Sam couldn't suppress the small shiver of unease that ran through her as she left the gym. This was the first time she'd been back since the kidnapping and her senses were on hyper-alert even though she knew the threat from Adrian Conrad was minimal. The parking lot was almost empty, eerily reminiscent of the day nearly three weeks ago when she'd been abducted. Forcing herself to go slowly, Sam walked to her car, which was parked in the far corner of the lot. Reaching her Volvo, she placed her gym bag in the trunk and put her key in the door lock, feeling an almost frightening sense of relief at finally reaching her goal.
"So, he found ya'!"
Sam jumped, dropping her keys and letting out a startled yelp. Turning quickly, bracing herself to attack, she found herself staring at a grizzled, skinny man, who was busy rummaging in the dumpster.
"What did you say?"
She thought he hadn't heard her until he finally turned to face her, holding tightly to a tattered plastic garbage bag. "Your boyfriend, he found ya'."
His words didn't make any sense. Deciding he was just a harmless, crazy homeless man, Sam began surreptitiously looking around for her dropped keys when he spoke again. "Yeah, he was sure worried about you. 'Specially when I told him 'bout those Ninjas. Damn, Ninjas," the man muttered, once more turning back to the dumpster.
It suddenly dawned on Sam that the man must have witnessed her kidnapping. "You saw them kidnap me." It was more a statement than a question and the man looked at her straight on for the first time.
"You want information? It'll cost ya'!" He looked at her slyly. "That Colonel, now he gave me a whole stack of National Geographics. What you got to offer, missy?"
Somewhat nonplussed by his information and question, Sam offered, "I don't want any information. I guess I want to thank you."
The stranger bobbed his head in acknowledgement and Sam thought he almost looked embarrassed by her words.
"You're welcome, ma'am. I'm just glad he found ya', is all." The man looked around as if checking for any observers and stepping closer to her he said, "Just watch out for them Ninjas!"
Sam didn't know what to think as she watched the man wander off until he disappeared in the thicket to the east of the parking lot. Sighing, she searched around and located her keys and quickly unlocking her car, got in and drove off, the man's words chasing through her head as she drove home.
It was late afternoon when Sam finished all her Saturday chores. Her house was clean, though it never really got that dirty. Taking a diet soda out of the fridge, she wandered into the living room, turning on the TV. She sat down and started skimming through the channels. Not much on TV, she realized. Sporting events, infomercials, or tacky syndicated sci-fi shows. Her thoughts drifted back to her encounter with the homeless man outside the gym earlier that day. She realized she really didn't know that much about how she had actually been found. She had assumed that somehow the local police had been involved initially and then the Air Force had been brought in. However, it would appear that someone else had been looking for her once it had been realized she was missing.
So, 'her boyfriend' had been out searching for information regarding her disappearance? The homeless man's words intrigued her. She was pretty sure it could only have been Colonel O'Neill out looking for her, somehow she couldn't imagine Daniel or Teal'c investigating the site of her abduction. Just what had O'Neill said or done to give the man the impression he was her boyfriend? Maybe it was the National Geographics; good to know she was worth something to the Colonel! But then again, the old guy might have imagined it; after all he had called her abductors 'Ninjas'.
It gave her a warm feeling--which was quickly followed by the usual guilty feeling--to imagine that the Colonel was her boyfriend and that his concern and worry for her had prompted his conversation with the homeless man. But, that was hardly likely what had motivated him, no matter how she might like to think otherwise. It had been a long year since the events surrounding Martouf's death and the Za'tarc incident, and she had no earthly reason to believe the Colonel had decided to ignore the ground rules she had laid down during that eventful time.
She imagined that Hammond would have been loath to go through the normal channels, since this wasn't the usual kidnapping for ransom. So, 'letting' the Colonel--and whoever else--make some unofficial inquiries had been his only option. There must have been virtually nothing for them to go on...which led her to again wonder just how Harry Maybourne had gotten involved. The Colonel had been very tight-lipped regarding Maybourne's involvement, beyond his indignation at supposedly getting shot by the man! Sam really found it hard to believe that Maybourne would have shot O'Neill, especially since everything she knew about him told her that survival was his main agenda, not revenge. Survival...just like Adrian Conrad had wanted to survive, just like she had wanted to survive. Sam shivered, suddenly cold. Her death had almost been the price for Conrad's survival. As it was, the man was host to some yet unknown Goa'uld. Which somehow seemed too horrible a punishment, even for the man who ordered her death.
Sam took a swallow of her soda and made a face--warm and flat already. She looked at her watch, idly wondering if it was too early for a glass of wine...and realized it was almost 1730 and she'd yet to receive her daily visit from Daniel and Teal'c. As annoying as it was at first, she had gotten kind of used to having them stop by...it had been comforting, in a weird sort of way. Not that she was really nervous about being alone; she was used to it, after all. But, she did think she was dealing exceedingly well with everything that had happened. However...she had appreciated knowing that at least someone was checking up on her everyday--and would know if she went missing. Last Saturday they had shown up with an armful of videos and lasagna from Fratelli's. She hated to admit that she had been looking forward to them stopping by again with maybe movies and dinner, something to make the long weekend pass by a little more quickly. Less time alone and less time to think...the doorbell rang and Sam ignored the relief she felt. They were stopping by, after all!
Jack precariously juggled the bags and videos he was carrying, trying to reach Carter's doorbell again. What the hell was taking her so long? His arm was starting to ache, he was hungry...and he wasn't totally sure why the hell he was standing on Carter's front porch with Chinese take-out and the two videos Teal'c had given him. Why? Because, Daniel had worked the mother-of-all guilt trips on him. Never mind that he'd been shot--twice, as he'd pointed out to Daniel when the other man had called early that morning and asked him to check on Carter. But Daniel hadn't said Carter, he'd called her Sam...something Jack tried very hard not to do--except in his mind. And after everything that had happened in the last year, it had been getting increasingly hard to keep the Sam of his mind separated from the Carter he worked with everyday. Not to mention her kidnapping, he thought guiltily. And how he hadn't known she was missing for over forty-eight hours...how she almost died. He shifted the videos to his left hand and reached out for the doorbell when the door suddenly swung open.
"Colonel?" She looked surprised and then cautious, peering around him. "Where are Daniel and Teal'c?"
"Ah, it's just me, Carter." She looked at him almost suspiciously, he thought grimly. "There was some exhibit or something opening up at the Denver Art Museum. Some girl named Linda, I think." Carter nodded, her look becoming more skeptical by the minute. He forged ahead, "Anyway, I guess she's only there every so often, so Daniel took Teal'c and drove up there for the day. And, so...he, ah, asked if I'd stop over, make sure you were doing okay. Maybe bring dinner and a movie...." He gave her a pleading look and held out one of the take-out bags to her, hoping she'd take pity on him and either turn him away or invite him in--and at this point he wasn't sure which would be preferable!
She looked at him for a long moment, and he could just see the wheels turning in her brain while she ran all the various scenarios his unexpected arrival had prompted. She finally smiled and took the bag from him and stepped back, indicating for him to enter. He squeezed past her, still clutching a take-out bag and the videos, pausing uncertainly in the small foyer. She started down the hallway and stopped halfway, looking back to where he still awkwardly stood, feeling increasingly uncomfortable by the moment. Damn Daniel and his dinner and a movie idea, anyway, Jack decided grumpily. She shook her head and came back towards him.
"Come on, sir." She paused in front of him and held out her other hand. He grinned and handed her the second take-out bag and this time, followed her down the short hall to the kitchen. She set the bags on the counter and started opening cupboards and pulling out plates. "Make yourself at home, sir."
Jack watched her for a moment while she worked, getting plates, cutlery and the other necessary items for their dinner ready. Two sirs in less than five minutes, while they were off-duty. He sighed; it seemed like it was going to be a very long night. Leaving Sam in the kitchen, Jack wandered into the living room, setting the tapes down on the coffee table. The TV was on, he noted, with the local news on. He looked around for the remote and finding it, hit the mute button, not really caring to hear about the latest local news tonight. He was here to check on Carter, keep her company for awhile, and make sure she was doing okay on her own. Check for monsters in the closet and under her bed...right, Jack, he chuckled mirthlessly. Best not to go there, buddy, he reminded himself. Crap, Daniel had made it sound so easy and he had ignored that warning voice inside him that had reminded him of all the reasons why spending time alone with Carter was a bad thing. Especially when he was still fresh from almost losing her. Hell, forget that. He had lost her! So, if spending an evening in her company, watching videos and eating mediocre Chinese food was part of his penance, well, it was a much less punishment than he deserved.
Shrugging out of his jacket, he draped it over one of the chairs and wandered back over to the kitchen. "Need any help?"
She turned to face him, a bottle of wine in her hand. "You could open this." He walked over to where she stood and took the bottle and corkscrew she handed him. Efficiently opening the bottle, he watched her as she finished the preparations for their meal. She looked almost normal, she wasn't so pale anymore and she seemed okay...though he knew her well enough to know that she was more than capable of putting on a good front for him.
"Done," he commented, holding the bottle out towards her.
"Grab those glasses and let's go into the living room."
He followed with the wine and glasses while she carried a tray with their dinner on it into the living room. Setting the tray down on the coffee table, she nudged the videos onto the floor. Jack sat down the wine and glasses while she picked up the fallen tapes. "Braveheart and The Princess Bride?"
Jack looked at her blankly for a moment, until he realized she was talking about the videos. "Ah, really?" He walked over to where she stood with the tapes in her hand, taking them from her. Damn, if she wasn't right. "Teal'c gave those to me, said he'd picked them out for tonight before he knew he and Daniel were going to Denver." The look she gave him was clearly disbelieving, but she nodded and took one, putting it in the VCR and then handing him a plate.
Okay, Jack wasn't really sure he liked the direction this movie was taking. He'd actually started to relax and enjoy the evening. The orange chicken was predictable, but tasty. Sam seemed to be enjoying the shrimp fried rice. And he was on his second glass of Chardonnay watching as Wallace's wife's throat was slit, while Wallace looked on in helpless agony. Jack looked at Sam, who didn't seem at all perturbed by what was on the TV, casually munching on an eggroll. All he could envision at that moment was the memory of seeing her handcuffed to that hospital cart, her captors getting ready to inject her with their lethal drug. The nearby instruments an ominous indication of their intent.
Jack could have sworn his heart stopped beating at that moment, before it started racing in double-time. If they'd been five minutes later...god, he couldn't bear the thought! But, she'd kept her cool and though he wanted nothing more than to sweep her up in his arms and carry her away to safety, that hadn't been an option. Acutely aware of Maybourne's presence and the threat of Conrad's Goa'uld, he'd been forced to use her--whether she was in any condition or not--to help him in their mission.
She hadn't voiced a word in protest; merely taken the gun he'd given her and followed his orders. He had been so proud of her and simultaneously filled with remorse that he couldn't give her the comfort she needed. Right...which brought him right back to sitting on her sofa watching a movie where the lead character had just had his heart ripped out by the death of his lover. Jack couldn't watch anymore, and grabbing the remote, he stopped the VCR.
"Hey!" Sam protested and looked curiously at him.
He tried to smile, but found he couldn't and shrugged his shoulders instead. "Let's watch the other movie, okay?"
She didn't say anything, merely looked at him for a long moment before she nodded her head. "Okay," she agreed. "I like The Princess Bride better anyway."
Jack knew nothing about The Princess Bride except that it sounded a hell of a lot more benign than Braveheart.
Sam shivered slightly, drawing her knees up and unconsciously huddling in the corner of the sofa. Grabbing the afghan from the back of the cushions, she wrapped it around herself. Westley was strapped down on the torture machine and the Albino and Count Rugen were absorbed in their macabre task. Oh god, she realized almost sickly, when Westley cried out in torment, she really did not want to watch this. The almost tender care the two characters were taking in their torture of Westley vividly reminded her of the perverted affection her two captors had shown her. Lovingly talking of dissecting her...she shivered again, hugging her legs.
She knew O'Neill was looking at her. Oh, he wasn't obvious about it, but she knew he was studying her. And she really wasn't acting like someone who was all over her ordeal, if she was this affected by a movie! Good grief! She had watched The Princess Bride countless times with Cassie, before she'd turned into a recalcitrant teenager who had better things to do than watch 'kiddy' movies. And she knew it ended happily, that true love did triumph. Which still didn't explain why her stomach was in knots and her hands were clenched tightly in the soft wool of the afghan. She needed to relax, and she needed to do it fast, before he said something.
Too late. Reluctantly turning her face towards him, she was stunned by the warmth and concern she saw on his face.
Was she okay? She really didn't know anymore. Up until five minutes ago she would have said yes, she was dealing just fine with what had happened to her. Up until five minutes ago she would have been able to brush off her near-death at the hands of Conrad's 'doctors'. But...what would she tell O'Neill? Would she brush his concern aside or would she really tell him how okay she wasn't? She hated being so indecisive, besides being her CO, she had always thought of him as at least her friend, even if it seemed he would never be anything more.
"I, ah..." she swallowed, looking away from the intensity of his gaze. "I, this, I mean...the movie," she floundered, becoming more and more flustered with each passing moment of incoherence.
He sighed and reached for the remote, stopping the movie. The sudden quiet in the room only served to amplify her panting breaths as she tried to quell the unexpected panic engulfing her. "It's the movie, isn't it?"
She still struggled briefly with what to say to him, even with the opening he'd given her. Okay, he was her friend; granted, it wasn't a conventional friendship by any stretch of the imagination. But...she trusted him like she trusted no one else. She took a deep breath and laughed shakily. "They kept me strapped down, you know." She looked sideways at him. "Those two doctors...god, I don't even know their names! They treated me like some lab experiment!" It all started tumbling out. "They teach that, you know. Don't become attached to your animal subjects, because the day will come when you have to sacrifice them. They don't say kill, you know. It's always 'sacrifice' or 'euthanize'. And keep it impersonal."
"That's why they didn't tell me their names, you know, to keep it impersonal. So I wouldn't know the names of the men who were going to kill me." Her voice was rising almost hysterically, and she seemed helpless to stop it. "At least Adrian Conrad told me his name...." Her voice did break then and she couldn't stop the sob that escaped, but she quickly stifled it and looked at him, her expression stricken. He just looked at her; and while his expression was impassive, the wariness in his eyes betrayed his discomfort. And then it wasn't about the movie anymore, or the doctors or even Adrian Conrad. It was about her...and Jack O'Neill. Her normal reticence when discussing her personal life seemed to be deserting her as she continued. "But you know what the worst thing was? The worst thing was that no one knew I was missing for two whole days. That you didn't know I was missing."
There, she had said it. Part of her couldn't believe she was confessing this to him; but a deeper, hidden part of her had wanted to shock him somehow, to wound him. Because even though she rationally knew it wasn't his fault, she was alone because of him...and the secretly held promise of someday having something more with him. And where had it gotten her? So isolated and alone that no one had missed her until she hadn't shown up for work--forty-eight hours after her abduction!
"What do you want me to say, Carter?" His expression and voice conveying frustration and what sounded like confusion. "To tell you I'm sorry? I am. I'm damn sorry that you were kidnapped and missing for so long before I knew. I'm sorry it took me so long to find you. I'm sorry that you almost died. I'm sorry I had to force you into chasing after Conrad when all I wanted...."
He stopped speaking abruptly and Sam prodded him. "You wanted...what?"
Jack looked away and muttered, "It doesn't matter. What I want is nothing I can have."
Sam wanted to scream in frustration at his cryptic comment, though she knew exactly what he meant. Her tears briefly gave way to anger. "Of course you can have it," she argued. He looked at her, his eyes flashing briefly with what looked suspiciously like hope, but it quickly faded.
"No, Sam. We both know it's not possible."
She did lose it then, jumping up from the sofa and wiping furiously at the tears that had started falling down her cheeks. "Well, just what will it take, Jack?" She put heavy emphasis on his name, practically spitting it out at him. "Tell me, damn it! What will it take to make it happen when even my near-death isn't enough? God knows, the almost certain destruction of Earth has never been enough. And hell, now that I think about it, my actual death--or even yours--hasn't been enough before. So tell me, Colonel, just what is enough?"
He didn't say anything, his face blank, his eyes frigid. She glared at him, breathing heavily, the nascent hope of their relationship that she'd cherished fading with each passing moment of silence. He stood then, brushing past her. "There's nothing I can say, Major." She flinched at his use of her rank and watched in growing despair as he grabbed his jacket and strode out of the room.
She followed more slowly, and when he paused at the front door, his hand just on the knob, she called his name. "Jack? I won't wait any longer." Hugging the afghan around her shoulders, she waited tensely for his reply.
He looked back at her, his eyes shadowed. "Do what you have to do." He opened the door and slipped out, closing it quietly behind him.
Sam watched him walk out and couldn't believe that he'd left. She shuffled the few feet to the front door, slumping against it and sliding down to the floor, as the enormity of what had just happened registered. Had she really just given Jack an ultimatum regarding their 'relationship'? And had he just walked out on her? Yes to both, she realized somberly. But, she told herself emphatically; she'd meant what she'd said when she told him she wouldn't wait any longer. Forcing herself to her feet, she fumbled in her pocket for a tissue, blowing her nose. She heard the muffled roar of his truck starting and the engine rumbled ominously as he drove out of her life.
Jack scribbled idly on his legal pad, only half listening to Daniel while he reported on his and Carter's involvement with the aliens from Martin's planet. Frankly he was glad they were finally gone from Earth, even if it had meant losing their technology. The NID boys had been spitting nails, but Jack figured it couldn't hurt to have Tanner and his gang owe him a personal favor or two.
"Thank you, Doctor Jackson."
Jack perked up slightly at Hammond's words. Good, debriefing almost over.
"I have just one other small matter."
Jack looked up, detecting an air of suppressed excitement from Hammond. He, along with the other three members of his team, looked expectantly at the grinning General. "I am pleased to announce that Ambassador Faxon has been returned to Earth."
To say Jack was stunned at Hammond's announcement would have been an understatement. Daniel was the first to recover and speak, his expression bewildered. "But...how? And when?"
Jack was sure he probably looked just as confused as Daniel did. He glanced at his other two teammates. Teal'c's expression looked much the same as it always did. And Carter...his eyes narrowed slightly, Carter had a huge smile on her face.
"Is he here, at the SGC?" Her voice was just a trifle too eager, causing Jack to frown.
Hammond continued to smile, obviously enjoying being the bearer of good news, for once. "At approximately 0500 this morning, Freyer appeared here--at the SGC--with the Ambassador. Evidently an Asgard vessel was doing a planetary survey in a distant part of the galaxy and discovered a human life sign among the indigenous life forms on the planet. Upon further investigation, the Ambassador was discovered living among the planets inhabitants and recovered."
"That's great news, sir."
That comment came from Carter and Jack couldn't help but wonder what she meant. Not that he was reading anything into her comment...or was he? He knew she'd harbored some guilt over Faxon's loss to the Aschen at the cost of her survival. Hopefully guilt was the only feeling she harbored for the Ambassador.
"Where is he now, sir?" Carter again and Jack was starting to get a sick feeling at the look of pleased anticipation on her face. But then, he ruthlessly reminded himself, he had given up any right to wonder about her personal life several weeks earlier, a memory that currently wasn't settling very well inside him.
"The Ambassador is scheduled to be transported to Walter Reed," Hammond looked at his watch, "any minute now, for further evaluation and debriefing."
Jack felt a rush of relief at Hammond's words, even though Sam's smile faded. And although he knew he had no right, he was inordinately glad the other man was soon going to be some sixteen hundred miles away. Across the galaxy would have been better, but it was just his bad luck that the Asgard were so on the ball with their inter-stellar beneficence towards Earth. His relief was short lived however, when Ambassador Faxon appeared in the doorway of the briefing room, accompanied by Fraiser and two SF's.
"General, I just wanted to say good-bye before I left." It seemed Faxon suddenly realized the General wasn't alone, because he stopped and quickly surveyed the group sitting around the table. "Colonel O'Neill!"
Damn, but the man's smile was sincere and Jack hoped his grimace actually came off as a smile as he shook Faxon's hand. "Good to see you, Ambassador." Jack looked him up and down with a critical eye. He seemed a bit thinner than he remembered and there was a definite pallor beneath his tan. And unless they had a good barber on that planet, Fraiser had somehow managed to get a barber in to see him because he was clean shaven and not a hair was out of place on his head, though there was a bit more gray than had been there previously. Across the table from him, Sam stood up.
"Major Carter." Faxon's voice was noticeably softer and Jack recognized the besotted light that suddenly flared in the Ambassador's eyes. He'd seen that same look one too many times in his own mirror to not recognize it for what it was. And then Jack watched in amazement as his Major let Faxon hug her and kiss her on the cheek. "They told me you were alive, but I wasn't sure I believed it, until now."
Carter actually blushed and Jack thought she seemed unnecessarily slow stepping away from Faxon and out of his arms, considering the audience they had. Her smile was sweetly shy, and she reached out, briefly touching Faxon's hand. "I'm glad you're alive."
Faxon smiled and just when the man took hold of Carter's hand, Jack cleared his voice. Sam jumped, pulling her hand free, a quick flash of embarrassment crossing her features. Jack ignored her and focused on Faxon. "Yeah, just how did that happen, Ambassador?"
It seemed as if the Ambassador had to drag his eyes away from Sam, but he finally looked at Jack. "Ah, well, I don't remember much after I told Major Carter," he paused then and looked warmly at Sam, much to Jack's growing annoyance, "to go through the Stargate and warn Earth." Thankfully, Faxon quit with the goo-goo eyes at Carter and looked back at him as he continued. "I don't know if I was drugged, or what, but the next thing I remember is waking up in a bed, in a house, on the planet where the Asgard found me. The society on the planet was the usual agrarian one run by the Aschen, and I was delivered to them as another worker."
"That must have been...different for you." Daniel interjected.
The Ambassador chuckled, his expression and voice congenial. "Oh, it was. But, like I said my mind was still fuzzy at first and my presence there seemed reasonable." Faxon looked back at Sam then. "That is until the Asgard found me, and then it was like everything fell into place. I remembered Earth and the SGC and what happened." Jack was sure the other man had been going to say he had remembered Sam too, but had wisely changed his mind. Probably finally realized he had overstepped the bounds of protocol, Jack thought sourly.
"Ambassador? It's time to go." Fraiser spoke from where she stood by the door.
"Right." Faxon looked at Sam, a boyish grin on his face. "Walk with me to the surface?"
Jack's expression grew rigid when Sam looked to Hammond for permission, instead of him. Damn, he knew it was the proper thing to do, but it annoyed him that she sought Hammond's approval and not his. Hammond nodded and Sam smiled. Hammond stood and Jack slowly followed suit, watching as Faxon shook hands with the General. "Thank you for your hospitality, General."
"We're just glad to have you safely home, Ambassador."
Faxon smiled and nodded and then...and then Ambassador Faxon put his arm through Carter's, and she let him, placing her slim hand over his where it rested on her arm. Jack's hands clenched into fists at his side and he watched with growing irritation while his Major and Faxon walked arm-in-arm out of the room, gritting his teeth when Sam's laughter drifted back into the now quiet room.
Sam hummed a little tune under her breath, smiling happily to herself, sliding her keycard and accessing the elevator that would take her down to the SGC. She couldn't believe the relief she had felt at seeing Ambassador Faxon alive! She hadn't allowed herself more than a few minutes of guilt regarding his sacrifice so that she could warn Earth. It was what she would have done; it was what any member of her team would have done. What she hadn't regretted--at that time anyway--was the missed opportunity to get to know the Ambassador better. He had definitely been interested in her, but she had still been living with her head in the clouds, hoping for that ever-elusive relationship with the Colonel. And even if it was proving more difficult than she'd anticipated, but she was determined to get over him.
But now...she sighed, stepping off the elevator at Level Twenty-five and heading towards their locker room, now she had been presented the opportunity to actually show O'Neill she wasn't going to wait for him. Which, she was forced to acknowledge in all honesty, wasn't exactly the best reason to pursue a relationship with Joe Faxon and probably not at all fair to him. But, she rationalized; it wasn't like they had a real date or anything, just the tentative promise of dinner when he was released from Walter Reed. And who knew when that would be? Or even if he would follow through on his promise?
Reaching their locker room, Sam opened the door, stepping inside the dark room and turning on the light. A figure suddenly loomed out of one of the recessed areas and she gasped in alarm--and then she recognized him. "Colonel! You startled me!" She was surprised to see him still here, and one part of her brain dimly processed the fact that he'd been waiting in the dark...for her.
"Carter." He leaned casually against the wall and she felt her senses come to full alert when he looked her up and down, his expression bordering on insolence. "All done playing kissy-face with the Ambassador?
She bristled. "Do you have a problem with my behavior, sir?
He straightened up and took a step towards her. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do Major. You were panting over Faxon like a bitch in heat. The next time you decide to hit on a man, do it on your own time and not in front of the base commander!"
Her mouth fell open and she just stared at him, totally dumbfounded and appalled by his accusation. He glared right back at her, his expression filled with contempt. Sam welcomed the rage that suddenly flared through her, using its presence to drown out the incipient despair that had filled her since the night they'd watched The Princess Bride. "You bastard! How dare you talk to me like that? I'm not the one who's behaving inappropriately, sir," she spat out at him. "I was not 'hitting on' on Ambassador Faxon, as you so quaintly put it. And even if I was, what business is it of yours?"
"It's my business when you make a damn fool of yourself in front of Hammond and the rest of your team!"
All of a sudden it all fell into place, his anger towards her, his hurtful words. Damn him, he was jealous! Well, as far as she was concerned, he had given up all right to that particular emotion. "Is this my punishment for wanting a relationship with another man?" His eyes grew darker and his face even more rigid as she continued, telling her she was on the right track. "You don't want me, but don't want anyone else to have me? Is that what this is all about? Is it?" she demanded.
His eyes grew dark and he suddenly sat down on the bench. "No, Sam..." he muttered roughly, scrubbing his hand over his face.
She was too incensed to listen to him and ignoring the pain she could now see in his eyes, she crossed to her alcove and grabbed her jacket and purse. Stalking to the door, she turned back and looked at him one more time before she left. He hadn't moved, hadn't said anything more, he simply sat and watched her, his expression bleak. "It's too late, Jack," she said tiredly, her rage vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. "Just let it go." He didn't say anything, so after a long, tense moment; she opened the door, slipping out just as she thought she heard him say, "I can't", before the door slammed shut behind her.
Jack took the corner just a little too fast, the truck skidding on the loose gravel on the shoulder. Jerking the wheel, he managed to over-correct, the loud blast from the horn of the car he'd almost side-swiped in his attempt to get back on the road mocking him. Crap, he thought mirthlessly, if there was a cop around, he'd probably get pulled over for drunken driving! Hell, he wished he were drunk! Maybe enough alcohol would help dull the pain deep his gut whenever he thought about what he'd said to Sam. Which was all the time, his crude words replaying on a continuous loop through his brain. "You were panting over Faxon like a bitch in heat." What had he been thinking? Hell, that was easy, he'd stopped thinking the minute Sam had smiled at Faxon--the way he wished she'd smile at him. Her eyes unguarded and full of simple delight at just seeing him. Well, he'd just lost any chance of her ever being delighted at seeing him again.
The light at the intersection flashed amber and Jack hit the brakes, deciding he'd better start exercising more caution before a cop actually did pull him over. His eyes scanned the familiar neighborhood; the neon sign at Fitzroy's Bar flashed invitingly. Maybe he would stop for just one drink.... The light turned to green and Jack proceeded through the intersection, looking for a parking space, when the futility of trying to drown his pain in drink finally penetrated through his thick skull. There was only one thing that would cure his pain. Sam had asked him what it would take for them to be together, and he thought he finally knew. Slamming on the brakes, Jack quickly made a very illegal U-turn and headed away from the bar and toward Sam's house.
Fifteen long minutes later found him parking his truck in front of her house. Even after he'd made the decision to go see her, he'd still had to force himself from turning the truck back around and heading for Fitzroy's! The only thing he had to go on was his gut instinct that told him if he didn't make it right with her tonight--no matter which way it went--he'd never have another chance. Tugging his black watch cap down a bit lower, Jack bounded out of the truck and jogged up to Sam's front door before he chickened out. Ignoring the doorbell, Jack simply pounded on the door with a closed fist. Stuffing his hands in his jacket pocket he waited...nothing. Impatient, he pounded again. Then, the porch light suddenly flared on and the door flew open.
"All right, already!" And she stood there, her eyes flashing with annoyance and then her mouth dropped open. But she recovered quickly, her jaw snapping shut and her eyes becoming remote. "Colonel. What can I do for you?" She stood, looking cool and beautiful in jeans and a turquoise sweater, blocking the entrance. Jack knew it was going to be a challenge to even get one foot inside her front door, much less past her defenses.
"I thought we should talk." He searched her cool eyes, desperate for even the minutest amount of understanding and warmth. If anything, her eyes got frostier.
"I think you've already said enough."
He wasn't going to give up until she heard him out. "Carter, I want--"
"Colonel," she interrupted, her face suddenly pale and her voice unexpectedly ragged; taking a step back, her hand reaching behind her and grabbing the doorknob. "There is absolutely nothing more for us to discuss. You made your views perfectly clear earlier."
Shit, he was going to lose her if he didn't act fast. Moving quickly, he braced one foot against the door and pulled a very startled Carter into his arms. "I just have one more thing I want to say." And with that, he cupped the back of her head with one hand and pulling her tight against him with the other, claiming her mouth in a burning kiss. Despair flooded through him when she briefly struggled against him, but then he felt her hands clutch fiercely at his shoulders and when her soft body molded itself to him, he knew he'd been given a reprieve.
Jack dragged his mouth away from hers; ignoring her small whimpers of protest and held her trembling frame firmly against his. God, he was shaking almost as badly as she was! "Can we talk now?" he whispered against her ear, stroking his hands soothingly up and down her back.
"Yes," she murmured. He reluctantly released her when she pulled away. Searching her pale face, relief flooded through him when she smiled shyly at him. She took hold of his hand, her touch infinitely reassuring, and he let her pull him inside.
His much larger hand gripped hers tightly and she knew she wasn't imagining the desperation she could feel emanating from him. It pretty much matched the desperation she'd felt after giving him the ultimatum regarding their relationship. She really didn't want a relationship with anyone other than him, and if Ambassador Faxon's return and their earlier fight had somehow shown him the same thing, she'd gladly talk to him. Once they'd reached her living room, the momentum that carried her down the hall dissipated. He dropped her hand and she stood there, feeling surprisingly gauche and unsure now that she'd lost her connection to him.
"Jack?" she murmured, her voice tentative. He pulled off the watch cap, tossing it aside. She smiled gently; his hair was sticking out all over, as usual.
"I've been an ass."
Sam nodded her head, with that she could definitely agree. He took a few steps towards her, but then stopped, walking over to stand by the fireplace instead, staring at the empty grate. She had never seen him like this before, he wasn't his usual cocky self, he seemed almost unsure. "I said some things...." He sighed heavily, and Sam had to stop herself from going over and putting her arms around him. When he looked up, his eyes were solemn.
"Yes," she encouraged gently.
"I said some things about you, that I'm ashamed of now. I'm sorry, and if I could, I'd take them all back." As apologies went, she'd received better ones. But, she didn't think she'd ever had a more sincere one. He surprised her then by adding. "But there's one thing I wouldn't change."
"Why is that, Jack?" She was fairly confident that she knew the answer, but she was also past the point of taking anything for granted with this man. He'd have to tell her, and he'd have to tell her plainly.
"A couple of weeks ago, you asked me what it would take." He looked sideways at her, and she nodded. "Well, now you know."
He nodded. "That...and the realization that you were serious when you'd said you wouldn't wait any longer."
"It was never my intention to give you an ultimatum," she said slowly, searching his face for understanding.
"I know, Sam."
"I just think I found out what it would take sooner than you." He nodded and while all this agreement was good, she still wasn't clear as to his ultimate intent. "So, what now?"
"So, we have a relationship."
"Just as simple as that?" she asked, unable to stop a huge smile from lighting up her face.
"Well," he advanced slowly on her, his hands settling on her waist. "I never said it would be simple."
Looping her arms around his neck, she stepped in closer to him. "No, I imagine it won't be easy."
"But, it will definitely be worth it."
She tightened her arms around his neck, as he pulled her closer, murmuring against his lips. "Oh, most definitely."
The phone rang and Jack let his arm slide from around Sam when she reached over to answer it. "Hello."
He glanced at her; she had gone very still and then she smiled slightly. "No, this is an okay time." Her hand waved in front of him and he sat up, grabbing the remote off the coffee table and pausing the movie they'd been watching. She stood and tugged on her sweater, slowing walking out of the room. "I just wasn't sure when I'd hear from you, Ambassador." Jack watched her retreating form as she walked into the kitchen, her small chuckle floating back to him. "Okay, Joe."
So, Faxon had finally called. Jack sat back on the sofa, hell, it was nearly two months since that fateful day when he'd been returned to Earth. Not sure how long Sam would be, Jack shut off the movie and channel surfed until he found a baseball game. Yeah, two months since Faxon had returned and he'd finally gotten off his sorry ass and done something about his feelings for Sam. Jack never would have thought it--and certainly hated admitting it--but he owed the Ambassador. The threat of Sam actually going ahead and dating another man had been the one thing that had motivated him to make their relationship a reality. Hell, he'd been more than motivated, he'd been scared shitless when it looked like she was going to get involved with Faxon.
Jack reached for his beer, keeping one ear on the TV and the other on the vague murmuring he could hear from the kitchen. He'd also behaved like an ass. Something he wasn't proud of, devolving into a stereotypical Neanderthal male. It wasn't an episode he particularly cared to remember, but--thank god--Sam had forgiven him. While their relationship was by no means perfect, they had made a commitment to each other. And it was that commitment that kept them together. His attention was momentarily caught by a double play and then Sam was once more walking back into the living room. She set the phone back down and once again settled down next to him on the sofa. Putting his arm around her, she nestled her head onto his shoulder and he held her close.
"That was Ambassador Faxon, Joe...."
"That's what I figured." Jack muted the sound on the TV. "So, what did he have to say?"
Her fingers traced an idle pattern on his shirt. "He's been given an appointment in Great Britain, as the attaché to the current ambassador, who's due to retire in six months."
"So, good assignment, eh?"
"Yeah, it's just like making him ambassador."
"And...he's leaving in two weeks." His breath caught when she slipped her hand inside the front placket of his shirt, her fingers tenderly caressing his chest.
"And?" he prompted again, not really worried about her answer, but curious, more than anything else.
"And...he wanted me to come to D.C. next weekend."
"So, what did you tell him?" She gave a lady-like snort and tugged at his chest hair. "Hey!" he started, surprised by her unexpected attack. She sat up and angled her body so that she faced him, resting a hand on his shoulder. He relaxed back against the cushions, content for now to let her take the lead.
"I told him no."
"Is that all?"
She smiled, her lips curving in that special way that always made his heart race. "I told him that since the last time I'd seen him, I'd become involved with someone else."
"And...he wished me well and invited me to come visit him at the embassy the next time I'm in London."
She snorted. "Yeah, well, it's what he does."
He chuckled then; feeling the vague sense of uneasiness that had started building when he'd first heard her say "Ambassador" fade away. "Thank you," he said, his voice rougher than even he'd expected.
The hand resting on his shoulder was suddenly caressing his cheek. "I made my decision two months ago, Jack." Her expression had turned serious and he searched the deep blue depths of her eyes intently.
"I know," he finally murmured. "I guess his call just reminded me about what an ass I was...and how you forgave me anyway."
"I love you."
"Well, there's that too," he conceded, grinning at her again. He met her halfway when she leaned forward to kiss him, their lips meeting in a disappointingly brief kiss, before she pulled away and cuddled back up against his side.
Jack switched off the ballgame, starting up the VCR. "Do we really need to watch the ending?" He looked skeptically at the scene now playing on the TV; Jack wasn't quite sure what the Impressive Clergyman was saying, but it sounded like it might have been, 'treasure your love'.
"Aren't you at all worried that Buttercup is marrying Prince Humperdinck?" His lover's voice was teasing and full of the affection upon which he'd come to depend.
"Nah," he replied, putting his arm around her, kissing the top of her head. "I already know for a fact that true love always wins."