Title: Strings

Author: Gail R. Delaney

Genre: Fluff

Pairing: Jack/Sam

Rating: It's pretty clean... PG to be safe.

Length: short

Spoilers: Upcoming 'Threads' episode

Timeline: Season 8

Synopsis: What, are you chicken? Bock! Bock! Bock!

Archive: , Sam and Jack, SJfic... if you'd like to post it somewhere else, just let me know. I'm sure I'll say yes, just want to know where.

Feedback: YES!

Disclaimer: I make no money for this. Wish I did.. but oh, well. No copyright infringement intended.

Special Thanks: Jen, as always, you ROCK as a beta! And you keep me in line. As far as the synopsis goes, blame her. She laughed her head off with this line... so it had to be used.

I also have to thank Caty, who unwittingly gave me my inspiration. I watched her video "Spanish Guitar" by Toni Braxton... and well... the rest is history.

Sam couldn't bring herself to even pull into his driveway this time. She parked her car across the street and fifteen feet short of his mailbox, positioned so she could see his house. From here, she saw a soft light glowing from somewhere inside, but no movement to indicate if he was the only one there. After the embarrassing run-in with Kerry Johnson, she needed to be sure...

Christ, I'm as bad as Pete.

She blinked at her own thoughts, then closed her eyes and leaned her head back onto the seat's headrest. Didn't that say it all if her first thoughts about her fiancé were his 'stalker' tendencies? When the hell did she let herself get dragged into this pseudo-relationship with a man that she barely stomached most of the time, and whose control freak tendencies did nothing less than totally piss her off?

Tonight being the prime – and final – example. It had been bad enough that he had bought a house without talking to her – bought a freakin' house! – but tonight he practically 'informed' her how their entire life would be. They'd marry within 3 months, and would wait another six months before trying to start a family. And it was "insane" for her to consider continuing her work with SG-1. It was too dangerous. He would "provide".

Pompous, arrogant ass!

And she had said as much before marching out of the restaurant and roaring away in her car.

Sam clutched the top of her steering wheel and rested her forehead on the backs of her hands. She had lost site of the truth somewhere in the last year. Somewhere along the way, if even for a moment, she had lost hope in 'them'. Not her and Pete. Her and Jack. And that one moment had been enough to get her here.

And she had to find her way back.

Even if it meant Jack was already gone. If so, she would figure things out but she wouldn't just turn around and walk the same road again.

Sam drew a long breath and lifted her head. Now or never. Do or die. Semper Fi. Blah blah blah... Just get on with it, Carter!

You big Chicken! Bock! Bock! Bock!

Sam grabbed her purse from the seat beside her and opened her car door with a vengeance. The sun was just beginning to set, leaving everything shrouded in half-light. She glanced up and down the road before crossing, and strode up his driveway with determination. The soles of her high heels crunched on the white stone walkway leading to his door.

She climbed his front steps, and raised her hand to knock, but in the moment that she paused a beautiful sound reached her. Clinging to the soft breeze was the slow, melodic beauty of guitar strings being played by a master. Haunting notes danced around each other with such grace, she held her breath. Sam turned her head, trying to pinpoint the source.

It sounded too natural, too real to be recorded music. The flow innately flawed yet perfect at the same time. Sam stepped away from his door and followed the sound to the corner of Jack's home. With each step, the music became clearer.

She schooled her steps to make no sound on the gravel walkway as she rounded the corner that led to his back patio. Citronella candles burned softly, several sitting along the railing, casting a golden glow over the patio. And him.

Jack sat on the railing, one foot on the wooden plank floor, the other on the middle rail. On his thigh rested an acoustic guitar, its polished face honey blonde in the candlelight. Sam eased forward, stopping short of stepping onto the redwood stairs. She stayed just outside the circle of candle glow, and watched him like she'd never seen Jack O'Neill before.

His fingers moved effortlessly and gracefully over the neck of the guitar. Long fingers added just the right amount of pressure, with the right mixture of gentle skill, to bring the strings to life as his other hand plucked and strummed them with almost blinding accuracy. She tried to focus on his hands, but they moved so fluently they blurred when she stared too long.

She had noticed his hands years ago. The length and strength of his fingers, the calluses that marred each tip. Even though the word seemed so inappropriate to use on a Colonel – now General – in the Air Force, they were elegant hands. Hands that had pulled her to safety more than once. Hands that had, on occasion, given her solace and comfort by the simplest touch. Hands that could wield a P90 with deadly accuracy.

Hands that could produce beautiful music.

It was an enchantingly slow melody that danced through the backyard, calling out to nature itself to witness the skill of this craftsman, yet hung heavy with a latent sadness.

Jack's head hung low, his lips slightly parted and his eyes closed as he played. He slowly swayed, tilting his ear towards the body of the guitar. His hair looked silver in the candlelight, the planes of his face sharpened by the shadows. A breeze came through the yard, tugging at the short sleeved, blue shirt he wore.

Sam closed her eyes, letting the music flow around and through her. It wrapped an unseen fist around her heart, and squeezed gently enough to bring tears to her eyes. Then the notes slowed, spiraling down to a final culmination that had Sam's breath caught in her throat as he strummed the cords one last time.

Sam waited for the silence to swallow up the final strains of music, then blinked her eyes open, finding him again in the falling darkness. Jack's arms were crossed on top of the guitar, his forehead resting on the bend of his elbow. Squaring her shoulders, one hand pressed to her tumbling stomach, Sam drew a breath and took the first step up onto the patio.

Jack's head snapped up the second her heels touched the wood. His eyes were almost black in the fading light, and his stare locked with hers. Sam swallowed, and continued up the steps to the patio.

"Carter?" Jack said, lowering his foot from its perch and swinging the guitar by its neck to rest on the top of his sneaker. "Something wrong?"

She stared at him, not wanting to look away from this amazing man that – after eight years – she felt like she had just discovered. Yet one more layer of Jack O'Neill had been pulled away to reveal a man that intrigued her more each day.

"I didn't know... You play... it was beautiful," she said, stumbling over her own thoughts and words.

He pushed his free hand into the front pocket of his jeans and looked down at the instrument. "Thanks. It's been awhile..."

Sam's heart pounded in her chest like a frantic, caged bird and a warm flush beneath the surface of her skin fought against the chill in the air. She walked towards him, and as she approached, he looked up again. Jack's gaze moved quickly over her, and she smiled. She had been beneath his appreciative gaze before, even when he didn't know she saw him do it, and just as always it made her feel beautiful and special.

Like a woman.

Not a BDU wearing, gun toting, technology analyzing, Goa'uld fighting soldier.

But a woman.

"Hot date?" His voice was rough, gravelly.

A sarcastic remark would have been typical at that moment. Their way of keeping each other at arm's length. Never be too honest. Never open up too much. Never stand too close.

To hell with typical!

She walked right up to him, his chin hitching down in small degrees to hold eye contact. Jack's lips were slightly parted, his jaw cocked a fraction to the side, as if he were trying to figure her out. He probably thinks I'm drunk...

When they stood just inches apart, Sam looked down and wrapped her fingers around his lower arm to urge his hand from his pocket. A beaded bracelet hung loosely around his wrist, accentuating the definition of his bone structure and the size of his hands. He didn't fight, allowing her to bring his hand up and turn it over, palm up. She supported it with one hand, and stretched his fingers straight with the other.

Not looking up at him, but knowing his gaze was on her with the same surety as if it were his touch, she focused on his other hand and the guitar he held in it. With gentle care not to damage the treasure of craftsmanship, she took it from his grip and leaned it against the railing behind him. With the hand empty, she brought it up to mirror the position of the other, palms up, between them.

Sam ran her palms along his, settling their hands together. His fingers extended past the ends of hers by inches, not just small degrees. She ran her fingertips along their length, mesmerized by the hard calluses at the tips now grooved by the guitar's strings. She leaned forward, smelling the metallic ting left behind by the instrument.

"Carter..." His tone had lost the lilt of question, now simply the one form of identification they had allowed themselves over the years spoken with heavy intent.

Sam looked up, meeting his gaze before her name was fully off his lips. His eyelids sat heavy over his dark eyes as he looked into her face. She smiled wider, realizing she had been smiling since he looked up. As she took in the details of his face, recognizing the years that had passed since the first time they looked at each other over the briefing room table, she saw a man more handsome now than then. More handsome because she knew him.

Knew how he drank his coffee.

Knew his stride, when it was full of purpose and when he was looking for something to do.

Understood his sense of humor, and his total irreverence for authority even though he was a man of authority himself. A fact even he saw the humor in.

She could look into his eyes and see the anger, the pain, the mirth, or the frustration that no one else saw.

She felt his presence when he stepped into a room, without ever having to turn around.

She could pick his voice out in a crowded room, especially if he said her name in conversation.

She knew who Jack O'Neill was. He was a man who would give everything for someone he cared about, without reserve or pause or question. A man who couldn't see his own worth.

"I love you, Jack."

His eyebrows popped up, his eyes widening for just a moment. But he didn't look away, didn't step back, and didn't contradict her. Sam slid her hands over his, clasping them palm to palm, and lowered his arm so she could step closer. She let her head fall back to hold the gaze while allowing their bodies to touch.

Now or never. Do or die. Who's chicken now, huh?

He released her hands, his arms easing up to wrap around her body. Sam leaned into him as he rested his weight on the rail behind him, bringing her with him. Her hands rested on his arms, the muscles beneath his shirt flexing as he tightened his hold.

"No kidding?" he finally asked.

Sam laughed softly. "No kidding."

She raised her chin to meet his kiss, their lips brushing together tentatively until the painfully gentle caress sent shockwaves through her from core to limb. Sam parted her lips, opening herself up to his kiss as his tongue slipped past her teeth to stroke her own. He tasted like vanilla ice cream and root beer, and something too deep and unnamable it had to simply be Jack. Sam curled her fingers into his arms, pressing against him.

Jack's hand cupped the back of her head, holding their mouths together for the deepest, most perfect kiss she had ever known, ever imagined, even in her hottest 'Jack' fantasies.

They had to stop for breath, and Jack pressed one more brief kiss to her lips before pulling back to look down at her. His dark eyes scrutinized her face even as his fingers massaged against her scalp, lacing into her hair. Sam reached up to smooth away some of the gloss left behind on his lips, waiting for him to speak.

Finally, when he didn't, she whispered "What?"

"This is usually about the time I wake up."

Sam smiled. "We haven't even gone to bed... yet."

"Yeah?"

She nodded. "Yeah..."

A small 'v' formed above his eyes and his hand came forward to hold her cheek, his thumb brushing her lips. Sam kissed his skin, and nodded her head, hearing all the unasked questions she knew were on his mind. She leaned into him, glad her heels gave her just enough additional height to bring them nearly eye level. Sam held her mouth near his, feeling his warm breath on her cheek.

"There. I said it," she whispered and pressed a kiss to his lips.

Before he could pull her close, or deepen the kiss, Sam stepped back out of his hold. She consented to let his fingers curl around hers for just a moment longer before the contact is broken. Her cheeks hurt as she walked back to the steps, her smile so wide and coming from a place deep down that hadn't seen the light of day in a long time.

"Sam..."

A silly giddiness tickled up her spine and she paused, her hand on the railing, to look back over her shoulder. Jack had his hands pushed into his pockets, the hem of his shirt bunching around his wrists, with his ankles crossed as he leaned on the railing. A breeze whispered through, shifting his hair across his forehead.

"Yeah?"

"I love you, too."

Sam pulled her lower lip through her teeth, the involuntary action almost difficult with the grin on her face. She nodded, and hopped down the steps, her heels echoing in the still night. As she walked along the side of his house, the soft strains of guitar music filled the night. This time, the melody was lively and exciting and erotic and made her want to dance.