There were few things that could really annoy Sam Carter. Her brother's antagonism towards her work, people blowing cigarette smoke in her face, Rodney McKay, being interrupted while she was in the middle of a train of thought by someone jingling keys by her ear...

Irritated by the interruption - she'd said she'd be done with these equations in an hour, and he'd promised to leave her alone until she was finished - she closed her hand over the keys to stop the noise.

He wouldn't let go of the keys.

Sighing, she glanced up at him, quelling the instinctive urge to hold onto her temper, to be the good, obedient 2IC that she'd become accustomed to being around him.

They weren't in a chain of command, they were no longer bound by the regs, and as long as they were working in the broader Stargate Project - he in DC, she in Nevada - then anyone with the smallest grain of sense knew better than to question how close they were.

Letting down her defences enough to sleep with him had been difficult enough; refusing to step back into the pattern of commander and subordinate was much harder - and it was a near-constant stress on their relationship.

"Another twenty minutes," she said, not allowing any pleading to enter her voice. The lines had to be drawn somewhere, and she really wanted to finish this off so she wouldn't have to think about it for the rest of the night.

He heard the frustration in her voice and loosed his hold on the keys, frowning. "Twenty?"

"Yes." Sam held out the keys to him, puzzled when he ignored her outstretched hand. She watched him as he left the room in the not-quite stalk that betrayed his anger at the way she'd shut him down, and sighed to herself as she set the keys down on the side table.

Sometimes this relationship felt like more trouble than it was worth.

Nearly an hour later, she emerged from her notes to realise that Jack hadn't come back inside.

Probably sulking, she thought uncharitably, then sighed as she glanced at the keys with which he'd tried to get her attention.

Sam paused.

Not his keys, nor hers. They jangled as she picked them up, an unfamiliar weight and shape in her hand, and she stared at them for a moment, wondering where they'd come from.

His DC apartment, she realised. He'd promised her a set so she could let herself in when she came to visit him in DC. At the time he said it, Sam thought it unnecessary. It had been different when they worked at the SGC.

Watching the light gleam off the raised lettering of the locksmith, Sam grimaced to herself. She should have known better. Jack had always been a private man; and while most women would have preferred diamonds on a ring rather than a key, Samantha Carter wasn't most women. Marriage and two-point-three kids were not in their future and never had been.

She put the computer to the side and went looking for Jack.

He was out in the deckchair by the lake that had no fish, a beer in his hand and a shuttered look in his eyes as she sat down on the pier by the foot of his chair. "All finished?"

"It can wait," she said, resting her cheek against his knee. After a pause, she held up the keys, slung around her left ring finger. "Thanks."

Another pause, then his hand brushed over her hair. "You're welcome."

And although Sam couldn't see his face, she could hear the soft resolve in his voice - the almost-wondering note to it that never failed to shiver through her soul.

He moved, and she turned her head in time to meet his kiss, slow and sweet and gentle, an intimacy as poignant as any amount of sex.

The keys jangled as they fell to the wood of the pier.

- fin -