'I love you.'
He'd never said the words. Had accepted that there was very little chance he'd ever be able to say them. But he conveyed them to her in any way that he could. The look in his eyes when he listened to her speak. The hand on her shoulder when she needed support. The complete and warm embrace when everything else had become too much.
'I love you,' he thought when she was trapped behind a forcefield, facing certain death. That was the first time. And he'd sworn to himself, to a God he didn't believe in, that if they both made it he'd tell her. They made it. But he hadn't told her. Their careers, the rules that dictated their lives, stopped him. He bottled it up. Hoped that she had known from the look in his eyes when he thought it had been her last moments. But he hadn't told her.
'I love you,' he thought as he was interrogated under suspicion of being a Za'tarc.
"I didn't leave…because I'd have rather died myself…than lose Carter." But what he meant to say was, "I didn't leave because I love her."
"Because I care about her. A lot more than I'm supposed to." But what he meant to say was, "I can't live without her. I love her."
He hoped the look he gave her as he skirted the edges of the truth conveyed the depth of his feelings towards her. He hoped she understood what he wanted to say, and why he couldn't.
'I love you,' he'd thought as he kissed her in the Gate Room, before time re-wound once again. He'd thought he'd given himself enough time between the kiss and the next loop starting. But once she'd kissed him back he'd found he couldn't stop, and their time had run out. He'd started the next loop looking at her with love and lust in his eyes. And this time he'd been sure she'd seen it. She'd blushed and looked at him like a shy teenager, and he found that new side to her endearing. It only made his heart soar for her more. Whilst she would never remember their kiss, he hoped she understood from that look that he loved her.
'I love you,' and 'I'm sorry,' He thought as she looked at him with anger and disgust. He'd made her create a bomb to destroy a whole race of aliens. He hated himself for that. He was sure, when she looked at him that way, that she must hate him too. He tried to convey his feelings but she would barely look at him.
'I love you,' he thought as he looked at her. But she called him "Sir" and he swore he could feel his heart break in two. "Sir," he repeated, his voice filled with regret, with love. And he knew from the look in her eyes that she felt it too. That she didn't want to leave this false life behind and return to being "Sir" and "Carter." Jonah could have told Thera that he loved her. Jack could not.
'I love you,' he told her with his eyes as he was forced to zat her; sure he'd killed her.
'I love you,' he told her in his mind as he asked Janet for another minute before she pulled the plug.
'I love you,' he thought, but what he said was "Hey Carter, where you been?" His voice cracking with raw emotion and relief.
'I love you,' but what he said was "We heard."
'I love you.' He thought when she was kidnapped, telling himself that if she could understand it in a look, she could hear him thinking it from miles away, wherever she had been taken to. He found he'd promised himself, again, that he'd tell her if they found her alive. But, again, he hadn't. He'd made another excuse. Told himself, next time.
'I love you,' he'd imagined himself saying as she leaned her head against his shoulder, both of them sure, again, that she was about to die. She'd chosen to lean on him then, and he was sure once again that she loved him too. Sure that she'd chosen the place she needed to be when it happened. That she wanted him to be the last thing she touched, the last thing she saw and smelled, when Nirrti's experiment finally killed her. And the fragments of his heart, that he'd carefully glued back together after their time beneath the surface of P3R-118, shattered once more at the thought of losing her.
'I love you,' he'd thought, filled with jealousy when he'd first learned of her relationship with Pete. But he'd lost his chance. She had chosen to move on. The broken pieces of his heart crumbled to dust then. He told himself to be happy for her. Told himself that she deserved to be happy. And he promised himself he'd never tell her again, with a look or a touch, that he loved her.
But she'd gone missing off-world and the words came unbidden to his mind once again. 'I love you.' Again, he projected it out, hoping she could hear him thinking it, feeling it, wherever she was.
'I love you,' he thought. But instead he said, "Come here," and wrapped his arm around her as she put her head on his shoulder once more.
'I love you,' had been his last thoughts as she bent over his prone body when the staff blast had hit him.
'I love you,' when he woke in the infirmary with her standing over him, red eyes the only evidence that she'd been crying. And then he'd learnt that Janet had died and everything else had seemed so infantile; telling her he loved her became the only thing in the world that made sense. But the time came and he didn't. He almost did. It was the closest he had come to saying the words aloud. He almost kissed her too. But he didn't want to take advantage of her at her weakest. For all the times she'd almost died herself, she'd been strong. But now, having lost her best friend, thinking she had lost him, he saw his Carter, his Sam, break. And he couldn't kiss her.
Instead, he took her in his arms and told her he loved her with his embrace. He held her, wrapped close against him. His lips brushed her neck, and he mouthed 'I love you' against her skin. But still he didn't say it aloud. He felt her squeeze him tight though, and he knew she'd understood what he was trying to say. Once. Twice. Then a third time. And he realised she had hugged 'I love you' into him too.
'I love you,' he could have told her in his house, and almost did, but Daniel and Teal'c interrupted.
'I love you,' he could have told her on the ship, but instead he said, "I know."
'I love you,' he could have told her, in the moments before he was frozen. She wouldn't have understood, he was speaking Ancient at this point anyway. But he couldn't. He told her with his eyes, though, as she looked at him in his frozen tomb and he looked back, making sure her face was the last thing he saw before oblivion.
'I love you,' he tried to say at his house, but Kerry stepped out and he stopped before he had a chance to start. 'Don't marry Pete,' he'd wanted to scream just moments before, but he didn't.
'I love you,' he'd wanted to say as they watched the Tok'ra visit her father and he'd put his arm around her.
He felt her tap three times on his hand, 'I love you', before continuing to stroke it with her thumb, but what she'd said was "Thank you."
And he squeezed her hand three time back, 'I love you', but what he'd said was "Always."
'I love you,' he'd wanted to say as she stepped out of the room her father had died in, but he took her in his arms and let her sob against his chest. She didn't need to hear it now. She needed to grieve.
'I love you,' he'd tried to tell her the next day, when he drove to her house to check on her, but instead he said, "It's over with Kerry." And she'd thrown her arms around his neck and hugged him.
'I love you.' He'd wanted to tell her when she told him she'd left Pete, but instead he said "Come fishing with me."
"I love you." She said as they sat by the lake. Simply, quietly, looking at her feet. And he smiled.
"I love you too." He said back, and she looked at him and smiled that wide, Carter-smile with those beautiful, sparkling blue eyes.
He grinned and turned his head back to his fishing. He felt her turn back to the lake too. Together, they sat in silence, finally at peace and where they were meant to be. He closed his eyes and smiled.
"This is great." She said.
"I told ya!" He had, he thought. He'd told her he loved her for years. In the silence. In his eyes and when he touched her.
"I can't believe we didn't do this years ago."
"Yes, well. Let's not dwell."
"There are no fish in this pond, are there?"
She giggled. And Jack realised that she'd been telling him she loved him too, for years. In her eyes, in her touch, and in her smile.