Author's Note: Sam and Jack from SG-1 are surely one of the best pairings in sci-fi. This story is set at an indeterminate point, with Jack still a Colonel and Sam a Major, but it could happen anytime. As far as I'm concerned, Hammond and Fraiser never die either.
I'm back after a long time away, and reviews are much appreciated.
Maybe I just need a vacation, Jack O'Neill thought. Some quality fishing at the cabin. Maybe that's all it is.
He was sitting at the briefing room table, and the lighting was low while Daniel was giving a presentation on the artefacts they'd retrieved from their recent mission to P9X-4485. It had been a milk run, and except for the slightly humid weather on the planet it could actually have been like a short vacation in itself.
Jack frowned inwardly, glancing once again at the source of his concern while keeping his expression carefully neutral.
Sam Carter was paying fairly close attention to what Daniel was saying, but she noticed the movement across the table out of the corner of her eye. She looked over and saw that the Colonel was staring at her again. That's the fifth time in the last half hour, she noted to herself, feeling the barest heat rise in her cheeks.
Jack held her gaze for a moment and then dropped his eyes to the printed pages Daniel had handed out earlier, pretending to read them. This is ridiculous, he thought. It's definitely getting worse.
Three weeks ago, his excuse had been the almost-disastrous mission to P5R-970 that had ended in a firefight with at least fifty Jaffa, and a very narrow escape through the Stargate. He was just tired and stressed, he told himself. That was why he'd found his gaze drifting to Carter more often than usual. He was just a little tired. That was all.
Two weeks ago, his excuse had been frustration, after another run-in with Kinsey. One week ago, it was boredom after three days of base downtime following a power surge in the dialling computer. And this week, it was just that he needed a vacation.
Excuse after excuse for why his guard was down, and he was letting his thoughts focus on Carter a little more than… what? More than usual? Certainly. More than expected? Maybe.
More than I'm supposed to, he thought, and a small, sad smile appeared on his face as he remembered his own words during the Za'tarc incident. Damn it, he thought. Just… think about something else.
Sam risked another look across the table and saw that Jack's eyes were now on the archeological report in front of him, but she could tell from his unfocused stare that he wasn't actually reading it. What's on your mind, Jack? she wondered, feeling the usual flip-flop of her stomach when she allowed herself to call him Jack instead of Colonel or Sir.
Then she saw his mouth curl into the barest ghost of a forlorn smile, and she had to stop herself from reaching across the table towards his hand. What's making you unhappy? She vowed she would at least try to find out, not that it would be easy. He was one of the most emotionally guarded people she'd ever known.
Jack was suddenly aware of her eyes on him, and he lifted his gaze to meet her own. Her eyes were a much darker blue than usual in the dim light, and her hair shone in the reflected glow of the large computer display Daniel was still gesturing at as he spoke. She didn't look away, and he could see the concern on her face. Busted, he thought, irritated at himself, and now worried even more about his recent tendency to let his defences slip when he was around her.
Sam gave him a small smile, but he only blinked in return, holding her gaze for a long moment before looking away.
At the other end of the table, General Hammond barely had to shuttle his eyes back and forth to watch the unspoken interplay between his two most trusted officers.
"There's a storm brewing, George," his own father used to say on their ranch in Texas when ominous grey clouds would begin to gather on the horizon, and he could almost hear his long-dead father's voice again here now. Hammond's brow creased briefly in a frown. One of these days, Jack, you're going to actually do something about all this, he thought.
What a day that would be. It would be a headache the size of Cheyenne Mountain, but Hammond couldn't quite bring himself to dread it. A part of him wished it would just hurry up and happen, come what may. God knows they'd both done enough for this country - and this planet.
Hammond frowned once again, and for the hundredth time he decided to simply say nothing and hope for the best.
"Thank you, Dr. Jackson," General Hammond said with his usual tight but sincere smile as Daniel finished his presentation and returned the lighting to normal. Hammond turned his attention to Jack. "If there's nothing else, I'll expect your final mission report by the end of the day, Colonel. SG-1 is on stand-down until our 10:00 hours briefing on Tuesday. Enjoy your long weekend."
"Thank you, sir," Jack replied. "I've been itching to write that report all day." Sam grinned in amusement, but kept her eyes focused firmly on the table surface.
"I'm glad to hear that, Colonel," Hammond replied, refusing to acknowledge the sarcasm, before turning and striding into his office.
"I guess you guys are off the hook," Jack said with a sigh, drawing a somewhat self-satisfied nod from Teal'c. "Good briefing there, Danny. Rocks. You know I love 'em. You just make the subject come alive, somehow."
Daniel gave him a typical look of exasperation, but it was one that said he didn't really mind the teasing. "I'll try to make my future presentations a little longer for you, then, Jack," he replied dryly, gathering his papers and coffee mug and heading for the door. Teal'c followed behind him after his customary bow, leaving Jack and Sam alone.
Jack pushed back his chair and stood up slowly before glancing over at his 2IC. Sam was looking at him with a barely-concealed grin, her eyes sparkling.
Wow, Jack thought, feeling his heart speed up as he involuntarily returned the grin. See, this is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about, he thought. Danger, Will Robinson.
"You really shouldn't tease Daniel, sir," Sam said, though her tone of voice and body language said something more like I love it when you do that.
Jack shrugged, secretly delighted as always that his antics seemed to amuse her. "He makes it too easy," he said. "The guy really needs a life outside this place. But I guess you could say the same for me."
Sam's smile faltered and she glanced away briefly before meeting his eyes again. They were dark and liquid, full of things she couldn't quite decipher. "Well… this job does make a lot of demands on us," she said, immediately wincing inwardly at how noncommittal it had sounded. That fact was that she agreed with him, but she had no idea how to say that without it sounding inappropriate - or like an insult.
Jack simply nodded, still not breaking eye-contact. After a moment, he shrugged. "I should write that report," he said, and Sam nodded. Jack turned to walk away, and he was almost at the door when she called after him.
"See you at lunch, sir?"
"Yep; thirteen-hundred," he replied, without looking back, and continued out the door.
Damn, she thought. That didn't go so well. What's bothering him? She wandered out the opposite door and made her way to her lab, replaying the events of the briefing in her mind.
He'd been like this for a few weeks now, she realised, and it was becoming more noticeable. She'd catch him looking at her, or sometimes even staring off into space, lost in his own thoughts. It wasn't the usual Jack O'Neill behaviour at all - he normally buzzed with energy, forever fiddling with something or deliberately annoying somebody. He wasn't introspective, as a rule.
She managed to work for almost two hours before sighing and pushing the keyboard away. "For crying out loud," she muttered without even being aware of it, swivelling around on her stool to glance at the clock on the wall, which said it was 12:41. Close enough, she thought, then locked her computer and left the lab.
Jack was sitting in his office, spinning a pen on the scarred wooden surface. Despite what he'd said to Hammond, he'd actually finished the mission report that morning before the briefing, and had submitted it electronically a short while after he'd last spoken to Sam. For the last ninety minutes or so, he'd alternated between pacing the small room, throwing crumpled balls of paper into the open wastebasket he'd moved to the far corner, and now spinning a pen.
A life outside this place, he thought to himself. That was a pretty interesting remark, when you thought about it. He hadn't known he was going to say it until he heard the words coming out of his own mouth, which was also a little worrying.
"Gonna have to do something about this," he muttered to himself, spinning the pen even faster and watching it skitter across the surface and fall to the floor, rolling under the desk and out of sight. He sighed, but made no effort to retrieve it, instead taking another pen from the chipped ceramic mug beside his computer. The mug was emblazoned with "Walk Like An Egyptian" and various hieroglyphs. He'd bought it as a gag gift for Daniel a few years ago, but had liked it so much he decided to keep it for himself.
Getting a life outside this place would be easy enough. God knows he always got enough female attention at O'Malley's or any other bar he wandered into. No problem. But there was a snag. Just getting any old life isn't enough, he thought, then groaned.
He was startled by a knock at the door, and waited for several seconds until another knock came. "Nobody's home," he called, and the door swung open to reveal Major Samantha Carter. She gave him a small smile, and he just blinked in momentary confusion.
"Lunchtime already?" he asked, glancing at his wristwatch to see it was indeed nearly - but not quite - 13:00 hours. "You must be hungry today, Carter."
She shrugged, then nodded towards the computer on his desk. "Have you even started that mission report, sir?" she asked in a gently teasing tone, and he gave her a look as if he'd swallowed something unpleasant.
"Solitaire is a hell of a drug," he said by way of response, and she rolled her eyes. After a moment, she took another couple of steps towards his desk, looking away for a moment before speaking in a quieter voice. "Is everything… ok with you, sir? You seem a little distracted lately."
You could say that, he thought, carefully keeping his expression neutral. It was time to pull himself together and stop this. I'll just tell her I need a vacation, he thought.
"You ever wonder if you made the right choices in life, Carter?" he said, again surprising himself completely. Goddamnit!
Sam blinked twice, taken aback at the question. "I… uh, well… I sometimes wonder about.. I suppose, well, what sort of choices?" she said awkwardly, feeling her cheeks flush. Jack smiled slightly, which simultaneously embarrassed and pleased her. She took a deep breath and spoke again with more forethought. "Do you mean 'you' as in me, or 'you' as in you, sir?"
Jack immediately put on his exaggerated look of fake confusion, which he used when he wanted to avoid further discussion on a topic. He shrugged, and heard her sigh sharply.
Oh no you don't, she thought. There's something going on with you, and I'm going to find out what it is. She leaned against the side of his desk, and gave another small smile. "What choices are you wondering about?" she said.
Now it was Jack who looked away, letting his gaze rest on the surface of the desk. That's a good question, he thought. Joining the SGC? Good choice. Leaving things in the room? Not so good choice. Having this conversation? Terrible choice.
"Never mind," he said, with a shake of his head. "I'm just… I probably just need a vacation." He put his palms flat against the desk surface and stretched his neck to get the kinks out.
Sam inwardly groaned in frustration. He has regrets about his life and he almost started to talk, but now he's clamming up as usual. She thought for a moment, took a deep breath, and then gently placed her hand on top of his.
Jack's eyes immediately locked onto her slender fingers resting on the back of his hand. He felt the warmth of her palm over his knuckles, and his pulse accelerated. After a long moment, he slowly raised his head and met her gaze. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes were bright, but she didn't look away.
"You can talk to me, you know," she said softly, giving him what she hoped was an encouraging smile. His hand twitched slightly under hers, and she saw his focus flick momentarily to her lips before he made eye contact again. Her own pulse quickened, and she was suddenly very aware of how close he was.
"Talking definitely isn't the problem right now," he replied cryptically, in a quiet voice.
Sam tilted her head slightly, not understanding what he meant. She searched his eyes for any clues, but after a moment he surprised her by standing up. There was now less than an arm's length between them, and she automatically lifted her hand away from his, seeing him glance downwards again to where his own hand was still flat on the desk. She saw the momentary look of disappointment cross his face and then vanish.
I wish you wouldn't push me away, Jack, she thought. You don't have to handle everything on your own.
"Let's get some lunch," he said, glancing back up at her with a softer expression that had a hint of both gratitude and apology as he stepped from behind the desk.
"Sure," Sam replied with a nod. He gestured for her to go first, so she turned towards the door.
Jack began to lift his arm from his side without even thinking about it. Bad idea, he told himself. Really bad idea. That was true, but he still didn't let his hand drop.
As Sam took her first step towards the door, she felt his palm settle on the small of her back. She gasped silently, but willed herself to simply keep walking.
Jack felt her tense for a fraction of a second, then her pace slowed imperceptibly, letting his palm make full contact. He followed just behind her, guiding her to the door, and his hand didn't fall away until they were halfway down the corridor outside.