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And Sore Must Be The Storm

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Jack isn’t expecting anyone to be in his place so the fact that there’s someone puttering around in his kitchen has him on his guard. While he’s not nearly as on point as he’d been back in his special forces days or, hell, back in the glory days of SG-1, he’s not going down without a fight. If the NID has sent some lackey to come and off him, Jack’s at least going to get his shots in beforehand.

He still carries a service weapon and while it’s not the P90 he’d gotten used to back on SG-1, it’s a perfectly-capable Beretta and it’s loaded. He doesn’t take his chances anymore, even if he did get extra cautious after Charlie. Jack flicks the safety off on the weapon before announcing himself - whoever it is isn’t doing a good job of keeping themselves secret and Jack doesn’t feel the need for stealth either.

He’s expecting some suit who’s better with a pen and paperwork than a weapon and is not expecting a blonde ponytail that’s apparently wearing one of his shirts, based on how huge it is on her frame. He clears his throat and announces himself in a...less than traditional manner.

“So, Carter, you trying to kill me? Doing a damn fine job of it. I always knew the NID would figure out a way to get rid of me eventually.”

She starts and turns around, clearly shocked to see him standing there. Her eyes are shadowed with dark circles and red-rimmed from what looks suspiciously like crying but is probably just lack of sleep, if he knows Carter. He doesn’t think she’d waste tears on him. He hopes, sure, but she’s a fully-trained and highly-decorated Air Force officer. She can hold it together better than that.

“Sorry, sir. They said you wouldn’t be coming back. I wanted...I wanted to have your place cleaned out and packed up so that we could have your things sent back to...so you could have your things sent back. I obviously wasn’t expecting you to be alive. Your orders were to destroy the city if there was even a minute chance of a foothold.”

“Well, you know. Me and orders. It’s a loose relationship.” Jack is somewhat stunned that everyone thinks he’d go through with it but he guesses he has changed over the last few years. Being a general and being in Homeworld Security means looking at the big picture and not being on the ground nearly as often as he was on SG-1; the change in perspective often made a person forget what it was like to be on the receiving end of a hard decision.

“I know, sir.” Carter is hovering, which is unlike her. It reminds him of the way she was back when he’d stuck his head in the Ancient repository, like she wants to say something and isn’t sure how the words should come out. He’s used to this between them and has been ever since they said what was said and left it in the room. Jack’s tired of the damn room. He’s tired of the Air Force, of Homeworld Security, of everything. He wants to know when he gets to start living instead of always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It’s with that in mind that he crosses over to Carter and puts his hands on her shoulders. It’s not so far beyond the line that he can’t step back over to his side if he needs to and if she wants to bend things a little, it’s a starting place. She looks a little startled and Jack reaches under her chin to tip it up a little. It’s more symbolic than anything else; Carter hardly needs him to do anything to support her because she’s got that pretty much sewn up by herself. She’s strong and capable, two things that Jack has found are lacking in some of the other women he’s dated. It’s also something that makes Carter eerily like Sara and pushes their relationship (or lack thereof) into a different place entirely.

“I’m tired of not being able to be worried about you, Jack.” It’s soft and he almost doesn’t catch it but once he does, it takes his brain a minute to catch up in processing to his ears. It sounds dangerously close to an admission of feelings and Jack’s pretty sure Carter wouldn’t risk it. They’ve risked a hell of a lot for each other, sure, but careers and career-ending moves have never been on the table. He’d never ask that of her. But if she’s asking it of him, he’s more than willing to go with it.

Jack has never really professed to be a saint in all this. Far from it.

“I’m tired of knowing that any knowledge I’m ever going to get about you in danger is going to be second and third hand. I’m tired of knowing that I love you and I’m never, ever going to be able to express it and have the backing of the USAF.” Jack isn’t sure what she means and he brushes his thumb against her chin lightly. “Carter. I’m not going to ask you to give up your job. That’s...no. We need you. I’m willing to go without what I really want so that you can be in the role you need to be in. You know I’m never gonna ask you to give something up for me. That’s not love.”

It’s probably the closest he’s gotten to admitting he loves Carter in years and he’s not sure how to read her response to it. Her shoulders drop a little and her eyes, while so open and telling before, are a little distant and aren’t telling him anything now. Jack shifts his weight so he can start backing away when she shocks him by grabbing his shoulders and kissing him full on the mouth. He’s dreamed about kissing Carter for almost as long as he’s known her (the time loops don’t count) and once he finally has it, he’s really not sure what to do with it.

Carter sure seems to know. Her kiss is confident in the ways that Jack isn’t and her mind seems pretty damn made up when she presses the full length of her body up against his, trapping him between her and the wall. Jack finally relaxes after a few moments and slides his arms down so that his hands are pressing at the small of her back and one is tangled in her hair. It’s slightly longer than it was when he’d been on SG-1, just long enough to slide his hand into and let the soft strands curl around his fingers while his mouth gets intimately acquainted with hers. There’s something about just kissing that feels teenager and ridiculous and Jack is almost ashamed to admit he likes it as much as he does. He’s definitely not ashamed to admit he’s disappointed when Carter pulls away.

“Hey...I like to think my technique was getting a little better in the second inning there,” Jack says, almost a whine, and he can tell that Carter’s trying very hard not to laugh at him. There’s a look she gets when she’s concentrating very hard: her brows furrow and there’s a little twitch at the corner of her mouth. She’s got that look right now.

“It’s not...that,” Carter says. She pauses and Jack wonders if she’s not sure what to say or just picking her words carefully so she can let him down easy. Maybe the forbidden fruit’s a lot better when it stays forbidden.

“I’m tired of waiting, Jack. At this point, everyone already thinks we have,” she says, giving him a pointed look. Jack’s not sure what that’s about. He’s gone out of his way to look like he’s completely disinterested in Carter, possibly to the detriment of their friendship, and he’s pretty sure that if there’s rumors about them fucking going around that he’s not the cause of them. He’s actually a little hurt that she’d imply...

“I’m tired of being worried about being condemned for something I haven’t even done and obviously nobody’s really felt like it’s been a detriment to our work even if they think we have been together so I’d rather just have something to be worried about than nothing.” It’s weird logic, at best, and Jack’s still trying to puzzle it out when Carter tugs him forward by his belt loops. It’s a neat trick. He likes it.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to continue, of course, but I almost lost you today. I almost lost you and I didn’t know what it was like to kiss you or hold you or be with you and I can’t do that again, Jack. I just can’t. I can’t go and risk my life every day and...I can’t. Even if it’s just this once I need to know.”

Jack has been convinced by lesser arguments, to be sure, so he simply nods. What’s the worst that can happen?

***

Jack isn’t sure who makes the first move. Everything is a blur between Carter’s confession and his ass hitting the kitchen counter. Her lips are on his and her hands are everywhere; Jack isn’t really sure which end is up. He’s trying to figure out how to walk them back to his room without disconnecting his lips from hers and ends up banging his shins against a table in the living room. He reluctantly breaks the kiss to tell her they are going to have to walk like normal human beings for the next thirty seconds when Carter grabs his collar and presses her lips against his jaw on the way to his ear.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Jack’s tongue can’t seem to catch up with his brain and it’s a lost cause when Carter’s got her tongue in his mouth again. They stand there kissing for a long moment, her hands curled into his shirt, and Jack really wishes he had one of those Asgard beam things for his own personal use. It would be fantastic if he could beam the fifteen or twenty feet down the hall and into his bed without having to disengage Carter (especially considering his last attempt at that failed miserably) but he knows it’s just not possible. Maybe he can do this quickly. He puts his hands on her shoulders and pushes her back just enough so he can speak.

“Can’t do this if I’m flying blind. We walk down the hall to the bedroom, then we can start up all the kissing again?” Carter blinks at him for a moment like she doesn’t understand and then her mouth curves up in a little wicked grin that pretty much tells him that he’s in trouble once they hit that room. Jack doesn’t particular mind this kind of trouble, comparatively speaking. It sure beats the hell out of being stranded and under fire.

He lets Carter go first and it’s not really because he’s a gentleman and more because he wants to A) collect his thoughts and B) stare at her ass. He has never pretended to be noble, only covered up the fact that he’s kind of a lech because of the rules and regulations thrust upon them by the USAF. Now he can just be himself and Jack O’Neill is a man who loves to look at Sam Carter. He just loves her, full stop.

Once they cross the threshold, it’s like time stops for a moment. Sure, he’s still worked up and needy and more than ready for this but the urgency seems to have faded a little and he feels like he can take his time touching her. This time, when he tugs her close, his fingers find her buttons and slide off all her clothes before he feels like the span of two heartbeats has passed. It’s been a long time since he’s been with anyone that’s really mattered and he’s not really sure that anyone has mattered as much to him as Sam Carter. He hopes that she feels the same way.

Her skin is smooth and soft and Jack takes his time easing her back on the bed and exploring it with his hands. He’s never been the kind of guy to just rush to the main event and with Carter, his nerves are so bad that he needs a minute to collect himself or he’s just going to fucking lose it. He brushes his hand along the curve of one breast, grinning a little when Carter gasps and pushes herself into his hand; someone is eager.

There’s not much light except what drifts in through the blinds from the streetlights outside and Jack finds his way mostly by touch, lips tracing a path from neck to collarbone and along her breast. He flicks at her nipple with his tongue and Carter threads her hand in his hair and pushes him down, demanding more contact even though she hasn’t said a word. One of the things about knowing someone as long as he’s known Carter is that the words are unnecessary and, in times like this, seem excessive. He knows just by the way her breath hitches that she likes it when he drags his teeth lightly over her nipple and the little tilt of her hips up against his body tells him that she really likes it when he closes his mouth around it and sucks.

He lets his mouth drift down her stomach and settles between her thighs. It’s not lost on him that he’s still dressed but he guesses he can deal with that after he’s dealt with Carter. He likes how demanding she is. As much as he talks a big talk about how awesome he is and how ready he is for this there’s always a little part of him that wonders if he’s going to be worth the wait, if Carter’s going to regret putting all this time and energy into loving him when she could have had something better. Most of those fears seem to evaporate when he rubs one stubbled cheek against her thigh and she whimpers and arches up against his face. The rest disappear when he fits his mouth to her and Carter curls her fingers into his shoulder hard enough to leave bruises; Jack’s glad of the bruises, since it’s a tangible reminder that this is real and not something he just dreamed.

Carter is vocal. Jack’s not sure why he expected anything less out of her but it’s been a long time since he’s been with someone who is as passionate about expressing herself as she is and when she’s close, she bucks her hips wildly against his face and he has to hold her still with his hands so he can focus on bringing her over all the way. Once he does, she lets out a breathy little sigh and relaxes against him while he kisses her one last time before drawing away.

Carter’s sprawled back against the pillows, blonde hair making a spiky halo around her head and cheeks flushed. When her eyes open, her pupils are big and dark and her lips curve into an almost-sheepish smile. She looks like she’s about to apologize for something and Jack shakes his head and presses his finger against her lips; no need to apologize for enjoying herself that much because of him, no way.

“You have got to get undressed,” she says, voice low and amused and Jack rolls his eyes a little. He’d been heading in that direction and then Carter was naked and he got distracted. It’s not his fault she’s so fucking gorgeous and he’s wanted her for over a decade. It’s just...a thing. A thing that he hopes he’s going to be able to rectify soon. He pulls away for a moment and shucks off his clothes as fast as he can without spraining something before sliding back in bed next to her. He’s not really sure if he’s ready for this, as much as he’s built it up in his head.

He shifts to cover her and Carter pushes at his shoulder, rolling him down beneath her. This works too. This more than works, because now he can see her and touch her and there’s a hell of a lot to see and touch. She splays her hands against his chest as she sinks down on him, a smile curving her lips just enough that he can see a flash of her dimple. He’s a little overwhelmed by everything he’s feeling right now; Jack’s never been one to put things into words, per se, but the physical sensation of her hot and slick against him combined with how much he loves her makes it hard to do anything but thrust up blindly against her and hope for the best. Carter seems to be enjoying herself and that’s what’s most important.

He doesn’t last that long. He guesses the only reason he held out as long as he has is because he’s a little older; ten or fifteen years ago he’d probably have been done before she never touched him because he wanted this so freaking badly. Still, they’re older and comfortable with themselves even if this is a first time and sex isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s messy and complicated and above all, real, and this is the first tangible thing he’s ever had with Carter. He’s going to cherish it, Air Force be damned.

After a little while, Carter slides off him and curls around him, head pillowed against his shoulder. Jack is quiet and so is she; he guesses there’s not really much to say and he, for one, is still a little too overwhelmed to think about the complicated business of stringing together a real sentence. He breaks the ice first, though, wanting to confirm that this isn’t going to change who they are to one another.

“Carter? We good?”

She laughs, almost a giggle, and nods before burying her face against his neck and shoulder. He feels her lips brush against his skin, a mix of words and kisses.

“Never better.”

***

Sam tries to brush it off at first but feeling a little down for a few days turns into a few weeks and her period is...well. She’s been on Depo for so long that she’s more used to not having one than having one and determining the last time she had a regular cycle is going to be next to impossible. Sam doesn’t necessarily feel bad about letting this slip her mind. There’s more knowledge between her ears than most people and with the number of people depending on the complex things her memory has to hold, her own ovulation cycle ranks far below naquadria decay equations.

She buys a home test at a pharmacy way off base over in the next town. She thinks that this will minimize the risk anyone has of seeing her and the inevitable questions that might arise because of it, considering everyone knows she recently went to Washington to visit General O’Neill. She’s sure people are already thinking something happened and she’d really prefer if that got to die down somewhat before she started looking like she swallowed a watermelon.

Sam has run any number of sensitive tests in her life, things that are timed and things that require the most delicate handling imaginable but nothing feels more like the proverbial ticking time bomb than these little pieces of plastic. She manages to get home with her purchase(s) and lays them out: five tests, five different brands. All claim to be ninety-nine point something accurate and after she’s gotten the results, Sam intends to figure out the percentage error to see how much wiggle room she has. Calculations are more soothing than uncertainty to her even if physics, especially in the manner she uses it, is almost always full of uncertainty.

She had a large soda in the car on the way home and it turns out to be enough that she can take all five tests at once. She lines them up in a neat little row on her bathroom counter and watches as she waits even though she knows that staring at them isn’t going to make the results develop any faster. When the time is up and all five are developed, her future is staring her in the face and it looks somewhat grim: positive. All five are positive. Uncharacteristically, she sweeps them off her counter with one hand and they go clattering to the floor. Sam is almost always precise and organized and this aberration in behavior is nearly worse than the aberration that landed her in this mess to begin with.

Eventually she will have to tell someone. In a normal situation, this would be reported to her commanding officer but in this particular instance, Sam thinks that’s probably unwise since it’s technically her CO that got her into this mess. The last thing she wants is to ruin Jack’s career and while there’s a very good chance hers is going to have to change, she isn’t going to drag him down with her. It’s not fair. It had been a heat of the moment decision that she’d pushed, not him, and she’s willing to take the blame for it.

Besides, most of the difficult things she’s done in her adult life, she’s done alone. She’s always shouldered her own burdens and it seems absolutely foreign to allow someone else to share it even if someone else had a big part in creating the issue. Sam knows that she can trust herself. She doesn’t know if she can extend that trust to someone else, even someone she loves as much as she loves Jack O’Neill, because so many of the things she’s gone through have been things she’s needed to work through on her own.

She likes things just so. There is very little that is just so about a pregnancy and she has to take her opportunities where she can find them.

She doesn’t get very much time to stew over things because while she’s supposed to have a few days off, there’s no such thing when one is Sam Carter and the Ori are threatening to invade at any second. Her phone goes off and Sam elects to bury herself in work instead of thinking about the mess of her personal life; she does much better with external stressors by far.

***

There are no less than six emails in her inbox informing her that command post of Atlantis has come open. Sam looks at each one and considers her options. Each of the people who has sent this to her has every confidence she’ll be brilliant and she’s inclined to agree. No matter her failings in her personal life, she’s always been a capable commander and an excellent scientist. Both are needed to run Atlantis.

There is the matter of Jack but since she’s barely spoken to him since that night, Sam doesn’t really consider his opinion on the matter before she puts her name in to be considered. She has the years and the clout after years on SG-1 and it’s high time she had a command. She spent entirely too long under Jack out of nostalgia and fear of failure and now it’s time to finally expand her horizons.

She has a few interviews and buries herself deep in work, ignoring phone calls in favor of reverse engineering some pretty fancy Asgard tech. She wonders what Thor would think about her being pregnant. Thor had always been fond of Jack and seemed to like the idea of them together, as much as an Asgard concerns himself with human relationships. Sam figures he probably thought they had ideal genetics for mating or something. That’s more important to the Asgard than love.

The phone rings and Sam overloads a circuit, sending a little shower of sparks over her lab bench. “Crap,” she mutters, mitigating the worst of the damage before picking up the phone. She manages to catch it before it clicks over to voicemail and sort of wishes she hadn’t when she hears Jack’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Atlantis?” Sam consciously schools herself not to flinch at his tone. He sounds hurt and angry and she imagines he must be, considering she had sex with him and proceeded not to talk to him afterward. She needs to tell him about their little...development but she doesn’t want to do it over the phone and she thinks Jack would prefer to hear about that in person so she keeps it to herself.

“I think I’m well qualified. It’s time I had my own command.” Jack doesn’t say anything and Sam thinks the silence is more damning than anything else. She’s always known that being in the military means fighting tooth and nail to move up and constantly jockeying for position as a woman in a boys club but Jack has always been a respectful commanding officer and someone who has supported her at every turn. His silence troubles her and makes her think that he doesn’t want her moving up and experiencing new things and would rather her stay in the lab. That just makes her want Atlantis all the more.

“Oh, well, yeah, but you don’t think it could be a little more...terrestrial? It’s a whole galaxy and then some away from here.” Sam bristles. Jack really is the last person who can dictate where she’s assigned and even though he’s technically her superior, she’s known him long enough that she doesn’t have the least bit of worry about telling him how she really feels. She hopes that he can appreciate her candor.

“With all due respect, sir, I feel I’m qualified for Atlantis and I want to be considered for the command post. If you don’t feel that you can make an unbiased decision then I will request someone else be involved in evaluating whether or not I’m a good fit. I’m certain the IOA will take a great interest in why the Director of Homeworld Security is denying a qualified officer the opportunity to lead the Atlantis Expedition.” Her voice has gone icy and cold and the silence, so often companionable between them, is anything but right now. Jack clears his throat conspicuously.

“I was calling to talk you out of it. You have the job if you want it.” The line goes dead before Sam can think up a response to that and then she’s busy making plans to have her house taken care of while she’s gone and her finances and everything else. Going PCS always means a ridiculous amount of planning and while Sam’s used to that, she’s also gotten used to being in one place for a little while with this current assignment. Picking up and moving again is going to be difficult. And yet, she feels like she deserves the clean break.

From start to finish, it only takes her two weeks to wrap up her current responsibilities with SG-1 and get scheduled for transit through the stargate to Midway and on to Pegasus. Teal’c comes to see her off and she swears that he has to know what’s going on between her and Jack because he tells her not to give up and hugs her tightly. He thinks she’s going to be brilliant. Sam hopes she will - she’s not conceited enough to call that a certainty.

Atlantis is shiny and Ancient and everything that Area 51 and Cheyenne Mountain are not. Military protocol seems more relaxed here and that’s oddly not so comforting; Sam likes the comfort of rules and regulations even if it’s easier sometimes to be a civilian and not an officer. She is only familiar with Sheppard as a name on a piece of paper and not with him as a person but McKay, at least, is someone she knows. Someone who annoys her nine times out of ten, sure, but someone she knows.

Teal’c is the one that sees her through before she leaves and when he hugs her, it’s for twice as long as usual. Sam toys with telling him about the baby but she thinks that the less anyone knows, the better. She doesn’t want to burden him with that secret even if she knows Teal’c, of anyone, would carry it with him gladly. She doesn’t want to burden or bother anyone and she suspects that’s part of the reason she’s so upset about it. Taking a few extra moments to ensure that birth control was not going to be an issue was the least of all the things she owed Jack and she didn’t take that precaution. He didn’t either. Sam doesn’t know if she’s more angry at him or herself for that massive lapse in judgment.

And so, even though the galaxy is different and the people are different, Sam finds comfort in work. It takes a few weeks for her to adjust to the relaxed protocol of Atlantis and the various tensions that she needs to be mindful of. She learns about the Genii and the Wraith as more than just meaningless names on a report but honest-to-God threats to the security and well-being of many species throughout the Pegasus Galaxy.

She also learns about her team. She learns that Sheppard may act like he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about command or protocol but that he’s a capable soldier and he’s not unlike Jack in that regard. She learns that he loves Johnny Cash and likes to read - and is apparently going to tackle War and Peace and not just as a joke. She learns that Ronon is tough and guarded but beneath all that he is incredibly loyal and willing to sacrifice life and limb for a cause that he believes in. She learns that Jennifer is capable, if a little shy, and is always wondering if she’ll ever live up to the ghost of Carson Beckett. Teyla is fierce and wonderful too; Sam admires how she is still completely soft and feminine while being tough as nails.

They’re a wonderful team, all of them, but they’re not hers. She wants the comfort of Teal’c’s low voice humming some folk song he learned on Chulak or Daniel rambling about some artifact he’s found or some language he’s discovered. Most of all, she wants the comfort of Jack’s warm scent and laugh and the way that his eyes crinkle a bit at the corners when he smiles. She wonders if the baby she’s carrying is going to favor him over her and she’s half afraid that it will, that everyone will know that this is Jack O’Neill’s child the second it greets the world. She still hasn’t told anyone about it or had any prenatal care and she guesses that Jennifer, by necessity, will have to be the first to know. Sam hopes that she can trust in the young doctor to be discreet; she guesses that will be easier since they barely know one another and Jennifer won’t know about Jack or their history.

***

Sam manages to hide the pregnancy until something goes wrong at fourteen weeks. She’d had a little cramping, gone to see Jennifer and after a long afternoon and evening of trying to find a heartbeat, it was gone. Jennifer is comforting, if careful, and Sam ends up sending her away just so she can think. The miscarriage is probably the best thing that could happen, in the end, because there’s just no way she could hide a pregnancy and a child and get back to earth without the Air Force finding out.

It still doesn’t change the fact that it hurts. This is something that Jack never knew about and Sam never got a chance to get the courage to tell him about. As screwed up as it is, it seems wrong that this baby could live and die and one of her parents never knew about her. It also seems screwed up that Sam is going to have to tell him about the pregnancy after the fact; it’s not a task she relishes since she hasn’t spoken to him in so long.

Every time she thinks about what she wants to say, she cries again, and she imagines that’s not going to bode well for actually broaching the subject with him. Jennifer lets her go back to her quarters after a few days in the infirmary and by the end of her first day of rest, Sam is itching to get back to work. Anything is preferable to sitting around and dwelling about the could bes and the maybes and she’d rather be neck deep in some Wraith crisis than thinking about how she failed at this most basic, human thing.

She knows, of course, that a miscarriage is random and spontaneous and there’s very little a person can do to control it. There’s nothing she ate or drank or did that would have caused this and there’s no reason to feel guilty. Scientifically, she’s not culpable. Morally...well. Sam can’t help but think if she’d just wanted this baby a little more, been happy about it, maybe then everything would have been all right. If Jack had known and been excited too, maybe that would have been enough.

But eventually, Jennifer releases her to go back to work and she fills her days with paperwork and scheduling away missions and schedules herself from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to bed so she doesn’t have to deal with it any longer. If she’s mind-numbingly tired by the time she gets home every night then she doesn’t have time to dwell on things. She doesn’t have time to feel guilty about what happened or the fact that Jack still doesn’t know.

Weeks stretch into months and eventually, her habit of ignoring Jack catches up with her because she is surprised when he shows up. Sam is pretty sure that there had been an email or a memo or something that would have forewarned her about this but she’d been carefully avoiding anything Jack related for so long that it’s like her brain has developed a filter that funnels away any attempt from him to contact her, even if it’s in the official sense.

“Oh. Hi, sir,” she says, disgusted with herself that this is the only thing she can come up with after months of not speaking to him. Jack gives her a mild look but punctuates it with a lift of his eyebrows. He’s always been very good at communicating non verbally and he’s very good at not letting on just how much he knows. Sam is painfully aware of this fact right now and wants to find a place to hide until Jack’s visit is over. Even if he came out to see her, she knows he will have couched it in something official and bureaucratic, laid the paper trail to make it seem like this is perfectly normal and not something he’s done solely because he wants to contact her and find out what the hell is going on.

“Heeey,” he says, stretching the syllables out and Sam swallows nervously. She’s not sure why the prospect of being alone with Jack is such a frightening one but it is and she hopes that he isn’t brave enough to corner her right now with everyone watching. Or, if he is, that he chooses to do it in her glass-plated office and not somewhere where they will have an inkling of privacy. Sam is quick with an explanation about current projects right at the tip of her tongue but Jack lifts a hand and leans in slightly.

“I don’t want to make this obvious, Carter, but this isn’t really a work visit. I have work to do, I brought it, but this is personal and I’m utilizing the vast resources of the United States Air Force to have a personal chat with my former subordinate, former almost-girlfriend, person.” Sam tries not to flinch at the mention of the word girlfriend but there’s hardly anyone in their immediate vicinity and Jack said it low. She has nothing to worry about and she’ll only call more attention to herself by reacting to it so she doesn’t.

“We can go down to one of the guest rooms that isn’t being used,” Sam says, thinking maybe it’s better if they go ahead and have this out now. Jack doesn’t seem angry and while he’s good at hiding how he feels, she likes to think she can read him a little better than most people. Maybe she can’t. Maybe this thing that she thinks has been tethering them together ever since he admitted his feelings to a za’tarc detector years ago has long since subsided and the sex was just that: sex.

This weighs heavily on her as she leads him down to the most remote place she can find without making it obvious that’s what she’s doing. She needs to tell him about what they’ve lost because it’s something he shared in but Sam isn’t sure if they’re the same as they were. She’s not sure that this thing won’t be the thing that breaks them, even if it’s mostly her fault because she spent months not talking to him at all. She pushes in the door and tries to hide her messy exhale with the swing of it, hoping the creaking covers up all the things she so desperately wants to hide.

“Okay, so, I need to tell you something and I need for you to sit and listen until I’m done.” Sam says this with a confidence she doesn’t feel because this isn’t science. This isn’t something she has investigated and feels strongly about and has pages and pages of empirical evidence to back up. These are her feelings and they’re messy and completely entwined with Jack’s even if she wants a chance to speak her piece without his interference.

“I know that I shouldn’t have run away. I ran away, Jack, because I didn’t know how to handle what happened and I didn’t want to get hurt. It was easier to just put it in a box until I had time to deal with it and time turned into weeks and months and became something so monumental that I didn’t know where to start. You see, a little while after we slept together, I found out that I was pregnant. I had no idea how to broach the subject with you and had no idea what I was going to do with my career, so when the Atlantis opportunity came up I jumped on it. I thought coming here would give me time to think and to decide what to say and how to say it. I wanted a plan to make sure that neither of us were harmed by this mistake. I wanted a way for us to have this child without losing the things we’d worked for so many years to achieve.”

Jack opens his mouth as if he’s going to say something and apparently thinks better of it because he closes it, still silent. He cracks his knuckles and nods a little, as if to allow her to continue, and Sam takes the opportunity to barrel ahead.

“So it just became the elephant in the closet. After I was here for a little while, I lost the pregnancy. Jennifer says there’s nothing that I could have done differently, that these things just happen, but I have never mourned something so much in my life. I didn’t think it was right, or fair, that this life was started and snuffed out and you never even knew about it.” She’s stammering a little now, tears coming even if she doesn’t want them, and Jack tentatively reaches out his hand and squeezes her shoulder lightly. “C’mere,” he murmurs and she does, folding up into his arms.

There’s no place in the world that has ever felt safer than Jack’s arms and right now, they’re all that Sam needs. She buries her face against his neck and cries for the first time in a while, finally letting out all the thoughts and feelings and guilt she’s kept inside for so long that they’d gotten diamond hard and started to wound her from the inside out. Jack’s hand is soft and steady in hair, working her braid loose, and she couldn’t be more grateful.

He gets it wrong a lot of the time, especially with his feelings, but when it really matters there is nobody she’s ever cared for more than Jack O’Neill.

***

Time goes on. Jack goes back to DC and while he doesn’t think that things are resolved completely, he and Carter talk a lot more and it’s not just about the baby they lost. They talk about each other again, share things about their days, and maybe it’s stupid but he’s happier when he’s playing a long-distance game of chess with her than doing just about anything else, fishing included.

He’s on the receiving end of several scathing emails when he finds out that Woolsey is relieving her of command in Atlantis and he’s not sure how he’s supposed to feel. There’s a part of him that’s incensed, because Carter is a damn talented officer, but there’s a quieter part of him that’s glad. She’s been gone entirely too long. He understands the how’s and why’s of it and he knows that given the same issue, he probably would have run away too. But he misses her.

He’s never even had a chance to be with her but he misses knowing that he can call her up on any given day and just talk, or drag her to a motorcycle show, or end up taking her out for a drink in a dive bar and reminiscing about the fact that that they got a lifetime ban from O’Malleys because of Anise and her stupid bracelets.

The day that Carter is set to come back from Atlantis, Jack ends up in Colorado Springs to meet her as she walks down the gangway. She seems a little surprised but it blows over and after catching up with Daniel and Teal’c and letting her do her own catching up, he tugs her down to her old labs for a little privacy.

“So, what do you say that we go get something to drink? Thirsty Camel? It’s a real place, I swear. I saw an ad for it in some newspaper of Daniel’s.”

Carter laughs and smiles wide enough that he sees a dimple at the corner of her mouth. He thinks, even if it’s a little messy and their pieces might not fit together perfectly anymore, that it can be fixed. Besides, according to Daniel and some myth he only half listened to, hope’s the last thing in the box.

He’s got hope.