Spoilers: This chapter and the next have some serious spoilers for Lost City.
A/N: Admittedly this first scene doesn't really advance the plot (I like to think I have a plot in this story somewhere), and it ended up longer than I originally intended. I just thought it'd be a fitting little interlude before things got serious again.
Ch. 6 – Lost
"There. All done."
Sam looked up, slightly startled, as a well known hand dropped a piece of paper on the commissary table in front of her. The hand's owner continued around to take the seat opposite her, depositing his lunch tray in front of himself.
"Teal'c is dragging Danny boy out of his lab by his hair, so they should be here in a few minutes."
The Colonel proceeded to dig into his lunch while Sam opened the folded piece of paper to find a completed crossword puzzle. A smile had already started to creep on to her face, she'd win this bet for sure, there was no way that he'd be able to have completed it with no mistakes. However, as she continued to study the puzzle, the burgeoning smile turned into a frown of confusion. She couldn't find a single mistake. For this bet she'd pulled the puzzle from a book of such puzzles, and this one's theme was medical jargon. Sam only knew the answers because of all the time she'd spent over the years with her late best friend. How the heck could the Colonel have figured out the answers?
"Sir?" Sam knew that he was far from being a stupid man, and if some of his quips were any indication he had an excellent grasp of his grammar and vocabulary. He ended that sentence with a preposition...bastard. She couldn't help but grin at that memory. Still, she'd practically stacked the proverbial deck against him with her choice of this particular crossword. Or so she had thought.
"How...how exactly did you do this?"
He looked up at her with a puzzled expression spread across his face, "Do what, Carter?"
In response she stared at him pointedly while giving the paper a bit of a wave in front of his face.
He shrugged and went back to his meal, "Oh. That." A minute later he still hadn't answered her question.
"Well??" Sam was so tempted to reach over there and take his fork away from him until he answered her. Unfortunately, she was all to aware that, like with Teal'c, getting between the Colonel and his food was hazardous to one's health.
"Like you do any crossword puzzle, Carter. You read the clue, look at how many letters are required, and write in the answer. Voila! Finished crossword."
She let out a frustrated huff and took another bite of her Jell-O. After a moment, something occurred to her. After all, she hadn't had the presence of mind to expressly forbid it while making the bet. It would be just like her CO to cheat if he thought he could get away with it.
"You got Daniel's help didn't you, sir?" she asked accusatorily.
He looked up and met her eyes with a smug grin, "I will neither confirm nor deny your accusation, madam."
Before she could think up a suitable reply, Teal'c plopped his typically heavily ladened tray down beside hers before taking his seat.
"Heya, T, where's Dr. Jones?"
Teal'c frowned ever so briefly, "Daniel Jackson was...delayed by Captain Turner. He will join us momentarily."
"Ah, another addition to the Space Monkey Fan Club, eh?"
"Indeed," this time Teal'c's amused upturn of his mouth and humorous twinkle in his eye were a little more noticeable.
Meanwhile, Sam had returned her attention to the crossword puzzle while slowly eating her Jell-O. She still couldn't figure out how the Colonel could have pulled this one off without serious help, a couple of these she didn't even know. Not that she was a medical doctor or anything, but her near photographic memory meant that if she'd at least heard the word in context, she'd likely know it and its meaning. Daniel must've assisted him, she kind of doubted that the medical staff would've helped the Colonel, assuming in the first place that someone had held a gun to his head to get him to go to the infirmary while he was uninjured.
"Say, Carter, is that all you're going to eat for lunch?"
She frowned at him, "Sir, I had a bagel before you arrived."
"Jeez, Carter. I'd say you eat like a bird, but that wouldn't quite be true. Fried worms have more protein."
"Fried worms, sir?" she queried with an amused smirk.
"What, don't tell me you haven't read How To Eat Fried Worms. It's a classic!"
Sam chuckled briefly, "Is it right up there alongside Barbecuing With Beer?"
A disgusted grunt was his only reply before he shoveled another mouthful of the commissary special into his mouth. Oh, what a mouth Sam caught herself thinking. That mouth was connected to that ruggedly handsome face, which was connected to that delectable looking neck, which was connected to those broad shoulders, which were connected to those lean, but strong arms, which were connected to those talented hands, which in turn included those long, amazingly dexterous fingers that were fiddling with his silverware and that she wished he'd instead use to--
Sam brought her train of thought to a screeching halt and jerked her eyes away from where they'd settled. She would've been blushing furiously at her own thoughts if she hadn't had way too much practice controlling her outward reaction to him. Fortunately, Daniel chose that moment to get his timing right. Out of the corner of her eye Sam could see her CO considering her speculatively, as if he somehow had a hint as to the nature of her wandering thought processes.
"Daniel! Could you explain this?" she asked as she handed him the crossword puzzle after he took his seat next to the Colonel.
He adjusted his glasses and peered through the lenses at the piece of paper, "Ah, Sam, it looks like a completed crossword puzzle to me."
"Ya think?" she retorted before she could stop herself. Needless to say, the choked laugh from her CO and the raised eyebrow from her Jaffa friend weren't much of a surprise.
She ground her teeth, "What I meant, was...did you help the Colonel solve it?"
"Ah, no. My doctorates are in archaeology and linguistics, not medicine," he replied with a puzzled frown.
"Fine," she jerked it away from him while glaring at her CO, who was looking way too smug for her liking.
"Face it Carter, you owe me twenty bucks."
"Fine," she repeated with a disgruntled sigh, "but my wallet is in my lab, so I'll pay you after lunch." She couldn't believe she'd lost yet another bet with her CO. She really ought to know better by now. Perhaps she could draw him into a game of pool at O'Malley's to get her money back.
They'd all returned their attention to their meals for a couple of minutes before Daniel began to describe his conversation with Captain Turner. In great detail, unfortunately. Apparently, her team, SG-15, had come across a set of ruins that appeared to heavily favor French architecture. A rare find for the SGC. It seems the language of the people had continued to evolve after their separation from Earth, so she was wanting his assistance in the translations of the French based dialect. Sam could see her CO's eyes glazing over and knew an interruption was incoming. But it didn't come from the source she expected.
"Daniel Jackson, I do not believe it is the study of French linguistics that Captain Turner wishes to pursue with you." Teal'c's emphasis on 'linguistics' was ever so subtle, but more than enough to drive home his point to the startled, and soon embarrassed Daniel Jackson in question.
Twenty minutes later Sam was leading Colonel O'Neill into her lab. She immediately headed over to her desk to grab her wallet out of the drawer. After retrieving a twenty dollar bill, she turned to where her CO was standing beside her workbench and handed it to him.
"I still think you cheated, sir."
"I didn't cheat, Carter. Besides, you never said I couldn't get help," he replied with a grin.
"All right, fine, you win," she pouted.
"I'll tell you what, let's go double or nothin' and I'll prove my impressive skills to you again."
She looked at him thoughtfully for a few moments. Then she hopped off the stool she'd settled onto and went over to her bookshelf where the crossword puzzle book was stashed. She thumbed through it for a couple of minutes before ripping out one of the pages and replacing the book onto the shelf.
"Here," she said as she handed the page to the Colonel.
He took a moment to look it over before returning his gaze to her. This one had a lot of astronomy and astrophysics clues, with an odd chemistry one thrown in. He could definitely understand why she picked this particular puzzle. "You sure this is the one you want, Carter?"
"I can find an easier one for you to grasp, sir, if you'd prefer," she replied with a mischievous grin.
"Have it your way, Carter," he threw over his shoulder as he walked out of her lab. Just from his first perusal, Jack figured he could answer most, if not all of the clues given. Between his hobby and listening to seven years of geek speak, he didn't think there were more than one or two at most that he couldn't get in the long run. But he'd already walked down that path, and there was no fun in doing so again. He'd have to come up with a new way to use this to tweak Carter's nose.
"I should have done it."
"What? Stuck your head in that thing? Are you nuts? Carter. You're one of this country's natural resources, if not national treasures. It couldn't have gone down any other way. I just hope it's worth it."
"Even if we do find the Lost City, even if we get there and find exactly what we're looking for to defend the planet—"
"That…would be worth it."
"Give me your zat."
Samantha Carter quickly walked over to her pack and retrieved the requested weapon for her CO. Colonel O'Neill took it from her and shot the crystals. They crackled with the energy from the discharge before the engine hum went up a couple of octaves.
"There you go," he said as he returned her weapon to her.
"Sir, I think you should know that General Hammond authorized me to take command of the team if I determined that you—"
"Do it now."
"Sir, I don't think that's necessary--"
"I trust you. I'll make it easy for you. I resign. You're in charge."
Sam took a moment to screw up her courage before starting the conversation she looked forward to with equal parts hope and dread.
"OK…Sir, at your house before Daniel and Teal'c showed up, what I was gonna say was..."
She trailed off as Jack looked up from his perusal of the crystals, "I know."
Alright, so he didn't really know what she was going to say, but it sounded like she was gearing up for one of those conversations that would tax his mental facilities at the best of times. Unfortunately, she had to go and call his bluff.
"No! No, you don't. Not this time." Sam hesitated, unsure how to proceed now that she had gained his attention.
All she knew is that she felt like she was out of time. Sam had been teetering on the edge of starting this conversation for weeks, but she was still doing what she'd been doing for years, putting it until 'later'. But now he was going to die for sure unless by some miracle the Asgard reappeared, from wherever they were, in time to save him. There was a distinct and terrifying possibility that she'd never get this chance again. Sam simply realized she could no longer stand having this regret hanging over her head.
Jack just continued to stare at her, patiently waiting. She could tell from the difficulty he had focusing on her face that he was only half with her. His racing mind trying in vain to assimilate the vast knowledge downloaded into it.
"I've been trying to work up the nerve to say this for weeks, perhaps even months." She couldn't seem to keep her eyes on him; they were darting about, occasionally landing on his but never staying still. Her entire posture and body language echoed her nervousness as well.
"The truth is, that I…I…can't let this last chance slip by… please…I need to know. I need closure, even if it's not the kind I hope for. Even if it means to finally know for sure you no longer care more than you're supposed to. I just need to know once and for all whether my hopes and dreams are in vain," she finished, looking at him with a heart aching mixture of hope and fear swimming in her eyes.
Jack took a moment to process her hurried speech and rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Carter, you know I'm no good at this sort of stuff. You're gonna have to spell out what you're asking of me."
She began timidly, "I started dating Pete because I thought you stopped caring about me 'more than you were supposed to', and that I was holding onto the idea of an 'us' just to keep myself from getting hurt by others. I got tired of waiting for something I wasn't even sure existed anymore. Well, you know how that turned out, and then I had a long conversation with my dad, and then I almost lost you on the same day Janet was killed and…well, I just want to know how you really feel about me."
To say that O'Neill found himself confused was an understatement. Didn't she know how he felt about her? She thought he'd stopped caring? But if she doubted what he felt towards her, why didn't she ask sooner? As hard a time he had with those types of conversations, he'd have never turned her away. Yet all of a sudden she wanted him to talk about his feelings at the one time where he might not be able to, regardless of whether he was willing.
"So why ask now, in the middle of a crisis? What was stopping you before, if you really wanted to know?" he queried tiredly. Jack wasn't really expecting an answer to that so he turned to walk away, but was brought up short when she softly called his name. Not his rank, not 'sir', his name.
Sam knew her dad was right; she had to fight for what she wanted. Even if it meant doing something nigh impossible like getting Jack O'Neill to talk about his feelings. She felt complete dread about what might, or more like what might not happen if she let him walk away now.
"Jack…I…I'm sick and tired of losing you and finding you over and over again, yet nothing changing between us. I just want to know unequivocally where you and I stand so we can move forward or I can move on."
On the best of days he'd have difficulty voicing what she wanted to hear. But now was an especially bad day for such things. Anything that came out of his mouth had equal chance to be spoken in Ancient as well as foot-in-mouth type of stuff. But maybe there was a way; he had one of those niggling feelings in the back of his head. Similar to when he started building doohickeys without knowing how or why.
"Are you sure that's what you want? Or is it going to get left in that room again when this crisis is over?" he questioned Sam as he turned back around to face her. It seemed like she was treating this like a 'deathbed confession', thinking the worse was going to happen and trying to clear her regrets before it was too late. However, they'd survived many situations before that had looked equally bleak at the time, their first trips to Antarctica and Apophis' motherships sprang immediately to mind. Add that to the fact that in the past, whenever their feelings for each other had been brought to light by circumstances she'd always taken the first step back once the 'crisis' was over. So he was a bit dubious about whether there was really a point in having this conversation here and now.
Something in his voice must have warned her, because she hesitated and glanced away briefly before giving him a firm nod, "I'm sure, I don't want to leave it in the room any more, whatever may come. I need to know."
He quickly covered the small distance between them and slightly startled her when both of his hands reached toward her and took hold of either side of her face. Sam thought briefly that he was going to kiss her, as a result her heart sped up in anticipation.
But something in his eyes stopped that thought not long after it formed. She was becoming utterly lost in those expressive brown eyes as they bored into her, seeing past her, through her, down into her soul. His face kept coming closer, his eyes never wavering from hers and Sam found herself literally incapable of looking away, even if she'd been so inclined. She felt a strange detachment come over her, almost as if her mind was separating from all physical sensation in her body. Peripherally, she felt his forehead come into contact with hers, but his eyes didn't stop, they kept coming towards her in a rush, becoming molten in their intensity. There was a bone rattling jerk and suddenly she was no longer on the tel'tak.
To be continued...