Jack felt the soft lips of Samantha Carter on his. Full of caring, love, desire...
It had been so long since anyone like her had kissed him with so much passion. He kissed back. It was exciting. She was exciting.
Yet somehow wrong.
"You're really not him, are you?" she asked, eyes wide.
Such familiar eyes.
"I just wish..."
"Yeah," was all he could manage. But he wasn't *him*. And she wasn't...
Not looking back, he walked to the mirror. The one that reflected his universe - his team. Daniel. Teal'c. His Carter.
Wait. *His* Carter?
A flash and he turned to look at her through the mirror. The other her. A fade to black and she was gone forever.
He stared at the now blank mirror. The other one had made him start to think about certain things. Things he never thought about before. At least not seriously. He needed to talk to her. *His* her.
But by the time he turned around she, along with his chance, was gone.
And so it had begun.
Jack stepped out of the shimmering blue puddle and onto the familiar grate. He focused half of his attention on giving a quick salute to his CO waiting at the foot of the ramp and the other half on making sure his team made it through the gate in one piece.
It had been how many years now since the first time he went through? But he still didn't completely trust the thing. Jack led his team down the ramp to his waiting CO.
"Colonel, I take it you were successful?"
"Oh, yes, sir. We came, we saw, we got lots of rocks. And more rocks. Carter and Jonas are really happy about the rocks, sir." He turned to Teal'c. "And Teal'c? Well, you know Teal'c and his undying love of rocks."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow.
General Hammond smiled. "Good to hear, Colonel. We have a visitor who is really eager to get his hands on those samples."
Hammond turned to Carter. "I believe you already know him, Major. Dr. Alan Ford."
"Really?" She grinned. "Alan's here?"
Jack looked at her questioningly. "Alan?" Was it his imagination, or did she just blush? It wasn't a particularly pleasant thought.
"Dr. Ford works out at Nellis," Carter replied, emphasizing his formal name.
"Debriefing in one hour, people. Dr. Ford will be joining us."
Jack couldn't help but pace, although he tried covering it up by stopping to look at the gate every so often. He knew it was irrational. Despite the pretense he put on, he didn't normally think irrationally. But somehow, when it came to Carter...
"So, how do you know this guy, Carter?" he asked, turning around to face the room. Subtle, Jack. Real subtle.
Carter was busy pouring herself a cup of coffee from the ever-present coffee tray in the briefing room. "We met a few years ago when I was working on...a project. We've been video conferencing and emailing each other ever since," she said, not looking up from her busywork.
"Oh? What project?"
She turned around, toying with her mug. "The particle beam generator," she said reluctantly, avoiding his gaze.
Jack looked at her. Why would she be uncomfortable about something like that? Wait. Wasn't that...?
Suddenly the gate became very interesting again.
Jack heard a voice behind him and turned. Dr. Ford, he presumed. A man about Jack's height walked into the room and Jack quickly sized him up. He was probably about ten years younger than Jack, dark hair and blue eyes. And for being a scientist, he had to admit the guy looked like he was in pretty good shape. The man flashed a smile and walked across the room towards Carter.
"Alan! Glad you could finally make it to the SGC." Carter smiled broadly and shook his hand.
"Wait, don't tell me. Colonel O'Neill, Teal'c and Jonas Quinn," he said, looking at each one in turn. "I've heard a lot about you guys."
Jack looked at Carter questioningly. "Wish we could say the same."
"Sorry. Alan Ford." He walked over to Jack and shook his hand.
"I'm a big fan of your trucks."
"Yeah, I'm really happy with the 2003 models." Alan smiled.
So the guy had a sense of humor. Maybe he wasn't all bad. For a scientist.
"I see the introductions have been made," Hammond said as he walked into the room. "Let's get started."
Jack couldn't help but feel slightly annoyed as Carter took a seat opposite of him and next to Dr. Ford, and then leaned over to whisper something to the good doctor.
Get a grip, Jack! This wasn't junior high!
Jack started scribbling on his notepad, trying to stay focused but failing miserably.
The debriefing ran along smoothly and was nearing its end when it happened. Carter was rambling on about one particular property of the new samples when she put her hand on Dr. Ford's arm to get his attention. It was something she did a lot to everyone. She had even done it to Jonas a few times already in the short time he had been with them.
It was the *way* she did it this time that caught Jack's attention.
Unconsciously, he started to tap his notepad with his pen.
"People, unless anyone has anything else, I think we're finished here." Hammond paused and, getting no response, continued. "Dismissed," he ordered, standing to leave.
Jonas and Teal'c started talking to each other about dinner, but Jack tuned them out, instead focusing on the two people in front of him. Intently. While pretending not to focus on them.
"So Sam," Dr. Ford said, "we're going to have to catch up."
She smiled at him.
Jack's movements went from subconscious to conscious. He flicked his pen down on his pad.
"Did you know I have a brand new little niece? I have her picture in my lab if you want to see," she said.
"Yeah, I'd love it! How's Mark doing anyway?"
Jack's eyebrows rose. Mark? He knew about Mark?
This conversation was no longer one Jack had any desire to hear. It was so easy and personal - something he and Carter had never had. "If you'll excuse me," he muttered before leaving the room.
"Cute little squirt."
"Oh yeah. And smart, too," Sam smiled at Alan.
"Yeah?" He sat back down on one of the stools.
"I've heard she can actually recite the alphabet. Of course, considering that she's only four months old, I'm thinking her parents *might* be exaggerating a bit."
"So?" Sam asked, taking a seat herself.
Alan looked around the cluttered lab. "This is where the magic happens."
"This is where the explosions happen," Sam countered.
"Always the modest one," he said, shaking his head. "It was nice to finally meet your team."
"Yeah, I guess I do ramble on about them all the time. Sorry." Sam smiled apologetically.
"Well, one more than the others."
That sinking feeling, like she had just been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, hit her in the stomach. "What?"
"Um, never mind. Don't know what I'm talking about." He laughed, somewhat uncomfortably.
Sam wasn't sure if he had actually made a mistake or if it was the tone in her voice that made him do an about face, but she *wasn't* going to find out.
"So," she quickly asked, "when can we get you to go through the Gate?"
"Are you nuts?"
Sam grinned, glad to be back on safer ground. "Aw, come on! It's not like *every* person who goes through the Gate the first time loses their lunch!"
"Never going to happen, Sam."
"All right, you win. For now. How about we get at those samples?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
Jack sat staring at his open locker. He really thought he was over this.
Well, he sure as hell would never be *over* Carter. He'd have a better chance at getting over breathing. But it was the situation he thought he had gotten over. There was a certain acceptance of circumstances, and he had finally gotten to a place that was comfortable. He never felt so in sync when working with her as now.
'Helps when there've been no alien boyfriends for more than a year,' Jack reflected. He instantly kicked himself for the thought.
Leave it to him to screw things up!
One innocent touch and he was back to that same old thing.
Jack threw his towel at the laundry bin.
He could retire. He could. But he really didn't want to. Not if he was being honest with himself. The job was too important and, for the most part, he enjoyed the work too damn much. If he retired now, she would be the reason. And he was too afraid he would end up resenting her for it. Oh, not now, but five years down the road might be a different story. It wasn't exactly what he wanted hanging over their heads in their relationship. She was too important.
Of course, the more time that went by, the less certain he was of any possible joint future. It had been so long since their forced admittance of feelings for each other. As terrifying and humiliating as the incident had been, it had also made some part of him come alive; a part he thought had died long ago.
But in the end, more was left unsaid than was said. What little understanding there was between them was all too distant.
Jack sighed. He had been on this particular merry-go-round before and had no desire to be on it again. How had he stopped the endless circle the last time? And then it dawned on him. Maybe he had never really gotten off.
Jack wandered the halls. His feet seemed to know where they were going even if his brain didn't. Her lab. Predictable as the moon, Carter was hunched over some gadget, talking to herself.
No Alan. Well, at least there was that. He looked at his watch. Of course Alan was gone. All the sane people had already gone home for the night.
Sam jumped. "Sir! Didn't hear you come in."
He shouldn't have gone to her lab. Her passion for her work, normally a quality that inspired admiration from him, was now a reminder. And an annoyance.
"You wanna tell me why you're down here after hours?"
She looked at him, bemused. "You're kidding, right?"
"No." He stared back at her.
She looked back at her gadget. "Just wanted to run a few more tests on these samples, sir."
"Carter?" He waived her explanation away, mentally cursing the SGC. "There's a reason they call it a work*day*. You're supposed to actually go home at night." Firmly rooted in one spot, there was no way he was going to budge.
"I know," she said through a forced smile, "but I really would like to work on this--"
"Nope. Not gonna happen this time, Carter!"
He had had enough.
"I am *ordering* you to leave. You are not to take your work home and you are not to set foot in the SGC until 07:00."
The gadget clunked as Sam's hand came down hard on the table. She stood up, her eyes fixed on him. "Sir...with all due respect, I would really like--"
"Damn it, Carter!" He moved towards her and gestured to himself. "Colonel!" He gestured to her. "Major!" He was pulling rank big time and, at the moment, he really didn't care. "There is, in fact, a distinction!"
She stared at him, jaw clenched.
"Major, I believe you have been given a direct order! I'll give you thirty minutes to comply with said order!"
"Yes, sir!" came the sharp voice behind him as Jack strode out her door.
He really shouldn't have gone to her lab.
By the time Jack had walked in his house, he had already taken a couple of spins on his familiar mental merry-go-round. This time, though, he had the added benefit of guilt. He had been pissed off at the job, not her. But yet he had felt it necessary to blindside her.
Jack threw his jacket at the couch and headed straight for the fridge. He grabbed a beer, flicked off the cap and headed to the living room and to his chair.
He had *never* yelled at her like that before. He groaned and brought the bottle up to his lips.
Sam pulled up to her CO's house, turning off the engine but staying in her car. She couldn't believe she was actually here. Five years ago she would have taken it like a good little soldier. Two years ago, as much as she hated to admit it, such as her emotional state had been at the time, she probably would have gone home and cried into a bottle of wine. But now?
Sam gripped her steering wheel while reliving the event that had brought her here.
A cadet! He had yelled at her like she was some goddamn green cadet! He reminded her of their ranks - as if every other word out of her mouth wasn't "sir" already!
She stared at his house.
Sam put her head back against the seat and forced herself to calm down. There was no way she was going to go in there angry. Something was wrong. Now she just needed to work up the will to find out what.
The third beer had helped convince Jack that he was, in fact, slime. That and Carter would be asking for a transfer.
Slime. Lower than slime. Lower than slime and soon to be minus one Sam Carter. Well, maybe it was better that way.
And if he repeated it to himself about five hundred more times, he just might start believing it.
Jack shook his head. So many missed opportunities. The times they should have talked to each other probably numbered in the hundreds. Yet they missed each one. And of all their chances, the za'tarc testing had been the most glaring mistake. Leave it in the room? What the hell kind of a solution was that? Jack took another swig.
Who said ignorance was bliss? Ignorance was hell.
Then there was the most recent missed opportunity. He had been gone a month. Stuck on that moon with that idiot Maybourne. All that time he had never once doubted Carter would rescue him. It was one thing he *had* been sure of. He knew that even if it took her ten years, she would have come after him. Which is what made their reunion even more frustrating.
Oh, she had been happy to see him. Even telling him how relieved *they* were in finding him. But that military mask had been pulled on so tight...
Jack clutched the bottle.
It had been a month! And they acted like they were coming back from a weekend!
His knuckles became white.
Why? For once, why couldn't they have said something? Anything!
"What kind of a goddamned life is this?!" he yelled, hurling his glass at the wall. It exploded. And made the sound of a doorbell. Jack frowned at the wet wall.
It rang again. Oh. It was the doorbell.
He scowled passed the spotted wall, flipped on the outside light and opened the door.
"Uh, sir," she said cautiously.
"What're you doing here?"
She shifted her weight to the other foot, looking horribly out of her element. "Thought you might need to talk, sir."
Jack almost laughed out loud. He held the door open for her.
He noticed her pausing at the now-embarrassing wet spot on the wall, but she didn't say anything as she sat down on his couch.
"Beer?" he asked as he slumped down in his own chair.
"Um, no," Carter said, her eyes flicking back to the stain on the wall. "What's going on, sir?"
"Accident." Jack glanced at her.
She wasn't buying it.
Jack fiddled with his beer bottle, suddenly feeling ashamed. It was one thing to know he had to talk to her, but the actual talking was proving to be more difficult than he ever imagined.
Well, one step at a time.
Jack's voice softened. "Sorry about the yelling today."
"I shouldn't have questioned your orders, sir."
He didn't want her to be so forgiving. "It's no excuse - I shouldn't have yelled at you like that."
"It's okay." She sat on the edge of the couch, back straight.
"No it's not."
"Sir, I'm willing to forget the whole thing if you are," she offered.
Pretend nothing was going on.
And Jack was sick of it. "Carter. Sam." He looked at her. "That's not a good plan."
Maybe it was the beer. Maybe it was all finally too much. But at that moment, he wanted to tell her so badly just what she meant to him. She needed to know. Maybe then he could find out what he meant to her. He just wanted to get it all out in the open.
"You have no idea how much I want…" He meant to finish but he choked on his words, struggling to get out what had been jammed in for so long.
"Sir. Stop." Carter shook her head. "You know that regulations don't allow--"
He was finally trying to tell her how he felt and she was beating him over the head with the rulebook?! "You think our military careers are all that's at stake right now?"
Jack watched as her expression slowly dissolved into...what? Fear? Anger? Resentment?
"Sir. We need to stop right now before one of us says something we'll both regret." She stood up and walked quickly to the door.
She was leaving before they had a chance to talk. Again. He ran after her and grabbed her arm.
"This was a mistake." She pulled back her arm.
"It can't be." He made a move for her arm again.
That same look in her eyes was still there, but now something else was also mixed in. Regret.
"Don't," she said again, softly.
Jack's heart grew cold knowing what was going to happen next.
"Good night, sir," she said and walked out the door.
Sam throttled the steering wheel as she drove.
To hell with this whole, damned situation! Just how much of her life was she willing to sacrifice to duty?
Leaving it all behind was the only answer.
She couldn't go home. Or, rather, she didn't want to. There was a chance that he might call. Or worse yet, come over.
She wasn't ready for that.
At a stoplight, Sam grabbed her cell phone and fished around in her purse for the number that she had scrawled down somewhere. Finding it, she dialed.
"Yes, could I have the room for Alan Ford?"
Sam found herself at one of those small cafes she never had time for, her mood vastly improved because of the wine and the current company. How long had it been since she had been out to eat at a place like this? And with a guy? The answer was too embarrassing to think about.
This was just what she needed, she thought as she chatted easily with Alan. No rules. No regulations. Just two people.
"So have you been out to see your niece yet?"
"I went out right after she was born. Of course that was a few months ago."
"I bet you're the type of aunt who spoils them all rotten," Alan said, smiling at her.
"Well, I don't get out there nearly as often as I'd like, but I do keep them well supplied in toys." She grinned.
The conversation drifted into one of those typical lulls, the sounds of other happy patrons and soft music surrounding them.
Alan leaned forward on the table with a twinkle in his eye. "So Sam, exactly what would it take to get you to come out to Nellis?"
For a moment, Sam considered it. Really considered it. To run away from her problems was so tempting.
"I don't know. Now's not a good time to talk about that."
"Okay, I can take the hint. I had to promise my supervisor that I'd ask. Again." Alan grinned at her.
They paused as the waiter brought them their food.
"You know, you didn't have to get a hotel room. You could have stayed at the SGC," Sam said, picking up her fork.
"Hmm. Gray cement walls two hundred feet underground. Sounds really tempting."
Sam laughed. "I guess I've never really paid much attention to my surroundings. Unless I'm in the field, of course."
"Now there's something I really can't picture," he said as he leaned back.
"What can't you picture?" she asked before taking another sip of her wine.
"You in the field. With a big gun strapped to you."
Sam smiled. "Well, I guess you really don't know me all that well."
An odd expression crossed his face. "Well Sam, I've gotta tell you, I'd kind of like to." He looked at her.
"Get to know you. Better."
Sam was so incredibly flattered. Here was this amazing guy who wanted to be with her. And she really liked him too. If only she wasn't...
So completely screwed?
"Alan, I think you're a really great guy." She gave him a small smile.
"Oh boy. Here comes the 'friends' speech."
"I won't tell you I'm not disappointed. But I kind of figured."
Sam looked at him questioningly.
"It's someone else, isn't it?"
"It's..." Sam hesitated. "It's complicated."
"I know, I know. Air Force. Team dynamics, right? I've worked in this environment for long enough to have run across something like this before."
"I don't know what you mean," Sam said, trying to say nonchalant.
"Come on, Sam. I've seen the way the guy looks at you. And the way you've talked about him."
"I've got to tell you, Sam, that Jonas is one lucky guy."
"What?!" She stared at him in disbelief.
He slowly grinned.
Oh. "Alan, that wasn't even funny."
"Think of it as my little revenge for breaking it off after only the first date," he said, teasing her.
Sam grinned and shook her head. "I'd hate to see what you do after the second."
The Doc was going to kill Jack. He wasn't exactly sure how it all worked, but he was pretty sure she'd be able to tell precisely how many beers he'd had to drink the night before. Well, it wasn't really his fault. They hadn't been scheduled to go out today, but an overly-chipper 0600 call from Jonas informed him otherwise. Apparently there were more things they had to look at.
And he was sure 'things' was the technical term.
He walked into the infirmary, resolved to get this part of his sure- to-be-crappy day over with. The curtain around the back bed was already pulled.
His heart instinctively skipped a beat before remembering that it shouldn't. He parked himself on the bed next to the curtain, suddenly finding his hands fascinating.
"So, do anything fun last night?" The Doc asked on the other side of the curtain.
Jack's head shot up.
"I went out to dinner with Alan," Carter said after a pause.
"Hmm, that sounds interesting," Fraiser commented.
"Yeah, well, he's a great guy."
After she left his place, she went out with *him*? Jack glared at the floor.
"Great?" The Doc snorted. "The guy's gorgeous! Smart. Funny. And he knows what you do."
"He's nice, okay?"
"So, what did you talk about? Come on, Sam. I've got to live vicariously through you, you know."
"Well, he tried to get me to transfer out to Nellis again."
"And you laughed in his face, right?"
Jack looked at the curtain. Carter?
"I don't know, Janet. Things have kind of gotten... I'm thinking about it."
She was thinking about leaving?!
Jack stared at the curtain, tuning out the rest of the conversation.
She would rather leave than talk to him! Next thing he knew he'd probably be staring at her transfer papers, all without her saying a word!
He had to get out of there.
"Okay, you're done," said Janet on their side of the curtain. "If you happen to see the rest of your team wandering around with a confused look in their eyes, remind them that they're supposed to be in here."
Sam smiled and started to nod.
"Oh, excuse me, Colonel," a voice entering the room could be heard by the two women.
Janet pulled back the curtain, but whoever had been there was now gone.
There were three colonels stationed at the SGC and one of them was currently offworld.
Sam closed her eyes. There was a fifty-fifty chance she had just made this all a whole hell of a lot worse.
The forest was quiet. Too quiet for Jack. If he hadn't been so focused, he would have hit himself for the mental cliché. He clutched his P90. It was nothing he could put his finger on, but he didn't like any of it. They had gated back to the same planet they had been to yesterday, but this time it was all somehow different. As before, there were no signs of life immediately around the gate, but...
Again, he had no proof. Just a feeling.
He stood over Carter, eyes scanning the tree line like a hawk. She had needed some additional samples about a click from the gate, but the place had put Jack so much on edge that he had seriously thought about scrubbing the mission. Instead he opted to have Teal'c and Jonas hold position at the gate in case anything happened.
They were quiet on their hike out, but he was too focused on the bad vibes he was getting from the place to delve into personal stuff. Carter's life was more valuable than hurt feelings.
"Almost done, Carter?" he asked tersely.
She flinched. Probably getting the wrong idea from his tone, he figured, but all that would have to be put aside for now.
He spared her a glance, but in doing so he saw something out of the corner of his eye.
He grabbed her vest and pulled her down behind the small group of boulders she was taking her sample from. Jack held up his finger to his mouth. Carter's eyes grew wide and fully alert. He gave her a hand signal and slowly moved up to get a better look.
It was what the Jaffa had been waiting for. The second Jack's head became visible, they started their attack. Jack moved himself to a better position and started shooting off rounds, Sam mimicking his moves.
Jack ducked back under cover and keyed his radio. "Teal'c, we're under fire! A whole mess of Jaffa!" he yelled.
"I am coming!"
"No! There're too many! Get back and get reinforcements!" Jack looked at Carter. "Wait! Teal'c, hold the gate!" Jack took his finger off his radio. "Carter, on three I want you to make a run for it. I'll cover you."
She looked at him. "Not going to happen, sir." She took a shot at the line of Jaffa.
"I am *not* going to leave you, sir!" she yelled.
They both stared at each other as staff weapon blasts flew over their heads.
Jack, not taking his eyes off hers, keyed his radio. "Belay that last order! Go get reinforcements!"
"Yes, O'Neill." The transmission died.
"Carter, we've got to get to better cover."
But there was no way. They were pinned down and the nearest available cover was too far. He yelled in frustration as he assessed the situation. "We're going to have to hold them!"
Carter nodded and went back to firing while trying to stay behind the small rock cover. Jack did the same.
It seemed to be working. They were horribly outgunned, but the two P90s and an occasional grenade kept the line of Jaffa from advancing. But with all the noise of gunfire ringing in his ears, Jack didn't hear a different sound until it was too late. Suddenly weapon fire from the Jaffa stopped.
"Hassac! Aray kree!"
"Damn," Carter muttered.
They slowly turned around to find themselves staring at the business end of a staff weapon.
"Oh, hello," Jack said putting his hands up.
"Kegalo Tau'ri!" the Jaffa said with a sneer.
The staff weapon opened.
Jack heard the sound of the weapon, but didn't feel anything. He quickly looked at Carter, but she just stood there, blinking. Then came the sound of P90s. Lots of them. The Jaffa in front of them slumped over.
"Yes! T, you have amazing timing, buddy!" he shouted as Teal'c and Jonas ran up to their position, followed by three other SG teams.
The attacking Jaffa, seeing that they no longer had the upper hand, began to retreat.
Major Adams ran up to Jack. "They're on the run, sir. Should we pursue?"
Jack took up the rear as he followed the SG teams through the gate. Not one SGC casualty, he thought proudly.
"Colonel, Major, glad to see you back in one piece," Hammond said.
"Thanks for the chance to come back in one piece, sir." He glanced at his 2IC. She smiled at him.
Wait. She smiled at him.
That was a *good* thing.
He smiled back.
They moved off the ramp, but Jack was stopped by the General.
"Oh, Colonel, after you get checked out by Dr. Fraiser, I need to see you in my office."
"Yes, sir," he said reluctantly as he watched Carter disappear around the corner.
Sam had waited for an hour for the Colonel to come out of the General's office before she went home. The base grapevine had told her it was some high-level conference with Washington big-wigs. If that was the case, it could be hours before he'd get out. They weren't known for keeping things short.
She had eaten dinner. Half a sandwich and an apple. Her eyes kept flicking up to the clock for strange reason. Well, it strange wasn't the word. It was a reason she didn't want to admit to herself.
She had tried watching TV, but the noise kept being drowned out in her mind by the day's mission.
//"I am *not* going to leave you, sir!"//
It kept playing over and over in her mind. She couldn't stop it. And damn her if she hadn't meant it in more ways than one.
She flipped off the TV and picked up a book, not seeing the words.
Jack raced through the streets of Colorado Springs. He looked at the truck's clock.
Of all the rotten timing! He had been treated to a five-hour conference call with Hammond and the Joint Chiefs covering everything from the Alpha Site to the current state of the SGC. Wasn't that what the endless reports were for?
He didn't call first. There was no way he was starting this on the phone. But he had to talk to her.
He knew himself too well. If he didn't go now, they'd be looking at the other side of three more years without saying a word. And he couldn't help feeling that by then it would all be too late.
Jack floored the pedal.
He was absolutely certain now that if Carter weren't in his life, there would be no one else. After retirement, he would live out his days alone, probably up at his cabin like a hermit. Suddenly everything became crystal clear.
As sappy as it sounded to his mind, he was in love for the last time in his life. Right now he could care less how much he did or didn't resemble a Hallmark greeting card.
Jack pulled up in front of Carter's house. The lights were on inside, but even if they weren't, he would have woken her up. This was it, he thought as he ran up to her door. One way or the other, his life wouldn't be the same from this point on.
Jack rang the bell.
And waited. It shouldn't take her this long to answer the door, should it? For a brief, sickening moment, he had a flashback to when that alien had lived with her. What if Alan was in there?
'Come on, Carter!' he begged in his mind.
He heard the latch click.
The only thing surprising about the Colonel being on Sam's doorstep was that it took him so long to get here.
"Not having this conversation on the porch," he said as he pushed the door open.
She moved out of the way. "Hello to you too."
The Colonel took off his coat and hung it on the rack. He turned and came face-to-face with her in the narrow hallway. "Not having it in the hallway either."
He walked off towards the kitchen. She followed. He began opening and closing cupboards.
"Looking for something?" Sam asked, settling against the counter.
"Coffee. And don't tell me you don't have any. You and Daniel used to have contests."
"Planning on staying a while?"
Sam moved across the room and opened the cupboard above the coffee maker. She pulled out the coffee and a filter for him, then took a seat at her kitchen table.
"So you didn't come over for coffee, did you?"
Jack played with the handle on his mug. "No."
Carter sat silently.
"About last night," Jack started.
"It's okay. You were...drunk."
"What? I had a few beers. I wasn't drunk, Carter. I knew what I was saying." He sighed. "Aren't you sick of not knowing?" he asked.
"I don't understand."
Jack struggled with his words. "I mean, sometimes I think I know and then other times I'm not so sure." He was getting annoyed with his inability to express himself.
"I..." she shook her head, still not seeming to understand.
"Even if I wanted to, I can't move on from here. I don't know where here is."
"Move on?" That seemed to get her attention. "What?"
He paused, collecting his thoughts.
"I just need to know how you feel about me," he said finally.
Sam rested her chin against her clasped hands and looked down at the table. "Not asking much, are you?"
Nope. He was just asking everything.
His eyes shot up to her face and he watched as she faltered. He needed to know her answer. He needed her to find the strength to tell him her answer. He shook his head slightly. "I just need to know, Sam. That's all."
"All?" She laughed softly.
He gripped his coffee mug. The waiting was terrifying. Like being on line the first time he made a night jump. There was nothing tangible to hold on to, just the hope of not hitting the ground.
Then it happened.
"I love you, Jack."
He closed his eyes and sighed. It was as if that one last missing piece of his life's puzzle had just been put into place. And it fit. Perfectly.
He opened his eyes again to see her with that same expression he was sure he had a few minutes ago - concerned. Worried. Terrified.
"Sam," Jack said quickly, smiling warmly at her, "I love you so much."
Jack watched the same calm he experienced only moments before wash over Sam's face. There was no more mistaking, denying...or turning back. She put her hand over his, and Jack felt an instant charge from her touch. Then he saw something cloud her eyes.
"Technically we're over the line here," Jack said finally, not taking his eyes off her face.
"Yeah, that," she said. "That's not new. We crossed that line two years ago."
"If it had been only a fling. A one night stand. Maybe we could have ignored; moved on."
"I know. This is permanent."
He paused. He had to be honest. "I don't want to retire yet."
"You know, I really don't want you to."
"Well, I want you on the team."
She shook her head. "I don't want to leave."
"So we're just talking right now," he said slowly, making sure she understood the implication.
"Yes. Except," she smiled, "...we know."
"We know," Jack repeated, smiling himself.
A certainty. It was comforting. It was life sustaining.
It just was.
"It's all we can have right now," She reminded him as she moved her thumb over the back of his hand.
"It's way more than I hoped for right now."
He couldn't stop grinning. Although, if one more person pointed that out, he was going to have to hurt him.
Jack walked into the gate room where his team was waiting for him. His eyes instantly went to Carter, who was busy adjusting a strap. Jonas stood at the base of the ramp, playing with the remote control for the FRED as Teal'c looked on much like a concerned parent.
Sam gave Jack a smile before going back to making some more last minute adjustments. He walked over to her.
"SG-1, you have a go," came the announcement.
"Okay, Jonas, the FRED's all yours," Jack ordered.
Jonas grinned and walked with Teal'c up the ramp and through the gate behind the FRED.
Jack turned to Sam. "Ready?"
"Yes, sir." She smiled as she pulled on her cap.
They walked up the ramp together. Side by side, for better or for worse, the way it was meant to be.
He knew now.
And it was better than knowing that she understood the mysteries of the universe.
Better than knowing she would no doubt save them all yet again in the near future.
Better than knowing she would never leave him behind.
He took one last look at her before they stepped through the gate.
He knew her heart.