Title: Message in a Bottle

Author: DebC

Fandom: SG-1

Rating: PG

Character: Jack O'Neill

Pairing: Jack/Sara

Spoilers: For nothing recent. I'm still living in Seasons 1 through 3 Land.

Disclaimers: So not mine. Though, if anyone wants to share... ;-)

Summary: Jack took the letter, folded it up, and shoved it inside the older bottle.

"Message in a Bottle"

Dear Sara...

Jack O'Neill had started this letter thousand times and a thousand times, he'd ended it in various stages, with different versions of different explanations. Why he left... why he pushed her away. Why he stayed away even though he that in both their hearts neither of them wanted him to. And each time, he got to the point where the words jumbled at the end of his pen the same way the jumbled up in the back of his throat when he practiced saying them aloud in the mirror.

Jack O'Neill was a man of few words and most of them weren't the kind of flowery mush that women liked to hear.

Jack'd had a hard enough time using those words on Sara the first time, when they'd been dating. He'd fumbled over every compliment he'd given her on their first couple of dates, to the point where Sara had laughed lightly--he loved her laugh, too--and told him to stop. She understood, she'd said, though even now Jack couldn't figure out how exactly she understood. But she hadn't been lying to him.

Sara had understood things about Jack O'Neill that he hadn't even realized existed until she came into the picture. Again, something that should have been possible, but it was.

She knew with one look at his face how his day had gone: a good day, a bad day, when the higher ups on his chain of command had jerked him around. She'd take that one look, walk into the kitchen and return with a beer. If it had been a good day, she'd plop down on the couch next to him, curl her legs up and tuck one foot up in under her and simply sit there with loving eyes. Eventually, Jack would tell her little things, a funny story maybe, and they'd smile and laugh and fool around once the beer was gone. When his day had been hard, she'd still get him the beer, but instead would stand behind him and massage the shoulders made tense from dealing with numbskulls all day.

Dear Sara...

How hard would it be to just up and tell her how much he missed that? How much he missed the 'good old days.' The laughs they used to share; the love they had for one another.

Maybe it wouldn't be so hard if he didn't still want those things. If he could say them knowing that they'd both moved on with their lives. Both of them. So that saying them wouldn't hurt her... or him in the process.

Because it hurt enough already... it hurt to say all of it. I miss you. I still love you. I'm sorry... for everything. Everything. Charlie, walking out on their lives... years of silence.

Lots of silence.

But Jack was good at silence. It was the one thing, right up there with shooting his mouth off in tense situations, that he was really, really great at.

And his Sara understood that, too. He could see it in eyes when she realized that the man she'd thought was him wasn't him at all. That whatever they'd said... whatever might have gone down between them... hadn't happened for real, because the real Jack O'Neill hadn't said them. She'd understood and she hadn't pushed it. She hadn't called him up, hadn't asked for the truth.

His Sara understood all too well that he just couldn't go over to her house and sit down wither on the couch and pour his heart out over a cold one. Or a glass of lemonade or iced tea or anything else.

Dear Sara...

Sure, there were times when he wanted to. Badly.

Times like those, he'd sit down with a pad of paper and start one of those letters. "Dear Sara," he'd write and then get up to grab a beer. He'd write a few words, take a drink, write another word, and in his mind, she'd be there massaging his shoulders... working out the tension born of his own frustration with himself. When the bottle was empty, so were Jack's words and he'd put down his pen and walk away. Sit on the couch and stare at some old photographs he couldn't bear to take down, because they reminded him of what he'd lost.

And of what he wanted most of all.

Once, he'd left the pen, paper and bear bottle out while he was off on another thrilling offworld adventure and come home to find them waiting for him. He went and got a new beer, took the pen, and picked up where he'd left off. Mid-sentence even, as if the words had been there the whole time.

Two more beers and a lot of scary, deep feelings later, Jack took the letter, folded it up, and shoved it inside the older bottle.

He meant to throw it out, but for someone reason, he didn't. After that, every time he got that urge, he wrote until the words left him at a loss and then he'd shove them inside the bottle. Keeping them, storing them up until... hell, he didn't know what for exactly. He should have thrown it out. Should have taken the cursed thing to work with him and chucked it through the Stargate.

But he hadn't and by some twisted joke of Fate, Daniel'd managed to find it when he was supposed there for their ritual movie night. He nagged about it the whole damned night, too. What was it, why didn't he throw it out, and after Jack burst out with "For cryin' out loud, Daniel, it's nothing!"-- why did Jack keep it around if it was nothing.

"Because it isn't!" Jack had shot back before he even realized it. His mouth taking him places he didn't want to go, as usual. He didn't want to talk about it. So he told Daniel to just forget about the damned bottle and hurry up with the movies. He went and got two beers and the popcorn he'd popped before Daniel's arrival and they watched a pointless, cheap comedy and called it a night.

But after that, the idea that Daniel knew and hadn't asked bugged the pure piss out of Jack. He'd catch Daniel staring at him and wonder if he was thinking 'what's in the bottle, Jack?'

"All right already!" he blurted out on day in the locker room while he and Daniel were changing out of their BDU's. "They're letters to Sara, dammit!" Then he slammed his locker door and glared at a very flummoxed Daniel. "Are you happy now?"

"I-I, uh...? Letters to Sara? Your ex-wife, Sara?" Daniel's eyebrows shot up and the confusion faded away into understanding. "Why... don't you just give them to her?" he asked cautiously.

Now, why hadn't Jack thought of that before?

Because he had thought of it before, that's why. Thought about it every time he started one of those letters. Thought about it every time he got ready to go offworld and wondered if he'd ever see her again. What if he never the chance to say in person all the things he'd struggled to write down.

Not that he'd ever really say any of it, but he liked the idea that he could if he wanted to.

Dear Sara...

He loved her, still, after all this time and heartache. He loved her and missed her and he couldn't say it without tying his guts into knots.

Except for the fact that he had said it all, a thousand times and in a thousand different ways. All of it. Charlie, their marriage, his love, the Stargate. Each and every word that was so difficult to write and utterly painful to say, all shoved into one--at present--very full beer bottle.

Why don't you just give it to her?

Yeah, why the hell not?

Jack shook his head, not believing he was about to do what he was about to do, and went to the closet for a box and packing materials. He wrapped up the bottle, shoving one final note inside.

A half hour later, he was standing outside her door. He considered knocking, considering ringing the bell and handing it to her personally, but in the end, he simply set it down on the steps and left it for someone else to find.

All the way home, he imagined her finding it when she came home from work. He could see her opening it, the puzzled expression on her face. He wondered if she'd try to get each note out by hand, or if she'd just break it the glass. Or if she'd think some nut left it and threw it out.

When one day passed, and then two, and he hadn't heard from her at all, he assumed it was the latter.

Some nut left it, like he'd left her years before. Jack decided he knew now why he hadn't given her any of the notes before. He forced himself to forget about it. It had been a fool's hope.

Nearly two weeks later, Jack came home from a rough mission... another run-in with Apophis, another chance to save Sha're gone down the tubes... and found a lonely beer bottle on his front doorstep. It was empty, save for a single sheet of rolled up paper, which he scooped up and rolled out.

"Dear Jack," it said. "Why didn't you say so in the first place? I love you, too, you know. P.S. phones work, too."

Sara.