There was a peculiar smell that had pervaded his house, he realised, as he walked through the front door. It took him a few moments to identify it. It was the smell of cleanliness, of vacuumed carpets and dusted shelves, scented candles and air-freshener.

In short, it was the smell of women, a smell his house had not known for a long time.

He deposited his keys on the table by the door and retrieved the message off his answer-machine which transpired to be a tele-salesman's offering of quick, easy and cheap double glazing. Nonplussed by the apparent emptiness of his house he moved stiffly towards his living room, pushing open the door and-


He smiled. Carter and Cassie were sitting in his living room, a large and sticky iced cake on the coffee table. Cassie jumped up and embraced him unashamedly, taking care not to bump his wounded chest. "I'm glad you're back," she murmured.

Carter looked unusually uneasy, sitting awkwardly on his sofa with the air of a woman not sure if she should hover in or out of sight. He released Cassie and smiled at her, the memory of their kiss still firm in his mind. She smiled back, still supremely uncomfortable. He sighed internally, and wondered if it were possible for them ever to make it past this teenage-like embarrassment at being in the presence of one another in a non-military situation. Sometimes, it was so much easier to be Carter and Sir.

"I bought cake," she said brightly.

Cassie decided to retreat to her room at half past ten, leaving them alone. Carter stood up after the teenager had bade them both a good night. "I'd better go..."

O'Neill's brow wrinkled in perplexity. "I thought you were sleeping here?"

Carter flushed a deep red. "No... I.. Uh, well, I didn't think it would be very appropriate now you're home and I can check into a motel or go home or-"

"Don't be daft. You're more than welcome here. If you want to sleep on my couch, that is," he said.

Carter considered her options. "No, I'm sure..." She trailed off in the face if his penetrative stare. "Um," she managed, valiantly re-attempting to re-iterate her desire to leave, "Er.."

He was holding his head at an angle, his expression unreadable. His hair was mussed at the back as it so often was, giving him an air of boyishness.

"Um... Well, if you really don't mind me sleeping on your couch..."

"Has Pete still not moved out of your place?" he asked as she sat back down.

She winced. "No. Not exactly. Not until the sale comes through and he can get another place of his own. I mean, I can always sleep on base but he really has no where else to go and..." And I don't really want to bump into him if I can help it. He might try to persuade me to change my mind and I couldn't bear that.

He nodded wisely. "I think I understand."

She found she was looking at the knees of her jeans.

His fingers touched her chin lightly and she turned her head to look into his eyes.


She nodded, swallowing with nerves. It was still odd to hear him speak her name.

"I need to know... something. I don't want to offend you by asking... but I have to know..."

"Know what?"

He exhaled slowly before speaking. "Did you leave Pete? Or did Pete leave you?"

She blinked. "Um. It was kind of... a mutual decision, si-Jack. I went to tell him I was leaving and he... asked me to leave before I really got the chance to tell him."

He nodded. "I think..." He stopped and then restarted his sentence, "I think I'm gonna go to bed."

She suspected his words were not the ones he had originally intended to speak but she smiled anyway, a little falsely, and nodded. "Good night then, Jack."

"Good night." He moved as if to kiss her, but then apparently though better of it and pulled away, limping quickly out of the room and up the stairs.

She sighed deeply and put her head in her hands. Nothing in life is ever simple, is it?

After a few more moments staring at nothing in the dim light of the living room she shook herself out of her fug and retrieved her nightclothes and blankets from their hiding place in the under-the-stairs cupboard. Jack's sofa was designed to be converted into a reclining lounger and served fairly well as a reasonably comfortable bed. She undressed in the dark and slipped into her night-clothes, waiting until the cessation of the sound of running water signalled that Jack and Cassie had both finished using the bathroom. Then she went upstairs to prepare herself for sleep.

Ten minutes later she had pulled her blanket up to her chin and was staring at the ceiling of O'Neill's living room, her mind racing. She had work to finish tomorrow, a paper on naquada decay rates to complete and several experiments to run.

The living room door creaked open again and she jumped in shock. Having being so absorbed in her thoughts she had not heard the intruder creep down the stairs. She gulped. Jack O'Neill, dressed only in boxer-shorts, stood in the door-frame. Her stomach leapt.

He crossed to her and she drew her knees up to her chin so he could sit back down. "Uh do you...?" He lost his nerve again and settled for finishing with : "...Uh, want a coffee, or... anything?"

Time to take the bull by the horns. "Not really," she half-whispered.

A half-smile lingered around his mouth. "Me neither."

There was a pause, in which the creak of Cassie's bed as she turned over could be heard.

He reached for her hand, folding his fingers over hers and leaning in to kiss her softly on the mouth. She shivered slightly as he ran a hand up her arm and along her shoulder. She found herself pulling him into an embrace, savouring the feeling of her bare arms on his bare back. He responded passionately, kissing her more deeply and shifting his weight deftly so he did not crush her as he was effectively pulled on top of her. He let his lips slide to the crook of her neck and held her closely, enjoying the feeling of warmth and closeness despite the blankets that still lay between them.

After a moment of blissful stillness he released her, and slid off the couch. He stood, hesitant and uncertain as to what he should do next and her mind raced frantically.

Is this what I want? Does this feel right? Do I feel guilty?

She followed his lead, standing upright and touching his shoulder lightly.

Yes, it is. It's always felt right. And why should I feel guilty, now? Pete is divorcing me. I am free and single and an independent woman. I can do as I choose.

She shadowed him out of the living room and up the stairs. His bedroom was the first door on the right. She followed him inside, the room illuminated by the soft glow of the bedside lamp, and slipped into bed next to him.. She wondered if his heart was pounding as fiercely as hers.

After a few moments he reached out towards her, his fingertips brushing her midriff. She fumbled for the bedside lamp and flicked the switch, plunging the room into darkness.

Sam and Jack. They went together, as naturally as breathing. In the light of all her burning bridges she perceived it, as he did, with crystal clarity.

The End