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After the Storm

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There will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

--After the Storm, Mumford & Sons

 

"Colonel Carter."

It's Teal'c. He's come in so quietly she doesn't realize he's standing in the doorway of her lab until he speaks. "Hey, Teal'c," she says. Her voice sounds like someone else's, weird and a whole lot calmer than she feels.

"I do not wish to disturb you," he says carefully, "but there is a representative from the Tok'ra High Council who wishes to see you, to discuss the disposition of your father's remains."

She blinks at Teal'c, as if she hasn't quite understood what he's said. "Excuse me?"

"I do not know the details," he goes on, "but he said he wishes to speak with you. I informed him that you were occupied with personal matters, but he was quite insistent."

Sam rubbed at her face. "Okay, okay, just.... tell him I need to talk to my brother first and I can't... he's not answering his phone. I need to do this. And then I'll--I'll see what they want."

"Of course." Teal'c hesitates, then crosses the room to stand beside her. "I am sorry for your loss," he says quietly, his voice low. "Jacob Carter was a good man and a brave warrior. He will be missed."

Sam nods and stares hard at the blank screen of her computer. She loves Teal'c, she really does, but if he hugs her, like she thinks he might, she'll just lose it. She doesn't want to do that, not on the base, not right now. There is too much to do. She has to keep it together.

Thankfully he doesn't hug her. He just rests one strong hand on her shoulder, squeezing a little. "If there is anything that you require," he says, "you have only to ask."

"Thanks, Teal'c." He's like a rock, she thinks. Steady and calm and utterly dependable. Daniel is still missing and her father just died and she could not be more grateful for him than she is right now.

Her phone rings, and she glances at it. It's Mark.

"I have to--"

Teal'c nods, solemn, and leaves. She gives Mark the news alone.

*****

It's Malek that wants to see her, one of the very few Tok'ra she doesn't automatically like. He'd been an ass to her father on several occasions and it makes her tend not to like him, despite the fact that Jolinar's opinion of him had been neutral to positive. "Malek," she says, squaring her shoulders when she meets him in the conference room.

"Colonel Carter," he says, in the gravelly voice that indicates his symbiote is speaking. "I am deeply sorry for your loss."

"Thank you." She nods a little in acknowledgement. "Teal'c said you wanted to see me?"

"Yes," he says. "As you know, the Tok'ra believe that the final rites must be completed as soon as possible after death of both the symbiote and host are confirmed. This is to prevent any possibility that the body will fall into enemy hands and be revived by means of a sarcophagus. However, the medical staff will not release the body without your authorization. I thought you might be able to assist us in this matter."

Sam is well aware of Tok'ra funeral rites, both from the remnants of Jolinar's memories she still carries and from the rites she's had occasion to observe over the years, but it still somehow surprises her. "I'm in charge of my father's funeral arrangements," she says. "He's going to be buried with my mother." She and Mark discussed it when he called, and they both agree, although she hasn't had time to do more than that yet.

Malek looks surprised, and not at all pleased. "That is unacceptable. It is of vital importance that the body be treated in accordance with our custom."

"What about our custom?" she says, more angrily than she means to. "Doesn't that mean anything to you? He's my father. You've had him for most of the last six years, you can at least let me have him now." Of course, she wouldn't have had him at all, if it wasn't for the Tok'ra in general and Selmak in particular, but she ignores that technicality for the moment because she doesn't appreciate being told what to do in such a personal situation.

Malek lowers his head and closes his eyes, and when he looks up again he's speaking in the more human voice of his host, one she doesn't hear much. "I'm sorry, Colonel Carter," he says, and he does genuinely sound sorry. It doesn't make Sam like him any more, though. "And I do understand the customs of the Tau'ri. But in the absence of Jacob and Selmak specifying their wishes in this matter ahead of time, this is how we must proceed."

"See, that's not how it works, here," Sam says. "When someone doesn't specify their wishes ahead of time, it's up to the next-of-kin to decide. And that's me. I'm his next-of-kin. Not you, not the High Council, not anybody else. Me, and my brother. That's it."

He looks down, then up again, and they're back to the symbiote. "Then I will need to speak to your superior," he says.

Sam grits her teeth. "You do that," she says.

 

*****

She hangs around the base until the Tok'ra leave. It's not that she doesn't trust them. It's just that... she doesn't trust them entirely. Not Malek, anyway. He'd lied to her father about things before, so there's no reason to think he's entirely trustworthy.

Not that she really wants to go home, either, but there are papers at home she needs, phone numbers of people she needs to call... and she needs to call Pete. She doesn't want to do it at the base.

Pete picks up on the second ring and when she tells him what's happened, he's shocked into silence. "But he seemed fine when I met him," he says, eventually.

"He was hiding it," Sam says. "They didn't want to ruin the wedding, he said."

"Oh," he says quietly. "Oh, man. Okay, look, do you want me to come over?"

She does and she doesn't. She's talked about this all day and it's late and she feels a headache coming on. But if they're going to do this marriage thing, then... this is the kind of thing spouses depend on each other for, isn't it? "If you want to," she says.

He's at her house in thirty minutes, and in a way Sam's glad he came because he helps her go through paperwork and offers to call some of the more distant relatives in the morning so she doesn't have to make so many calls.

It feels strange to talk about this with someone who isn't her team.

 

*****

They're in the middle of making calls the next day when there's a knock at the door. Sam lets Pete get the door, because she's on the phone with someone at the cemetery where her mother is buried. The lady on the phone is a little hard of hearing and Sam keeps having to repeat herself.

"It's General O'Neill," Pete says quietly. Sam covers the phone and turns to see Jack standing near the door, hands shoved in the pockets of his leather jacket. She gets up, out of habit, and he waves vaguely at her to sit back down; she nods and holds up a finger to show she'll just be a minute, and goes back to repeating herself on the phone.

The minute turns into more like twenty minutes, during which Pete and Jack make and give up on attempts at awkward small talk. Pete comes to sit beside her on the sofa, while Jack intently studies the framed pictures mounted on the walls near the door.

"Hey, Carter," he says, when she's finally off the phone.

"Hi, sir," she says. She hasn't really seen him since they sat together with her father, and everything feels out of sync, somehow.

"We, uh." Jack rubs at his temple and sighs. He looks vaguely uncomfortable. "We need to talk."

He looks at Pete as he wants him to leave. Pete just looks at him and puts his arm around Sam. She feels the craziest impulse to push his arm away, but she resists it. "What's up, sir?"

Jack glances at Pete again and then back to her. He clearly doesn't want to have this conversation. "It's about the Tok'ra," he says. "Malek and some of the other folks on the council came to see me yesterday. About your dad."

"I told him I was handling the arrangements," she says.

"Yeah," Jack says. He draws the word out reluctantly. "And that's a problem. Because I kind of get where they're coming from, here. Jacob knew a lot, Carter. About the Tok'ra and the US military, both. We can't take the chance that the Goa'uld might get their hands on him. And the way the Tok'ra handle things, well, it's the safest thing."

"You gotta be kidding me," Pete says.

Jack ignores him, looking at Sam instead. "I need you to think carefully about this, Carter," he says. "I know you want him to be with your mother. I get that, believe me. But the Tok'ra are really pushing for this, and... okay, you know how I feel about those guys, but I feel like they have a point. Do you really want to put your dad and Selmak in a civilian cemetery and take the chance that one day the Goa'uld might try to take him?"

"Hey, wait a minute," Pete says. "Sam had one of those things too." Her experience with Jolinar was one of the things Sam had told Pete when he got his full clearance--not in detail, because she didn't mention Martouf or Sokar or anything else remotely personal, but she told him enough to help him understand the Tok'ra before he met her father. "Are they gonna want to do that to Sam when she--"

"Will you just stop?" Sam snaps. She isn't sure which one of them she's talking to, maybe both, because they're both talking at her or about her and not letting her get a word in and it's pissing her off. But at least they're both quiet, for the moment, anyway. "I know why the Tok'ra do what they do, sir, and I get that, but it's not going to be an issue. I'm arranging to have him cremated, like my mom. A sarcophagus is going to be useless."

"Carter--"

"Are you going to order me to do it, sir?"

Now Jack looks really uncomfortable, and Sam feels vaguely guilty about it, but somehow that just makes her mad. "I'd rather not," he says.

Pete bristles. "Hey, you can't just--"

"Actually, I can," Jack blurts, "because it's a matter of national security and affects diplomatic relations with an allied race, but I don't want to."

"Then don't," Pete says.

"Enough!" Sam stands, angry and frustrated. She's so tired of this; she doesn't appreciate Jack pulling rank in her personal affairs, and she doesn't appreciate Pete trying to fight her battles for her. It's almost offensive. "I'm done talking about this, sir. I've made my decision."

Jack sighs, slow and careful. "We'll talk tomorrow, Carter." Thankfully he doesn't add when you're thinking more clearly, but she knows he's thinking it. She bites back--with extreme difficulty--a retort that could get her in real trouble and nods shortly, instead.

"Yes, sir."

He leaves and Sam resists the urge to punch something.

"He shouldn't talk to you like that," Pete says, when the door closes behind Jack.

"Don't," Sam says warningly.

"What? I'm just saying, he doesn't have any business talking to you like that, telling you what to do. You're not at work."

"You don't understand," Sam says.

"Why are you even defending him?" Pete's honestly confused, and maybe Sam is a little, too, which pisses her off. "It's your father, your family, your business."

"Yes," she says. "It is my business." She's had it now, sick of talking about it, and she turns and goes in her bedroom and closes the door before she says something she'll regret.

*****

When she comes out in the early morning, the house is empty. Pete's left her a note on the kitchen counter by the phone, an apology. She leaves it there while she makes coffee and takes something for the headache that's lurking behind her eyes.

Sam's either been offworld or on base for most of the last few weeks, and her house has somehow managed to make itself into a mess in her absence. It's too early to be awake and too late to go back to sleep, so she cleans the bathrooms and empties the fridge and strips her bed and scrubs the grout behind the sink with an old toothbrush and it is just boring enough to keep her mind off of everything else for a few hours.

Her phone rings a little after nine. It's Jack.

"Sir," she says, instead of hello. She holds the phone with one hand and keeps scrubbing the grout with the other. It will help with the frustration she is sure will result from this conversation.

"Listen, Carter, I've been thinking," he says, and Sam knows it's the closest to an apology she's going to get from him, ever. "I know a guy on the staff at Arlington, used to work with the Stargate program, so I gave him a call."

"Okay," she says, and tamps down annoyance that he's still meddling.

"And I talked to Malek again."

"Sir, I already told you--"

"Oh for cryin' out loud, Carter, just let me explain," Jack says, with an edge to his voice. "I didn't obligate you to anything, I didn't decide anything for you, I didn't tell anybody you'd do anything. I'm just trying to find you some options, so hear me out, okay?"

"Yes, sir."

"Thank you." He sounds tired. "Malek says he thinks that if the cremated remains are split and at least forty percent are vaporized in the Tok'ra way, then the rest should be impossible to revive with a sarcophagus, but he's not a hundred percent sure, so a civilian cemetery is out. Not secure enough. But Arlington is as secure as it gets, and if you want to have your mom moved there with him, it can be arranged."

"Oh," she says, and stops scrubbing.

"If you want," he says. "And he's entitled to full military honors if you want them."

"Well, yeah," she says. She thinks her father would have wanted that.

"I'll give you his information," Jack says, and she reaches for a pen and paper. "If you want to call him, he's there all day today. Just think about it, okay?"

"I'll think about it." It's a good option, actually, and she's kicking herself for not thinking of it own her own. Daniel probably would have thought about it, if he was here, but he isn't and it's one of those times it's obvious what a gaping space there is without him. She hesitates. "Thank you, sir."

"You bet, Carter," he says quietly.

*****

The Tok'ra rites are first, both because they like it to be quick and because things at Arlington take a little longer to arrange, though not nearly as long as it would have taken if Jack hadn't called in a favor. Pete offers to go with her, but while he can know most things about the program, he's not cleared for actual gate travel, so he can't go. Sam is relieved, because there's no question that Teal'c and Jack are going, and she doesn't want a repeat of what happened in her living room. Ever, actually, but especially not today.

She wears her dress uniform, and so does Jack; Teal'c wears a dark suit but without the hat he would have worn on Earth. They gate to the newest Tok'ra homeworld and Sam carefully carries the small container with a portion of her father's and Selmak's remains. She holds it while a few Tok'ra put together the pyre-like structure that will put the container on the level of the vortex, but when the time comes for her to pass it to the member of the High Council charged with placing it there, she freezes.

"I can't," she whispers.

The officiating council member isn't Malek, but another Tok'ra that Jolinar knew and liked and her father spoke highly of. "We will take care of him," he says quietly, and Sam knows he means it, but now that it's time for her to physically let go of her father, it's next to impossible.

Somehow, Teal'c knows the right thing to do. It's like he has some sense of exactly when to speak and exactly when to watch and listen, a sense of timing that no one else quite seems to have. "Please allow me, Colonel Carter," he says in his low voice, and when he places his hands on the container she finds she can finally let go of it. Teal'c passes it to the officiant with a deep bow of respect and then steps back beside her, a little closer than before.

There is some singing which Sam doesn't understand. Teal'c translates softly and she realizes that recounts the story of how Jacob came to know about the Tok'ra, how he and Selmak made the choice to be blended. She feels a stab of guilt, then, because if she'd had her way she would have been completely disregarding Selmak's role in her father's life, disregarding what Selmak's wishes might have been; Selmak had never been anything but kind to her, and it was his persistence that pushed her father into making things right with her and Mark.

It was a good compromise, she realizes.

"We do not surrender, even in death," says the officiant, as Teal'c translates, though Sam knows these words by now. "You will not be forgotten."

The gate activates and the vortex disintegrates the container and the scaffolding that holds it, and Sam feels a kind of relief.

One down, one to go.

*****

The next ceremony is three days later, at Arlington. Despite being on Earth, it's more of a logistical nightmare than simply gating to another planet. Mark and his family are coming from California, Pete is traveling with her from Colorado, and Teal'c and Jack are coming as well. Sam and Pete book a commercial flight that leaves a day earlier than the others. When the stewardess comes around with the beverage cart Sam orders vodka and orange juice because she realizes she doesn't really like flying anymore when she's just a passenger.

"Mark doesn't know about the Stargate," Sam tells Pete as she finishes her drink. "So don't mention any of that. He thinks I'm studying deep space radar telemetry and dad's been doing consulting work for the Air Force since he retired."

"Oh," Pete says. "That doesn't seem right."

"It's the way it is," Sam says. "So don't mention the Tok'ra."

"I wasn't planning on it."

Sam leans back against the seat and tries to get some sleep. It doesn't work.

They meet Mark and Allison and the kids early that morning for breakfast; the service isn't until the afternoon. Mark's kids are growing fast and Sam almost doesn't recognize them at first. Then they call her "Aunt Samantha!" and the oldest wants to see her engagement ring and the middle one attaches himself to Pete's leg. Mark hasn't seen Pete in a while, and they take the time to catch up. They talk about sports and Pete's latest case and Allison asks Sam if she and Pete are planning to have kids any time soon.

"You're not getting younger," Allison points out, settling the baby in her lap, "so don't wait too long."

Sam suddenly loses her appetite for breakfast.

*****

It's hot at Arlington that afternoon, and very humid. There's a little breeze that makes things tolerable, but when the service starts the breeze withers away to nothing and the air is heavy and cloying. There's also very little shade in this part of the cemetery, and Sam's dark uniform just soaks up the heat of the sun. She sits there between Mark and Pete and though she's been a part of dozens of military funerals, this one feels so wrong to her because it's not where she's used to being.

She's used to being with her team.

Teal'c and Jack are in the row behind her, though, and knowing that helps a little. She lets most of the ceremony wash right by her, not quite giving everything her full attention because she thinks that's the only way she'll be able to get through the entire thing without losing it. It's a moderately sucessful strategy. The ceremony is quick and efficient, as Arlington funerals are on a strict timetable, and everything is flawlessly executed until it comes time to present the flag. Mark is the older sibling, so by protocol it should be presented to him, but the military chaplain kneels before her, instead of Mark.

She can't breathe.

"On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of Major General Jacob Carter," the chaplain says, presenting the flag to her, and she can't tell him to give it to Mark without disrupting everything so she just accepts it automatically.

For one long, panicky moment, she thinks that might be the thing that breaks her. It would probably be appropriate for her to acknowledge the chaplain's words with at least a thank you, but the words stick in her throat and she can't speak. She hears Mark say it instead. The blue of the folded flag blurs with the blue of her uniform and she squeezes her eyes shut before the blur turns to worse.

Sam hears the rustle of people getting up, filing out of the rows of chairs, but she can't move. She just needs a minute to pull herself together. Pete hovers nearby, uncertain.

"You okay?" he asks.

"I just need a minute," she says.

"Okay," Pete says. "I'm just going to go over here with Mark. We'll wait for you."

She's glad when he walks away because it's easier to pull it together when no one's looking. But when she opens her eyes, the long shadow on the grass tells her that Jack is standing there, even before she looks up.

"Okay, Carter," he says, not quite briskly. His voice is a little rough. "On your feet. Time to go."

It's reflex and habit that gets her out of her seat when he says it, kind of a kick in the pants that gets her moving even though she doesn't want to. She stands, holding the folded flag tightly, and looks at him. "It was a good option, sir," she says. "The Air Force was his life for a long time. He would have wanted this." The more she talks, the stronger her voice sounds, even if she doesn't really feel it on the inside.

"Yeah, it was," Jack says. He frowns a little and reaches inside his uniform coat for his sunglasses, slipping them on against the hot afternoon sun. They're mirrored, and she can't see his eyes anymore. It makes it harder to read his expression than it normally is. "Go home, Carter. Take some time." He reaches out to squeeze her shoulder, just the briefest gesture before he drops his hand again; then he's crossing the grass to rejoin Teal'c and Pete is coming back to meet her.

*****

Jack and Teal'c go straight back to Colorado, because Jack has to get back to the mountain before SG-3 gets back from their latest mission, but Sam and Pete stay behind and have dinner with Mark and Allison. It's not really a wake, because it's just them, but Sam supposes it serves the same purpose. Now that the funeral is over, the mood lightens some, and because the wedding is only a few weeks away the conversation naturally gravitates in that direction. Pete seems to know more about the wedding plans than she does, because he's the one answering all the questions while Sam makes her way through a bottle of wine. It's not even very good wine, but it helps her get through the conversation, and that's the important thing.

"So, do I get to give you away now?" Mark asks.

"Of course," Pete says, at the same time that Sam says, "I don't think so."

There's an awkward silence, which Mark is the first to break. "Why not?"

"Because Dad was going to do it, and it's so soon it feels like replacing him," she says. "I'd rather just walk down the aisle alone."

"Oh," Mark says, and he looks a little hurt. "Well, okay, whatever you want, sis. It's your wedding."

It's her wedding, all right, and she feels a little like she doesn't care about it anymore.

She says goodbye to her brother and sister-in-law outside the restaurant after dinner, and she and Pete go back to their hotel room. Their flight leaves early in the morning, and Sam is tired.

"Are you okay, Sam?" Pete asks, sitting on the edge of their bed while Sam brushes her teeth and washes her face.

"I'm fine," she mumbles around her toothbrush.

"Okay," he says doubtfully. "It's just... when Mark and Allison were talking about the wedding, you seemed kind of..."

"I'm just tired," she says, before he can finish that sentence with something damning.

"Two funerals in a week," Pete says quickly, seizing the excuse with stunning speed. "And your friend Daniel is still missing. It's a lot for anybody. You just need to rest, decompress."

"Yeah," she says. "And then I'll be me again."

"I love you," Pete says hopefully.

"I love you, too," she replies. It's not quite a lie, she tells herself later when Pete's asleep. They'd been curled together, spoon-fashion, but when Pete fell asleep Sam slid out from under his arm and towards the other side of the bed, putting some space between them. She does love him, in a way. He's a good man, she knows; he's good at his job and works hard at it and it's painfully obvious he wants to do whatever he can to make her happy.

But Pete's idea of the things that should make her happy, and the things that actually make her happy, don't exactly line up anymore. Maybe they never really did.

You can still have everything you want.

Except maybe not.

*****

When they get back to Colorado Springs, she has her final fitting for her wedding dress. It's a lovely dress, long and simple, elegant without being frilly or fluffy, and it looks good on her. But she's standing there in front of the full-length mirrors watching the seamstress make a tiny adjustment to the hem and she doesn't recognize herself at all.

This person in the mirror in the white dress isn't the person she wants to be.

Pete's a good guy, and they're pretty good together, but she's never settled for pretty good in any other part of her life--why would she do that with the most personal part of her life, the part that's supposed to be forever? If she goes through with this wedding, she's going to be miserable and eventually so will Pete. They both deserve better.

And the sooner she does something about it, the better for them both.

"I'm sorry," Sam says. "I have to go."

"I'm not finished, dear," the seamstress says, putting more tiny pins in the hem. "Just a little bit more and we're done."

"I know, I'm sorry, but there's something I have to do." She goes back in the other room to change, leaving the seamstress sputtering and confused in front of the mirrors.

*****

It's the worst possible conversation. Sam hates every minute of it, and she feels a twist of guilt when Pete says he hopes she gets what she wants. She hasn't really been fair to him, and she knows it. But as much as it hurts now, it would have been a million times worse if they'd gone through with the wedding and then had their marriage fall apart.

"Bye, Sam," Pete says, and when he walks past the realtor's sign in the yard, he pulls off the red SOLD strip sticking to the top so that it says FOR SALE again.

She sits there a little longer on the bench in the yard of the house they were going to share, and then she gets in her car and drives away without looking back. She goes straight to the base, changes into the spare BDUs she keeps in her locker, and goes to her lab. It feels good to be back there, and the first thing she does is submit a request to cancel the leave she'd requested for the wedding and honeymoon. It only takes a minute to do electronically. There's a little stab of guilt at it, and she knows there will be more when she actually gets to the nuts and bolts business of cancelling everything else involved with the wedding--caterer, musicians, florist, and probably other things she can't think of at the moment--but she's not going to let it get her down.

The next little while is taken up with trying to catch up on the emails and memos and reports that have accumulated in her absence. She loses a little track of time in this and doesn't realize how much until she hears footsteps in the hallway that slow and then stop in her door.

"Carter?"

"Sir."

Jack hovers in the doorway a little and shrugs. He has a paper in his hands, but she can't see what it is. "What are you doing here? I thought I told you to take some time off."

"I've had enough time away, sir," she says. "I'd like to get back to work."

"Uh huh." He looks at her for a minute, like he's trying to decide what to say and how to say it, and finally crosses over to her workspace and slides the paper onto the countertop beside her computer. "I just got this notification you'd cancelled your leave request."

"Yes, sir." She hadn't expected him to see it this soon, and she hadn't planned on actually breaking the news to anyone this quickly. She hasn't even called Mark yet.

He waits for her to explain, and when she doesn't, he frowns a little, drumming his fingers on the countertop. "You want to tell me why you don't need this leave anymore?" he asks.

Sam would have thought that it would have been obvious, and that he could fill in the blanks for himself, but he's either genuinely clueless or deliberately obtuse because he clearly wants it spelled out for him. "Because there isn't going to be a wedding," she says.

"No?"

"No."

"I see."

"It wasn't... we weren't going to work out," she explains. "So I broke it off." But she doesn't say more than that, because she remembers the last time she tried to explain to Jack how she really felt and it hadn't gone that well and thinks it's better to just let it go.

"Ah."

"So I don't need the time off, sir."

"Right." He's still drumming his fingers on the countertop, watching her, and then he picks up the printout of her leave cancellation request. "Well, if you change your mind..."

"I won't, sir," she says.

"Okay." Jack looks like he wants to say something else, or he's expecting her to say something else--she can't tell, and she doesn't want to try to work out which it is--but when neither of them actually say anything else he nods and leaves, taking the paper with him.

He's hardly gone a few minutes before there's an announcement about an unscheduled offworld activation and she heads down on the off chance that it's Daniel. She knows it's more likely not, but she still hopes--and she's right, it's not Daniel, because when she gets to the briefing room Teal'c is telling Jack that the Jaffa guarding Dakara have fallen to Anubis and that he's got control of the weapon.

Jack wants to blow it up, a response Sam could have predicted, but more than likely Anubis has the gate shielded and nothing will get through. If they dial the Alpha site, it could buy them a little time--Jack gives her the go, but by the time she tells Walter, there's already an incoming wormhole blocking them from dialing.

Walter closes the iris. "That's not going to stop the energy from the weapon," Sam says.

"If it is the weapon," Jack says.

They're too late.

Jack orders the self-destruct set, and when Sam tells him it won't destroy the gate and probably won't disengage the wormhole, he just cuts her off, which usually irritates her but it doesn't now because what else are they supposed to do? Just sit there and wait for the energy to come through? They're dead either way. The least they can do is take the miniscule chance that the self-destruct can prevent the energy coming through the wormhole from destroying everyone else on the planet.

So they set it, and then they wait.

The timer rolls on down toward detonation, while they just wait--what else is there to do?--and then the numbers freeze at a little over a minute. They just stop, which as far as Sam knows isn't even possible, and the wormhole disengages.

"What's going on?" she asks, to no one in particular, because she's perfectly capable of reading everything in front of her.

Walter looks bewildered. "I don't know, it must be some kind of… system malfunction," he says.

"That's impossible," she says, because it is.

"Shut it off," Jack says, and Sam can't type in her code fast enough. The self-destruct is aborted.

But Sam doesn't have a clue what just happened.

 

*****

After Daniel comes back, things make a little more sense. Sam had thought Daniel had something to do with stopping Anubis, but apparently he didn't. He tells them (after getting some clothes) about his almost-Ascension and Oma and Anubis and Sam thinks it's kind of a neat, tidy resolution to the Anubis situation, convenient in a way that worries her a little, but it's what they have. Daniel's back, Anubis is gone, and things feel... finished.

Complete, even.

SG-1 doesn't have any important missions on the schedule, other than visits to a few of the worlds formerly controlled by Anubis, to check on the Jaffa there and see how they're adjusting to their newly-won freedom, so there's a lot of downtime. Teal'c is away a lot, meeting with Bra'tac and the newly formed Jaffa High Council and trying to help shape the direction of the new goverment. Daniel falls into research on the Ancients, driven by his latest experience with Ascension. And Sam rattles around her lab, finishing up old projects but lacking the attention to start anything new. It's quiet around the base now that the few remaining Goa'uld are no serious threat and there's little to do.

The day before what would have been her wedding, she sees a posting for a new director of research and development at Area 51. The position not only involves research and testing of alien artifacts brought back from other worlds, but it also involves oversight of the development and design of new ships and weapons and associated technologies, and Sam can't deny that it's intriguing. There's a part of her that feels like this part of her life is finished, and maybe it's time for her to move onto something else--as much as she loves SG-1, and having the command, she misses having the time and space to design and create and analyze, doing the work she's really good at, and this position seems like it's tailor-made for her.

So she sends a few emails, makes a few phone calls, just testing the waters to see what the position might be like. The more she hears, the more she likes, and she decides to apply.

But before she can do that, she has to go through proper procedures and clear it with her commanding officer, which means she has to talk to Jack.

*****

Sam tries three times to catch him in his office for a talk. The first time, he's not even in his office and Walter doesn't know when he'll be back. The second time, he's in an emergency meeting with representatives from P27-909 who are requesting humanitarian aid due to a planet-wide famine, and the third time she's hardly in the door all the way before there's a phone call for Jack from the President and she has to scoot right back out again.

She misses the times when she saw him pretty much every day at work, whether they were on a mission together or he just dropped by her lab with what seemed like the express purpose of annoying her. He doesn't call her and tell her he's making omelets with beer, they don't have stupid bets to see who can finish a crossword puzzle the fastest, he doesn't invite her to go fishing, and they rarely even end up in the commissary at the same time. She misses all those things at the same time she wonders when things got so weird that they can't even talk about work at work.

The fourth time she tries to talk to him, she catches him in the corridor outside his office, with a stack of papers in one hand and a coffee cup in the other. "Sir," she says, jogging a little to catch up with him. "I need to talk to you, if you have a minute."

"Sure, Carter. Come on in." He goes in his office and plops the papers carelessly into the in-tray as he sits at his desk. "What's up?"

"I want to apply for a transfer, sir," she blurts, before she even sits down, before she can talk herself out of it.

Jack had been in the middle of picking up the coffee cup to drink from it; he stops with the cup about halfway to his mouth, waits, and then puts the cup on the desk. He frowns at the cup and sticks his finger in it like there's a hair or a speck of something floating on top of his coffee, then wipes his hand on his pants. "A transfer, you say?" he asks, still looking at the cup. He doesn't seem at all surprised.

"Yes, sir. There's a position opening up to lead R&D at Area 51 and I'd like to apply for it." Sam clasps her hands behind her back and makes herself not fidget. She thinks this conversation would be easier, in a lot of ways, if it was General Hammond behind this desk and not General O'Neill.

"I saw the posting," he says. "I thought you'd probably be interested."

"Yes, sir." She waits, and he doesn't say anything or look at her, and she gives up on making herself not fidget. "I like being in command of a team, sir, but I miss research, and it would give me more regular hours... I could see Cassie more, you know she's had a hard time since Janet died..."

Jack looks up at her, finally. "You don't have to justify anything, Carter," he says quietly. "You'd get your hands on every piece of tech that comes through that gate and turn it all into more cool stuff than those geeks out there could ever even dream of. It's the perfect job for you, and if they don't pick you they're all a bunch of idiots."

Sam's not sure what she expected his reaction to be. She didn't think he'd actually disapprove, not really, but there's a little part of her that maybe expected him to treat her request the way he treats Daniel's constant requests to be allowed to go to Atlantis, and she's not sure how to feel about the fact that he agreed so quickly to let her go.

"Oh," she says.

"Something wrong, Carter?" he asks.

"No, sir, I just..." She stops, because he's looking at her the way he looked at her on the back porch of his house, right before Kerry Johnson came out and Sam wanted the earth to just open up and swallow her whole, and she doesn't even know what to make of that look. "Nevermind."

"Okay." He nods a little, pushes his coffee cup away, and reaches for the folder on top of the pile in his in-tray. It's pretty clear, as dismissals go. "Then I guess you have some paperwork to do."

*****

It doesn't take them long to call her for an interview, and they offer her the job so quickly it almost feels like they're pouncing on her. She's in her lab when she gets the call, and when she hangs up the phone she just sits there for a minute, basking in the opportunity for something new and different and exciting. It's a little like all those years ago when she learned she'd be going through the gate for the first time, the rush of experiencing the unknown, and that feeling reassures her that she's doing the right thing because she hasn't felt that rush in a while.

"Hey, Carter."

She jumps, startled, because she'd been so caught up in the phone call she hadn't seen him there. "Sir," she says, and he waves at her before she has the chance to get up. "Sorry, I didn't realize..."

"Not a problem," he says, and makes a vague, dismissive gesture. "I was going to ask if you'd heard from Area 51, but you're doing that beaming thing you do so I guess I don't really need to ask if you got the job."

Sam feels herself flush and she stammers a little. "Well, yes sir, they just did," she says, and she wishes she wasn't so compulsively organized so there would be some piles of paper or something on her workspace she could reach for to give herself something to do with her hands. "I got the job." She can't help but grin, even though things have been so weird between them, because she's excited about the possibilities the future holds now.

"Congratulations, Carter," Jack says. "I knew you'd get it. Well, I didn't know, know," he amends, frowning a little. "I just knew they'd be stupid not to pick you. You're gonna be brilliant." He clears his throat and drums his fingers on the countertop. "When do you start?"

"Um..." She thinks back to the conversation, trying to remember the details that have blurred a little in her excitement. Thankfully there will be follow up emails. "A month from now. It should give you plenty of time to find someone else to lead SG-1, sir."

"Yeah. About that." He stops drumming his fingers on the countertop and shoves his hands in his pockets. "Thing is, it's not actually going to be my problem."

"Sir?"

"General Hammond is retiring from Homeworld Security," he says, and Sam immediately understands where this is going.

"You're going to replace him, sir," she says. "In Washington."

"Yep."

"So, a promotion," she says, and she's proud of him. For all that he complains that he doesn't want to be in charge of anything, he's done a good job as commander of the SGC, and he deserves it as much as General Hammond deserves his well-earned retirement. "Congratulations, sir. That's great."

"Yeah," he said, then frowned. "More paperwork, though."

Sam laughs because he sounds so depressed by this, almost petulant. "Well, yes, sir, I'm sure that's part of the job," she says.

"And I'm probably not going to get to go through the gate so much anymore," he says. "I mean, I don't get to go a lot anymore, but I got to go sometimes, and this is... you know. Far away."

"I'm sure there will be situations where you'll be needed to go offworld, sir," she says. Jack O'Neill is the only person she knows who can make promotion sound like demotion. "Diplomatic contacts, high-level negotiations, that sort of thing. Maybe you'll even get to check things out in Atlantis."

"True, true."

"When do you go to Washington?"

"It'll be a while," he says. "Not really official yet... depends on when Hammond leaves, you know. And they haven't decided who's taking over here, so..." He shifts a little and pulls a piece of paper from his pocket, a paper that's folded up into a little square. "I was thinking," he says, "that now that things are kind of quiet around here, it would be a good time to take some leave, before I start this thing in Washington. I thought about going up to the cabin, get in some fishing. Might not get a chance for a while."

"Oh," she says, and wonders why he's telling her this.

"I'm gonna go tell Teal'c and Daniel here in a little bit about this whole promotion thing," he says. "And then suggest that maybe you three could come up for the weekend or something. For old time's sake."

It's a nice idea, she thinks. The four of them just hanging out for the weekend, kind of like they used to do now and then when they were still teaching Teal'c about things like shopping malls and fast-food restaurants and the steak place downtown. "I think it's a good idea, sir," she says.

"Maybe do a little fishing," he adds.

"Of course."

He taps the little folded square of paper on the countertop, turning it in his fingers. "I was also thinking I'd go up a little early," he says. "Haven't been there in a while. Probably need to air the place out, dust or something. Can't have Daniel sneezing the whole time or anything."

She smiles a little. "No, we can't," she says.

"So, if you get bored or anything, and you're in the neighborhood sometime that week, you could always just... I don't know. Stop by." Jack slides the folded paper across the countertop to her. "I mean, if you want."

She looks at it for a minute, then picks it up and unfolds it. It's an address and directions, which she assumes are directions to his cabin. The backwoods of Minnesota aren't exactly in the neighborhood, but she gets what he means.

And she isn't sure how she feels about that. It's not like he's never invited her to come up before, but it feels different now.

Sam folds the paper back into a square and slips it into the pocket of her shirt. "Should I call first?" she asks, thinking of the last time she showed up at his house unannounced.

He winces a little--not much, but just enough that she catches it for one brief second before he shakes his head. "Nah," he says. He looks a little uncomfortable, and crosses his arms over his chest. "There's not... I'm not inviting anybody else," he says.

She thinks she gets the idea. "I see," she says.

"Or, you know, you could just come up with Teal'c and Daniel," he says, and he looks a little like he's suddenly not sure about all this. "Or whenever. It's up to you, Carter."

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, then." Jack claps his hands together and takes a deep breath. "I'm just... gonna go talk to Daniel."

"And Teal'c," she reminds him.

"Yes, and Teal'c," he says, and makes a vague motion in the direction of Daniel's office before making a hasty exit.

*****

Sam carries the little paper around in her pocket for a few days while she tries to decide what to do. It's not a question of whether she's going, it's just a matter of when. She's not even entirely sure what he meant when he told her she could come up early, and she doesn't know if it's going to be a couple of days of two people in the same house awkwardly avoiding each other until the cavalry arrives, or maybe he's trying to make up for the absolute disaster that was that day in his backyard, or something else all together. Or maybe he was just kidding, in that kind of sometimes-inappropriate way he has, and he didn't really mean it because he knows she won't do it anyway, because when has she ever accepted one of his offers to to fishing with him?

It's driving her a little nuts.

Monday morning, she gets to the base and Jack's not there. She realizes then that he really wasn't kidding about going up early, and if he wasn't kidding about going up early, then he probably wasn't kidding about the invitation to join him. If she wanted.

So she books a flight to Minneapolis that leaves first thing in the morning.

She finds Daniel in his office later that day, half-hidden behind a stack of books she's pretty sure have to do with the Ancients. It's all he ever reads anymore. "Hey, Daniel," she says.

Daniel finishes what he's reading and then reaches for one of the little bookmarks he has, the ones made out of special acid-free paper that won't rot the pages of his fragile books. "Hey," he says, finally looking up. "What's up?"

She's concocted this story sometime in the last half hour, and she thinks she can make it stick. "Oh, not much. I just wanted to tell you that I got a really good deal on a ticket for this trip to General O'Neill's place, but to get it I have to leave a little earlier, so I think I'm going to go on up and go to that big mall that's in Minnesota, you know, the one that takes like three days to get all the way through, and then I'll just meet you at his place because I know Teal'c doesn't get back from Dakara till Thursday night, right?"

Daniel looks at her skeptically. "But you hate shopping," he says.

"Well, yeah," she says, and laughs a little. "But, you know, why not?"

"Uh-huh." Daniel crosses his arms and leans back in his chair a little and looks at her, and it hits her just how much she's going to miss him when she's out in Nevada. He smiles a little and nods, slowly. "Well, okay. Have fun, and don't, um... shop too much."

She's going to miss him a lot.

*****

Sam rents a car at the airport in Minneapolis and drives the rest of the way, following the directions he's scrawled down on the little folded paper. It's not a bad drive, but it's long enough that it gives her plenty of time to think, enough that by the time she makes the turn onto the gravel road that leads to the cabin she's just about talked herself out of the whole thing.

But she doesn't turn around and leave, and when she pulls up in the driveway, Jack's in the front yard with a pair of post hole diggers and some stained wood fencing spread across the grass. He waves when he sees her drive up, but he doesn't stop what he's doing, so she parks the car, kills the engine, and walks across the grass to meet him.

"Hey, Carter," he says, and grins, stabbing the post hole diggers into the ground and leaning his elbows against it. He's wearing work gloves, jeans and a flannel shirt over a t-shirt with a feed store logo on the front, and he looks like he's been out here a while. There is a neat line of evenly-spaced holes across the yard, which she assumes are for the fence posts.

"Hi, sir," she says.

"We're on vacation, Carter," he says. "You can drop the sir."

"Right." Habit makes her almost add sir to that, too, but she stops herself and looks at the fencing and the holes he's dug so far. "Need some help?"

"Yeah, if you want."

"I don't mind," she says. She's never had a problem with work of any kind.

He peels off the work gloves and shoves them in his back pocket. "You want to take your stuff in the house first?"

She does, actually, so they go and get her bag from the car and Jack shows her around the cabin. It's cozy and full of the kind of stuff Sam thinks is probably de rigueur for a cabin in the woods: a big, rustic fireplace, a mounted deer head on the wall, furniture that looks like it's made out of pieces of whole logs, patchwork quilts on the beds. "Living room, kitchen, dining room, bedroom, bedroom, bedroom, bathroom," he says, pointing. "There's another bedroom in the attic," he adds, with a look that she thinks means it used to be Charlie's, once upon a time. Sam puts her stuff in one of the smaller bedrooms and finds Jack in the kitchen, where he's digging around in a cabinet.

"You'll want these," he says, pulling out another pair of work gloves. They're well-used, and smaller than the ones he has in his pocket, and she realizes they were probably Sara's at some point. "You'll get blisters without them, trust me."

She takes the gloves and Jack pulls two beers from the fridge and they go back out into the yard. He only has one set of post hole diggers, so they take turns. Sam digs for a while, then she sips her beer while Jack has a turn, and then she digs again until the hole is deep enough that the handles won't open anymore, and then they move on to the next spot he's marked. It's not really work that's conducive to a lot of talking, Sam realizes--the ground is hard and it takes some effort, especially when first starting the hole, to sink the post hole diggers into the earth--so the conversation is mostly limited to him asking her about her flight and her drive up and if anything blew up at the base before she left. She doesn't really mind, though. It's nice to have a conversation with him that doesn't involve the possibility of imminent death or anything extremely personal.

By the time they've finished, the sun is dipping behind the trees and Sam's arms and shoulders ache a little from the unfamiliar work, but it's not unpleasant. "Hungry?" Jack asks. "We can go get something in town. Or I've got some burgers in the fridge we can throw on the grill."

"Let's stay here," she decides, because she's seen just how far away 'town' is and she's not eager to get back in the car right now after a few hours on a plane and a few more hours on the road.

"Sounds good," he says. They wash up at the sink in the kitchen and their elbows bump when they rinse the soap off their hands. It takes a couple of trips from the kitchen to the deck in back of the house to get everything they need; somehow, without talking about it, they've decided they're eating at the table on the deck instead of inside. Jack heats the grill and Sam finds some matches to light the little bug-repellent candles in colored glass jars--olive green, yellow, and orange--that line the rickety deck railing. There's nothing else for her to do then, while she waits for Jack to finish grilling the burgers, so she takes her beer and wanders down the few steps to the back yard to look around. It's getting dark, so she can't see much, but once her eyes adjust to being away from the light of the house she sees the little pier stretching out into the pond and the dark shapes of the trees across the water.

"This is nice," she says, coming back up on the deck.

He grins a little, obviously pleased. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," she says. And it is. It's not really her idea of an ideal vacation spot--not that she ever really does vacations--but it's homey and honest and completely unpretentious, and she can see why Jack likes it so much. She has a feeling it's going to grow on her.

They eat their burgers off paper plates stuck into wicker paper-plate-holders, and Sam thinks it's probably the best burger she's ever had. She's hungrier than she thought she was. They take a few minutes to clear everything away, afterward, and just sit on the deck in folding chairs for a while. Sam finishes her beer and looks up at the sky. It's clear and sprinkled with stars, and she thinks it's funny that for all the time she spends up there, she doesn't really sit down here on her own planet and look up very much. The fact that only a few of the star systems visible from Earth actually have planets with stargates on them is not really an excuse.

"I'm glad you came up, Carter," he says, and she hears the little rip of paper that tells her he's peeling the label off his bottle of beer.

"Me, too," she says.

"I wasn't sure if you would," he adds.

"Really?" This surprises her a little, and she looks over at him. There's a bit of space between their chairs, with a little table with one of the bug-repellent candles on it, but he's close enough that she can see him pretty clearly. "Why?"

"You never have before," he says.

"Things are different now," she says.

"Yeah," he says. "They are."

Jack gets up then and goes into the house, coming back with one more beer for both of them. He tells her about how this used to be his grandfather's cabin and how he used to come up here as a kid and stay for weeks in the summer when school was out, how it was where he learned how to swim and fish and shoot and how he and his grandfather had built the deck and then Jack had to rebuild it again after Charlie was born because it had gotten too weathered and he was afraid it would fall in if they stepped on it.

Sam likes these stories. Sometimes she thinks Jack knows more about her than she knows about him. He's just talking, and it's not the kind of talking that requires her to talk back. It's weirdly relaxing. She puts her empty bottle on the deck beside her chair and leans back, closing her eyes and just listening.

A little while later she realizes he's stopped talking, and that at some point, she nodded off a little. She looks over at him and he grins. "You fell asleep," he says, and from the tone of his voice she thinks he dozed off a little too.

"Yeah," she says. "Sorry."

"Nah, it's late." He nods to the cluster of beer bottles on the picnic table. "And we had a few beers."

"A few?" she laughs, and he does too, and she's not sure if she can ever remember hearing him actually laugh before.

"Something like that," he says.

Sam yawns and stretches. "I should go to bed," she says, and when she stands up so does Jack. She's a little wobbly on her feet--she got up too quickly, she thinks--and he touches her arm, steadying her. Her hand curls around his arm, a reflex, and there's soft flannel and lean muscle under her fingers.

"Careful," he says, and there's something about his voice that's low and concerned and it makes her heart race, makes something flash across her senses like summer lightning. It's far from the first time she's had that reaction to him, but it's the first time she doesn't immediately shut it down because it's the first time it might actually be okay to feel it.

"I'm okay," she says.

"You sure?"

"Yeah." She uncurls her fingers from his arm and she has to shut it down, finally, because it's something she's had to do for so long she doesn't know how not to yet.

"Okay." Jack lets go, then, and she realizes this is all difficult for him, too. "I'm gonna just--"

"Me too," she says, and retreats to the little bedroom she's claimed for her own. But sleep doesn't come easily, because she can't stop thinking about the what ifs and the maybes.

She's never really allowed herself to think about them before, but she does now.

*****

Sam is up early, despite a restless night's sleep and a little too much beer, early enough that the sky is only a faint gray through the little gap in the curtains. It's too early to really be awake, even for her, but she has to get up and go to the bathroom if she wants any chance of actually being able to go back to sleep. Jack probably isn't up, so she doesn't bother to pull anything on top of the thin tank top and pajama pants she likes to sleep in. No point, when she's just going right back to sleep.

And she doesn't bother to really wake up, either, which is why she bumps into Jack right at the bathroom door.

"Oh my God, I'm sorry," she says, as Jack squints at her, in a way that's a little lopsided and sleepy, and rubs at his hip where they've bumped into each other. His hair is sticking up all over his head and he isn't much more dressed than she is.

She resists the urge to cross her arms over her chest.

Jack makes a noise that's something like eh, donworryboutit, gestures for her to go first, and heads for the kitchen. Sam ducks into the bathroom and is in and out as quick as possible, though when she catches a glimpse of her hair in the bathroom mirror she can't help but try to tame it a little because it's a mess.

Oh well. It's not like he's never seen her covered in dirt, grease, or alien goop, slowly dissolving from the effects of an Goa'uld machine, half-frozen or looking like a drowned rat, so what's a little bed-head?

She's wide awake now, no point in trying to go back to sleep, so she wanders to the kitchen in search of coffee. But Jack's already started the coffeemaker, she realizes; she can smell it coming from the kitchen as they pass each other in the hall. He gives her shoulder a little poke as he passes and mutters something about "too damn early", and she giggles a little under her breath at how cranky he is.

While Jack's in the bathroom, she pokes around in the kitchen cabinets for sugar and coffee creamer. It takes her a little bit--she knows Jack likes his coffee black, while she likes to pour sugar in hers--but she finds them (nowhere near the coffee maker) and gets them out. Behind the little containers is a box of blue Jello, her favorite kind--not the kind in the little plastic cups, but the kind that comes in a box to be mixed up with water. She grins a little and pulls it out, too. It's a dusty little box, like it's been there a while, and the date stamped into the box is one that should really not be allowed on food in anybody's cabinet, ever, even if it's not much more than blue dye and sugar.

"You're not planning on dumping that in your coffee, are you, Carter?" Jack says when he comes back into the kitchen. He looks a little less squinty and a little more awake than he did when she bumped into him, and he's put on a t-shirt, but he still looks rumpled in an endearing kind of way.

"Oh, no," she says. "I'm just thinking you should clean out your cabinets more often or something. And you don't even like blue Jello."

"Nope," he says, and turns to poke around in the fridge. He mutters something else while he's in there, but she can't hear him because his head is mostly in the fridge.

"What?"

"Nothing." He straightens and closes the fridge, balancing a carton of eggs, a package of cheese, and a stick of butter in his hands.

"I just didn't hear what you said."

"Nothing," he says again. "I think I'll make omelets. Want an omelet, Carter? Except they'll be kind of boring. We drank most of the secret ingredient last night."

He's being deliberately evasive, which is not really typical--deflection with humor or shutting down the conversation with abrupt snappishness is more his style--and it's eating at her a little. "I just want to know what you said," she says, pushing a little.

"Drop it, Carter," he snaps, and it sounds a lot like his command voice, and she doesn't like it even a little bit.

"You can't do that," she says, feeling a hot flush of anger creep across her skin, and she knows the little tank top she's wearing won't hide any of it. It makes her feel exposed and defensive. "You can't just... ask me up here like I'm your friend, or--or-- or I don't know--whatever this is, and then turn around and start giving orders like we're in the field again. It's not fair."

There's a little muscle that twitches in his cheek, the way it does sometimes when things get tense, and then he carefully puts the eggs and cheese and butter on the countertop. He does this slowly, like he's thinking about what he wants to say even though he'd rather just blurt it out, and it takes a little bit. "I said I bought it the first time I asked you to come up," he says, his voice low. "That's all."

"Oh," she says. Everything gets a little soft and blurry around the edges and she turns away and puts the dusty little box on the countertop. It's stupid, all of this is stupid, and she doesn't know why this is choking her up because it's just an old box of Jello that's probably become a culture for all kinds of exotic bacteria and molds by now, but that's really not the point.

The point is that he actually meant all those invitations to come along, invitations that she never really took seriously because it was never really okay to take seriously (and to be honest, she's not entirely sure that it was okay to take it seriously this time), meant them enough that he'd bought the blue Jello she's always eating in the commissary even though he hates it, and she'd always blown him off. She's doubted him, a lot. Not professionally--in that, her faith in him was solid--but personally she'd doubted and questioned and wondered, and the years had worn things down and frayed them a little, but she realizes now that she shouldn't have. She thinks about all those times that he'd given her that look that was impossible to read, and she'd wished he'd give her something (a look, a word, anything) that would give her even a hint that he cared for her in some way other than just because she's his second in command, and now she thinks that he might not have wanted to give her anything when she kept shooting down the little bit he did.

So it's not the Jello she's crying over.

"Sam?" Jack says, in that same low voice, but that just makes it worse, and she can't turn around and look at him because she's being stupid, so she just shakes her head. It doesn't stop him from stepping behind her and sliding his arms around her and holding her close.

"I'm sorry," she whispers.

"Shh," he says, close to her ear. His breath is warm against her skin and she shivers, from the warmth and the closeness and the stupid tears that just won't stop. He puts his hands on her shoulders and gently nudges her to turn around and hold her close again, and she lets him, but she still can't stop, so he steers her over to the couch in the living room, and then it's like a dam bursts inside her, the kind of thing that's probably been building up ever since her father died, the kind of thing she was too wound up to allow herself. She couldn't stop it now if she tried. So she doesn't.

Jack, for his part, doesn't try to talk her down from the ledge or tell her it's okay or anything else. He doesn't say anything, really; he just holds her as close as she'll allow and rubs her back with a slow, soothing kind of motion, and at some point she feels his lips against her hair. Eventually, she runs out of steam; the crying kind of sputters out, except for the occasional hiccup, and she feels like there's not much left of her except a sniffling lump under the faded quilt Jack pulled over her shoulders.

"C'mere," he says, and leans back, stretching out on the couch. His legs are really too long for it, and hers are too, but she slides up alongside him and fits herself against him and somehow it works. If she wasn't so exhausted it would be the kind of thing that could maybe be promising, but she really doesn't want to do anything right now but lay there and let him trace a little pattern up and down her back. Eventually his hand slides into her hair, barely rubbing at her scalp, and she relaxes a little more, closing her eyes.

She wakes up a little while later with her face smushed against Jack's shoulder, which is a little uncomfortable, but that isn't what woke her (nor is it the fact that Jack is snoring a little).

It's the fact that something's burning.

"Jack," she hisses, shoving him a little to wake him, but he seems to have realized it at the same time as her and they scramble off the couch and into the kitchen, where there's a sizzling crust of burnt coffee merrily frying away at the bottom of the forgotten coffee pot. Sam yanks the plug from the wall and eases the ruined pot from the machine. "Aw, nuts."

Jack waves his hand in front of his nose at the smell. "Crap," he says, and then looks at the pile of omelet ingredients he left on the counter. The butter has softened and the cheese has taken on an unattractive, waxy sheen. "How long were we asleep?"

Sam glances at the clock by the telephone. "Three hours? Three and a half?" she guesses, and that sounds extravagant, but the first time around it really had been too early to be awake and functioning when the fate of the galaxy wasn't at stake; three hours later is somewhat more of a reasonable wake-up time for people on vacation. (And if she'd been up at a normal time to start with, maybe she wouldn't have spewed her emotions everywhere; but Jack's not mentioning it and she's glad because neither is she. She'd kind of like to forget it.)

"Crap," he says again, and scoops everything into the trash. "So much for omelets. I guess we're going into town?"

That's fine with Sam. She showers and gets dressed and then munches on a piece of toast while she waits for Jack to get out of the shower, because she's really hungry and it's kind of a drive into town. She doesn't bother to put on makeup and he doesn't bother to shave and while the scruffy look takes some getting used to, she likes it.

Jack takes her to a little diner right in the middle of town. He says he's been there a time or two but everyone seems to know him--they all call him Jack instead of General O'Neill--and Sam suspects he eats there every day whenever he comes to visit. When she gets her order, she can see why. It's not expensive, but there's a lot of food and it's good, and so is the coffee.

"You need a new coffee pot," she reminds him, so after breakfast (brunch, by this point) they walk across the street to a little secondhand store where Jack looks for a replacement pot to fit his coffee maker.

It's an interesting little store, full of gadgets and tools and sports equipment and odd bits of furniture, and Jack gets distracted for a while by some fishing gear until Sam reminds him what they're there for. There are replacement pots for coffee makers, but not for one as ancient as Jack's, and he grumbles. "You gotta be kidding me," he complains, poking at a pot that's clearly too big and the wrong shape for his machine.

"Why don't you just get a new coffee maker?" Sam suggests.

"Because those things are too damn complicated," he complains. "They have all these timers and buttons and crap to program, and by the time you figure it out the power goes out and nobody can find the on switch and all you wanted was a cup of coffee."

Sam snickers, because she can't figure out if he's doing his playing-dumb routine or if he genuinely can't figure out how to work a coffee maker. She strongly suspects the latter.

"You think I'm kidding, Carter," he says. "I'm serious. I like mine, it's easy. Coffee, water, on," he says, miming the actions of making coffee and flipping a switch. "Done. I don't need it to tie my shoes or send me to the moon or anything."

Sam cracks up for real, then, and it takes her a minute to get it together. He just looks sulky and threatens to go look at the fishing gear. But she calms down eventually and points out a coffee maker, still in the box, that has a minimal amount of functions. "I'll teach you how to use it," she promises, thinking she can probably rig it to bypass the timer altogether if it's really hopeless. "Look, it even still has the instructions." She takes them out of the box and waves them at him for emphasis.

"Fine," he says, and pays for the machine.

After that they go by the little grocery store on the corner, both because they ruined the breakfast food and because Teal'c will be here in a couple of days and he eats more than Sam, Jack, and Daniel put together. It's threatening to rain when they leave the store, grey clouds and a cool breeze sneaking in when they weren't looking, so they cram all the bags into the cab of the truck instead of putting them in the back.

By the time they get up to the cabin, it's pouring, thick sheets of rain obscuring visibility enough that Jack has to slow down a lot on the twisty back roads. They drag the groceries in from the truck in a few trips and they're soaked before they get everything inside. Sam's shoes are caked in mud. She leaves them by the door to deal with later and helps Jack put the groceries away.

She stretches up on her toes to put a box of cereal in the cabinet and when she turns around, Jack's watching her in a way she thinks maybe he didn't intend for her to see. It throws her a little, and she looks around for something else to put away, but they're finished. She leans against the counter behind her and sucks in a breath.

"Jack," she says. "What are we doing?" She's been wondering, ever since she decided to come up, but she didn't feel like she could ask before now.

"Dunno, Carter," he says. He steps a little closer, but he doesn't touch her. "Depends, I guess."

"On what?"

"What you want."

"Oh." She wipes her sweaty palms on her jeans, but it doesn't help because her clothes are soaked and getting chilly. "What do you want?" It seems safer to ask than to admit.

"You."

It's a simple answer, and she can tell he means it; there's something in his expression she never sees, something softer, like a little glimpse of what's behind the front he puts up. "Oh," she says again, a little shakier this time.

"We can keep it like this," Jack says carefully. "If you want. But..."

He hesitates, like he's considering it, and then he just steps right up to her and kisses her. Just like that. It's not insistent--more like an invitation than anything--but Sam's response is sure and immediate. She surges up to meet him, kissing him with an intensity that she didn't expect but welcomes anyway, and he's surprised enough to press her against the counter with a little groan when she does. "God, Sam," he says, and then he's kissing her with a kind of single-minded focus that makes her glad for the counter behind her because her knees are weak and wobbly.

She can't touch him enough. She slides her fingers into his hair and kisses his jaw, pulls at his shirts and peels off the still-wet layers until they're in a heap in the kitchen floor. His skin is damp and cool from the rain but warming quickly under her hands and mouth. Jack has a little more patience with her clothes than she had with his, but not much; her shirt ends up in the pile with his and when he eases her bra off his hands are so warm on her chilly skin that she shivers and presses her body against him. She pushes her thigh between his and he slides his hands down to cup her backside and pull her against him, hard, and she grinds against him without the slightest bit of shame because the friction and the warmth through the wet denim is irresistable.

It's a rush, this feeling of finally, the feeling of just giving in and not holding back, and she just lets it happen for once instead of fighting it.

"Bed," she says, teeth nipping at his ear. He groans something that sounds like agreement but they don't immediately move because it means stopping what they're doing. Eventually he steps back a little, pulling her with him, but they barely make it out of the kitchen before she pushes him against the wall and kisses him hard because she just needs to do it. She's never had this burning need to be with someone right now, not like this, where she feels like she's about to climb right out of her skin.

"Carter," he warns, a little strangled, when she pushes her hand between them and strokes him through his jeans. When she doesn't stop, he grunts a little and pushes off the wall so now she's the one against it, and though he's gripping her shoulders hard she can feel his fingers trembling a little. "If we don't get in there right now, it's gonna be up against this wall," he says, low and a little rough; it gives her a mental image that makes her flush hot all over. She thinks about pushing him, just to see if he'll do it, but he's getting them both moving again and she's totally okay with that. More than okay.

They strip their jeans off in Jack's bedroom and it's a relief to be out of them and have her bare skin against his; she straddles him on the bed and he gives her a look that's more than a little hungry. They've been watching each other for almost a decade, in every possible situation--anger and sorrow and death, pride and satisfaction and relief--but never like this, looking openly and acknowledging being looked at, so she sits back a little and lets him look as much as he wants. He looks, a lot, and touches every part of her he can reach, and when she can't stand it anymore she shifts over him and presses herself, rocks herself against him, and he swears a little under his breath. Sam knows she's teasing and she knows it's shameless but she feels like they've earned it--she likes these sounds he's making, likes knowing he's making them because of her.

When she leans forward to kiss him again, he grips her hips and pushes and she slides onto him, letting him fill her, and now she's the one making the sounds because the desperate want she feels is about to overwhelm her. They push each other for it, harder and faster, with need that's something like burning, and when they get there the sense of finally makes it so much sweeter.

She stills then, pleasure shivering over her in waves, as Jack's hands tighten on her hips and the pleasure takes him, too, with a little groan he can't hold back. Then he slides his arms around her and pulls her close; she lets him, easing herself against his chest, nuzzling lazily against his neck. Right then she thinks that the Goa'uld could land a whole fleet of al'kesh in the backyard and she wouldn't even blink, not when she feels like this.

Jack makes a noise that's part satisfied and part exhausted and he rolls them over onto their sides, still holding her close. "Hey, Carter," he says. His hand is on her back and she feels his thumb moving back and forth a little against her spine.

"Hey, yourself," Sam says quietly, and smiles a little. She likes how he looks like this, satisfied and a little dazed, the little lines at the corners of his eyes softening some. She slides her hand against his chest, feeling his heart beat under her fingers.

"You know, I gotta talk to Thor," he says, still rubbing his thumb along her spine.

"What, now?"

"No, not now," he says with a little scowl. "Before I go to Washington. Because Nevada's too damn far away and I hate flying commercial. I want one of those Asgard beam things. Think he'll give me one?"

Sam laughs and curls into him, kissing his jaw. "I don't know," she said, "but I think you should ask."

"Might just do that."

*****

They get up eventually to find that the rain has stopped, and Jack throws something on the grill for dinner. It's too damp and cool to eat outside, though, so they eat at the little table in the dining room and later, Jack starts a fire in the fireplace.

Now that they've given in to this, they can't keep their hands off each other any better than a couple of unchaperoned teenagers can. Sam pulls the cushions from the couch and they pile them in front of the fireplace and this time, they take their time. It's less frantic and just as good and while the cushions on the floor aren't quite as comfortable as Jack's bed, neither one of them are in any hurry to get up afterward.

"Probably going to retire in a few years," he says after a while, while he traces his fingers over her skin. He seems to like doing this, and Sam is perfectly content to let him because it feels good. They don't really have a lot of time left here, so any time they're not touching in some way seems a little wasted.

"Yeah?" She's not entirely surprised, though, given the statutory limits on the number of generals in the Air Force; some only serve a few years in grade before retiring. And he's already retired once.

"Yeah." He traces down the curve of her hip and thigh and back up again, like he's trying to memorize the shape of her. "Area 51 is under Homeworld Security. Not directly, but enough, so we can't really be public about this, but..."

"It could still be a thing," she finishes.

"If you want," he says.

Long distance relationships aren't easy, and she knows that, but she thinks, possibly, they could make it work. It's not a question of her feelings for him, or his for her--the last few hours have made both of those things pretty clear--but her track record with regular-distance relationships is not that great, and what she and Jack have had up to now is too important to her to screw up if she can't deal with taking it further.

"No pressure, Carter," he says. "Just think about it."

He says no pressure and she doesn't feel any. No expectations or obligations, just the sense that there's something finally on the table for the first time, right there in her reach, and it's not going to slip away if she doesn't immediately reach out and grab it. She just knows she can, when she's ready.

"I will."