to remember how we got here, do you? I mean, you’re a great looking guy and everything.. but picking someone I don’t know up in a bar and ending up somewhere like this with them.. That isn’t me.”
“ I’m as clueless about that as you are,” Karl admits. He’s looking at me in a way that implies he wants to ask me something but doesn’t know how. I know that look. I’ve seen it more times than I can count on a certain someone’s face. Staring at him, I wait as he decides whether to voice what’s playing on his mind or not. “ If you love him.. Why don’t you just screw the regulations and be with each other, no matter what?” He looks vaguely embarrassed. “ If I were him.. I don’t know if I’d let someone dictate how I was supposed to feel about you.”
Blushing deeply, I smile my thanks at him for boosting my ego. “ It’s not that simple. What we do.. It’s important. Neither one of us could walk away from it and not have regrets. Even if it did mean being with each other,” I add sadly, knowing as I speak it that what I’m saying is the bitter truth. What I’m saying sinks in and I close my eyes, shaking my head. “ I’m sorry.. I don’t think talking about it anymore is going to achieve anything but giving me another reason to hit the first place that sells alcohol.” I open my eyes a little to peer down at my watch and feel the pounding in my head start up again. “ And I’m late for work so.. I should go.”
“ Me, too.” Awkwardly, Karl gets to his feet and starts buttoning up his shirt as I look around for my shoes. It’s hard to remember what I was wearing on my feet last night when I left my apartment so I don’t exactly know what I’m looking for. When I find the leather boots with the three-inch heels, I assume they’re mine. Either that or Karl has a pair identical to mine and has a strange dress code wherever it is he works. I slip them on wordlessly and reach for my jacket, checking my car keys are still in the pocket as I walk to the door, only to be stopped by Karl’s soft voice. Sam?”
I turn to find him holding out a slip of paper, shuffling his feet nervously. “ Karl?”
“ My number,” he explains sheepishly. “ In case, you know, you ever want to talk. Or anything.”
“ Thank you.” I give him a sincere smile and rummage around in my jacket pocket for something, anything to write on. I end up scribbling on the back of a napkin I assume came from the bar we were drinking in and hold it out to him. “ My numbers. Just in case.”
Nodding again, Karl ducks his head and I take it as my cue to leave.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, but as I walk around the car lot, managing to see the bar we were in across the street and trying to remember where I parked my car, I feel eyes on my back. I turn to see him standing in the window and return the wave he gives me.
Turning away, I smile, fingering the piece of paper in my pocket with his number on.
Seeing him again is definitely a prospect I wouldn’t say no to.
A few days pass and Janet is the only one to learn of what happened that night. She thinks I’m mad. It took all the restraint I had not to laugh at her face when I told her I woke un in a motel room with some guy who’s name I didn’t know. To her credit, she did look a little embarrassed at having assumed the worst when I told her the rest of the story.
She thinks I should give Karl a call and arrange to meet up with him again but I’m not so sure. Part of me wants to, *really* wants to, and that’s making the other part of me nervous. The part that’s still loyal to Colonel O’Neill and my secret promise to him and to myself that I’d wait.
Is it so wrong to want to have some company every so often? So wrong to want to stop being alone, if only for a few hours? And most importantly, would Jack understand if he ever found out I was even *considering* going out with someone?
He is the one, after all, who told me to get a life. But I always assumed he meant that I should spend more time with Janet, and Cassandra, away from the SGC. Maybe even give in and go on that fishing trip he knows is too dangerous an offer for me to accept. Or maybe he meant for me to go out with someone else. Maybe he understands how lonely waiting can be, when you the only person you want to be with is the one you’re waiting for? If anyone could understand, it would be him. After all, he is in the same position as me, I think. Maybe it was his way of telling me to see someone else, so he could do the same?
My confused ponderings are cut short by my team mates filing into my lab. Daniel and Jack are arguing about something good-naturedly and Teal’c seems as impassive as ever. I’m just about to ask what they’re doing here when the phone on my desk rings and all conversation halts as I pick up the receiver.
“ Sam? Hi.” There’s a small pause. “ It’s Karl.” I knew that. I recognised his voice but even so, it takes me some time to regain the ability to speak. “ You know,” he continues nervously in my ear. “ Your drinking partner, from the other night?”
“ Yeah. Yeah, I remember,” I responded, cringing as my team mates continue staring at me curiously, no doubt wondering who I’m talking to that has me tongue-tied. “ I.. I’m just surprised to hear from you. How are you?”
A warm chuckle floats through the phone. “ I’m fine. Much better, actually. Claire – my girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend – moved out so I’m getting used to being alone again. How are you?”
“ Fine,” I say, wanting to laugh at how civil we’re being. “ I’m good.”
“ Are you really or are you just saying that because your Colonel’s in the room with you?” Karl’s voice greets me, though I can tell he’s only being half teasing.
“ I’d have to.. go with the latter on that one,” I smile into the phone in spite of myself. “ I’m sorry about Claire, though. No way you could work it out?”
He’s silent for a moment and I wonder if I’ve offended him. “ No. There was no way,” he answers finally. “ I.. She wanted to, but how can you love someone if you don’t trust them?”
“ Good point,” I nod knowingly, even though he can’t see me. “ But you’re.. you’re handling it okay?”
“ Yeah. Actually,” he pauses for a split-second, then his words tumble out of his mouth in a nervous rush. “ I was calling to ask if.. well.. if you’d be interested in meeting up with me? Maybe going out for dinner sometime? It wouldn’t be a date or anything like that, since, you know, you’re kind of involved but I’d like to see you again. As friends.”
“ Karl..” I let my voice trail off as my eyes wander over my team mates. Teal’c doesn’t look interested in what I’m saying, but then he’s too polite to obviously eavesdrop on anyone’s conversation. Daniel’s trying to start a conversation with Teal’c, though I can tell he’s paying attention to what I’m saying and Jack.. Jack’s just looking back at me with a raised eyebrow and an expression that asks ‘Who is Karl?’. It’s make your mind up time and whatever decision I make is going to be hard. I say no and lose a guy who has the potential for being a very good friend if nothing more. Or I say yes and risk hurting Jack and giving him the wrong impression. “ As *friends*,” I eventually say, adding emphasis on the word for Jack’s sake rather than Karl’s. “ I’d love to go out with you sometime.”
Decision’s been made and now it’s time to live with the consequences.
As Karl talks to me, relief and enthusiasm emanating from the phone, Jack looks at me in surprise and something that looks like disappointment before striding out of the room. I watch, giving Daniel a confused look as the archaeologist stares after Jack, shrugs his shoulders in bewilderment at me and then makes to follow our errant team leader.
Even as I make my date that isn’t a date with Karl, I know that somewhere along the line I made the wrong choice.
There’s no harm in going out with someone as friends, I tell myself as I hang up, now alone in my lab. It’s not like we’re hurting anyone, neither of us is *officially* involved with someone else..
But if there’s no harm, and I’ve done nothing wrong, then why do I feel so bad? And why is there an image of a face I know so well burnt into my memory, a face with deep brown eyes flickering with pain. Pain I know I’ve somehow caused, and can’t erase?
Jack hasn’t spoken to me since I made my ‘date’ that isn’t a ‘date-date’ with Karl. Well, he’s spoken to me, but only to bark orders in my direction or to chide me for not doing my job fast enough. It hurts, and it’s confusing but Janet said I’m not allowed to let it get in the way of my having a good time tonight.
I was going to take her advice, too.
I picked out a short, form-flattering black dress I’d bought years ago but never worn and donned matching pumps and a sparkly blue cardigan-like-jacket to wear on top. I even let Janet do my make-up for me as Cassandra sat on my bed and told me I should play hard to get and that ‘Colonel Jack’ would see what he’s missing and make the first move.
Taking advice on my love life from a teenager? Me? Never.
Karl picked me up, as we had arranged, and he was just as sweet as I remembered. He brought me a bunch of yellow roses – a gift from a friend to a friend, he assured me. I introduced him to Janet and made a mental note of the way her eyes roamed him from head-to-toe approvingly. I’m not ready to set the two of them up just yet, but if Janet doesn’t take the initiative with another person we both know.. It’s a possibility I’m not crossing out.
The evening started out as being fun, just two friends enjoying each other’s company with surprisingly few tense and awkward moments – I say surprisingly few because of the way we met in the first place. Our first encounter seems to have become an in-joke between the two of us and I’m glad. I’d hate to lose him as a friend so soon after finding him.
We went for a walk before going to the restaurant. A nice stroll through the park as we shared more about ourselves and became more like old friends than strangers. Then Karl drove us here, and the *fun* really started.
We were dancing, in between our starter and main course when I heard it. The familiar laugh, the laugh I’d know anywhere. I pull away from Karl slightly, seeing but choosing to ignore his confused expression as I search the quite crowded room for the owner of that laugh. Then I see him.
Jack, with some redhead at the table in the corner, the woman who appears to have less of an IQ than she does clothes but only marginally. God, doesn’t’ she know she can be arrested for indecent exposure?
I don’t feel like dancing anymore so I lead Karl wordlessly back to our table, purposely turning my back on Jack and his little friend as hot tears sting my eyes. How could he?
And then I think: how could I?
“ Sam? Sam, are you okay?” Karl is staring at me in obvious concern, alarm written on his features but I look at him, and all I see is Jack. “ You don’t look too well..”
“ I’m fine,” I lie feebly and know he instantly sees through it. I lean forward, knowing he deserves the truth. “ I’m sorry, Karl. I just saw someone I know.”
Karl’s eyes flitter through the people sitting around us, and I don’t have to be a genius or physic to know that his eyes have found their target. And that his target is probably staring back. He reaches out and covers my hand with his, his eyes narrowing. “ I take it *that’s* Jack? The guy giving me the killer-glare?”
Nodding, I don’t say anything. Instead, I pull my hand away from him and lift my wine glass to my lips, downing most of the glasses contents in one fell swoop. “ He wasn’t happy about me coming out with you,” I explain quietly. “ I don’t know why, I made sure he knew we were just going out as friends. I thought.. I thought he understood. Obviously, I was wrong.”
“ I don’t think you were wrong,” Karl responds slowly. I’ve already told him about Jack telling me to get a life, and how I interpreted that as meaning we should see other people – casually – until the time was right for us the be together. “ I think his intentions were good,” he continues, determined, even after this, to make Jack the good guy. “ But I think he underestimated how much it’d hurt to see you with someone else. How jealous he’d feel. And instead of talking to you about it, he’s showing you.”
“ Well, it certainly hurts,” I admit, reluctantly looking over to the table where Jack is entertaining his date, giving her the grin I foolishly thought was reserved solely for me. “ I can’t see this. I’m sorry, Karl. I have to go home.”
Nodding, Karl gives me a smile that is both understanding and sympathetic. He stands up in unison with me and is the perfect gentleman, helping me into my jacket. He leaves some money on the table to cover the cost of our food and leads me out to the lobby of the restaurant, a hand at the small of my back as he glares in Jack’s direction. If I was thinking straight, and if my mind was still somehow connected to my brain, I’d have offered to pay half.
“ I’ll take a cab,” I tell him, turning to face him with a small smile. “ I just want to be alone at the moment..”
“ I know.” Karl nods again and I believe him. Jack and I might not have been involved physically but we’ve both invested a lot, emotionally, into our relationship. Seeing him with someone else.. someone who obvious wasn’t just a friend.. Well, suffice to say it hurt as much as it would if we did have a physical relationship. I’m not sure I can call it cheating, but that’s what it feels like. It feels like you’ve just found the guy you love with someone else, which, in actual fact, I have. “ If you need me, you know where I am?”
“ Yeah, thanks.” I stand up on my tiptoes and press a quick kiss to his lips – the second mistake I make. I pull away in time to see Jack’s retreating figure go back to the dining area where his redhead is no doubt waiting to lavish more of her attention on him. Sighing again, I give Karl’s hand a squeeze and precede him outside. Luckily, it’s the kind of restaurant there’s always a cab waiting outside so you never have to call up for one and rarely have to wait.
Karl waits until I’m in the cab and it’s puling away from the curb before turning to go back inside. I catch a glimpse of the flash of determination that crosses his face and wonder whether I should tell the driver to take me back to make sure everything’s okay.
I decide not to as an image I’d rather not have of *that* redhead and Jack fills my mind.
All I want is a bottle of wine to loosen my inhibitions, some soppy love songs to make me cry and a tub of ice cream to cry into.
When the hell did everything get so complicated, anyway?
The bottle of wine sits undisturbed on the coffee table. The untouched ice cream is melting in its tub. The apartment is silent, the love songs I chose to listen to on mute because they hit too close to home like they usually do. I’m just staring into space when the doorbell rings.
Taking my own sweet time, I uncurl my legs from under myself and ease up off the couch. I’m tempted to just ignore the insistent ringing and walk in the opposite direction to my bedroom, where I can bury my head under the blankets till whoever it is goes away.
I don’t do that, though. I look through the peephole and see Karl, frowning at the faint edges of a bruise forming round his left eye. Frowning even more when it looks like he’s arguing with himself.
“ Karl..?” I open the door fully and the rest of the question dies on my lips. Karl’s standing there all right, but he pulls on something just out of my eyesight, something that turns out to be a sleeve. A sleeve that’s part of a jacket being worn by the one and only Colonel Jack O’Neill. Jack, who’s also wearing the outline of a bruise around his right eye. Raising an eyebrow, I look from one face to the other quizzically, noting how Jack won’t meet my gaze but how Karl looks strangely determined. “ What’s going on here?”
“ I have something that belongs to you,” Karl tells me, giving Jack a warning glare as he pulls my Commanding Officer closer to the door. Why Jack’s letting him get away with it, I don’t know. Something must have happened between the two of them. I wonder if I’ll ever find out what. Karl stares at Jack but he still manages to direct his words to me. “ You two need to talk, Sam. No matter what you do, it can’t be worth hurting each other this much.”
Jack snorts and a short-lived smile plays on my lips. Ah, Karl. If only you knew. Saving the world counts a little bit more than how we feel in the grand scheme of things. The smile on my lips fades as Karl looks at me expectantly. I nod in answer to his silent question and open the door a little wider. “ Yeah, we do need to talk. Thank you.” Jack raises his eyes to meet mine and I invite him further into my home with the tilt of my head. He nods and walks into my apartment, leaving Karl and me alone.
“ Call me sometime, okay?” Karl tells me softly. “ Just to let me know how it turns out?”
“ I can tell you pretty much what’s going to happen, Karl,” I sigh softly. We’ll spend more of the night talking and nothing will be decided. We’ll be at the same old crossroads we’ve been at for the last year at least and we won’t make any progress at all.”
“ You never know,” Karl quipped with a grin, winking mischievously. “ Maybe seeing the woman he loves on the arm of a dashing guy made him sit up and pay attention.”
I laugh, I can’t help it, and shake my head at him. “ I’ll call you,” I promise.
“ Good.” He leans in to kiss me on the cheek and then turns to go. “ If you don’t call me, I’ll call you!”
And then he’s gone. Sighing deeply, I take a deep breath to steel myself and head into my apartment, closing the door behind me, knowing that something needs to be done to save our relationship if we have any hope for the future. Something must be done to save it from the damage we have already caused.
“ Are you planning to get a part-time job as an echo?” I ask, a little irritated and a little amused.
Jack looks like he’s about to answer in his no doubt sarcastic manner but he winces and brings a hand up to his cheek. I move from my place on the chair to sit beside him on the couch, bringing with me the tub of discarded ice cream. Sitting as close to him as I dare, I hold the tub against his cheek and fight the urge to roll my eyes.
“ Aren’t you supposed to use frozen peas or something?” Jack questions after a small period of silence.
“ Ice cream’s melted anyway,” I answer with a shrug. “ No point in defrosting anything else from my freezer.”
Another awkward silence reigns over us for a few minutes. Eventually, I get up, leaving the ice cream tub in his hands and move back to the chair, sitting opposite him, two hurting people in an uneasy standoff. Not how I was planning on spending my Friday night, I can assure you.
“ We should talk..” Jack starts. I glance up to find my gaze locked with his brown eyes. “ For starters.. I’m sorry about ruining your date tonight.”
“ It wasn’t a date,” I interject immediately, pulling my legs further under myself. “ It wasn’t a proper date, anyway. Karl and I are just friends.”
“ I know, and I’m sorry,” he tells me sincerely. “ He explained everything. After we did the macho thing, of course.”
I nod and fidget with the cushion cover. “ So what was her name? The redhead?”
“ Michelle,” he answers slowly. “ Her name was Michelle, I think.”
“ You *think*?”
At least he ahs the grace to be embarrassed, squirming uncomfortably under my enquiring gaze. “ I picked her up in a bar.. I don’t even remember which one. I just.. I didn’t want to be sitting alone at home, knowing you were..”
“ I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I say, sensing his eyes travel back to my face but refusing to look up just in case I’m right. “ I.. It’s hard. Being alone every night, unless we’re all out together and even then.. I don’t know if I can keep doing this. It’s getting too hard and I’m starting to forget why it is we’re putting ourselves through all this.”
“ You don’t want to wait anymore?” Fear and shock are just two of the emotions I hear in his voice, forcing me to look up and smile what I hope is reassuringly.
I shake my head in answer to the questions in his face. “ My feelings haven’t changed, S-Jack. Not for you, anyway.” I glance away, my face feeling warm under his scrutiny and because of what I’m trying to say. These words were never meant to be spoken. We weren’t supposed to need to do this, we used to have the silent communication thing down. Somewhere along the line, though, our signals must have got mixed up and we started sending each other the wrong messages. “ It’s the waiting I’m tired of. It’s why we’re waiting I’m starting to forget.” I bite my lip and close my eyes as I feel more than hear him get off the couch and kneel beside my chair. “ I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this alone. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to keep turning down your invitations to go fishing.. and we both know that if I accept.. If I accept, *something* is going to happen. And I’m scared that although that something might feel right now.. What if it goes wrong later on and I’m left alone again, without having anything to wait for? Or what if we wait too long and it’s not there when we’re ready for it?” I open my eyes and am not as surprised as I should be to find he is less than a foot away. “ Does any of this make sense to you?”
“ Perfect sense.” He agrees softly, the tenderness in his eyes something I’ve seen many times before but usually it’s not been directed at me. It’s usually reserved for the children he befriends and then has to say goodbye to, the ones he learns to love as his own, only to lose as he did his own son. This tenderness, however, this affection.. It’s all for me. “ I understand because I feel the same way,” he murmurs. “ And I meant, when I told you to get a life.. I’d hoped you would either agree to come fishing with me.. Or I’d thought it would give you the chance to find someone else. I didn’t expect to feel this way, Sam. I didn’t expect it to hurt this much if you did find someone. Even if he is just a friend. My mind believes that but my heart..” He takes my hand and rests it over his chest, allowing me to feel the steady beating of his heart beneath my palm. “ It hurt.”
Closing my eyes, I try to control myself enough so that the tears burning my eyelids stay there instead of running freely down my cheeks. I have fought for the last four, almost five years, never to cry in front of this man and I’m not about to give into the urge just yet. He might be the person I dream about at night and trust more than anyone else, but he is still my Commanding Officer and although that’s most of the problem and makes me want to cry more, *Carter’s* don’t cry in front of their military colleagues, especially not their superior officers. “ So what do we do?” My voice sounds heavy and thick to my own ears, my throat clenching painfully with the effort it’s taking to keep my tears at bay.
“ I don’t know.” He admits, sounding as exhausted as I feel. “ I just don’t know anymore, Sam. I can’t.. I can’t stand the thought of you being with anyone else, but I can’t stand the thought of you being alone. You deserve better than that.”
He releases my hand and for a brief second, I think he’s leaving me. I’m about to open my eyes and protest when I feel his lips brush mine in the most fleeting of kisses. Then he stands and walks away but I don’t hear the front door open or close. I let one eye open a crack and smile at seeing him lying on my couch, facing me with his eyes closed.
He’s staying, he’s not leaving me alone again. And for now, that’s enough.
“ Without you, one night alone
Is like a year without you baby
Do you have a heart of stone?
Without you, can't stop the hurt inside
When love and hate collide.”
~ ‘When Love and Hate Collide’, Def Leppard
[Hi, this is Sam Carter. I can’t get to the phone right now but if you leave a message, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Bye.]
“ Sam? Hi, it’s me, Karl. I was thinking on the way home last night and I think I might have come up with a temporary solution to your problem. It isn’t much, but it means you won’t have to be alone and might hopefully prevent any repeat performances from last night. Call me when you can. Bye.”
The beeping of the answering machine woke us both up, Jack and me. I open my eyes and find him staring back at me, and smile. He stayed the whole night, when he could have slipped away if he’d wanted. Sweet.
Then Karl’s message begins to sink into my sleep-addled brain and I feel myself frown as I go over his words and try to figure out what he could mean. Jack holding the phone in front of me, his face hopeful, shakes me from my thoughts.
“ You think..?”
“ It’s worth a shot,” he tells me, and I can see that whatever was said between him and Karl last night, he trusts the guy. Or maybe he’s just willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt because of the possible solution he might have for us.
Dialling the now familiar number, pausing to remember the last three digits, I hold the phone to my ear with one hand and entwine my fingers with Jacks with the other. I hold my breath as the phone rings, letting it out slowly as Karl answers on the third ring. “ Hello?”
“ Hi, Karl, it’s me,” I say, feeling Jack squeeze my hand supportively. “ I got your message and was wondering..”
It’s so simple. Why did we never think of it?
I can’t stop smiling tonight.
My gaze travels to Janet, who’s on the dance floor having the time of her life with my date. I should mind, but I don’t. This isn’t your ordinary double date. Karl murmurs something in her ear that makes her laugh but I’m no longer paying attention.
Instead I’m concentrating on gazing into the warm chocolate eyes of Jack as he grins at me, his face more relaxed than I’ve seen it in a long, long time. Holding his hand out to me and tilting his head towards the dance floor, Jack’s eyes sparkle mischievously. “ You think Karl would mind if I danced with his date for a little while?”
“ Not unless Janet minds me dancing with hers.” I smile and take his hand, allowing me to pull me to my feet and lead me over to the others already dancing. A slow song starts and I move willingly into his arms, resting my head on his shoulder as the music begins.
To anyone who asks, Jack’s Janet’s date and Karl is mine. To us, however, we ’re dating each other in the only way we can. Even if it does mean being alone together has to wait for a while, at least we can be alone with friends in the meantime.
Have you ever needed someone so bad, yeah
Have you ever wanted someone
You just couldn't have
Did you ever try so hard
That your world just fell apart
Have you ever needed someone so bad
And to the girl I gotta have
I gotta have you baby
~ ‘Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad’, Def Leppard.