The Whisper of an Angel

Category: Romance/Angst/UST

Spoilers: Abyss, Affinity, Sacrifices

Season: Eight (Alternate Reality)

Pairings: Sam and Jack

Rating: PG

Warnings: Sappiness, some language, tissue warning?

Summary: Jack anticipates another depressing Christmas alone. He is wrong.

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are not my property. I have written this story for the enjoyment of Stargate SG-1 fans all over the world. No copyright infringement is intended and no monetary gain is expected.

"What about you? If things had been different…"

"I wouldn't be here."

He had practically encouraged her to say yes to Pete, to go ahead and have a life without him, to stop hoping and waiting for something that may never be. She had listened. She had accepted it. And she had said yes. And now Sam wondered, for the thousandth time, if she'd made the right decision back then.

She was now engaged to Pete Shanahan, and it was time to meet the family. She stared at the phone she had just hung up, her short conversation with Pete confirming her travel plans to Denver still ringing uncomfortably in her ears. Conflicting emotions swirled within her chest and made worse the tension headache she'd had all day. Sighing deeply, she let her head fall into her hands and started to rub her temples, hoping to alleviate some of the pain. With her eyes closed, she didn't realize that someone was now watching her from the open door to her lab, his sad brown eyes longingly drinking in her beautiful, distressed features.

"Are you okay?" she heard, and her head snapped up to find her general standing at the door with his hands in his pockets.

"Yes…" she started to answer, then closed her eyes again and covered her forehead with one hand as she shook her head. "No… not really."

"Are you in pain?" Jack asked in concern as he took a few steps closer, keeping her workbench between them.

"Yes. I have a bit of a headache. But that's not what's really bothering me," she replied sincerely, weary eyes resting finally on his concerned countenance.

"Wanna talk about it?" he asked gently.

Sam watched him for a few moments, debating whether she should open up and tell him about her doubts. She wanted to. She very much wanted to ask him again. But she was afraid that he would respond as before and push her away once more. "No, it's… a personal problem, Sir. Never mind," she finally answered, broodingly looking down at the phone again. Her conversation with Pete had been awkward, and she still did not completely understand why she felt so anxious. So it was better not to discuss it. It was bad enough that Pete had detected her discomfort and asked her about it. She had denied it, of course, telling him that she was just tired, and he had happily accepted her explanation.

"Okay," Jack understood, his eyes dropping to the phone as well, then coming up again to meet her cheerless eyes. "You should take something for the headache. It could get worse and ruin your Christmas Eve trip," he advised. Sam could not tell how difficult it had been for him to mention her trip to Pete's parents. He was too good at hiding his feelings. He'd had many years of practice.

"I will. Thank you, Sir. Did you need anything before I left?" she asked, wondering why he'd stopped to see her so late. If he ever stopped to visit her, it was usually around lunch so that they could head out to the mess hall together and meet the rest of SG-1.

"No, I just wanted to wish you a nice trip, a merry Christmas, and… give you this," he said, placing a small, clumsily wrapped package on her bench.

Sam was surprised. She hadn't expected him to give her a Christmas gift. A lot of things had changed since she'd become engaged to Pete, and she'd expected this to be one of them. "I'm… wow," she stammered. "I'm sorry, I haven't gotten anything for you this year. I assumed…" she tried to explain, her fingers wrapping around the small silver package and lifting it up to her chest, her blue eyes troubled.

"Assumed what?" he asked densely, although he knew exactly what she was saying. Playing dumb was always easier than ultimately coming up with inept words.

"Nothing. Thank you, Sir," she smiled, shaking her head. "I'll bring you something from San Francisco," she promised with an embarrassed smile.

"Don't you dare buy me anything there when you're supposed to be spending quality time with your fiancé and getting to know your future in-laws. You can get me some socks later, when you come back. I'm in dire need of socks," he half-smiled. He never fully smiled anymore. It had been a long time since she'd seen him really smile or laugh, and she missed it. Sam watched him as he started to back out of her lab. "Have a good trip, Carter. Good luck with Pete's folks, not that you really need it," he wished her as he completed his retreat and disappeared out the door.

"Merry Christmas, Sir," she wished to the empty doorway. Sam felt awful. She also felt guilty. She felt guilty for not having bought him a gift this year, even thought she'd bought something for Daniel and Teal'c. She felt guilty for the blatant, open longing in his eyes as he'd said good-bye. She knew that he was going to be utterly alone this evening. Daniel had already left to spend Christmas with Catherine Langford, and Teal'c was visiting his recently married son. But most of all, she felt guilty for the outright dismay she felt at the thought of meeting Pete's parents. She dreaded this trip. She'd dreaded it from the beginning, a month ago, when Pete had asked her to go home with him for Christmas and she'd felt obligated to say yes.

Sighing again and putting the small package inside her carry-on bag along with her laptop, she headed to the locker room and changed. Her luggage was already in her car, and she needed to start driving to Denver straight away if she was going to make her flight. She knew Pete would be restlessly waiting for her at the airport.

As Sam emerged from the mountain, she realized that it was starting to snow. There were only flurries, but a winter storm had been forecasted for the next day, and she immediately knew that it had arrived a little sooner than expected. As she took the highway to Denver, she wondered whether she'd make it there before the storm hit full force.

Two hours later, Sam was still on the highway, her wipers sweeping her windshield frantically as she slowly drove in the thick of the storm. "Crap!" she cursed under her breath as she slowed to a stop behind a line of cars. There had been an accident up ahead. The bright lights of the emergency vehicles flashing in the distance indicated that she was going to be stuck for a while. Looking at the clock, she quickly determined that there was an ice cube's chance in hell that she was going to make it to the airport on time, and the sense of utter relief that this thought brought shocked her to her core. Leaning back against the seat of her car, she nodded in understanding and pulled out her cell phone.

"Pete, hi. I have bad news. I'm stuck on the highway. There's been an accident up ahead and I think you're going to have to go without me," she informed her fiancé.

"What? No way, Sam! I'll wait for you. We'll catch another flight tomorrow," Pete answered immediately.

"No, don't do that. Tomorrow is Christmas and you should be with your parents as you promised. They'll be really disappointed if you don't show up tonight," she argued.

"They'll be disappointed if YOU don't show up tonight. They've been looking forward to meeting you," he insisted.

"I'll try to catch a flight tomorrow. But you should go. At least they'll have you there. Please, Pete. Just go," Sam begged.

Pete hesitated, his deep sigh of frustration loud through the phone, but he relented. "All right. I'll go tonight, but I want to know what flight you're gonna be on tomorrow as soon as you get a new one," he acceded.

"I'll call you later tonight. Have a nice trip," Sam responded and quickly hung up, not wanting to prolong the conversation. She had to wait until she moved up to the spot where she could make a U turn and head back home, so for now she was just stuck, sitting motionless on the highway until they could clear the way up ahead. As she sat there, her mind deeply troubled with the feeling of liberation that the thwarted trip had unleashed, she remembered Jack's gift.

Reaching into her bag with a smile, she pulled out the small package and turned on the small light inside her car. She'd always found funny the way he wrapped his gifts. He did a worse job than a first grader would do, but it was so Jack! She slowly unwrapped the box, surprised by the feelings of tenderness that overwhelmed her at that moment. God! It was something expensive. This was no run-of-the-mill jewelry box. This came from an expensive jeweler's. Hesitantly opening it, her mouth hung open at the glittering piece inside.

It was one of those jeweled circles that was so fashionable now, hanging from a white gold chain. The small diamonds sparkled under the dim light of her car, and she immediately knew why he'd gotten that particular piece. It reminded her of the Stargate. She smiled widely at his thoughtfulness and picked up the small circle of stones with her fingers. As she rubbed the piece pensively, she felt something on the underside and realized that it was engraved. Turning it around and getting closer to the light, she read the words "ALWAYS", and her heart skipped a beat.

Always? What did that mean? 'Always what?' she wondered as she still held the piece in her right hand and the box in her left. As her eyes strayed to her lap, she noticed that there was a little piece of paper stuck inside the upper half of the box. Sam put the box down, quickly hung the pendant around her neck and pulled the note from the top. Close to the light, she read the words scribbled in Jack's unmistakable handwriting: "This is your last Christmas as a single woman, Carter. By next year, you'll belong to someone else, and I wish you all the happiness you so rightfully deserve. I want you to know that, single or married, you can always count on me to be there for you. Always. Jack."

The last few words blurred as tears filled Sam's eyes, emotion choking her throat and making it difficult for her to breathe. 'My God! What am I doing?' she asked herself, wondering how she could have allowed things to stray this far off course. Her heart had been telling her all along that she'd trodden along the wrong path. She'd let her desire for a normal life and a stable relationship cloud her judgment and said yes to a man she didn't belong with. As much as she cared for Pete, she knew deep in her heart that the one she truly loved was Jack. He'd been the one all along, and she had stupidly let him push her away.

She knew that Jack had done it for her benefit. She knew he thought he wasn't right for her and that she shouldn't waste her time waiting for them to be allowed to be together. He'd said things here and there throughout the years. He'd frequently joked about his age, about his low IQ compared to hers, and about him being a tired, old soldier. And she realized that he truly did not realize how great he was. He'd obtusely ignored the fact that all their alien allies looked at him as the epitome of what humans could and should be. He'd failed to accept her everlasting, naked admiration for him. He'd dismissed Daniel's insistence that he'd been worthy and ready for ascension, as he'd confessed to her during a weak moment as he'd recovered from the addictive effects of the sarcophagus, years before. He'd never understood why Teal'c, a man who had lived more than a hundred years, blindly believed in him and would follow him anywhere.

This mistake had gone too far. But it was not too late to correct it. She hid the piece of paper inside her bra, close to her heart, turned off the light inside her car, and prepared to return to Colorado Springs.

Meanwhile, in Jack's dimly lit living room, the general absentmindedly watched a Christmas movie as he nursed a bottle of lukewarm beer, dejectedly sprawled on his couch. He'd seen this movie before. The one with the guy that could see what his loved ones' lives would be without him around. This movie always made him think of all those alternate realities they now knew existed for real, and tonight it made him wonder if in one of those realities Charlie was still alive and Sam Carter was his treasured wife. That summed up the perfect life for Jack O'Neill. Having both his son and the woman he loved by his side.

With thoughts of Charlie in his mind, his eyes slowly drifted closed and slumber overcame him, leaving the almost empty beer bottle precariously hanging from his fingers. He could hear his little boy's laughter. He had not forgotten that particularly wonderful, happy sound.

"Dad! Catch!" his young voice called, and Jack opened his eyes just in time to catch the baseball hurling toward him. He smiled and prepared to throw it back, Charlie running away so that he could catch it on the run, practicing his outfielder skills. Jack let go of the ball and saw it fly across the wide space between him and his son. Charlie laughed again, "Great throw, Dad!" he praised as he easily caught the ball and then threw it to his father again. Jack had to run to catch the ball. It had been thrown farther than he had anticipated. "Don't let it go, Dad! Don't let her go!" Charlie yelled between giggles.

As Jack caught the baseball, his son's words registered. "Her?" he asked in puzzlement. "What do you mean her? It's a ball!" he shouted at his son so he could hear. Charlie was standing far away from him, but he was not little Charlie anymore. He was a young man. He was tall, strong and beautiful. His hair was darker than he remembered him having, but his smile was the same. "Don't let her go, Dad," Charlie repeated in a normal tone of voice that Jack was able to hear despite the distance. "Look," Charlie pointed at Jack's right hand, and the baffled general looked down at the baseball glove covering it. The baseball was gone, and a sparkling circle of diamonds sat on the brown leather. It was the pendant that he had gotten for Sam's Christmas gift. Jack looked up again to ask his son for an explanation, but there was no one there. Charlie was gone. His feeling of loss hit him all over again, and he started to run toward where his son had been standing. "Charlie! Come back!" he screamed as he ran, tears threatening to overcome him.

The beer bottle dropping onto the carpet startled him awake. Jack jumped up from the couch and picked it up, looking at it as he wiped his face and swallowed the knot in his throat. He rarely dreamt of Charlie, and when he did, the dreams were nightmares reliving those horrible moments of his death. This was the first time he'd ever seen his son as the young man he would have become if he had lived. He sat again, relishing the memory of the new dream, proud of the man Charlie had become in some other reality as he stared at the embers still glowing from the fireplace, the only other source of illumination in the room aside from the TV, now in the middle of a commercial.

His reverie was suddenly interrupted by the absurdly loud sound of the doorbell. Jeez! There was a storm raging outside! Who the hell could be ringing his doorbell tonight? All the Christmas carolers were probably huddling together inside a well-lit store and sipping eggnog right now. He grumpily strode to his door and opened it half-way, ready to tell whoever it was, "Merry Christmas, now go away!" The words stuck in his throat as he stared at the beautiful woman half-covered in snow standing on his doorstep. His mouth was hanging open, shocked by the unexpected apparition and wondering if it was a blessed hallucination.

"Merry Christmas, Sir," Sam grinned, teeth chattering. "May I come in?" She just stood there, shivering, waiting for him to react and not willing to move until he invited her in.

"God, of course! Jeez, Carter! What are you doing here?" he reacted, grabbing her roughly by her coat's sleeve and pulling her inside, shutting the door behind her with a bang. "Are you okay?" he asked as he swatted at her, helping her get rid of the snow accumulated on her coat and hat. Her nose was red, as were her cheeks, but her blue eyes were the bluest he'd ever seen, and her smile was the happiest one he'd had the pleasure of admiring for a long time.

"I'm fine!" she giggled as she got rid of her hat, shaking it at him playfully.

"Hey! Watch that! That's freezing!" he complained with a wide smile, ridiculously happy to see her there. "What happened? I thought you'd be on your way to San Francisco by now," he asked as he led her to sit on his warm, comfy couch.

"Yeah, well… things happen for a reason," she answered cryptically.

Jack frowned, not understanding, but decided that he had to warm her up first. "You want some hot cocoa or something?"

"That sounds heavenly!"

"Okay, two hot cocoas coming up," he announced as he strode purposefully toward the kitchen. From there he asked, "So what happened?"

"I missed my flight out of Denver. There was an accident on the highway and I got stuck," she explained, kneeling before the fire and stoking it. She then added a couple of dry logs as she continued to explain. "I told Pete I would try to catch a flight tomorrow."

"I bet he wasn't too happy," Jack commented from the kitchen, a half-smile on his face. 'Your loss, my gain, Pete. Merry Christmas!' he thought to himself.

"No, he wasn't. But what could I do?" Sam shrugged as she watched the fire come alive again, a contemplative smile on her face. Then, after a few moments of silence, her smile faded and she added, "The worst part is that he's going to be even more disappointed tomorrow."

"Really?" Jack asked as he stepped into the living room with two mugs in his hands. "Why?"

"Because I'm not going to San Francisco, Sir," she explained smoothly, taking one mug and sitting on the couch again, not meeting his eyes.

"What? Why not?" he asked, frozen in place with a mug in his hand, a perplexed look on his face.

"Because I'm not going to marry Pete," she responded, still not looking at him, but suddenly very interested in the contents of her mug.

"What?" was all Jack could articulate as he dropped to sit next to her. His mouth had gone dry, and his heart was now galloping inside his chest.

"I'm not going to get married. I'm probably going to grow old as a single woman, no husband, no children, no grandchildren, no nothing," she said matter-of-factly, shrugging her shoulders and sipping her mug as if she were commenting on the weather.

"What are you talking about, Carter? What's going on?" Jack asked in alarm, putting his mug down on the coffee table in front of the couch and taking hers away from her lips.

"Hey! That's warming me up!" she complained.

Jack ignored her protest and grasped her shoulders, turning her to face him. "What's going on, Sam? Did Pete do something to hurt you?" he asked angrily, his intense eyes delving into hers for answers.

"No! Not at all, Jack," Sam shook her head, her hands unconsciously coming up to his arms as he still held her shoulders. Her name on his lips always managed to create that feeling of intimacy that she'd always wished they could maintain forever. "I'm afraid I'll be the one hurting him. I hate to do it, but it has to be done," she added sadly but firmly.

"Carter?" His tone conveyed wariness and impatience, and Sam avoided his eyes again.

"I'm Sam right now, Jack. If I can't be, then this conversation is over," she warned seriously.

"Okay, Sam. Spill it… please," he relented, and she returned her unhappy gaze to him.

"I don't love him, Jack; at least, not enough to marry him. I'm fond of him. I like him. But I know it's not enough. I realized that tonight, as I was driving to Denver. Great timing, huh?" she chuckled in embarrassment. "Leave it to me to ruin everybody's Christmas!"

Jack did not chuckle along. He was deadly serious, watching her in concern as she reached again for her warm mug and sipped the hot cocoa silently. "I'm sorry," he finally whispered.

"Don't be. I'm okay. Really, I am," she assured him with a wide, forced smile. "I'm just sorry that I'll have to hurt him this way. But he'll get over it. He'll meet someone else and he'll be happy some day," she said with conviction.

"I don't know about that," Jack admitted, and Sam looked at him in bewilderment. "I think it would be hard for him to fall for another woman after having been with you." Jack had said more than he had ever intended to say, and he suddenly stiffened and sat up straighter, reaching for his own mug in an effort to dismiss what he had just uttered.

Sam gave him a genuine smile this time, then put her mug down and took his to put it aside as well, just as he had done to her earlier. Then she resolutely faced him. "Is that how you feel?" she asked directly, dismissing ranks and barriers. She'd made that decision earlier, on her way to Jack's home. She couldn't be Lt. Colonel Carter tonight, and she couldn't allow him to be her CO. They had to be just Sam and Jack if they were going to have this conversation.

"What?" he densely asked, not knowing how to retrieve his foot from his mouth.

"Do you still… care for me, Jack?" she bravely asked, now deadly serious and more than a little afraid.

"Carter…" he started to shake his head.

"Sam!" she corrected irritably. "Forget about everything else! Just answer the damned question!" she demanded, suddenly annoyed. Her blue eyes would not let his look away. "Do.You.Love.Me?" She was now grasping his upper arms, forcing him to face her, her strong fingers digging stubbornly into his flesh.

Jack hesitated. Was this a mistake? Should he deny his soul wrenching feelings for her and push her away again? Didn't she deserve better? She was so beautiful, so young, so smart, and so full of love and kindness! He didn't deserve her! "Sam, it doesn't matter how I feel!" he finally answered, not able to deny his love for her.

"It does to me, Jack. Stop avoiding the question and answer me, or I swear to God…" she started to threaten, then stopped because she couldn't come up with something dire enough to coax an answer out of him. She finally sighed and finished, "I'll kick your ass!"

This made Jack chuckle, and Sam's seriousness morphed into a helpless grin. She had missed his laughter so much! "Please, Jack," she begged softly, her thumbs unconsciously stroking his arms, making Jack's breath catch in his throat.

General Jack O'Neill, the scourge of the Goa'uld and top commander of the SGC, was mush under Colonel Sam Carter's hands. As he felt those fingers caress his arms and watched those huge blue eyes plead with him, he remembered his dream. "Don't let her go, Dad," his son had said. He had not understood why his son would be telling him such a thing at that moment, but now he knew why.

"I've always loved you, Sam. And I always will," he finally whispered with feeling, his dark orbs steady and his hands coming up to her face to stroke her still cold and reddened cheeks.

Sam's smile of joy was brilliant, and her eyes closed in deep relief as she turned her face into one of his palms to place a soft kiss on his warm skin. "I love you, too," she whispered into his hand, her eyes still closed. Then she looked at him again and stated, "And I'll wait for you as long as I have to. Even if I have to wait until we're both gray and wrinkled."

Jack's hands firmly delved into her hair, grasping her with sudden fervor as his eyes betrayed his shock. "No, Sam," he started to say, but she didn't let him finish. Her fingers came up to his lips and pressed lightly, preventing him from continuing.

"I'll have to make a very difficult phone call later. So right now, I need you to hold me, Jack," she huskily invited, her fingers now tracing his jawbone.

"God, Sam…" Jack sighed, closing his eyes as if tempted with fabulous wealth. "I don't want to hurt your career. That's the last thing I'll ever do," he whispered close to her mouth, dying to taste her and at the same time, afraid of doing so.

"You won't. But I need your company tonight, Jack. I need you with me, even if it's just to sit together and watch old Christmas movies on TV. I need this, please," she begged raggedly as her eyes filled with poignant tears. She was terrified of his rejection. If he pushed her away again, she didn't know how she would be able to handle being around him in the future.

"Sam…" He still hesitated, desperately trying to retain control over his senses and letting his head drop away from her tantalizing mouth. He knew that having her here, knowing that she loved him and wanted him, would make it extremely difficult for him to keep his hands off her.

"Jack. I'll wait forever if I have to, but I need this. WE need this," she insisted, bringing his face back up to meet her eyes again. "I love you so much!"

"And I love you. You know that! But…" He still resisted. But Sam would not hear it. She shook her head at him, pleading with her eyes, and a couple of tears rolled slowly down her cheeks.

Jack earnestly tried to find the strength to send her away, but he couldn't. He drowned in the blue waters of her eyes and surrendered. "All right, you win. But we're gonna have to be very careful. No one is gonna believe that we have a platonic relationship if we are seen together like this. And as I said, I won't jeopardize your career and your reputation, Sam."

Sam grinned with happiness despite her tears, nodding as her hands stroked his cheeks tenderly. "If you just tell me that you love me every once in a while, I can be strong. Can you?" she teased.

"I can be anything I need to be, as long as I have you to look forward to. But, God! How is this not breaking the regs?" he argued with a frustrated groan, his fingers tenderly wiping her cheeks.

"Jack, the regs prevent us from becoming a couple physically and publicly. But the regs can't control our feelings. I know I can't control what I feel for you. God knows I've tried, but I can't. Can you stop loving me, Jack? Because if you can, maybe knowing that you don't care anymore would make it possible for me to walk away again. Is that what you want?" Sam argued earnestly, her tears still spilling from her eyes.

"No, of course not," Jack admitted in a grave tone, letting his forehead touch hers and still wiping her tears with gentle fingers.

"Then hold me, Jack," Sam whispered, and Jack obliged. He pulled her into his arms and leaned back onto the soft backrest of the couch with her body warmly cradled against his. She leaned her head on his shoulder and finally relaxed with a deep sigh, her hand going to her throat and pulling out from under her sweater the gold chain holding Jack's Christmas gift.

"Thank you for 'Always,' Jack. This is the most precious thing anyone has ever given me," she whispered softly.

"I thought it was the last thing I would ever be able to give you, and I wanted it to be special," he whispered back. "I mean it, Sam. I've always been here for you, and I'll always be, until the day I die… and maybe even after that," he smiled against her hair. Sam hugged him tightly in response, and they said nothing more for a long while, watching the old classic as they relished their new, forbidden intimacy. But some time later, the glow of the fireplace still illuminating their bodies as they rested together on the couch and they stroked each other lovingly, Jack admitted, "This is waaay better than I ever imagined."

Sam smiled, turning her face to plant a heartfelt kiss on his shoulder, and admitted in turn, "Yes, it is." She then lifted her head to look deeply into his warm brown eyes and grinned, "Merry Christmas, Jack."

He grinned back, still not quite believing the gift an unexpected angel had dropped on his lap this evening. He then gently dropped a sweet kiss on his adored Sam's beautiful nose, "Merry Christmas."

The End

And Happy Holidays to all of you!