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It's January second and Sam is just starting to crash from her sugar high when Daniel, wild-eyed, peeks around the door of her lab.

"He's not here, is he?"

"He who?" Sam asks, though she's pretty sure she already knows.

"Obviously not." He slips in and closes the door. "Jack. He's driving me nuts. Have you seen him this morning?"

Uh-oh. She doesn't look up from her email but says, "We took the elevator down together. Why?"

"He won't leave my lab and he keeps whistling. And the donuts. What is with the donuts? I've already had three." She can tell. He's even more wired than usual. His hands are twitching -- one clenching at his side, and one on the ancient-looking book he's holding against his chest.

"New Year's present?" Sam offers, aware of the irony. "And how was your New Year, anyway, Daniel?"

"What? Oh. Good. Quiet. Muslim calendar, you know. And damn, it's cold here."

"Yes. Very cold."

"I kept telling him to go bug Teal'c," Daniel continues as if they'd never changed topics. "Finally I said I had to take a leak and ran away. He's probably already gone to the men's room by now to look for me. What the hell is up with him?"

"Um. Holiday spirit?"

Either Daniel's truly drunk on sugar and carbs or he's just completely given up on the two of them, because he doesn't even look at her funny.

"Holiday spirit," he says. "Whistling, can you believe it?"

"He's just trying to get a rise out of you, Daniel. You know how he gets when he's bored." Right. Bored. Sure.

"I hope he's gone to Teal'c's."

Doubtful, Sam thinks. Teal'c would know exactly why the colonel was whistling. And something stirs low in her belly at the thought.

She clicks her mouse on "compose" and types out an email, feeling almost pleasantly illicit. "Sir, Daniel says the whistling is driving him nuts. Maybe you could cut it out? SC." It's probably improper, but she figures he's already made it clear that his preferred method of dealing with their little indiscretion is to make jokes ... and to pass out donuts.

She hits send while Daniel is still talking. Daniel and sugar have never been a good combination, and as for her, she'd be more than happy to put her head on her lab bench and sleep until lunchtime.

And she's not -- repeat, NOT -- happy in the least that her CO is walking around the base whistling two days after she slept with him. No. It's got nothing to do with her.

"You know, if I didn't know better," Daniel muses, his fingers tapping on the leather cover of the book, "I'd think he got lucky last night. But it's Jack. I know he's just doing it to drive me nuts."

She manages not to cough, but barely. "He missed you, Daniel. We all did. He's probably just making up for two weeks of not being able to drive you nuts."

Or, she adds silently, he hasn't got me of his system yet, either.

Her email beeps. Shit.

"IS HE UP THERE? I'LL KILL HIM," the message says.

"Um, I think you've been found out," she tells Daniel.

"Shit, I've gotta go. See ya, Sam."

"No," she types back innocently, "he just left."

Colonel O'Neill never comes to her lab to check out her story.

***

January third is a Saturday. She rents a couple movies and makes popcorn in the microwave. Escapism. Don't think about it. Unfortunately, work has always been her usual method of escape and at the moment it only reminds her of her problem.

The phone rings just after eleven, halfway through the second movie, and she knows exactly who it will be.

"So, Carter," he says without a hello. "Saturday night. Whatcha doing?"

"Very funny, sir," she says, a little embarrassed but refusing to give in to it. "I'm watching a movie."

"Good movie?" His voice sounds tinny and she can hear a bit of static.

"No. Horrible."

"Why the hell do you rent that sci-fi crap when you know perfectly well that the inaccuracies are going to drive you bonkers?"

She finds herself smiling. "Masochistic tendencies, sir."

"Obviously."

"What are you doing, sir?"

"Uh. Driving."

"Driving? Just ... driving?" she asks, amused.

But then she hears a deep breath over the phone line and she knows what is coming is dangerous. Damn.

"Actually, Carter ... I'm having a really hard time convincing myself not to end up at your front door."

Damn him. Damn him. And yet, yes, she thinks of the feel of his hands in her hair, his fingers between her legs, his arms around her while she slept.

"Please don't make me have to talk you out of it," she says carefully. "It's not fair to put me in that position."

"No," he says too quickly. "No, you're right. It's not fair."

Of course, a small voice inside her says, it wasn't exactly fair of her to jump him on New Year's Eve, either.

"How about phone sex, then?" he jokes. And despite herself, she laughs while her cheeks burn.

But there's a tense silence after that. And she hears herself saying, so softly she hopes he might miss it, "I wish you were here, too."

God, how did she get herself into this mess? Carters just don't do this sort of thing.

He sighs. "We can do this, Carter. We can."

"Of course we can," she says, though she's not sure she believes it.

***

On P4X-479, his eyes meet hers over the fire, and she almost feels like she's back in his bed, in his arms. Confused and hungover but still warm and safe.

He hasn't treated her any differently on missions, or in the mountain, but she doesn't trust herself not to set out her sleeping bag a little too close to his. So she contrives to share a tent with Teal'c. And the colonel sets up the watches so they won't have to see each other in the middle of the night. She's grateful, but she's sad, too.

He calls her again the next Saturday night, and the next. There's no innuendo now, no suggestion of spending time together in physical reality. The calls are perfectly safe. They talk about movies, favorite restaurants, politics, her family. Completely mundane, the kinds of things friends talk about. But she finds herself looking forward to them just the same. Sitting across from him, innocently, in the cafeteria, joking with Daniel and Teal'c, she thinks, three more days.

And then, one Tuesday morning in early February, she's summoned to the general's office. The colonel is already there when she arrives. He shakes his head minutely to tell her he doesn't know what this is about, either.

But there's a tape recorder on the general's desk and she knows immediately what's on it. Sam's never been called to the principal's office in her life, but she figures this is what it must feel like. She screwed up and she's about to be called on it. She hates screwing up. She never screws up.

"They can't prove anything just from that, sir," the colonel says, stubbornly, as soon as the general's hit stop.

"How much more would they need to prove something, Colonel?" Hammond says. His voice is not unkind, just tired.

Sam just stares at the little black box and thinks, No. This is not me. This is not how I live my life. She's already run through all the possibilities for getting that tape back and discounted them. It's hopeless. She's been caught, and her life is going to change right now, in this room.

Hammond shakes his head. "I received this in my mail at home yesterday. I don't think either of you will have any trouble figuring out where it came from."

"No, sir. No problem at all," the colonel says.

The general's voice drops. "A cell phone, Jack? You're smarter than that."

He winces and shoots Sam a look. "Apparently not, sir."

"General," Sam finally manages, "we weren't -- we didn't -- I don't want you to think we've been running around behind your back, sir. We haven't been ..." Somehow it's really important for him to know this. It's not a long-term thing, it's not like they've been having an affair and abusing his trust. The fact that she needs him to know has nothing to do with his position in the Air Force and everything to do with his position in her life, as someone whose approval she desperately wants to earn. This thought disturbs her.

The colonel either feels a similar sense of obligation, or takes pity on her. "George," he says, and Sam's never heard him call the general that before, "we got drunk once and did something stupid. That's all."

Hammond shakes his head. "I don't need the details, Jack. For the record, this doesn't diminish my opinion of either of you as officers. In fact, if it were up to me, I'd probably just tell you to be more discreet." He eyes Jack. "And never to use a cell phone again."

Jack winces and looks at his shoes. General Hammond might be the only person in the galaxy who can make him cower like a seven-year-old.

"It's not just up to you, sir," Sam hears herself say.

"No. Unfortunately, it's not."

"I'll retire," Jack says, obviously convinced that that's the answer. "It was going to happen soon enough anyway."

"That won't fix it," she says.

"What? Of course it will. We'll no longer be in the same command. You can give Carter SG-1, can't you, General?"

"No," she says. "He can't. I can't command SG-1 as long as they have that on me. But if I resign my commission then you might be able to --"

"Resign your commission? Are you crazy?"

She ignores him and looks at General Hammond. "Assuming I could still work with the program as a civilian consultant?"

"We'd be happy to have you, Major."

"Wait a minute. This is nuts. You can't do this, Carter."

"Jack," the general says, "Major Carter's right. Your resignation won't solve this."

"Oh, for crying out loud ..."

Hammond holds up one hand, and it shuts up the colonel. It usually does. "We won't work this out right now," he says, and Sam hears the underlying this is between the two of you. She can't decide if she appreciates his concern for their privacy, or resents the implication that they're going to work this out as, good God, a couple. "You can get back to me tomorrow. SG-1 doesn't have any missions scheduled anyway, so I'll put the team on downtime for the rest of the week and tell Daniel and Teal'c that I've already ordered you both to go home and get some rest."

Which they won't believe for a second, Sam thinks, but she says, "Yes, sir."

"Yes, sir," the colonel echoes, still sounding bewildered.

"I'll be home tonight, if either of you wants to talk."

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, sir."

"And for what it's worth," he says in that paternal way he sometimes has, "I know the last few years have been difficult for both of you. I'm grateful to you for sticking it out as long as you have." At Sam's sharp look, he adds with a little smile, "I'm not blind, Major."

"No, sir," she says, and she starts to calculate the chemical reaction that would allow her to melt into the floor.

***

Outside the general's office, she can't quite look at Colonel O'Neill and she can't quite stand up properly, but she doesn't dare lean against the wall. Her hands shake as she knots her fingers together.

At least there are no SF's around.

The colonel sighs and scrubs at his jaw with one hand. "That diner Teal'c likes downtown. With the runny eggs. What's it called?"

"The Bijou," she says, automatically following his reasoning: one of our houses is a bad, bad idea.

"Yeah. There. Nobody from the base will be around at this hour."

She nods and he gives her what he probably hopes is an encouraging smile.

"I'll go change," he says, and she follows this reasoning, too. Give me a few minutes before you come to the locker room. So she does.

Her hands are still shaking as she pulls into the parking lot; the steering wheel is hard, glossy plastic and her palms slip and slide.

She finds him at the back of the diner, with nobody seated nearby. Smart. She sits and they peruse the menu silently, order specials she knows neither of them is going to eat.

"I'm right and you know it," she says after the waitress is gone.

"Carter ..."

"You could survive a vague hint of impropriety with a former subordinate. I couldn't."

He sighs. "Because you're a woman."

"Yes." She shrugs. She's surprisingly calm now that she's here, now that she knows what she has to do. The calmness, she's sure, won't last. "It looks worse for me to sleep with you than it does for you to sleep with me."

The waitress brings them silverware wrapped in paper napkins, and two mugs of coffee. Sam pours too much sugar into hers.

"You know what, Carter? This blows."

She actually laughs. Not at him, but at herself, because even after everything, in the middle of this mess that is going to cost her her career, she still just wants to run her fingers through his hair. His cowlick is sticking up -- he was fiddling with his hair in the car, she's sure -- and she wants more than anything to smooth it down, over and over.

"One. Fucking. Time," he says quietly. She sees the instant his choice of words hits him; she sees his wince and the little sheepish glance at her that follows.

"I'm sorry," she says quietly. "This is all my fault."

"No, it's not. It's absolutely not."

She looks away. "You could stay. You could probably keep the team."

"No. I can't give them that sort of power over the SGC. I can't."

"It won't matter as much with you."

He spins his spoon around on the table. "As far as my career is concerned, no. As far as not wanting to give them any excuse to go public ... They'd find a reason sooner or later, the next time we piss them off. You know they would." His eyes drill into her.

She swallows, starting to feel a little sick. "You're going to resign because you want to protect me?"

"No. But it's nobody's business but ours, Carter. Bad enough that the general knows, and we'll have to come clean to Daniel and Teal'c --"

"You think Teal'c doesn't know?" she interrupts.

His eyes alert her to the waitress' approach. They both fall silent as she gives them their plates. Sam doesn't even pick up a fork.

"You know what I mean," he says. "If neither of us is military they'll never have any reason to disclose what they think they know." He lifts a piece of bacon, bites into it, makes a face, puts it down. "And let's face it, Carter. I had maybe one, two years left at the most anyway. It doesn't really matter."

"It does. You love your job."

"So do you."

She says nothing, watches the short-order cook through the little window into the kitchen. The grease in his hair -- it's probably just gel, but she's not feeling charitable -- makes her even less inclined to want to touch the food in front of her.

"You were headed for great things, Sam," he says in a voice that forces her to look at him. "Command of the whole program someday. I'm sure of it."

"It's nice of you to say that, but it's beside the point, now. Anyway, I can still contribute as a civilian. I'll have more time in my lab, maybe be able to make some real advances in Stargate technology."

He sees through her, of course. "Carter."

She slumps back in her seat. "What will you do? After?"

"I dunno. Maybe George can find something. Special advisor to somebody on something or other ... I dunno."

She smiles, surprising herself. She still wants to fix his hair.

He returns the smile and it seems to improve his mood a little. "Of course," he says, "I'm not quite as valuable to them without a gun in my hand as you are, but hey."

"I'm sure he'd like to keep you around if he can," she says. She means it.

"Yeah. Hey. In that extra time you're going to have in the lab, you think you can come up with some super-duper transporter thingy that will detect all the copies of that tape and make them spontaneously combust?"

"No, sir. Sorry."

"Damn." He takes one bite of his eggs and pushes the plate away, frowning.

They split the bill and he walks her to her car. She can tell he's nervous by the way his hands are clenching and unclenching in the pockets of his jeans. She's known him a long time and she's paid him a lot of attention.

"Listen, Carter," he finally manages just as she fits the key in the lock, "I know this is terrible timing, but, uh ... you think, maybe, there's any way we can salvage something here? Eventually?"

Oh God oh God. She closes her eyes and tries not to cry. She's always kind of imagined the way he'd ask -- or she'd ask -- once their ranks were no longer a complication. She never imagined it like this.

She forces herself to stand up straight and look at him. She owes him that much. "I can't, sir." She owes him his name. Yes. She corrects herself. "Jack. I can't even think about that right now. I'm sorry."

He shuffles from one foot to the other. "Yeah. Yeah, of course. I understand. Bad timing. I'm sorry I brought it up."

"Don't apologize. I'm just -- my brain's kind of a mess right now, that's all."

"Yeah. Mine too." He jerks a thumb over his shoulder, towards his truck. "Guess I'll go back to the mountain. Talk to the general."

"Tell him I'll call him this afternoon."

"Sure. Bye, Sam."

She gives him a little smile, knowing it's far from what he deserves. "Bye."

He stands watching her as she drives away. For a moment she lets herself wonder if she's broken his heart. But only for a moment.

***

Her house is empty and cold, reminders of her old life everywhere. She avoids looking at pictures of her father, knowing how he'll react, how disappointed he'll be. She deletes the message from Janet, who's wondering if she's okay. She cleans her already spotless guest bathroom and concentrates on the way the detergent cracks her hands.

And it's not eight hours before she's standing at his door, unsure of how, exactly, she got there.

"I can't stay," she says to his bewildered face when he answers the bell.

"I didn't assume you would."

He steps aside, takes her thin coat like a gentleman.

"It's just ... I'm not ready to tell anybody else." Not even her sister-in-law, who talked her into sleeping with him in the first place. She's still getting used to saying it in her head: As of 4:15 this afternoon, I am no longer an officer in the U.S. Air Force. There's paperwork yet to be done but it's as good as official, and it'll still be a while before she can say it to a real person.

"Understandable," he says. "You want a drink or something?"

"No, thank you."

He nods and leads her into the dining room -- smart move, she thinks, since they very nearly had sex just down those steps to the left. He waves her to a chair.

"I called the general," she says as she sits.

"Yeah. He told me. You're really sure about this?"

"I don't have a choice."

He starts to say something, stops. Finally he says, "I wish I could tell you that wasn't true."

"But it is."

"I guess."

God, the way he's looking at her. She wishes she knew why she were here. She wishes she'd been strong enough to stay away. She's going to hurt him somehow, she's sure of it. She doesn't want to, but she can already see that it's inevitable.

He touches her hand, where she's worrying the edge of a placemat with her fingers, and pulls back once he knows he's got her attention. She looks up at him.

"I don't do this," she says. "I don't make mistakes. Not like this."

"It wasn't just you."

But her anger, at the moment, has only one possible target. "I loved that job. How could I screw it up like that?"

"You're human, Carter. Sam." She thinks she hears a little exasperation in his voice. "You've been performing miracles every single day for at least seven years. That's a lot to expect of yourself, don't you think?"

She doesn't say, You expected it of me, too, but she thinks she doesn't have to.

His hand is sitting near hers, now. Just there, close enough but not.

She weaves her fingers through his and catches his look of surprise. This is dangerous and she knows she's being cruel, when just today he more or less asked her out and she quite thoroughly shot him down.

His thumb makes tiny movements on her skin. She remembers the way he looked in bed that morning -- eyes sleepy and honest, hair even messier than usual, mouth softly telling her they'd have their chance soon. She'd wanted so badly to believe him. And here it is now, the chance she'd wished for, and she doesn't know what to do with it.

"I think maybe I should go," she says. His thumb stops moving.

"Yeah. Sure. If that's what you want."

Only it's not what she wants, not really. He gets up, but she won't let go of his hand and they both stare at it. And in the next second she's standing, too, facing him, and she pulls her fingers away but only so that she can slip both hands under his shirt. His skin feels hot and she reaches blindly for his lips with her own and the kiss burns inside her, down her spine. Oh, God.

His hands are in her hair and his tongue in her mouth and she starts tearing at the buttons on his shirt. He kicks the chair away and suddenly she's on her back on the table, her sweater and bra shoved up under her arms and her hands pulling him closer, closer. She doesn't know how her jeans end up around her ankles and his down by his knees but she knows the second he pushes inside her, hot and smooth and so right.

The table is hard under her head and he's heaving on top of her and maybe this really is why she's here, after all. She kisses him furiously and snakes a hand between them and cries out into his mouth as she comes. She doesn't want him to stop moving and he doesn't, pounding into her almost angrily and maybe that's exactly what she wanted, too.

When he's done he drops his head onto her shoulder and she says, "Oh, crap." It's a phrase she picked up from him.

He jerks up, perches on his elbows to look at her. "Uh. Sorry. Not sure how that happened." His breathing is still erratic and his lips are swollen. She likes that too much.

"I can't stay," she says again.

"No. No, of course not." He pulls out of her, stands up, reaches a hand to help her. She's stiff from lying on the table. He looks away while they both fix their clothes, but she's watching him.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I shouldn't have come."

"No. It's okay." Because, really, what else can he say?

She fairly runs to the door, grabbing her coat off the hook, and doesn't put it on or look back before leaving.

She drives home too fast, drinks too much beer, and falls into a tortured, lonely sleep.

***

He calls her twice the next day. She doesn't return the calls.

She's on downtime. She hates downtime. It's not like she can even work, between jobs as she is.

Of course, part of her realizes that one of the reasons she hates downtime is that it gives her too much time to think. She can feel his pull on her. It's always there, a low-level hum. Today it feels more like gravity. Like falling.

She goes clothes shopping, goes grocery shopping, drives up to the Academy only to sit in her car watching the cadets from what feels like an appropriate a distance. She takes down all the photographs of her parents from her walls. She switches off the ringer on her cell phone and avoids Daniel's calls, too.

She drives by the colonel's -- Jack's -- house three times. He's always home.

***

She manages to pick up the phone the next day, when he calls. He says, "We have to talk to Daniel and Teal'c."

"I know," she says, far too relieved that he didn't declare his undying love or something equally complicated.

"My house is probably a bad idea."

"The diner?" she asks, so they won't have to think about why his house is a bad idea. "Lunch?"

"Yeah. Okay. I'll call Daniel. You call Teal'c." He's still giving her orders. Habit, she's sure. And out of habit, she doesn't even think to argue.

In the parking lot, she waits until she sees Daniel's car pull in next to Jack's. She knows it's transparent. She doesn't know what else to do, though.

She gets out, locks her door, and waves at her friends.

"Sam, what the hell is going on?" Daniel asks immediately. "We were getting worried."

Teal'c gives her a tiny, supportive smile. Teal'c, she's sure, has a very good idea what's going on.

"Inside, Daniel," she says. "I'm sorry I didn't call you back yesterday."

Colonel O'Neill -- Jack -- is there, towards the back again. It's a different table in the same area, but close to a window this time. Even across the room she can tell he's playing with the salt shaker. She calculates the angle of the window and knows perfectly well that he saw her waiting in her car.

He meets her eyes and she tries to smile. And she's sure -- too sure -- that Daniel has caught the exchange.

She nods to the hostess as Daniel explains that they're meeting a friend. There are already four menus on the table, and four cups of coffee, Jack's half finished.

"Come on, guys. This is getting a little irritating," Daniel says as they sit. She somehow ends up next to Jack and she's not happy about it. She can smell him and then she thinks she can smell his sweat after sex, feel his fingers digging into her thighs. She closes her eyes for a moment and tries to breathe.

"Yeah. Sorry about that," Jack says. Clearly he's figured out that he's going to have to take control of this conversation, because she's not going to do it. It's in his nature, anyway. "Carter and I," he says slowly, waving a hand between them, "are kind of no longer employed by the Air Force."

"You're what?" Daniel asks.

Sam cringes, sensing disapproval. The waitress tries to approach but Jack waves her away.

"Carter'll still be heading up the science department and I'll be around for some ... consulting stuff." The hand wave again, and she should probably ask him at some point just what "consulting stuff" means. "But SG-1 -- uh -- not going to happen."

"What? Why?" Daniel says angrily. "This is crazy. You're obviously not happy about it."

"Uh. No. Not exactly."

"The NID has incriminating evidence on us, Daniel," she says so quietly that it immediately commands the attention of all three men.

"Incriminating -- oh. Oh." His eyes go wide in that Daniel way and Sam thinks, unkindly, There it is. "But you didn't -- you're not -- ?"

Jack looks at her sideways, but they both say nothing. She figures Daniel will know what the look means, and she can tell by his expression that she's right.

"Oh God," Daniel says. The he realizes something, and looks at Teal'c. "Wait. Why aren't you surprised?"

She tries to give Teal'c a look that will say thank you and I'm sorry. She's not sure she gets it right, and she ends up meeting the eyes of the man sitting next to her. They burn.

"I am as surprised as you, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c intones.

Daniel frowns, not buying it, but not willing to argue about it, either. "So they blackmailed you," he says. "Those bastards. They can't do that."

"It's done, Daniel," Jack says. She swears she can feel the heat of his thigh near hers. "I'm sorry about the team. I'm sorry our mistake ruined it for you guys, too. But it's done."

Daniel looks at her, silently begging for an explanation. She looks away. She wonders if New Year's Eve would have happened if he'd been there, then mentally hits herself for trying to find somebody else to blame.

"I'm sorry," she says, though she's not sure which of them she's addressing.

"When did this happen?" Daniel asks.

Jack looks at her to see if she'll answer. She doesn't.

"Tuesday," he says. "Hammond got a tape in the mail."

"A tape?"

"A cassette tape, Daniel," Jack says tightly. "Jesus. Of a phone call."

She's amused by his attempt to protect her, or whatever it is, but she's also more than a little spooked at the thought that it could just as easily have been a videotape.

And she thinks of how sharp the table felt under her scapulae.

"This sucks," Daniel announces.

"Yes," she says, aware of one pair of eyes more than the others. "It really does."

***

Jack tries to catch her on the way out of the restaurant. She keeps walking, obstinately. Daniel also wants to talk to her alone, she can tell. She doesn't want to talk to either of them.

She wants something else, though. Her body fairly screams for it and her brain isn't far behind. Smart as she is, she can't quite calculate the reasons beyond it feels good but she knows they're there, somewhere, and she doesn't feel up to resisting. And the possibility that it's turned from want into need is simply too much to think about, so she doesn't. She needs to believe she's smarter than that.

She pulls over to the curb in front of his house, and just looks. She's started memorizing the angle of the rain gutters, the pattern of the hedges. He must hire a landscaper; there's no way he has the time to keep them that well trimmed himself. Maybe he will now.

It's only been a couple hours since lunch, but he's definitely home, maybe even watching for her. He opens his door, heads to his truck, pretends to get something out of the back but ends up just staring at her. Where she sits. In her car.

They barely make it inside before they're onto each other. She's wearing a skirt, with no stockings despite the cold, and maybe that was intentional. Maybe he even noticed when they were sharing a booth across from their friends.

He hitches up one of her legs, shoves her panties aside, and digs into her deep and fast. She groans his name and bites his neck.

And afterwards, she leaves as silently as she arrived.

***

He keeps calling her. She keeps not answering. She finally takes a phone call from Janet only to avoid her questions, promise to explain next week, and hang up as quickly as possible.

It's Saturday now; she's going back to the mountain the day after tomorrow. And even though she hasn't seen him since Thursday she swears she can smell sex around her wherever she goes. She tries to take a bath to calm down -- it's always worked before -- but only ends up imagining his face while she brings herself off.

It's Saturday. He always calls her on Saturday. And wondering whether he will tonight scares her more than it should. She shouldn't want him to. She shouldn't want him. She's already ruined her career over this. Isn't that enough?

She dresses slowly, stares at the clock by her bed, and tries to figure out how her car keys got into her hand.

Her hair's still wet when she gets to his house. They find their way to his bed this time, finally. The piles of laundry are gone now; the bed, she notices, is neatly made until they fall into it.

"Sam, we need to --" He breaks off to kiss her breast and she takes advantage.

"Don't," she says, rolling under him. "Please don't."

She tells herself she's going to stay, tells herself that all she really wants is to sleep in his arms like she did that one night. Still she gets up in the dark, after, hoping he's asleep but knowing he's not, and searches for her clothes. She can't remember what she was wearing when she arrived.

"You don't have to go," he says, his voice very controlled. She knows that tone. "We don't have to sneak around, you know. We're not doing anything wrong."

But everything about him reminds her of everything she's done wrong. She pulls on her jeans, wondering why he hasn't told her, yet, to go to hell.

"Aren't we?" she says.

She can barely see him raise a hand to his face, sink his head further back into the pillow. "For God's sake, Carter," he says. "I wish I knew what was going through that brain of yours."

"I'm sorry," she says as she goes. "I really am."

***

Monday. February 9. The klaxon blares and it's not for her, not anymore. It's hard to remember this. There's some emergency down in the infirmary, something to do with SG-14, but she doesn't know the details and she probably never will. She's ashamed to find herself thinking that at least it'll keep Janet from pouncing on her and demanding answers.

Her lab hasn't changed. She's got a new gadget to play with, but she'll never see it in situ. She watches the videotape and tries not to scream. SG-11 made first contact on P4X-709, found her new toy. It should have been her.

In the hallways, as she goes to get coffee, people ask how her week off was. She smiles -- tries to make it genuine -- and says, "It was nice, thanks."

She knows how the rumor mill works in this place. There must be stories. Some of them might even be close to the truth. But nobody will be crazy enough to mention them to her, or to Jack. Or Daniel or Teal'c or Janet or the general or, God forbid, her father. So she wonders what they're saying, what they think they know, how close they are.

She hates people knowing about her private life: it's humiliating to think of their speculation. It's the za'tarc test all over again, with suppositions flying all around her head. She hates it.

She figures they've probably guessed that she's sleeping with her (former) CO. They're probably taking bets on when it started. They'd probably guess, most of them, something like six months or a year; a few will guess longer. They're probably evenly split on whether they got caught or simply got nervous.

They probably also think that her love life is not an ungodly mess, that she'll go home tonight to a fulfilling relationship: a man cooking her dinner, a night of TV, sex once or twice a week. Yes. That's what they probably think. Her and Jack, all cozy on the couch, and incredibly boring sex.

She actually laughs at this in the cafeteria line, while she pours the milk on her Cheerios, and that'll probably fuel the rumor mill, too. Whatever else it might be, the sex she's been having with Jack O'Neill is certainly not boring.

It's been two days. Her body is keeping score.

As for the cuddling on the couch, she figures that's getting more unlikely every day. She wonders where the point of no return is, when her actions will finally ruin every chance of a happy ending. She wonders if she's already passed it.

Teal'c shows up in her lab first. She should have known. He asks how her time off was, updates her on the future of SG-1, which, it seems, will consist of him, Daniel, Colonel Coburn from SG-5, and Lieutenant Harper from SG-17. Then he gives her his most earnest Jaffa look and says, "You are finding the transition difficult."

"Yes, Teal'c. Yes, I am."

"O'Neill is finding it difficult, as well."

"I know." She also knows she's not making it any easier for him. But then, Teal'c can probably guess that, too.

He's silent for a while, as she opens one end of her gadget and takes some photos of the mechanism inside before attempting to disassemble it. There's nobody more comforting in silence than Teal'c. She loves him for that.

"Teal'c," she asks finally, "what are they saying? About us. What do they think happened?"

"There is speculation that you and O'Neill resigned to pursue a romantic relationship."

"And?"

"There is also speculation that you were ordered to resign."

"Of course there is."

She goes back to work, but can still feel his eyes on her. "O'Neill cares deeply for you, Samantha Carter," he says after a minute.

She stares at his use of her name. No more major. God.

"I know he does," she says.

"I believe you share his concern."

"It's not that easy, Teal'c."

"Such things are rarely easy. Some would say that if it is easy it is not worth having."

She says nothing, starts taking the foreign machine apart.

"You know that I am always available to speak with you, Samantha Carter."

"I know you are, Teal'c. Thank you."

He bows his head and goes. Teal'c's always been good at timing his exits.

Daniel's not so good at timing. She's absolutely positive that he waited for Teal'c to report back and then came right up to her lab. It's hardly a surprise to hear his footsteps.

"Hey," he says.

"Hey."

"You okay?"

"Not really."

"Must be kind of weird, coming back here."

"You have no idea." Then she remembers Sha're and the first Abydos mission. "Or maybe you do."

He smiles at her hesitantly. "I still say this whole thing sucks. They're crazy to let you go." She wonders if he's figured out, yet, what the donuts and the whistling were really about, and wonders if he'd tell her if he had.

"We broke the rules, Daniel. We brought it on ourselves." It's the first time she's admitted this out loud. She doesn't like it. "So. How've you been? Getting a lot done?"

"No. Not really."

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay. It'll be weird to work with another team, though. Which," he adds quickly, "is absolutely not intended to make you feel guilty."

She sort of laughs. Sort of.

"And this is not intended to make you feel guilty, either, but -- Teal'c's thinking of leaving."

"What? He was just here. He didn't say anything."

"Well, he wouldn't."

She runs a hand through her hair in frustration. "Oh, God, Daniel. What a mess. It's all my fault."

"Sam, don't."

"Two careers and we might all lose Teal'c. God."

"You still have a career, Sam. A scientific one."

"You know what I mean."

"I know what you mean." He taps his fingers on the alien gadget on her lab bench. "This was found in an amazing building. Wall after wall of writing I don't recognize. The carbon dating set it at about twenty thousand years ago."

"Really?" she asks to be polite. She knows it's not what he wants to be talking about.

"Yeah." More finger tapping. "So. How's Jack?"

She starts to say, What makes you think I would know? but won't let herself. Instead she asks, "Have you talked to him?"

"Not really. You're both avoiding me."

Ouch. "I'm sorry, Daniel. It's been difficult for both of us."

"I know. I just -- Sam. If anything good can come of this ..."

And ouch again. But she says, "That's a nice thought."

"I don't think it's impossible." He slings his hands into his pockets. "I think we've done far more impossible things."

"It's hard, Daniel. It might be too hard." She shakes her head and tries to explain. "When I look at him I think about ... everything. And I don't like myself very much at the moment."

"Well," he says with a goofy smile, "I still like you."

She laughs, and thinks that even though her life is in ruins and she's screwed them over, too, she's lucky to have friends like this.

***

That night, when she finally manages to pick up the phone to call Kristin, she gets her niece instead.

"Oh, they're off buying a new lawnmower or something," Melanie says, and Sam can just hear a familiar eye roll in her voice.

"Well, how are you? How's Jimmy?" She doesn't really expect an answer. The last time she asked, all she got was an embarrassed, "Aunt Sam!"

"He's a jerk. I hate him."

Sam won't let herself laugh at the preteen melodrama. "Oh, no. What happened?"

"Oh," and there's a world-weary sigh, "he ate lunch with me and then I saw him kissing Janey Riley in the library after school."

Well, damn. Of everything that's gone wrong in Sam's life lately, at least, she thinks, she's decades away from junior high. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."

"It's okay," Melanie says with a kind of verbal shrug. "Mom says that's what guys do."

Which reminds Sam that the true point of her phone call had been to throttle her sister-in-law. "Some guys," she agrees. Then she thinks for a second and adds, "Not all of them. I promise."

***

Sam spends Tuesday morning fighting with the device from P4X-709. She adjusts switches, takes notes, takes the cover off and puts it back on. Nothing. It refuses to give up its secrets and she realizes she's getting more frustrated than she should. So she decides a break is in order, though it's not one that's likely to improve her mood.

She heads out of her lab to find Teal'c, and eventually tracks him down in the gym. For a few minutes she stands just watching him, amazed at his determination. She's long since accepted that women's bodies just aren't made for physical strength in the way men's are, but Teal'c's pressing nearly three times her weight, with no spotter. It still surprises her sometimes.

He finally notices her when he sits up for a drink. "Samantha Carter," he says, obviously pleased to see her. "I did not hear you come in."

She walks towards him, not wanting the sergeant on the treadmill to overhear. "You're leaving?" she asks. Whoops. She'd kind of intended to work up to that.

He puts down the water bottle, reaches for his towel and wipes his face. "I am merely thinking of leaving," he says. "I may be able to do more for the cause of the Jaffa elsewhere. It is a possibility I have been considering for some time, but it is true that I have begun considering it more seriously."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because, as the Tau'ri say, you have enough on your mind. In fact, I would have preferred it if Daniel Jackson had not told you."

She hugs herself, leaning into the cement wall. "Oh, Teal'c, I'm so sorry."

"You have no need to apologize."

"Yes, I do. This is all because of --"

"No," he interrupts. "I simply do not yet know if Colonel Coburn will be worthy of the same respect and loyalty as Colonel O'Neill. If he is not, I shall go."

He's right, of course. She understands Teal'c's sense of honor, somewhat, and she certainly understands what he sees in her former CO. But it still hurts. "What about the rest of us?" she asks, aware that her voice sounds pitiful and young.

"You and Daniel Jackson are indeed as family to me, Samantha Carter. But it was for O'Neill's sake that I originally came here. You know this to be true."

"Yeah," she says. "I do know. I understand. I just wish ..."

He stands and looks directly into her eyes, smiling just a little. "Nothing has been decided," he says. "It will be some time before I decide."

"That's good," she says. "Teal'c ... I'd really miss you."

"And I you, Samantha Carter."

He gives her another tiny smile -- it's practically a grin in Jaffa terms -- and leans to pick up two more weights.

Sam bites her lip. "Teal'c, did you know? That night at his house. Did you know?"

He adds one weight to the bar, then the other. "I did," he says finally.

She feels herself blushing, which is just ridiculous. "Oh, God. Tell me we weren't loud."

"You were not." He sits on the bench and eyes her carefully. "I did not disapprove, Samantha," he says, and she notices the unusual use of her name. "I hoped you had found happiness."

Oh, if only that were true. "Teal'c," she says, grasping for a way to explain this to him and to herself, "when you hurt your back and you didn't have a symbiote to heal you anymore -- you remember how angry you were?"

He considers this, cocking his head. "You believe your actions are a similar sign of weakness?"

"Of course they are."

"I do not agree," he says quickly. "On the contrary, I believe you and O'Neill are formidable warriors who adhered to the strict codes of your military longer than other Tau'ri would have done."

She narrows her eyes at him, not really believing he just said that. "Quite a talent for spin doctoring you've got there," she says.

"I speak the truth. I do not believe you have any reason to be ashamed. I only wish you believed it, as well."

She looks away from him for a minute, then forces herself to look back. "I'm trying to," she says.

"Then you will succeed," he says, with the same certainty he might use when announcing that the earth has one moon or that the Jaffa will one day be free.

"You have more faith in me than I do, Teal'c," she says.

"I believe the correct phrase is, 'That is what friends are for.'"

Sam laughs, while he lies back down on the weight bench. "Thank you," she says. "It means a lot."

"Will you not join me for a workout, Samantha Carter?" he asks.

"No," she says, resigned. "Thanks, but I can't. There's something I have to do."

She fairly slinks into the infirmary. Janet is with a patient, the archaeologist from SG-8, who looks like he's dislocated a shoulder. But the room is relatively quiet; the crisis from yesterday must have passed.

Janet waves Sam into her office. It's a few tense minutes before she steps inside herself and shuts the door. "Archaeologists, I swear," she says. "Injury magnets."

"Really?" Sam asks, amused. She's never heard this before. "Not just Daniel?"

"No. Not just Daniel." Janet sits behind her desk and reaches for her coffee. "Hynes out there is one of my best regulars. And Mitchell should pay me rent. At least it's usually minor -- sprains and cuts, mostly."

"I heard yesterday was bad," Sam says, aware that she probably won't be privy to the details the way she used to be.

"It was. They're all going to be fine, though."

Sam shifts in her chair. "I'm sorry I've been ..." She can't think of the right word. She looks to Janet for help.

"Incommunicado?"

"I guess. I'm sorry."

"You're sleeping with him, aren't you?"

Wow. She should have expected that. She didn't. "What have you heard?" she asks.

Janet shrugs. "I don't need to hear anything. But if you want to know, yes, that is the assumption most people are making." She takes a drink of coffee. "This is cold and disgusting and I'm going to drink it anyway," she announces. "So, are you?"

And Sam should have expected that, too. "Yes and no," she says, and tries not to notice her friend's obvious disapproval.

***

She makes it as far as Wednesday before going back. On Wednesday, she leaves the mountain at four and drives straight to his house. He's stopped calling her. She's noticed.

"No work?" he asks in the doorway.

"Left early."

He closes the door behind her and she realizes he's been drinking.

"I was bored anyway," he says. "You came for the sex, I assume?"

"Jack ..."

"You're jerking me around, Carter. I'm not a saint. And I expected better of you." He pauses to look her up and down. "You're capable of better."

"I'm not sure I am," she says, her eyes tingling.

He shakes his head. "You accused me once of playing games with you. Isn't that exactly what you're doing now?"

Sam remembers that conversation -- it was right before the mistake that ruined everything -- and wonders, again, why he even lets her in his house anymore. "You have every right to be angry with me," she says, sidestepping his question neatly, or so she thinks.

"Generous of you."

She closes her eyes and reaches for his pants.

"Carter ..."

"Shh," she says. "Let me."

She falls to her knees, pushes him up against the door, and gives him a blow job that makes his legs quiver. His hands caress her head gently but he doesn't say a word until after, when she zips up his fly.

"Get up," he says finally. His eyes look a little drugged. She doesn't think it's from the alcohol.

He reverses their positions, pushes her back into the door and leans his weight on her to keep her still. He unbuttons her jeans and reaches inside.

"Open your eyes," he says coldly. "Look at me."

She has no choice. Some part of her still follows his orders instinctively. He twists his fingers into her folds and she feels like she's being torn to pieces.

"Turned yourself on sucking me off, Sam?"

"Yes." He jerks his thumb against her clitoris.

"Don't close your eyes."

"Stop it," she says, but they both know she doesn't mean it.

"You don't really want me to stop. You just don't want to look me in the eye."

"That's not true," she says, but she's lying. It hurts to look at him, to see his eyes and know what she's done to him and to herself. She comes as they watch each other and she can feel him getting hard again against her thigh, through two pairs of jeans.

He pulls his hand away and says, "You can let yourself out, right?" Then he disappears into the kitchen to wash his hands, leaving her weak and exposed and wet and still feeling the aftershocks between her legs.

***

Late the next morning, she sees a shadow in her doorway and she looks up from the device that has become her nemesis. Then she freezes. "Oh, hi," she says as casually as she can. "What are you doing here?"

"Some Asgard thing. Minor. Uh ... lunch? I hear it's chicken cacciatore." Oh, the look on his face. He knows he's about to get burned, but he's asking anyway. She'd almost prefer the cold eyes from yesterday.

She manages to smile while she lies. "I can't, really. I'm sorry. Can't get away from this."

"Uh-huh. I could bring it down here?" He taps his thumb against his leg.

"I'm sorry. I really am. Talk to you later?"

"Yeah. Sure. No big deal. See you later, Sam."

And later, when she finally ventures outside her lab after a day of getting virtually nothing done, she notices the way people look at her. Like they know. And maybe they do.

***

His truck is in front of her house when she gets home. She wonders why he didn't just let himself in -- it's not as if he doesn't have a key. He's had one since the Adrian Conrad incident. The whole team has. But then, she's never used the one she has to his house, either.

She fumbles about in her glove compartment for a minute, stalling. He must know that's what she's doing.

When she finally approaches his truck he gets out and says, "You can't be that surprised to see me here."

"No. I guess I'm not."

She offers him a beer inside. He accepts and opens it, but doesn't drink. They stand awkwardly in her kitchen.

She drinks her own beer way too fast. Liquor seems to be becoming her crutch of choice when it comes to Jack O'Neill. And she knows she's smarter than that.

"I'm sorry about yesterday," he says. "I was a bit of an ass."

"Well, you were right. I have been jerking you around. I'm sorry about that."

He nods, accepting her apology, and retreats to a neutral topic. "Finish that project you were obsessed with today?" he asks.

"What? Oh, no. I brought all my notes home, actually."

"Of course you did."

"What does that mean?"

"Nothing." He studies his beer, then looks back up at her, determined. "Listen. Carter, what the hell's going on?"

She starts peeling the label off her bottle.

"Look, I'm not going to say the sex isn't great. But it's kinda fucked up, don't you think?"

"I'm kind of fucked up right now," she says. And she's dragging him down with her, if yesterday is any indication.

"Sam. I wouldn't have given in so easily on the retirement thing if I didn't think you and I had a chance at ... something." He waves his hand around to emphasize the "something." "And this is not it."

She's not consciously aware the words are coming until they're already out of her mouth. "I'm in love with you."

He freezes. "Well, that was a non sequitur."

"No, it really isn't. I know I'm treating you badly and it's not what I want to do. I've tried to stay away to keep from hurting you, but that's obviously not working. And you deserve to know the truth."

"I deserve to know," he repeats.

"That whatever it looks like, it's not just sex. Even though that's exactly what it looks like."

He blows out a puff of air, and it dawns on her belatedly that he hasn't said a four-letter word beginning with L. Well, she hardly deserves it lately. "You're never going to stop amazing me, are you, Carter?" he asks.

"I used to amaze you in a good way."

"This isn't necessarily bad. It's just confusing." He screws up his face and shifts his weight from foot to foot. "Can we sit down?"

She nods and moves across to the couch, toeing off her shoes. She forces herself to sit facing him, legs crossed.

And they both say absolutely nothing.

"This is ridiculous," he announces. "We used to talk to each other. We were getting kind of good at talking to each other."

She swallows the last of her beer and keeps working on the label. He's right. This is ridiculous. She owes him more than this.

"There was this girl at the Academy," she says, and watches his shoulders relax a little as he recognizes that this is comfortable territory. "Stacy Callahan. She lived on my floor my first year. She fell for one of the first-class cadets, and ended up dropping out. I thought that was so stupid. We worked so hard to get there, and she just threw it away."

He's shaking his head. "Carter --"

"No, wait." He does, pursing up his mouth a little. "When I was at the Pentagon, I knew a couple. Todd was a friend of mine, and Liz was his XO. She requested a transfer so they could get married, and her new position had no future at all for her." She's almost done with the beer label, and she's not looking at Jack anymore. "She was happy, actually. I went to the wedding. But I really didn't approve." She closes her eyes, remembering, and can tell that he's waiting for her to finish.

"I was never going to be that kind of woman," she says finally. "My career was always going to come first."

"People change, Sam," he says gently. "Priorities change."

"But I didn't intend to change. I didn't change. I got drunk and threw myself at my CO. And I dragged you right down with me."

There's a flash of anger in his eyes. "I'm a big boy. You don't get to take all the blame. I should have said no."

"I didn't give you much of a chance."

"I didn't want to say no." He leans towards her. "Look, I'm not just being chivalrous here. We both screwed up, Carter. You had more to lose professionally and I'm sorry about that, I really am. But we can't change it. We just have to live with it."

"I'm not sure I'm ready to do that," she says.

He nods slowly.

"I wish I were. I think ... I think we want the same thing."

"I've never known you not to get what you want, Sam."

She tries to smile but feels like she's looking at him through fog. And all she can see when she sees him, still, is all she's done wrong.

He makes that grimace she knows all too well, the one that means he's conflicted. Then he gestures at the door. "Listen, I'm gonna go before we ... you know." She hears the decision in his voice: No more. Not until you figure out what you want. And she wonders if, when she figures it out, he'll still be around. The thought scares her.

"Probably a good idea," she says. She can't be trusted around him, obviously.

"I'm glad you came," she says at the door. "It was brave of you. We needed to talk."

"I think we still do." He pauses, turns back to her. "You know, I think I'm going to go up north for a few days. Just, I don't know, not catch some fish."

"Okay," she says calmly, though she really doesn't want him to be two states away. Why doesn't she want him to be two states away? "Drive safely."

"Yeah. G'night, Carter."

"Goodnight."

He waves from the curb before getting into his truck.

She locks the door, goes back to the couch, flips around the TV channels for a while, and tries to figure out why the thought of his leaving, even for a few days, is so frightening. Though the way she's been behaving, she's lucky it's only for a few days. She hasn't given him a lot to come back to.

The phone rings maybe ten minutes after he leaves. He can't be home yet; it's a fifteen-minute drive in the lightest traffic.

"I love you, too," he says without preamble. "I should have said. You, uh, deserve to know."

She laughs. She actually laughs, though she's thinking, Thank God. "We're never going to do anything the easy way, are we?"

"No. Probably not."

She listens to the sound of him breathing over his cell phone. Then she aims the remote and turns down the volume on CNN.

"Jack," she says, "why did you join the Air Force?"

"What?"

"We've never talked about it."

He gives her a frustrated sigh, and she hears a car horn in the background. "Jesus, Carter, I used to think you were the together one."

"I'm not. Tell me."

"Uh ... I wanted to fly."

"That simple?"

"Yeah. I wanted to fly and my parents couldn't afford college."

She pictures him walking into the recruiting office, his eyes bright and hopeful. "Did they approve? Your parents, I mean. You were, what, eighteen?"

"Oh, yeah. They were proud. My dad had been in the Navy in World War II."

"I didn't know that."

"It was only for a couple years. I think he always wished he'd been in the Air Force, though. We used to build model fighters together when I was a kid."

"Really?" She likes that image, little Jack and his father working together with wood and glue. She thinks that he must have done the same with Charlie.

"Yeah. You know, they're probably still in the attic in the cabin somewhere. Everything ends up there eventually."

She wonders, for the millionth time, what his cabin looks like. She still wants to go there someday. And to do that, she's going to have to take a pretty big leap.

I've never known you not to get what you want, Sam, he'd said.

He was right. She knows he was right.

"Jack," she says. "What have you been doing lately? It's been all about me."

"Oh. Well. I've been ... bored to tears, actually. You have no idea how glad I was that the Asgard thing came up." The engine noise in the background stops; she realizes he's reached his house and is now sitting in his own driveway.

"It was just one day, though?"

"Yeah. I had a little chat with Thor and that was --"

"Don't go."

There's a surprised pause. "Carter?"

She takes a deep breath, and jumps. "Don't go to Minnesota. Have dinner with me tomorrow."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." She's scared shitless, but she's sure, now.

"We can take it slow," he says carefully.

"Isn't it a little late for that?"

"Start over then, maybe." She closes her eyes, listening to him, knowing there's a condition coming. "Sam ... I can't go on the way we've been. I'm not strong enough."

"I'm not, either. I'm sorry. I'm no good at relationships," she says.

"You think I am?"

"You at least got to the altar."

"I also got to the divorce papers, if you recall." The self-mocking tone makes her laugh, a little. But then he says, "You've got to stop running away from me, Carter."

"I know." She presses the remote and flips silently through the channels. "I might need you to help me with that."

"Right," he says fondly. "I'll just ... tie you down after sex, or something."

She laughs, again. She's still pretty sure she doesn't deserve him, but she's not about to argue. What she is going to do, starting now, is to tell him the truth.

"When I look at you," she confesses, knowing she should have said this in the diner on that first day, "sometimes all I see is the biggest mistake I ever made. But that's not ... I don't want it to be like that."

"Ouch, Carter." She can hear the look on his face.

"I'm sorry. I'm trying to be honest with you."

"Yeah. I get that," he says. "I appreciate that."

"I don't want it to be that way. I don't. I'd rather see, I don't know ... you making model airplanes with your dad."

He tries to make a joke. "I might have some pictures," he says.

"You know what I mean," she says.

"I know what you mean." He takes a deep breath, and she holds hers. "You're not a failure, Carter. No matter what you think right now. You're not."

She closes her eyes. She hadn't realized how much she needed to hear that, even though she doesn't quite believe him. And he must recognize from her silence that he's stumbled onto something. Or maybe he just knows her that well. It's kind of nice to think he knows her that well.

"Normal people make mistakes every day and live with them, Sam. You're just ... not normal." She feels one of her eyebrows go up, but it's definitely with amusement, not annoyance. "Wait, that didn't come out right," he says.

She's smiling outright now. "It's okay, Jack. Just ... couldn't I have gone for something simple? Like forgetting to pay the cable bill?"

He laughs, suddenly sounding more relaxed than he has since before they heard that damn tape. "Yeah, well," he says. "We'll work up to that. Maybe let the newspaper subscription lapse as practice."

"So," she says. "Tomorrow? Pick me up at seven?"

"Seven's fine. You're not going to change your mind, are you?"

"I'm not going to change my mind."

"Well, good. And Sam ... don't wear a skirt."

She laughs and puts down the remote. And then she says, really believing it for the first time, "We can do this. It's going to be okay." It's not going to be easy, but it's going to be okay.

"Yeah," he says slowly. "I think it really is."