Summary: Jack likes to share special moments with a special someone in his life. This time he needs special assistance from that special someone.
Sam was in multi-tasking mode. She was doing laundry, cooking ground beef for the spaghetti sauce dinner for her date tonight, and trying to catch up with her e-mail. Her laptop sat waiting atop her kitchen counter as she mentally put together an answer for Siler regarding the diagnostic program he thought he’d found a glitch in, at the same time stirring the meat so that it would cook evenly.
Just as she was about to answer Siler’s e-mail, the phone rang. Annoyed at the interruption, she checked the caller ID display to see if she could ignore it. It was her CO… calling her on a Saturday… in the middle of the afternoon. Without thinking twice, she picked up — and very soon wished she hadn’t.
“Come on, Carter! How many times do I actually ask for help? I’m begging here!” Jack whined at the other end of the line. “It’ll just take a couple of hours of your boring Saturday afternoon.”
“Sir, I… I have plans,” she tried to explain. But she didn’t want to go into detail. What was she supposed to say? “Sorry, Sir, but I’m cooking dinner for a blind date… and I’m also doing laundry?” That would be so pathetic!
“Twenty two little boys and your old, worn-out CO will be eternally grateful if you change your plans and join us,” Jack continued to beg. “You know Daniel and Teal’c went to check out the ruins SG-13 found during their last mission. I need you, Carter,” he finally admitted. “I can’t handle all these kids without someone else’s help, and none of the parents could show up or know enough about hockey, and I know you do because your brother played.”
He had her on that one. She’d spent many hours watching her brother’s games during high school. He’d been an excellent hockey player and had only stopped playing when he’d busted his ankle. She knew all the rules of the game and had shared with Jack at one time that she’d helped her brother teach a group of little boys the basics during one of her summer breaks.
Biting her lip as she hesitated, and looking up at the clock, wondering if she’d have enough time to finish cooking the sauce before she had to get dressed for her date, she made up her mind. “All right. I’ll come over for a couple of hours, but I can only stay until 1700 hours. Then I have to go,” she warned him.
“Sounds peachy! We’ll wait for you at the sports complex two streets down from the entrance to my neighborhood. Don’t forget your skates!” he happily responded, hanging up before she could change her mind.
Sam sighed, looking at the phone suspiciously. Her CO never called her during weekends unless it was regarding work. Today, of all days, he was calling her and demanding some of her time. The day that she was finally going to have a blind date with her brother’s friend, Detective Pete Shanahan, the guy that had been calling and pestering her for almost a year. Had Colonel Jack O’Neill somehow found out about it?
The only person she’d told about her date was Daniel, and she was sure that her friend would not have broken her confidence. But the truth was that she’d made it sound casual and unimportant, so maybe Daniel had commented on it without realizing that she’d rather keep that information from her CO.
‘Whatever!’ she thought, turning off the stove and quickly replying to Siler’s e-mail so that she could turn off her laptop. ‘I better go get this over with so that I can come back in time to finish cooking. I wonder where the heck my skates are!’
Colonel Jack O’Neill, sly, scheming black ops veteran, was satisfied with the results of his plan so far. It would be a simple matter to ask his assistant coach, his neighbor, to skip today’s practice session. He’d needed an excuse to get Carter away from her home, and this one was as good as any.
It even fell under those special things that he liked to share with a special someone… namely her. He loved children and he loved hockey. That’s why he’d agreed to coach his neighbor’s son’s hockey team. The nine-year-olds were normally quite a handful, but he had to admit that they were also a lot of fun. He was now really looking forward to this afternoon’s coaching session with his beautiful second-in-command as his assistant.
If he was lucky, and everything turned out as planned, he’d keep her too busy to go through with her planned blind date. How important could it be, anyway? She didn’t even really know the guy.
Daniel had told him that she’d been talking to her brother’s friend for almost a year, on and off. The man would call her during his visits to Colorado Springs. Daniel had also informed him that the guy was a Denver detective and that he’d been trying to get Sam to go out with him from the beginning, but that she had resisted. Now, apparently, she had finally agreed, and Jack had panicked.
He had thanked Daniel for his casual sharing of information, knowing that their archeologist friend had probably run all the way to the locker room yesterday to catch him and tell him all about Sam’s date before he could go home. Daniel had just nodded in acknowledgement, staring at him as if trying to get him to promise that he’d do something to stop Sam from dating another man, but at the time, Jack had had no idea what he could do to prevent it.
He’d spent the whole night lying awake, trying to come up with a way to interfere without outright asking her not to date the guy. He couldn’t do that. Not only did he not have the right to tell her what to do with her personal life, but he’d be crossing a line that they couldn’t cross until he was her CO no longer.
Calling General Hammond and making his retirement effective immediately had crossed his mind, so that he could rush over to her house and demand that she cancel her date, admit that she loved him and no one else, and promise to marry him as soon as possible. But he knew that his desperation was making him think of rash solutions. He couldn’t quit the fight against the Goa’uld. Not yet.
So the only option had been subterfuge. He was determined to prevent her from going through with the date, and maybe even have a casual chat with her to remind her that they still could happen someday, that there was still hope. They had come too far and gone through too much together to just throw away their dream now.
As he watched her arrive, dressed in jeans and a baggy Air Force sweatshirt, looking young and beautiful and turning heads as she walked, his determination wavered. Maybe she was right in trying to get a life that did not include him. Maybe she’d realized that he was now too old for her. Maybe she’d gotten tired of waiting.
Sam sat down and put on her skates, waving at him as he lined up the little tykes on the ice and warned them to behave for the nice lady that would be helping him today.
“Her name is Sam, and she may be a girl, but she’s tougher than any guy I know, so take it easy and listen to her or she’ll have you doing push-ups until you puke!”
“Are you trying to scare the little angels, sir?” she asked as she smoothly stopped next to him, her hands on her hips. “Hi, guys!” she smiled at the little boys hidden under padding and helmets.
Some of them said hi back, others waved at her, and the rest just gawked at her. “Do I have something on my nose?” she asked jokingly as a little freckled boy openly stared at her with his mouth open.
“Are you sure you’re a girl? You’re a lot taller than my mom!” he asked suspiciously, wondering whether Colonel O’Neill was pulling their leg.
Sam opened her mouth to answer, looking down at herself and wondering whether she truly looked like a boy, but her CO interrupted her. “I told you she was tougher than any guy I know, Tommy! But believe me, she’s all girl,” he said, his tone only insinuating enough for Sam to catch his double meaning.
Turning a soft shade of pink, she glared at him.
“What? Did you want me to say you’re a guy?” he asked wickedly, his grin playful.
Sam chose to let that comment go and was soon busy conducting drills with half the group of kids, who quickly forgot about her being a girl and enthusiastically followed all her instructions. Jack’s half of the group, however, were too busy having fun at the colonel’s expense and asking when it was going to be their turn to work with Sam. They eventually switched groups, Sam shaking her head at her CO and wondering if he always let the little boys run circles around him. Where was the tough military man today?
She’d been having so much fun with the little kids, now playing a free-for-all game, and laughing her head off at the antics of her colonel — who despite his goofiness was extremely agile and secure on the ice — when she realized she was out of time.
“Sir! I have to go now. The practice is over anyway, and I have some stuff to do,” she told him as she skated to a stop next to him.
“Oh, come on, Carter! We’re not done here! After practice we go for ice cream. Right, guys?” he called out.
“YEAAAHH!” the little guys all screamed at the same time, rushing from the ice to take off their skates.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I really have to go,” she was saying as they both headed toward a bench to remove their own skates and get ready to leave.
“What could be so important that you would pass up ice cream with the kids? They adore you! As a matter of fact, they would love it if you could be my assistant coach. The one I have now is Tommy’s dad, and he has no clue what he’s doing; that’s why he asked me to coach the team.”
Without allowing her to comment, he then turned to the group of kids and asked them loudly, “Right, guys? Wouldn’t it be great if Sam could be our assistant coach every Saturday?”
“YEEEAAAAH!” the chorus of little voices screamed at the top of their lungs.
“Dad doesn’t really know how to skate! He’s always fallin’ an’ cussin’!” Tommy added. “Mom said she was going to wash his mouth with soap if he did it again!”
“What’s your favorite ice cream, Sam? Mine is cookies and cream!” another little boy asked, ready to go and hanging onto her arm.
“I… well… I like chocolate,” she admitted, looking at Jack as if asking for succor. He determinedly ignored her silent plea.
“YEAH! Chocolate is MY favorite!” a third boy screamed almost in her ear, making her helplessly wince and grin.
“How about it, Carter? Let’s take the little tykes for ice cream down the road. We’ll walk there in a matter of minutes. Everything else can wait!” he cajoled, elbowing her arm.
“All right,” she finally caved, and the group of little demons all screamed “YEEEAAAHH!” for the third time.
As they walked down the block from the sports complex to the nearby ice cream shop, Jack made it a point to stick close to Sam while they both made sure the little kids stayed safely on the sidewalk. “Thanks for coming, Carter. It was a lot more fun with you here. I mean that.”
Sam’s surprised look and awkward smile encouraged him to explain. “The other guy really is no help at all, and spending time with you has always been… you know… special.”
They were now at the ice cream shop and the little boys had begun placing their orders, and Sam remained stunned, not knowing how to respond. She had been floored by Jack’s unexpected declaration. They rarely addressed such issues anymore, and it had been a long time since they’d done anything just the two of them together. They had grown distant, their unending war against the Goa’uld exacting a heavy price from both their bodies and souls.
Since her lonely ordeal on the Prometheus, where her father’s hallucination had reminded her that she’d been neglecting an important part of her life, she’d made a decision. She had decided to move on and stop hoping for something that would likely never happen. Jack O’Neill would always be her CO. She couldn’t see it any other way after all these years, and she had the right to have a life other than as a soldier. She wanted love and companionship, and he wasn’t free to give them to her.
“Sir,” she said as she took a seat. The shop clerk was mobbed with the twenty kids, so it would be a while before Jack had to go and pay. “I don’t think I can commit to helping out every Saturday. I’m sorry.”
“Why not, Carter? Didn’t you have fun today?” Jack asked, sitting across from her in a booth.
“Yes, but… I… I don’t think that’d be a good idea,” she evasively explained.
“Carter,” Jack said, his eyes suddenly brimming with feelings, and her heart faltered, reading the truth.
“You know, don’t you?” she softly asked him.
Jack looked away, not wanting to answer, but then finally met her inquiring eyes and nodded. “Daniel told me.”
“Is that why I’m here?” she asked.
“That’s part of the reason why you’re here. I was actually kicking myself for not thinking of this sooner. You’re a great coach,” he smiled at her.
Sam smiled back, but then she lowered her eyes to the table. “Sir, I…” she started to shake her head.
“Sam, you know you’re still special to me, don’t you?” he hurried to say before she could turn him down again. “Don’t you?” he insisted when her eyes did not leave her perusal of the tabletop.
“It’s just not enough anymore,” she whispered, visibly struggling to contain the tears that threatened to fill her eyes. “We have to move on.”
“No, we don’t! We can still have each other. We will win this fight some day and then we won’t have to wait anymore,” he argued, his voice earnest though quiet.
But Sam just shook her head. “It’s more likely that this fight will continue on for another twenty years, or that one of us will get killed one of these days.”
Jack knew that she was probably right, but he still didn’t want to lose her to someone else. He couldn’t stand the thought of her being with another man. “Don’t do it, Carter,” he quietly begged, forgetting about pride and ranks, his eyes unable to meet hers when they flew to his face.
“Sir, please,” she whispered, her eyes finally bright with unshed tears. “Don’t do this to me. It was hard enough for me to take this step! I have a right to some companionship, don’t I? Don’t I have the right to have children of my own before it’s too late?”
Jack felt as if she had stabbed him in the heart. She was right, of course. She had a right to find a younger man that could be with her, make her happy and give her children. Why should a beautiful, loving woman like her have to wait for an old, jaded man like him? He was being selfish. He had to admit that. He had to let her go and live her life.
“Yes, Carter. You really do deserve all those things,” he finally said, his voice coming out gruff with grief. “You should probably go, or you’ll be late for your date,” he then added, forcing his features into a stony mask, his eyes looking out the window at empty space.
Sam nodded. She also looked like she was grieving, but she resolutely stood and stepped out of the booth, turning to him once more before she left. “Please… just tell the boys that there was something important I had to do. Good-bye, sir.”
Jack refused to look at her, but he steadily responded. “I’ll do that. Have a nice time, Carter.”
Then she was gone, and Jack turned toward the shop window to watch her walk back to the sports complex where she’d left her car. She looked like she was crying, but she was still walking away.
‘I hope he deserves you, Carter,’ Jack thought, only the joyful cries of his junior hockey team allowing him to remain composed. ‘And I hope you’re happy.’
It had been nice to have that little light at the end of the tunnel beckoning sweetly, especially when their struggle sometimes became unbearable, but that light was there no more. Now he saw only shadows, and Jack knew that he’d be unable to find a reason to smile from now on.
He would miss her; and he knew, deep in his heart, that she would miss him, too. He could only hope that she would miss him enough to eventually come back to him.
He contemplated his future and felt black depression descend eagerly and heavily upon him, engulfing him in a tight, airless mantle of loneliness. His world was now empty and dark. But maybe hers could be brighter.