SEASON:Five

SPOILERS: Divide and Conquer, Beneath The Surface, The Entity, Urgo

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story wouldn't have come to be if it wasn't for Tara and her great fic idea, and constant support through the writing process. THANK U TARA!! YOU ROCK!!!

SONG CREDITS: Longsong by The Cure

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New Beginnings

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I don't know how I got talked into this.

Actually I do know. Today I found just how difficult it is to say no to a fifteen year old girl and her five foot one mother. Its impossible to say no to the woman who could take perverse pleasure in sticking a needle in my butt after our next mission if I refused. Yes Janet Fraiser, Doctor, is a formidable woman, but Janet Fraiser, mother . that is something else entirely. I might be a Colonel in the United States Air Force, but I still find that woman as intimidating as hell sometimes.

Besides, when I look at Cassie I can still see that frightened little girl we rescued four years ago. She may have grown, but when she pleads she looks exactly like she did all those years ago. How can I resist those big, brown, puppy dog eyes?

I kinda think its an honor that I was the one asked to chaperone Cassie on her first date. We all watched her grow up. Watched as she blossomed from the scared young girl to the beautiful young woman she is now.

Ok, so I do know how I got talked into this, and I know why I agreed to it, but a man is allowed to have second thoughts and regrets isn't he? No, I'm not having regrets, but definitely second thoughts. Well . not even second thoughts. I'm nervous. I shouldn't be nervous, it's not like we have never been alone together in a social situation, and its not like we're going to be alone tonight. So why am I so nervous?

But try as I might not to think of it, I know why I am nervous. It's Carter. It's hard not to think of the woman who occupies my thoughts constantly. I can't help myself; I'm thoroughly and completely entranced by her. She's reeled me in . hook, line, and sinker.

"Oh, for crying out loud", I mutter aloud to myself, "Who am I kidding?" I love her. I love her and I can't have her because of our obligation to the military, to our jobs. The worst thing is that now things are strained between us. We don't have the same rapport that we used to have when we're together. Sure, we still joke around, but underneath that there is a tension that we can't seem to get passed. I glance down at my watch for what must have been the tenth time in five minutes. I have to pick her up in an hour.

Feeling full of nervous energy I get up out of my favorite armchair and walk into the bedroom to check my appearance. I have been dressed and ready for the last two hours. I've been checking how I look in the mirror every fifteen minutes. What is wrong with me?

I scrutinize my appearance in the mirror. Blue jeans, a black t-shirt, grey woolen v-neck sweater. I even combed my hair! I wonder if I am over- or under-dressed? I sigh loudly, since when have I ever given a damn if I am dressed right?

Since I found out that she was going to be joining me. Since I subconsciously decided to make a concentrated effort to impress her. Not that I am going out of my way to seduce her of course! I just want to get back the same spark we had before the Za'tarc incident, before I was forced to shoot her. I miss Carter, I miss the easy relationship we had, and the casual flirting we participated in without actually crossing the line we weren't allowed to cross.

The Jonah and Thera thing went a long way to healing the rift that developed between us after we were forced to admit our true feelings for each other, and it made me realize that we both felt stronger feelings than we had previously been willing to admit to. We were both embarrassed to have been put in that position and though I was relieved to know how she felt, I simply could not feel at ease around her. It would have been a different story if we had been able to tell each other in our own time, under very different circumstances. I am pretty certain that if it wasn't for the Za'tarc testing she would not have willingly told me how she felt, so for that small measure I am grateful.

Then she was taken over by that entity. I think those were the most difficult few days of my life at the SGC. I was forced to shoot her. I was forced to kill her. I don't think I will ever truly forgive myself for doing that. I know she forgave me, I don't think she ever blamed me. In those painful hours I spent perched at her bedside I vowed that I would do everything I could to keep her safe.

As the weeks have passed, I have grown more resolute that I want more than to just keep her safe. I want to be with her. I have always wanted to be with her, but after coming so close to losing her I want that sooner. I want to be more than just her CO. I want to be her friend, her confidante, her lover. I just hope that we can repair the friendship that we had, that we can move beyond the tension we constantly have between us.

Tonight, I'm hoping we have the opportunity to change that. I will not pressure her into anything that she doesn't want, but I want to make it clear to her what I desire most and show her that I will always be there for her, whether it be as a friend or something more.

I make my way back into the living room. My stomach is roiling with my apprehension and my heart is pounding. I haven't felt this nervous since Sara and I got home from the hospital after Charlie was born and I realized that my life was never going to be the same again. I wonder if I could get away with a quick nip of bourbon to settle my nerves?

I quickly dismiss the thought. It's not the most responsible thing to do if I'm going to be a chaperone. I wrack my brain, trying to think of something, anything I can do to take my mind of the impending evening. I can only think of one thing that will always take my mind off anything.

Tugging on my jacket I make my way outside and up the ladder onto the roof, and my telescope. Even though I travel across the galaxy constantly, I still find it incredibly relaxing and awe-inspiring to watch the mysteries of the universe through my telescope. Some people meditate to relax; I stargaze.

But even watching the wonders of gaseous nebulas and heavenly bodies, it does nothing to ease my mind. I'm too anxious to find comfort in anything. I can't remember any woman ever making me feel quite this way before, not even Sara. I've fallen for her . hard. Oh god, I hope I don't make an ass out of myself tonight.

Looking down at my watch I'm startled to see that forty minutes have passed. Wondering where the time has gone, I hurry back down to the house and check my appearance again. My nerves are rapidly turning to the full- fledged butterfly in the stomach syndrome. I take a deep breath to try and settle my nerves. For crying out loud, I haven't even left the house yet!

***

I'm pacing. I don't know why, I just am. Up and down the length of my living room. I hope I'm not wearing the carpet down! But I can't help myself; I feel the need to do something. I've cleaned my already immaculate house twice now; it is so clean it gleams

Normally I am a reasonable patient person. I'm a scientist . patience is a necessity in my line of work. But tonight, I'm on edge, I'm nervous. I feel ill. I hate that; I hate getting so nervous that it makes my stomach churn nauseatingly. There is only one person that affects me that way.

The Colonel.

I'm sure that Janet and Cassie planned for this all along. Planned for Janet to have plans and need someone to chaperone Cassie and Mark. I can't prove it, but I know them, and this has their dirty fingerprints all over it. They want the Colonel and me to break down the barriers that have formed between us in the last couple of months.

I know secretly Cassie wants the two of us to get together, and I know that Janet wants us to go back to the way we used to be, if not more. Realistically I know that we can't be a couple, not while we are in the same command, not as long as we remain CO and 2IC. Oh, how I would love to change that though! But I have accepted the fact that that will not happen any time soon.

Firstly, we need to heal the rift that has formed between us. That is the difficult part. There is so much water under the bridge, so much pain and guilt that I wonder if we can. Only then can we ever hope to move beyond that.

I know the Colonel is still wracked with the guilt of being forced to shoot me. I know that he is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that he was almost responsible for my death. No matter what I say to him, no matter how much I tell him that I don't blame him for what he did, he still can't move beyond it. I can see the pain in his eyes when I catch him looking at me. I can also see something deeper in that look, something I can't comprehend. I know he had no other choice. If the situation were reversed I would have done the same thing and no doubt I would be battling with the same guilt that he is now.

Myself? I am still having trouble coming to terms with what I was forced to tell during the Za'tarc testing. What the two of us were forced to say. It was hard being forced to tell how I felt in front of a crowd, utterly humiliating in fact. It did not help that there, nagging in the back of my mind, was a little voice whispering all the possible ramifications that my - our - confession could bring.

On top of that, the feelings that emerged when we believed that we were Jonah and Thera, the thing that we remembered the most was our feelings for each other. We were so comfortable during those few days. So happy and so blissfully unaware that we were not allowed to be feeling what we were. I still have trouble comprehending the disappointment I felt when our memories were restored, and I remember the exact same look on the Colonel's face as he, too, remembered.

At least the feelings that emerged then went a long way to healing the rift that had formed between us. That was, at least to say, until I was possessed by that entity. Now we're right back to square one.

I glance at the clock on the wall. He'll be here in half an hour, and he's always on time. Feeling a fresh wave of jitters come over me I make my way into my bedroom to get ready. Then I face my next dilemma. What will I wear?

I haven't left myself enough time to have a shower, and I can feel a panic set in as I rifle through my closet. Part of me wants to dress to impress, but I dismiss the thought knowing that it will probably give out the wrong impression, and that is the last thing I want to do tonight. Finally, I settle on a pair of jeans, white shirt and my leather jacket. Ok, so the shirt is a little tight, but after being stuck in BDU's on a daily basis, I feel the need to feel like a woman from time to time.

I quickly apply a little bit of make-up. My hands are shaking so hard that it's almost impossible, but I somehow manage. I scrutinize my appearance in the mirror. Ok, I admit it, I am trying to impress him a little, but can you blame me? I want tonight to go well. I want us to go back to the way we used to be. I want us to be friends again.

The doorbell rings, startling me. He's early. The butterflies begin fluttering crazily in my belly as a fresh bout of nervousness overcomes me. I check my appearance hastily in the mirror, tidy my hair a little bit and make my way to the door.

I take a deep breath before I open the door. I'm so nervous, and it's not like this is a date or anything, it's not, because it can't be. Through the window in my door I can see the Colonel shuffling uncomfortably. Is he nervous to?

I pull the door open, and stop, pleasantly surprised at the sight before me. I'm sure I must be gaping but I can't help myself. The Colonel is standing there with a bunch of red roses clutched in his fist. He looks as nervous as I feel. I drink in his appearance, noticing that he has even gone to the trouble of doing his hair. He looks great, he looks sexy!

Stop it Sam! I berate myself; he's your CO for god sake!

I can't help myself, as difficult as it is for me to admit it, I love this man. I open the door wider, feeling a grin spread across my face. "Sir, Hi", I stutter stupidly. "Come in".

I can feel his eyes on me, burning with intensity, as he looks me up and down. Strangely I don't feel uncomfortable under his scrutiny. I can see a slight smile on his face as he meets my eyes and holds out the flowers for me to take. I never thought that Jack O'Neill was a flower type of guy. Nevertheless I am deeply touched by the gesture.

"Hey Carter", he replies. He looks slightly embarrassed and definitely uncomfortable as he steps inside.

I sniff the flowers in my hand, inhaling their sweet perfume. "These are beautiful, Sir, you didn't have to".

"No I didn't, but I wanted to". He is standing close to me, looking down at me with smoldering eyes. I could lose myself in their depths if I'm not careful. "Why don't you drop the Sir and call me Jack tonight?"

I break his gaze. Is this crossing the line? If we drop the formalities, will it make it easier or harder for us to control ourselves, for me to control my suddenly raging emotions? "Then you'll have to call me Sam and not Carter".

A grin lights up his face. "Deal".

Suddenly I am thankful that we will have Cassie and Mark with us tonight. At least if they are there we can keep some sort of perspective on the situation. It's a relief to me that he seems as ill at ease as I am; at least I'm not the only one.

"I'll just put these in some water and then we can go".

I expected him to stay in the living room, so naturally I'm surprised when he follows me into the kitchen and takes a seat at the counter. I can feel his eyes on me as I search through the cupboards for a vase.

"You look great tonight Sam".

I'm sure the words slipped out, something about his tone of voice tells me that. Stiffening, I straighten up to look at him, a vase held forgotten in my hand. His cheeks are flushed and he is looking down at the counter, obviously very embarrassed. The tension in the room has thickened considerably and I am at a loss for words.

He thinks I look great!

Part of me is screaming to ignore what he said, to pretend I didn't hear anything. The other part is begging me to live a little dangerously. Sometimes I get sick of being a goody-two-shoes. Besides isn't it courteous to return a compliment?

My eyes hover over him as I bite my lip uncertainly. He really does look great tonight. He has made the effort to look nice. Deep down, I know he took that extra effort for me, and I should at least acknowledge it.

"Jack", I say quietly. The mention of his name snaps his attention back to me. I don't use his first name often, very rarely in fact, and it feels funny on my tongue, pleasantly funny. "You look great too, you even did your hair!"

A smile spreads across his face. It's a smile that tells me that making the comment was well worth the effort. He looks relieved. I can't help but smile back at him. I have a good feeling about tonight. I think we're going to mend that gap between us, and it's already started.

***

Well I went and did it ... I made an ass out of myself! The silence is thick and for the life of me I can't think of a way to break it. We haven't really said anything to each other since I made an ass of myself with that 'you look great comment'. I can't believe I said it aloud! Her response surprised me, if half expected her to ignore what I said, to pretend that she hadn't heard it.

My eyes keep sliding in her direction. She does look great, I wasn't lying. After seeing her daily in a baggy set of BDU's it's always a relief to see her in something different. But tonight . she looks radiant. That's the only way I can describe it. Her jeans are snug fitting without being tight, and the same goes with her shirt. Tight-fitting enough to show off her figure . and I can't help looking!

I'm not voyeuristic in the least. It's not like I'm perverted or anything, but I love this woman and I'm pretty sure that she feels something for me . ok, I'm male, I can't help myself. I have to look, how can I not?

I have a good feeling about tonight. I don't know why, but I just do. Maybe it was because of her reply; maybe it's because the silence in my truck isn't at all uncomfortable. I want to make this a good night. My emotions are in conflict. I want to throw caution to the wind and tell her exactly how I feel. I want to take our relationship past friendship to the next level. I'm 44 years old. I have lost too much to look a gift-horse in the mouth when it comes to love. If I have been given this second chance, I want to take it.

I don't want to force her into anything that she doesn't want to do. I would never want that. What I want most of all is for her to be happy. If all she wants is to just be friends I can content myself with that until she is ready for something more. I know she would be worried about the regulations. Personally, I don't, but I am only here because it was a special request, otherwise I would still be retired . and lonely.

My eyes drift to her again. She is looking out the passenger window at the houses going by, deep in thought. She is so beautiful. I can't help myself. It takes all my self- control to not reach out and touch her knee. I never knew that being alone with her could feel so . invigorating. I feel like a teenager again.

She turns slightly and her eyes catch mine. I can't look away from her. This is all so wrong, but I can't help myself. Her eyes are bright, sparkling, and I can see that she is happy. Is she feeling what I'm feeling too? Oh, I hope so! I return the smile, aware that she can tell the difference between my fake and genuine smiles. This one is most certainly genuine.

Regrettably, I tear my eyes from her and look back at the road. The last thing we need is for us to crash because I am so entranced by the woman next to me! I'm clutching the steering wheel tightly as I try to control my thoughts. Personally, I find it funny that we have been asked to chaperone two teenagers when I am the one who needs chaperoning!

Moments later I pull into Janet's driveway. I can see Cassie's cheerful face peering through the curtains. She waves and I return the gesture as I turn off the ignition. Even from a distance I can see her excitement as she flicks the curtain and races deeper into the living room. I can't help but smile; she is such a sweet kid.

I glance over at Sam and can see her smiling as well. I know she loves Cassie like she is her own. I know that if Sam hadn't been so dedicated to her work she would have adopted Cassie herself. I'm pretty sure that deep down she regrets not adopting her, but accepted that with her line of work, where there is always a possibility that she won't return from a mission, that parenthood was not practical.

The front door opens and Cassie races out, dragging her 'date' behind her. I feel a laugh in my throat as I catch a good look at the guy in the porch light, but I try so hard not to laugh. A snicker beside me tells me that Sam noticed the same thing. He looked like a teenaged version of Daniel!

We look at each other, and I can't control myself any longer. I burst out laughing at the same time as Sam, a cackling belly laugh. Oh it feels so good to laugh, and to hear her laugh beside me. I guess Cassie's secret is out. I wonder if Janet has ever noticed the similarity? How am I going to be able to look the kid in the face without laughing at him?

A touch on my knee stops me dead in my tracks. I look down to see Sam's hand resting there. She has frozen too, obviously realizing at the same time as me what is happening. I feel like my whole body is coursing with electricity emanating from where her hand is. She looks up at me, her eyes wide, but underneath that I can see her eyes burning and I know the same look is in my own.

I feel breathless as I lean forward slightly, licking my lips. Everything around me has blurred into the background except for Sam and her hand on my knee. She leans forward slightly too, mimicking my actions. The air is electric, we are so close I can feel her breath on my cheek. I can't believe it's about to happen!

The back door on the truck opens and Cassie dives in, oblivious to what we are so close to doing in the front. We both jump back at the same time. I'm startled, shocked that I could have lost control so easy, from so innocent a touch.

"What were you laughing about?" Cassie's voice is nearly a squeak. I guess she's excited.

I can't think of an easy quip to give her. I can't think straight; my mind has gone completely blank except for one thing. I try to settle my erratic breathing, try not to let on to Cassie that anything is going on. I guess she's so excited that she hasn't noticed the sudden tension that has filled the cab of my truck.

"We were just reminiscing, Cassie", Sam replies. "About the time we met Urgo, and the Colonel's rendition of Row, Row, Row, Your Boat".

Cassie's answering giggle tells me that she knows all about that. I'm not surprised that someone snuck that recording out of the SGC, I always knew it would come back to haunt me.

I shoot Sam a look of thanks, relieved that she was able to recover herself quickly enough to reply. "So you want to introduce us to your date, Cassie?"

I twist so I can look back at the two of them. I can't help smiling when I look at him again. The similarity between him and Daniel is unbelievable; it's almost like they're long lost brothers. He even has the same glasses! I stifle yet another giggle and glance at Sam to see she is doing the same.

She catches my eye and gives me a brief smile, I guess its her way of telling me that everything is ok. But I can tell it isn't. She is just as perturbed as me to have lost control so easily. I can see her fighting her warring emotions as I am.

"Oh yeah! Mark this is Sam and Jack. They're kinda like my aunt and uncle!"

I can see that Mark looks really uncomfortable. I know the look on his face, and I remember the feeling vividly. Since Janet isn't married I guess the whole father thing transfers on to me. What a power trip, this kid is scared of me! I decide against being overbearing like so many 'fathers' did to me in the past, and just be myself.

I put out my hand and he shakes it hesitantly. "Nice to meet you Mark", I say warmly.

I release his hand and turn back to the steering wheel, but I can tell the kid has relaxed a little bit. I can hear Sam greeting Mark as I start the truck.

"So where are we going for dinner?" Cassie's excitement is bubbling and exuberant, I can't help but smile. Okay, so her excitement is contagious. A quick look at Sam as I turn to reverse down the drive confirms it. I feel a weight lift off me knowing that our actions haven't put a dampener on the night.

"I know the perfect place," I quip, pulling the truck out on the road.

I hear Sam groan light-heartedly next to me. "Oh please, not O'Malleys. I thought we were banned from there!"

I try and put on a mysterious face as I think of the restaurant that I had already booked for dinner. I found it years ago, when Sara and I first moved to Colorado Springs. It has everything I think this evening needs - intimate, romantic atmosphere, great food and a spot of dancing.

"Oh we are," I reply lightly, "and we're not going there. Let's just say I've found the perfect place and leave it at that ok?"

I look in Sam's direction long enough to see the curiosity spark in her expression, exactly as I had expected it would. I allow a small smile to tug at my lips as I hope fervently that she will be surprised, pleasantly surprised that Jack O'Neill has a romantic side.

***

Wow!

It is my first and only thought as I'm led into the restaurant. This is not the sort of place I ever expected the Colonel to bring us. I was expecting at best a rowdy Steak House, but definitely not this.

I can see Cassie's eyes light up with surprise and happiness at the place her 'Uncle Jack' picked out. She is almost bouncing with excitement behind me, dragging Mark with her as we are being led through the restaurant to our table. Mark. I still can't look at him without my lips twisting into a smile. At least now I know what Daniel looked like at fifteen. Something tells me it's time I talked to that girl!

Jack is walking in front of me, his back partially obscuring my view of the table setting. I think Cassie's mood is rubbing off on me. I can feel the tension from the incident in the truck ebbing away as I'm taken in by the atmosphere surrounding me. He has really made an effort to make this a great evening. I let the memories of the incident get forced to the back of my mind as I decide to make the most of the night. It's not often I get to enjoy the company of the Colonel and Cassie. In fact I don't think I ever have.

Finally Jack moves around the table and stands behind the seat facing the huge open fire. I feel a gasp rise in my throat. It's beautiful. The entire restaurant is dimly lit; each table has a flower and candle arrangement in its center to provide more light. Our table has not only that, but the fireplace. And there, on the table in front where Jack is holding out the seat for me is a single red rose.

I stop and glance at Jack trying to keep the surprise from my face. I notice that there is another rose in the place setting for Cassie, but I know that Jack had organized this. None of the other tables I've seen have this. Since when has Jack O'Neill been a romantic?

My resolve crumbles even more as I take my seat. He places a hand on my shoulder as he pushes the seat in. If he wanted to impress me, he's succeeded. I can't think straight. I haven't thought straight since that moment in his truck.

His hand lingers for a long time. The simple touch feels so good . so right. I force all my doubts to the back of my mind and forget about my, our, obligation to our jobs. I want to enjoy tonight; I want to enjoy the company of the man I love without thinking of the downside to that love.

The regulations.

They're there to prevent this sort of thing from occurring. That's precisely why I've always been so hesitant to do anything like this. I've thought long and hard about it. The conclusion that I came to is that in our line of work there is practically no chance of any of us finding someone outside of the SGC. Who would want to make a commitment to someone if they can not even talk about their job?

Again I push those thoughts to the back of my mind. I just want to enjoy this night and lose myself in the magic that Jack helped create to make this night enjoyable for all of us. I'm being so irrational; it's so unlike me. I'm letting my hair down and reveling in it.

To my disappointment Jack takes his hand off my shoulder and moves away to take his seat to my left. I glance up and find Cassie watching us with a huge grin on her face. I knew it! She had planned this all along. I can't help myself, though, and I grin back at her.

I pick up the rose and inhale its rich perfume. Oh, I love roses. I look over to see Jack watching me, a small, happy, smile on his face. Reaching over he plucks the rose from my fingers and breaks the stem in half. I'm about to protest when he moves closer and tucks the rose in my hair, above my ear.

He is so close I can smell him, smell his shampoo in his hair, his rich masculine after-shave. Oh, he smells so good. If I wanted to I could turn slightly and kiss him. I'm rooted in place, aware that this is getting so close to crossing the line. I haven't had a drink tonight, but I feel intoxicated. I'm drunk on the danger of this situation, of him, of flirting close to the edge I might not come back from.

Does he have any idea what he is doing to me? Does he have any idea how close I am to falling over the edge completely, how close I am to throwing caution to the wind? Is that what he wants?

I have to admit there is some thrill of excitement at breaking the rules, of skirting so close to breaking them. Although our behavior is totally inappropriate, it is that little thrill that is spurring me on. It's my profound loneliness that is preventing me from putting this all to an end.

Knowing that my face is flushed I dare to look up at him again. His eyes are glinting with laughter. He is happy, really, truly happy. I don't think I have ever really seen him like this. I'm doing this to him.

The arrival of the waiter interrupts my thoughts and injects a little levity into the situation. I draw a ragged breath. Jack has moved away a little but he is still so close. Our hands are almost touching on the table.

Get it together Sam! I have to stop being so irrational. I have to get in control of myself. The incident in the truck only served to prove how easy it would be for me to lose control completely. I love this man, but I can't have him, and there is nothing I can do about it at the moment short of breaking the team up. I repeat the mantra over and over in my head.

The waiter hands out the menus and we order our drinks. I order a wine without thinking, but by the time I realize that alcohol is the last thing I need, the waiter is gone. Instead, I occupy my mind with the menu in my hands.

Jack is busy talking to Mark about something, but I am having trouble concentrating on the conversation. I need to gain a whole lot of perspective on this situation, and quickly. I'm lonely, but I have to keep reminding myself that I can't have this man, not yet anyway. At the moment all we are is colleagues, friends, but we can't be anything else. The regulations prohibit it.

I turn my attention back to the conversation as the drinks arrive. Taking a big gulp of wine, I wait until everyone has made their orders until I make mine, I can't really focus on the menu anyway. Then we all settle down and renew the conversation.

Thankfully, it turns out that looks is the only thing that Mark shares with Daniel. I let Jack do the talking, glad to have the opportunity to listen and not think. Besides, I can tell Jack really likes this kid. I have a feeling it has something to do with Mark playing Hockey.

"So do you two have any kids?"

***

The question hangs in the air for a long time, well, until Cassie starts giggling. I'm sitting there, mildly in shock. He thinks we're a couple? He thinks we're married? Wow. I'm flattered even though he's wrong. We look like a couple!

I hear a choking sound beside me and turn to see Sam spitting her mouthful of wine back into her glass. At any other time it might have been comical, but I can see her getting really distressed. Her face is red, her eyes darting to everyone at the table. She looks beautiful. I reach over and pat her on the back until she takes a gasping breath.

"Are you ok, Sam?" I ask the question quietly as I drop my hand back to the table and rest it over her slender hand, trying to ignore the little spark of electricity that shoots through me.

She's been awfully quiet since I put the rose in her hair. Did I cross the line doing that? Have I made her uncomfortable? I don't think I have been coming on too strong. I'm trying to show her that I care about her, is there anything wrong by displaying it by touch, in a way I normally can't? I'm not a man of many words, especially when it comes to talking about how I feel, and the way I see it this is the way that is easier for me to express myself.

Maybe I am overdoing it a little. What happened in the truck shook us both up. It shook me up a lot, but it also made me realize how powerful my feelings for her are. I nearly kissed her, in microseconds I managed to disregard everything for that one moment. It made me realize something else too . I want to do it again. I want to kiss her.

I'm gripping her hand tightly, waiting for her to pull her hand away, as I try and force myself to answer the kid. I nearly jerk my hand away in surprise as she gives my hand a little answering squeeze. I guess that answers my question. I weave my fingers through hers, the action automatic, it just feels so right!

I clear my throat. "Um . we . we're not actually . involved".

Mark blinks with disbelief, his eyes locked on our joined hands. "Oh . I thought you were", he stammers. "I'm sorry".

I smile, more at the fact that the kid mimicked Daniel almost perfectly with his apology. "We're just good friends . really good friends".

"Oh".

Cassie breaks the awkward silence by bursting into laughter. I shoot her a silencing glare warning her to keep it down, which only serves her getting even more raucous. It's then I notice that her eyes are glued to our joined hands. The penny starts to drop. Had she planned this evening hoping that it would bring Sam and me together?

She stops laughing all of a sudden and grabs Marks hand. "Come on . let's dance". I guess she got the hint.

I watch Cassie stand and practically drag Mark with her as she makes her way to the nearly empty dance floor. We're alone. I feel my earlier nervousness coming back, but I push it away.

I turn my attention back to Sam. She's been so quiet. She's looking off into the distance, her attention a thousand miles away. I wonder what she's thinking about.

"A penny for your thoughts?"

She turns her head in my direction slowly. "How many pennies have you got?"

"As many as I need".

I take a moment to study her. She looks confused, torn between happiness and sadness. Torn between her conflicting emotions. Sam has never been the sort of person to let on how she truly felt. Even when Jacob was dying she didn't let on how much it bothered her. Sam, like me, has her mask well practiced. Not tonight, however, and I know I'm the same.

There is just something about tonight that leaves those barriers down. Maybe it is the casual intimacy we're sharing in. The fact that it's just the two of us, and Cassie and Mark, makes it easier for us not to pretend. We both know how we both feel about each other, and tonight we don't need to hide it.

She is silent for so long I wonder if she is going to say anything. But I wait patiently; knowing that she will say something in her own time.

She sighs. "It's Mark . that question he asked . I just . He thought we were a couple! He thought we had kids!"

"Is that such a bad thing?"

It just slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it. I said it quietly but Sam jerks like I slapped her. Why don't I think before I speak? But as I am telling myself off I notice that her hand is still clenched in mine.

Her eyes are on mine, filled with curiosity and I can see questions lurking beneath their cool blue surface. A shy smile forms on her face. "Which part . the couple or the kids?"

We're treading on very dangerous ground now. I know that and I can see she knows that too. I can't help myself, and I don't think she can either. This is taking our flirting to a whole new level. Can we go back from here if I answer her question the way I want to?

"Well I know how I feel about that. How do you feel about it?"

Ok, so it's not the nicest thing in the world to throw it back at her, but can you blame a man for being curious? I want to know how she truly feels. I want her to tell me how she feels.

She laughs lightly, but I can see she is taking the question anything but jokingly. "I . I'm not sure. Personally or professionally?"

Her eyes are burning, imploring, as she watches me. She wants me to define the rules. She wants me to indicate how far we will go. I wonder if she knows just how far I will. Does she know that regulations don't bother me? Does she know I don't care if I break a few regs? Does she know the only reason I haven't done this sooner was that I was waiting for her say so?

"Let's not bring the professionally part up tonight", my voice is almost a whisper. "We're friends out for dinner, not colleagues out for a business dinner. I don't want us to think about work tonight".

I can see her about to protest. On impulse I raise our joined hands and place a soft kiss on her palm. "Please, let me finish". I don't know who is more surprised by my actions, her or me. But she remains silent; her eyes wide and fixed on me.

"Personally . Sam I have lost a lot in my life, you know that. I've started to become a firm believer that if you get offered a second chance at something you should take it."

I don't know how to continue. I want so much to tell her how I truly feel. I want to tell her I love her. I'm scared of taking the risk. What if I tell her and I scare her off? That's the last thing I want. She is watching me intently and I can't form the words. They are frozen in my throat.

An unfamiliar voice interrupts my train of thought. "Did you order the steak, sir?"

D'oh!

***

The waiter couldn't have picked a worse time to bring our food. Jack was on the verge of telling me something, and by the look on his face, it was something important, something heartfelt.

I'm intrigued. I desperately want to know if he was going to tell me what I was expecting. I want to know if he was going to tell me that he loves me. Now, I wonder if I will ever find out.

I hope so.

I know it won't be any time soon as Cassie and Mark come bustling back to the table and we begin eating our meals. The table is silent as everyone eats and conversation is put on the backburner. The food is amazing, and even though I hadn't thought that I was very hungry I managed to devour the entire contents of my plate.

Conversation after dinner is a little strained. I feel a little sorry for Cassie because she can't really talk about her life before we found her, not really anyway. I'm happy that she has adapted somewhat though, and incorporated her past as best as she can to sound realistic to anyone that doesn't know her like we do. I know it's still difficult for her to talk about, so when she does talk about her past, she keeps it to a minimum.

We're all full and content, well I'm as content as I can be. I want so much to know what Jack was going to tell me. I look up to find him watching me, a glint of regret in his eyes. Seeing that look, I can't stop myself from reaching over and touching his hand. Before I can pull it away he entwines his fingers through mine again.

Its funny how little actions, small contact like that can make everything else blur into the background. I'm aware of Cassie's boisterous chatter, and the ambient music filling the restaurant, but my eyes are focussed solely on our joined hands on the table. Prior to tonight I had no idea how comforting . how right . it felt to have my hands joined with his.

I'm acutely aware that the night is drawing to a close and I want to savor every moment that we have left. It may very well be the last opportunity we have for this in a long time. It is the first time we have been out without the rest of the team in four years.

I don't want it to end . I never want it to end. The thought startles me. More than that it scares me. I never thought that spending more time with Jack would affect me as adversely as it has tonight. I always believed that I would be able to maintain my control, to keep a distance, to be content with the fact that one day . hopefully not too far away . we would be able to do this again, and more.

Now, I'm not so sure. Why should we wait? What to we have to lose? Ok, bad question, we would lose our jobs. But for the sake of love, isn't that risk worth it? What am I saying, I don't know if he does love me for sure.

No, that's wrong. I can see it in his eyes, feeling it in the gentle touch of his hand on mine. Even though I can see it I will not believe it until I hear the words come out of his mouth. Then I know for certain. Then I can tell him that I love him too.

Cassie jumps up from the table, drawing my attention back with her, and tugs at Mark's hand. "Let's dance again!"

Its then I noticed that the music is louder, and the dance floor crowded with quite a few more couples. They both move around the table and Cassie grabs my free hand and pulls. "You two are coming too!"

I pull my hand away and smile. "I don't think so. Not just yet anyway".

Cassie frowns disapprovingly at me before turning an imploring gaze on Jack. "Come on, it'll be fun!"

Jack gives a short, barking, laugh. Standing he pulls at my hand. "Yeah come on Sam. It'll be fun!"

Good old sarcastic Jack, I can see Cassie has him well wrapped around her finger. I make a sound of protest, but allow myself to be pulled to my feet. I can't say no to that mischievous smile of his. I think he knows it too.

All I can think about as I am being led to the dance floor is how big a risk this is. All the songs playing tonight have been slow and romantic. Even though I don't want this night to end, I have to try and maintain some sort of distance. The thought of being held in Jack's arms is too appealing. If I don't keep my distance I know I will lose myself in them.

Jack wraps his arms around my waist drawing me closer to him as we begin to sway in time to the music. Any thoughts of keeping a respectable distance between us abandon me, as with each passing moment we move closer and closer together. I begin to relax in his arms. This is where I have wanted to be for a long time, wrapped in his arms.

*Whenever I'm alone with you You make me feel like I am home again Whenever I'm alone with you You make me feel like I am whole again*

For a long time we say nothing, content to be so close. I am losing the battle with my self-control the more I relax in his arms. We have become completely oblivious to our surroundings as we move to our own beat. I drop my head down to rest on his chest, calmed by the sound of his heart beating. I don't ever want this to end.

*Whenever I'm alone with you You make me feel like I am young again Whenever I'm alone with you You make me feel like I am fun again*

I feel his lips brush across the top of my head. I am desperate to know what he was going to tell me earlier. I look up at him. His eyes are dark, and burning with desire, a desire I am certain is reflected in my eyes too. I'm lost . completely and totally.

*However far away I will always love you However long I stay I will always love you Whatever words I say I will always love you*

I finally manage to find my voice. "So what were you going to tell me before?"

*Whenever I'm alone with you You make me feel like I am free again Whenever I'm alone with you You make me feel like I am clean again However far away I will always love you*

My voice is so husky, even to my own ears. Uncertainty flashes through Jack's expression for a fleeting moment, and then it is gone, replaced by a small smile. We have slowed our pace even more, we are barely moving. "Are you certain you want me to tell you?"

I know what he is meaning. This will change things between us. "Yes, I want to know".

He stops, his hands move from my waist to cup my face gently between them. My eyes close for a fleeting moment at the feelings that surge in me at the touch, before I meet his eyes again. "I love you Sam".

There is no turning back now for either of us, even if we wanted to . and I don't want to. I have made my decision. I think subconsciously I made the decision when I agreed to come along tonight. I want to be with him. I want to start my life again with him at the center of it.

"I love you too Jack".

***

I can't believe the relief I feel as Sam utters those four words. All along I was certain that she felt that way, but her admission meant more than just her simply telling how she felt. It was her acknowledgment that we would be embarking on a new journey from this moment on.

We have stopped moving, caught in the moment, caught up in each other. Slowly, I close the gap even more between us. Pulling her tightly against my body, I feel her wrap her arms around my neck and moistens her lips invitingly.

Her eyelids flutter closed in anticipation, the small vein in her neck pulsing . matching my own heartbeat. Her lips part, drawing me ever closer. As our lips meet, a deep buried fire erupts from within, engulfing us body and soul. I'm falling. Or maybe I am flying. I am not sure ... I just know I am lost in this woman. Completely and utterly lost.

In a matter of moments all my dreams have become a reality. Our actions are tentative at first, as disbelief battles with the actuality that this is real, but we quickly deepen the embrace. Our bodies mould together as we close the distance between us, holding each other tightly and never wanting to let go.

Reluctantly I pull away, remembering that we are in a very public place, and here we are skirting the fine edge of decency. I'm watching Sam as she slowly opens her eyes, her expression enraptured. My heart is pounding. It's been a long time since I was this happy, and this is only the beginning.

I pull her close to me again . I never want to let her go. She slides her arms about my waist and tucks her head under my chin. We begin to move slowly to our own beat. We define our own rules. We live our own way . and we have chosen to do it together.

Any doubt that I had that Sam would change her mind disappeared as soon as she told me how she truly felt. I know her well enough to know that after making that sort of admission there is no turning back. I could see in her face that she did not want to. I love her so much!

I press a kiss to her forehead. I don't want to be here anymore. I want to be alone with the woman I love. Tonight I don't want to share her with the world; I want her all to myself. I want to be free to talk to her, learn about her . make love to her.

"Let's go home", I whisper into her hair. Home is where ever she is. I want her to know that.

All the pain and distress of the last few months has gone. All the guilt I felt at being forced to shoot her has gone. I know now that she does not blame me for what I was forced to do. I feel like I have cast off my old shell and it's been replaced by this newer happier and contented one.

I feel complete.

We separate, I hope for the last time tonight. Brushing a chaste kiss across her lips, I quickly move off to pay the bill, leaving Sam to round up Cassie and Mark. Minutes later we pile into my truck.

I have a feeling this is going to be the longest journey ever!

I'm counting down the seconds before the inevitable explosion from Cassie as I pull the truck out onto the street.

"I knew it!"

"You knew what?"

I can tell by Sam's voice that she is trying hard to remain neutral, but she, like me, has a grin plastered across her face, and her voice is airy and happy. I grab her hand and hold it tightly. I have to touch her; I have to keep telling myself that this isn't a dream.

"I knew that if we got the two of you out you would get together". Suddenly her arms are around my neck and she is hugging me tightly. "I am so happy for you guys!"

I'm pretty happy for myself. It's not every day a beautiful woman tells you that she loves you. Hell, I'm over the moon. I want to hang my head out the window and declare our love to the world!

I glance at Cassie in the rearview mirror. "So you did plan this all along didn't you? I suppose your mother was in on it too?".

At least she has the audacity to look sheepish. She shrugs. "Daniel too!"

I laugh out loud and catch Sam's wondering look. Those sneaky bastards! But it is flattering. I can't be mad, I'm thankful to them, if they hadn't have set this up then I would never have found out that she loved me.

I guess we don't have to worry now about whether we tell our closest friends or not. There is no point telling Cassie to keep quiet about what has happened between us tonight, because I know very well that she couldn't. I know our friends will keep it quiet. I know they will be happy for us.

I don't anything will ruin my jovial mood tonight and a look at Sam tells me the same. She is watching me, as I concentrate on the road I can feel her eyes on me. I think I'm the luckiest man on the planet . hell in this galaxy!

The rest of the trip is a blur for me. I can't concentrate on anything else but the thought that soon I would have the chance to be alone with Sam. My thoughts are on the road ahead, and on the hand that is resting gently on my thigh. I never would have believed that we would have been so comfortable together, so quickly.

We drop Mark home first. He lives three blocks from Cassie; so we don't have far to travel to take her home either. She is radiating happiness as we pull the truck into the drive. I can see the lights on in the living room. Janet must be home, or perhaps she was home the whole time?

"Do you want to come in and tell Mom the good news?"

Next to me Sam starts to giggle at the same time I do. "No, you can tell her for us", I say. I just want to get her alone.

"Tell her I'll give her a call tomorrow", Sam finishes for me, squeezing my thigh gently.

"Okay then", Cassie replies excitedly. "You two have a good night then!" Winking she closes the door to the truck and runs up to the house.

I can't help laughing as I back the truck back onto the road. "Do you feel any better knowing that we were set up?"

Sam turns to me, a warm look on her face; she as slides closer to my side. "I had a feeling all along that we were. I don't care. I'm happy. In fact I think we should do something for them . a thank you from us".

I grin and grip the hand on my leg. "I think so to. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't be here now".

I couldn't agree more. We lapse into a comfortable silence on the way back to Sam's house. We don't need to talk. We have said everything that needs to be said for the moment. Instead we just sit with the comfort of each other's presence, content with the knowledge that the decision has finally been made and that four years of wondering, four years of flirting, have come to a fruitful end.

I feel a small pang of nervousness as I pull up to the curb outside her house. Do I invite myself in or do I wait for her? We sit in silence for a long moment after I turn the ignition off.

"I had a wonderful night tonight Jack", Sam whispers finally, taking her hand from my lap and grabbing the door handle.

"Me too".

She opens the door and hops out, hesitating for a moment outside before popping her head back in with an uncertain smile. "Well . are you coming in or what?"

I laugh. Of course I'm coming in. Locking up the truck I walk around it and wrap my arm around her shoulders. I pull her to my chest and cup her chin gently with my spare hand. I take a moment to look into her eyes. I could spend all night just looking at her!

Her eyes close, the invitation clear. Leaning down, I capture her lips with my own. Her hand drifts up and tangles itself in my hair as we move closer, losing ourselves in this moment. I could spend all night doing this!

I break the kiss, knowing that if it lasts much longer I will lose all self- control. I want this to last the whole night!

"I love you so much", I whisper, as I guide her up the footpath towards her door, and our new future. To our new life together.

The End.

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