"No, Daniel, it's just a headache. I'll be fine. Sorry to cancel on such short notice. I already called the General. He was relieved, actually. He said he was really tired. He was going to go home and straight to sleep. You'll call Teal'c for me? Thanks, Daniel. Yes, I'll see you tomorrow."
Sam rubbed her hands together in evil glee, relishing the cliché gesture out of spite. Her plan was right on track. Before this night was over, General Jack O'Neill was going to be forced to admit that he wanted her, and then she was going to put him out on his ass.
Carefully, she made sure the scene was set. She turned on all the lights, set the rented movies atop the VCR, laid bags of microwave popcorn on the counter, and laid out four place settings on the table. Surveying the scene, she smiled with approval and headed for the shower. He would be here any minute.
Sam stripped and stepped under the hot spray. She saturated her hair, then turned off the tap and waited. He was prompt as usual; she only had to wait a minute before the knock came. "Just a second," she called. She pulled on her red satin robe and waited a moment for the water on her skin to penetrate the fabric, causing it to conform and cling to her body as she walked.
Carter flung the door wide open. "Sir!" she said with feigned surprise. "You're an hour early."
Jack wasn't sure he could harness the power of speech when confronted with a near-naked, pleasantly damp Carter. He forced his eyes up to hers and away from the rivulets of water working their way from her hair down the front of her robe. "You said seven." Hurray! He'd managed it. He was very proud.
"I said eight."
"Pity Daniel isn't here to carry on this witty repartee with you. Which he would be, except that I said eight."
"Well, I'd come back, but what am I supposed to do with all this food?'
Sam suppressed an evil smirk. She'd asked him to pick up the food, enough for three hearty humans and a bottomless Jaffa, in order to ensure he couldn't back out at the last minute. "Come on in. You can use the oven to keep it warm. I'll be back in just a minute."
Jack followed her into the house, doing as instructed. Alone in the kitchen, he argued with himself. Should he leave and come back? No. What would she think? You're tough, he told himself, you can handle this. Suddenly, he found himself smiling as the absurdity of the situation struck him. He never thought he'd have a hard time not talking about feelings.
"What are you smiling about?" Carter asked him as she re-entered the kitchen. He was surprised to see that she still hadn't dressed, but had only retrieved a towel with which to dry her hair.
"Nothing," he answered too quickly.
"So," Sam began, leaning back against the counter top, "we have an hour. Any ideas what you'd like to do?"
Oh, did he have ideas! And none of them wholesome. Jack's mind scrambled for an allowable alternative. "TV?" he shrugged.
"Fine." Sam walked into the living room and picked up the remote. She stood near the couch, flipping through the channels with the remote control. Jack settled in the far corner of the couch and waited. "Nothing grabs me," she noted, tossing the remote to him. As he began to scroll through the channels, she lowered herself to the opposite end of the couch, curling her legs onto the empty cushion between them. She resisted the urge to adjust her robe as it fell open to mid-thigh.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw Carter getting comfortable. Consciously, he chose the program most likely to detract from a sexually-charged situation. There was nothing romantic about SpongeBob SquarePants. He'd seen the episode playing half a dozen times already and was actually starting to find it marginally annoying, but that was a good thing at this juncture.
Sam stretched languidly, her toes brushing against Jack's thigh.
Jack refused to take his eyes off the television. "Uhh, Carter? Aren't you going to get dressed?"
"It's a quirk of mine. I don't like to dress until I'm totally dry." She rubbed her right foot against the calf of her left leg, her robe falling further away.
O'Neill tried to concentrate on the cartoon. Squidward was crying out in frustration, his bloodshot eyes popping out of his skull. Jack could relate. Carter bent over and began rubbing her calf with her fingers, the neckline of her robe opening dangerously wide.
"Uhh, Carter?" he said again. "How long does it normally take you to dry off?"
"Well, I wouldn't be wet right now if it weren't for you."
"Huh?" He turned towards her automatically, regretting it instantly. She was smiling; she was beautiful. Too beautiful.
"This robe. It's rather damp. If you weren't here..."
"Oh!" He turned quickly back to the screen.
"My calves are still killing me from all the climbing we did on PXC-373 the other day. Sir, I don't suppose I could convince you to work the muscles out for me a bit?"
Jack sprang up off the couch. "You know what, Carter? I'm starving. Let's eat now. Then when Daniel and Teal'c get here, you can get dressed, and I'll massage your calves while they eat, okay?"
Sam smirked at his retreating figure. "You get the food," she called after him, "and I'll go get dressed."
Ouch, Jack thought. Sam wasn't making this easy. He knew her actions were innocent – at least she wasn't coming on to him! – but she was making this difficult nonetheless. She returned to the table in a backless green sundress, the hem reaching just below her knees. One glance confirmed there was no way she was wearing a bra, and considerably more leg was on display than he was used to seeing.
Acknowledging his silent appraisal, she explained, "This is the only thing I have that exposes my calves. I'm going to hold you to that offer when we're done."
"Of course," Jack said casually, while his stomach tied itself in knots. Where the hell was Daniel? The man was perpetually early to team get-togethers, always eager to help get things ready. Jack was rapidly approaching cold shower territory, and he needed a human buffer now.
Sam did her best to converse naturally over dinner. Her companion wasn't exactly cooperating, but she really didn't mind at all. She delighted in every small indication that she was getting to him. He was trying not to show it, but she knew him too well. His tense posture, the set of his jaw, the tone of his voice all told her he was struggling to maintain his image of control.
"Leave the dishes for later," Sam instructed, rising from the table. "I believe you owe me a massage."
Jack watched her walk away – in the wrong direction. "Carter?"
"Are you coming out?"
"Stop hollering and come here, would you please?"
Jack walked down the hall and found her on her bed, stretched out on her side. He leaned against the doorjamb to her room, with no intention of setting foot over the threshold. "What are you doing?"
"You said you were going to rub my calves."
"On the couch!" he protested.
She looked at him with an expression of disappointment. "I can't stretch out on that couch. It's too short."
She carefully schooled her expression into one of innocuous expectation. They stared at one another until she knew she'd won. She rolled over on her stomach, tapping her toes against the mattress in silent encouragement for him to get started. Wondering exactly how crazy he was, Jack entered the room and began to work his hands over her lower legs.
Sam sighed contentedly. "That's definitely helping."
"I'm glad to be of service," he muttered.
"That feels so good," Sam moaned.
"I'm starting to worry about Daniel and Teal'c," Jack said anxiously. "They should be here by now."
"Could do that just a little higher? Now that the pain from my calves is easing up, I realize my thighs are aching, too."
Breathing deeply for calm, Jack eased his hands under the edge of her skirt, working the muscles just above her knees.
"You have very strong hands."
All the better to molest you with, he thought, but wisely kept his mouth closed.
"Higher," she sighed.
Jack's hands froze. "Carter."
"Yes?" She worked to infuse her voice with a sort of sultry innocence.
"What? Why?" Same tone. She was pleased with the result.
"It's... not appropriate."
"It's relieving my pain. What's inappropriate about that?"
"It's not what it does to you," he growled. "It's what it does to me."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I need a cold shower as it is."
Sam sat up, moving next to him. She looked down at her hands folded in her lap, carefully controlling her tone. "Are you saying you want me?"
"For chrissakes, Carter. Have you looked at you?"
She couldn't help a little thrill at the admission, but it didn't turn aside the anger that brought her to this point. "Spell it out for me. I want to hear it from you."
"Yes, Carter. I want you. Which is why..."
"Get out." She interrupted, dropping all pretense and glaring at him angrily. Jack stared back at her with a look of such profound confusion that at any other time she couldn't have helped but feel sorry for him.
"I said get out." She stood, staring down at him, and pointed out the door.
"You've toyed with me long enough. I can't stand to look at you right now."
"Have you lost your mind?"
"I've finally seen things rationally!"
"I've toyed with you? This from the woman who spent the better part of the last month acting like a sex-starved sorority girl?"
"I was doing anything I could to get your attention, and you completely ignored me."
"What the hell did you expect me to do? Throw you down on the table in the commissary? Drag you into a storage closet?"
"You could have done something to let me know you still found me attractive. Instead you made me suffer. Do you have any idea how much insecurity and self-doubt you've inflicted on me?"
"Let me get this straight. You were angry with me for not showing how much I want you, and now you're kicking me out for showing how much I want you. Is that right?"
"I'm angry because you hurt me!"
Jack threw his hands in the air. "How? What have I done?"
"You know exactly what you've done! And if you don't, I'm not telling you!"
"Oh. My. God." He stared at her in utter disbelief. She didn't just say that. Sam was a lot of things, but she was not one for stereotypical female histrionics. "Who are you and what have you done with Samantha Carter?"
"I am Samantha Carter."
"Then you are psychotic."
Sam turned away. "You've ignored me, rejected me, and now insulted me. Are you done yet?"
"Sam..." Okay, so maybe she was dangerously crazy right now, but he still didn't want to hurt her. "I was just trying to give you some space. I thought – no, I think – that your breakup with Pete has really hurt and confused you, and you aren't exactly yourself. I don't want you to risk your career just because you're on the rebound."
She turned back to face him. "From Pete?" she asked incredulously. "You think I'm on the rebound from Pete?"
He didn't answer, but Jack's stare accused her. Sam was stunned. Of course, he would think so. She'd broken up with Pete the day she realized she could never love him the way she loved Jack, but he would have no way of knowing that, would he? For all he knew, she was suffering the loss deeply. Samantha Carter could not believe what an idiot she was. She didn't know what to say. She decided that I'm sorry was a good place to start.
As he stood staring at her, Jack wished he knew what was going on in her head. He could see the emotions flash across her face, but couldn't imagine what was behind them. Until she hung her head and apologized. Then he knew she'd come to the realization, that she saw how she'd been acting. Irresistible force moved him forward to wrap his arms around her, to comfort her. "It's okay, Carter. Heartbreak makes people do strange things."
Sam suddenly became aware of how tired and emotional she really was. She rested her head on his shoulder and breathed in the wonderful, rich scent of him. Nothing brought her comfort like being in his arms. Perhaps it was a programmed response, having sought comfort there only in the most dire situations. She didn't care; it was a wonderful place to be. "You don't understand," she mumbled into his shirt. "I only dated Pete because I was on the rebound from you. And I left him because of you. That's why it made me so crazy when I thought you didn't want me anymore."
Jack pulled back to look into her eyes. He found the truth there. He always could. "It's time for things to change, isn't it?"
"I'm tired of locked rooms and regulations, Jack."
"Jack?" he asked in surprise.
"Jack." Sam said his name decisively, possessively, as she laid her head back on his shoulder and laced her arms around his back.
"Sweet." He rested his chin lightly on the top of her head and pensively stared at the wall. "So, umm, Daniel and Teal'c?"
He lifted her face to his and brushed her lips with a soft kiss. "Sweeter still."