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Never Too Late

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It was depressing really. The loss she felt as they said their goodbye’s that afternoon at the cabin. His eyes glimmering with something she hadn’t known then, but knew now. He had known the inevitability of change. That it would take them in different directions.

They were moving on, and only now as she sat in the dark lab that was technically hers in the back of Area 51, she felt the finality of that fact.

They had dispersed. Diverged from where they had been, splitting like quarters in different directions. It wasn’t Daniel’s upcoming departure to the Pegasus galaxy that made this so real. It wasn’t Teal’c rejoining the Jaffa rebellion on Dakara that made this so much more...difficult.

It was Jack. In Washington. Strange how he was the closest to her at the moment, and yet it still seemed to her that he was the furthest away.

It wasn’t logical. But it was a fact that made this so much more...final.

He was gone. She was gone. They were gone. Everything that had happened the day her father had died forgotten in the aftermath of it all. The upheaval from the SGC.

Now, she sat alone in the late hours, going over some alien artefact that she for once hadn’t been the first to see. Instead, she had turned into one of those scientists that sat behind the scenes. Hidden and yet, her work was on display for the military to test and admire.

She felt more like an anonymous artist, behind the curtain as her masterpieces were on display.

She felt...alone. Maybe it was just the late hour and the emptiness of the space around her that made her feel this hole inside her, or maybe it was just the loss of something within herself that no amount of ‘Research and Development’ could replace.

She was the outsider here. Everyone treated her as if she was some legendary hero to be awed. She walked in a room, and the other scientists almost expected her to disprove their theories with one formula.

She hated the detachment she felt. At the SGC, she had belonged.

They had always been a motley crew, but she had belonged with them in a way that she would never belong here.

She wondered if the others felt the same.

She liked her job. The fact she had been able to set aside more time for the scientist in her to play amongst the technologies brought back through the gate and donated by their allies, but...something was missing.

She glanced at her phone, almost trying to will it to ring.

It didn’t. It sat noiselessly up on the wall jack, taunting her with its silence.

With a sigh, she stood from the position she had been in for most of the day and a quarter of the night. No one here would dare tell her to go rest or chastise her for not taking a break.

She thought of Jack coming into her lab at the SGC for no particular reasons, watching her for only moments before he commanded she go home. Get a life. Find a hobby.

Her smile faded. He would never walk into this lab. Would never tinker with her projects with unassuming fingers, playing with things he really shouldn’t.

It had been weeks since their last conversation. And she couldn’t just blame him for that lack of trying to salvage something of that unnamed thing they’d had before. She hadn’t made an effort to keep things the same.

Maybe things had to change. Maybe they had been given their chance for something more, but, like all the years that stretched between their last admittance of feelings, they had bypassed their chance, increasing this detachment that she felt growing inside her everyday.

They had never faced the things between them. And, they still weren’t. She guessed some things would always be the same between them, although this separation made it easier to forget the things they had denied for so long.

Easier to cast them aside when not faced with the object of those things every day. He was in Washington. And she was not.

Without realising it, she found herself opening a draft email she had compiled at least a week before, her eyes scanning over the words there addressed to one General Jonathan “Jack” O’Neill. Four words looked up at her and she bit her bottom lip indecisively, her fingers moving the mouse up to the send button. Like each time before, she hesitated, but something seemed to change within her, and she clicked send.

Is it too late?

Nervous jitters erupted in her stomach and she immediately wanted to take her actions back, but it was too late to do so. The missive sent. Yet another regret she would have to deal with...

**********************************

The next night, after a day of gruelling work to distract her self, she still had not received a reply and her anxiety intensified. She was hoping that he would pretend she hadn’t written such a thing to him, and for once, she was glad for the fact that he was so far away from her, something she had thought would never be a reality.

She placed her head in her hands and sighed before mechanically gathering her things, removing the white lab coat she wore over her blue BDU’s, and folding it once over the back of her chair, powering down the lights and moving off towards the locker room.

Changing, she headed off the base, signing out with the night guardsman who cast her an easy salute. She nodded at him and continued her way out of the base, into the cool night air.

She slid into the driver’s seat of the car the Air Force had supplied her with a few weeks earlier, her silver Volvo back in the Spring’s with her unused house which she still hadn’t gotten around to selling. Something was stopping her. Maybe the something that made her feel that this wasn’t her home. That her home was Colorado and not this dry place...alone.

She displayed her badge to the guardsman at the gate and drove out onto the flat expanse of road that led to her town house. It was a nice place, a place she had picked herself, not wanting to be surrounded completely by military personnel. Instead, her neighbours were civilians and she hated to say it, but she somehow felt like it was a relief to be away from the knowing glances and the awed faces that knew she had been a member of the infamous SG1 and had saved the world more than anyone had thought possible.

The civilians didn’t know these things. They only knew her as the woman who lived in 4d who wasn’t home much and had just moved in.

She pulled under the building into the parking garage and got out, catching the lift to her floor and searching for her keys within the black shoulder bag she wore as she walked towards her door.

“Carter.” A voice murmured from ahead of her and her eyes shot up to the man before her in surprise, taking in his features as if thirsty for them, his grey hair sticking up like she remembered, a lopsided grin on his lips, hands stuffed into his pockets.

“Sir...” she returned, the shock clear in her voice.

“Thought you would never come home.” He chastised calmly, pushing off from his position by her door.

“I was...working.” She wanted to ask why he hadn’t just come to the base. Why he had waited by her door, but she didn’t, she just walked forward, her fingers shaking minimally from his sudden appearance here of all places.

She only had to take note of his casual clothing to understand why he hadn’t come to the base.

This wasn’t a professional visit. His appearance at the base would have categorised his visit into that.

“I should be shocked about that, but, sadly, I knew you would be.” He said with that familiar tilting of his head as he assessed her features.

She paused under his scrutiny, finding the correct key on her key ring and inserting it in the lock, feeling his eyes on her the whole time, burning into her with his subtle avidity. She pushed the door open, wondering if she had remembered to clean up after herself before she had left this morning.

He followed her in at her motion and closed the door as she shrugged out of her thin jacket and placed it by the door.

“I wasn’t...expecting company.” She said, briefly thinking of his words from before. ‘Thought you would never come home.’

“Neither was I.” He admitted with a shrug and she lifted her gaze to him, realising that he was standing in her entryway for the first time, her first real visitor since her move.

“Sir...”

“Carter.” They both trailed off, unable to remove the professional tags they had for each other even though the visit was far from work related.

“I would offer you a beer...but...I don’t have any. In fact, I barely eat here...on base too much. The food would just get wasted.” She knew she was rambling, but she really couldn't help it. She was nervous and her mind drifted back to what she had been thinking before. That she missed him and felt lonely without the safety of his presence. Now she finally knew what her delusion-Jack on the Prometheus had meant when he had said he was her ‘safe bet’.

He was her salvation.

“Aren’t you going to ask what exactly I’m doing here?” he asked, watching her with too much knowledge for her liking. She swallowed, feeling uncertain, and sure he could see her every movement and reaction. Even the little ones.

“I am wondering how you managed to get some time off Sir.” She hedged, trying to ignore the falter in her voice.

“I got an interesting email.” He said as explanation to his presence.

She wanted the ground to swallow her up. She hated moments of weakness, because moments of weakness caused all sorts of problems. Like the issue she was facing right now. This was worse than seeing another woman come out his back door. There was no interruption here. No one but her to witness this rejection.

“An email?” She asked, wondering if her voice was trembling or if the whole world was.

“Yeah. Seems we have a few things to talk about, you and I.” He said in a deceptively casual manner.

“You shouldn’t have come, Sir.” She said and yes, she realised, that was her voice trembling, not the world. Although, she really wished that there was some sudden galactic emergency so she could run in a moment like this. Last time she had been saved, her dignity restored in the wake of her father’s death. Nothing happened this time. In fact, the room was so silent it was deafening.

“And here I thought that you would be happy to see me. Moving is said to be one of the most stressful times for...”

“Sir...” she began with a sigh. “What exactly do you want to talk about?” she asked, pinning him with a no nonsense look.

“Oh this and that.” He said noncommittally, reaching out and slipping his hand along the edge of her lounge, his eyes focused on his hand movement even though she knew he was focused on her as well. She sighed under her breath, moving towards the kitchen.

“So, how’s Davison treating you? You’re not confusing him with too much scientific babble, are you?” he asked from the other room and she found a hollow smile working onto her face.

“No Sir...he seems very attentive to my every word. He’s a good CO.” She said, glancing at him over the counter as she poured herself a glass of water, taking a sip, needing something to do besides stand there awkwardly before him, glad he was giving her this moment to compose herself. He knew she needed the change of subject, even just for a moment. Reprieves were good. Very good.

“Ahh, so...should I be feeling jealous? Of his CO abilities I mean?” he asked with a quirk of his lips at the look that must be on her face.

“Of course not Sir.” She replied, pinning him with a look that portrayed more. Telling him more. He smirked.

“Uh...I spoke to Daniel this morning. He’s in the process of packing up the last of his belongings from the SGC. He’s practically salivating to get off this rock and out into the cosmos...” Jack waved his hand outward and Sam smiled wryly, burying it with another sip of water.

“He has been dying to get out to Pegasus since Atlantis was found...” she agreed with a slight smile. Pause. More silence. It radiated and she thought that she would give anything for him to say what he was really here for. To let her down slowly. To ask her not to send him anymore wildly inappropriate emails about things that should stay in the past.

“It’s not too late.” He said after a moment and she was taken off guard.

“Sir...?” she asked, her stomach flipping over at his words.

“Carter.” he gave her a look and her faked calm evaporated.

“It’s not?” she asked, feeling like she was losing all her military strength at this moment.

“Not even close.” he replied. Neither of them moved, they just gazed at each other from over the distance separating them. Instead of miles it was mere feet, and yet, she couldn’t take the steps needed to approach him. To touch him to make sure that this wasn’t just another fanciful dream concocted from her unsatisfied yearnings.

She nodded once, her anxieties fading slowly away under the weight he had just lifted off her. This thing between them wasn’t going anywhere. It had just taken her way too long to ask. She knew then that he had been waiting for her this whole time. It had taken longer than necessary for her to find her way to him.

“So...” he clapped his hands together. “...I hear that there is a great 24 hour coffee shop around these parts. What do you say Carter?” he asked, a gleam in his eyes that spoke to her on another level besides the obvious.

“Sounds perfect...Jack.” she said with a nervous smile. A soft look appeared on his face, watching her with tenderness.

“Yes...” he replied with a slight smile “Yes it does.”

He walked towards her and stopped a few inches away and she found herself holding her breath and letting it out on a slow exhale, her eyes never leaving his. He reached out and relinquished the glass from her fingers, placing it on the counter beside her gently, not looking away from her either.

She reached up hesitantly, her hand hovering over his chest for a moment before she pressed her palm flat, the warmth of his skin creeping through the material of his shirt along with the steady beating of his heart. He reached up and covered her hand with his, saying without words ‘yes, I’m real’.

“Are we really going to do this?” she asked, looking up into his dark eyes, seeing all the things he had never said shimmering just below the surface, a part of him still slightly guarded out of what she knew was the habit of keeping things clandestine between them. Hidden away even from each other.

“Yeah, I guess we are.” He replied before he leaned down and kissed her, fitting his lips to hers for mere moments before pulling back slightly, searching her features. She froze momentarily, as if waiting for the world to explode around them. He smiled fondly and reached out, cupping her face in careful hands.

“We okay with that?” he asked, with words he had used once before. Words that had kept their feelings locked in a room far away from here. It was like, with the same words, he was releasing all that had been so carefully locked away.

She could do nothing but nod as he traced her jaw with careful fingertips, his touch feeling almost surreal. Her eyes fluttered as if to close, but she fought the urge.

“Yeahsureyoubetcha.” She said with a slow smile. Amusement danced in his eyes and suddenly the barriers were gone and he was just Jack, his guardedness slipping away, revealing the things that he had kept muted for years.

Without saying anything more, he kissed her again, his lips moulding to hers, his arms sliding around her waist to tug her closer as she twined her own around his neck, wrists crossed behind his head.

Their bodies meshed in her dim kitchen, and for that moment, they were finally on the same level. He reached up and cupped her face and she dropped her arms around his lean waist, his thumbs caressing her cheek bones gently.

She sighed and relaxed into him, melting against him and feeling that they had finally been in the right place at the right time. He pulled back slowly and smoothed his thumb along her bottom lip.

“I hear there’s cake at this coffee place...” he said after a moment and she started to laugh before dropping her face to his collar bone. Some things just don’t change, and she knew then that it was only too late if they gave up.

She guessed it was never too late...

-Fini-