Title: D.C. Sleeps Alone Tonight
Author: Annerb
Summary: Sam worries that maybe it's a mirage that will disappear if she looks at it too closely or says the wrong thing.
Rating: PG-13
Categorization: Drama, Angst, Sam/Jack
A/N: Okay, so maybe it's a trilogy. This picks up right where 'Far From the Cynics of This Town' left off. Special thanks to Sharon for pointing out all my bad habits.

DC Sleeps Alone Tonight

By the time Sam and Jack finally back track to the correct Metro stop, it is well into the wee hours of the morning. Once up on the streets though, they are meandering slower and slower in generally the right direction, neither of them seeming interested in ending the evening. It's Jack, though, who pulls Sam to a stop in front of an all-night diner, canting his head to one side and saying, "Feel like getting some coffee?"

Sam doesn't hesitate.

Like most of this night they've spent together, it's ridiculous and sort of wonderful to sit in a mostly empty diner together until the sun finally rises up over the city. Sam can't remember the last time she pulled an all-nighter that didn't involve the salvation of the human race. Or the safety of one of her teammates--come to think of it.

The way Jack is smirking around the rim of his mug, he's probably realizing the same thing. Or maybe he's still got that fairly spectacular kiss replaying in his mind.

Sam lifts her hand to her lips. Damn, is she smirking now too?

He catches her eye and she absolutely refuses to blush.

Sometime near dawn, Sam is starting to seriously contemplate a giant slice of pie for breakfast when the inevitable happens. His phone rings.

It's amazing how that one shrill sound manages to shatter the mood completely.

It's a miracle it hasn't happened sooner, but that doesn't stop it from feeling like a test, the blunt intrusion of the real world into this bubble, as if judging whether whatever tenuous connections they've made can possibly stand up to reality. Maybe it's a mirage that will disappear if she looks at it too closely, or says the wrong thing.

"Damn," Jack mutters under his breath as he looks at the number on his phone. Obviously this is something he can't ignore. He flips the phone open, and Sam wraps her hands around her coffee cup as if trying to compensate for some loss, turning slightly to stare out the window.

"O'Neill," he says into the phone and she wonders if she's imagining the edge of resignation in his voice, the way all relaxation seems to leech away from his body. She can practically feel the General reasserting himself.

He's silent for a bit, but Sam can easily imagine some of the words in the other half of the conversation. Likely some combination of emergency, SGC, aliens, end of the world, fill-in-the-blank with whatever catastrophe of the day.

The urge to check her own phone is almost painful and only more so when she reminds herself that no one is going to call. That's not her anymore. The whole world might slip away one day while she is hiding out in the desert. It's catch-22, really. She's distant from the action and just as distant from being of use. But she'd been the one to want distance in the first place.

Careful what you wish for, she thinks, knowing this is really what Daniel had been getting at that day in Nevada.

Why are you here, Sam?

"Fine," Jack says, drawing Sam out of her thoughts. She watches him run one hand through his hair, knows whatever he's been told can't be good. "Have the car sent around in twenty minutes. I'll want to talk to Landry as soon as I get in."

So much for breakfast pie.

Jack flips the phone shut, laying it on the table in front of him. For all the urgency of the call, he remains sitting there, staring at his mug. He needs to move if he is going to make it back to his apartment and into his uniform in time.

Another long moment and Sam lowers her mug. "Jack," she says.

He's startled, maybe by her use of his name, she can't be sure, but his eyes lock onto hers and that's the very moment she decides she's not going to let something as unavoidable and necessary as his job derail this.

She didn't come all this way to fail that easily.

"It's okay," she says, reaching out to cover his hand with hers, enjoying the luxury of touching him.

It has to be okay.

He stares down at their hands and she can tell he's trying to work something out, to find the right words to say something, but after another minute of just looking he settles for asking, "When is your flight?"

She feels a beat of disappointment, knowing that's not really what he wanted to say. "Sunday morning." She glances at the growing light outside, internally correcting herself. Make that tomorrow. Her fingers tighten on his hand.

"All right," he says, finally pulling away, scooping up his phone as he slides out of the booth. "I'll give you a call when I finish with this."

She'd prefer to go with him. It's hard to resist asking him what's going on, if she can help, be of use.

"Okay," she forces herself to say instead, hefting a smile on her face.

With that Jack drops a twenty on the table and walks away. He doesn't make it out the door though, pausing to look at her, taking a few steps back across the empty diner.


"Yeah?" she says, her heart doing its best to crawl up into her throat.

"Are we really doing this?" he says, half-question, half-challenge, his hand gesturing between them with a sort of hesitant earnestness that makes her chest ache.

She feels her mouth go dry, and as if to compensate, her palms turn clammy. She recognizes the look on his face from a few precious moments over the years. Those rare times he put himself out there, exposing his carefully guarded feelings with another doomed fishing invitation, or unexpected physical contact.

She can tell that despite the night they've had, he still expects her to back track, to recant or repress, just like always. Sitting up a little straighter, she rubs her traitorous palms across her thighs. That is not going to happen. Not this time.

"Yes," she confirms, and God, it's just as scary hanging out on this limb as she always imagined it would be. "I think we are." She bites down on the inside of her cheek, hoping she sounds steadier than she feels.

He doesn't say anything, just nods his head. As he turns back to the door though, she catches the edge of his grin. It's probably for the best that he isn't looking straight at her, because as it is, it's enough to spread a fairly wide smile across her own face.

They are actually doing this.

Picking up a menu, Sam decides she might just have breakfast pie after all.

Jack is staring at the door to room 624.

It hadn't been hard to find Carter's hotel, or to weasel her room number out of the clerk. One of the benefits of the stars, he thinks grimly, glancing down at the uniform he's still wearing.

For a day that began with such promise, it ended up nothing short of awful. He was stuck all day in meeting after meeting doing damage control with the SGC and the damn Russians of all people, who he really doesn't need another reason to hate.

So here it is, just after ten o'clock, sixteen long hours since he left Carter sitting in a coffee shop and in all that time he hadn't found a single moment to call her. He's not sure what he's doing showing up at her hotel unannounced like this, just knows that she is leaving in a matter of hours. Trying to explain this all over the phone is more than he can handle at the moment.

He really hates the Russians.

Finally standing in front of her door though, he's hesitating, which he registers as being very unlike him. What happened to action being his thing? Unfortunately, he really doubts a P-90 is going to get him anywhere tonight.

Taking a steadying breath, he knocks twice, not knowing if she'll even be there or if he's waking her up.

He sees a shadow pass the peephole, feeling pleased that she's being cautious, considering how easily the clerk downstairs is handing out information. Then the bolt pulls back, the door opening. She's wearing a T-shirt and soft looking pants he realizes are probably her pajamas.

He spends a few moments longer than he probably should taking in her appearance. She looks so…unguarded.

"I'm sorry," he says, his eyes snapping back up to her face, apologizing for a whole slew of things at once.

But Carter just smiles, shaking her head and pulling the door open a little further. "Come in," she says.

He shifts a moment, hesitating again, and damn, isn't this getting a bit ridiculous. He forces himself to step inside, trying to ignore the feeling that he's intruding. It's hard to turn off his alarms after so many years of avoiding situations exactly like this, especially when a quick glance around confirms that like all hotel rooms, it's pretty much a single room filled with a large bed.

"Did I wake you?" he asks, noticing that the covers are rumpled.

"No, I was just watching TV," she says, crossing the room to pick up a remote and mute it. Turning back to him, she crosses her arms over her chest.

They stare at each other and he wonders if this is anywhere near as weird for her.

"I take it the world isn't going to end," she eventually observes.

He's looking for censure in her words, any annoyance at being ignored all day long, but of course he doesn't find it. This is Carter, he reminds himself. She breathes Armageddon with the best of them.

"No," Jack says. "No apocalypse. At least not tonight."

"Good to know."

There's something almost wry in her voice that catches him by surprise, but honestly it's a bit beyond him to analyze it right now. He tugs at his collar, loosening his tie.

"You look tired," she observes, her voice softening.

He is, too, the sort of bone-weary tiredness that is making her bed look really inviting--for completely platonic reasons, sadly. "I guess I'm getting a little old for all-nighters," he says.

She smiles, back to looking proud and slightly embarrassed.

That topic exhausted, however, they are back to standing in awkward silence.

"Anyway," he says, rubbing at the back of his neck. "I guess I just wanted to...say goodbye before you left."

The smile slides off her face. "Yeah," she says. "I'm sorry I can't stay longer."

Jack shrugs off the apology. The fact that she bothered to come at all means more than she can know. "No doubt that place would fall apart without you," he says, falling back on their old patterns out of desperation.

"No doubt," she echoes, but he thinks it sounds a little bitter.

Jack can't think of anything to say in response, not really wanting to open the potential can of worms that is her job in Nevada, so he simply stands there in the increasingly awkward silence.

Dear God, how is it possible that things have gotten this painful in less than a day? He knew he never should have answered his damn phone. At a bit of a loss, he decides retreat is probably the best option. "Okay. I'm going to…" He gestures back towards the door.

He doesn't get very far, Carter's hand on his arm stopping him. She looks nearly as surprised by it as he is.

"I'm watching the world's stupidest movie," she announces a beat later, canting her head towards the television. Somehow she manages to make this sound like it's not the complete non sequitur it is.

Jack pauses, trying to follow this unexpected twist. "Um. World's stupidest?" he says, peering at the screen. "As in ever?"

Carter nods. "I think it might just be."

She looks so serious that he can't help smiling. "I dunno, Carter. There's a lot of tough competition out there."

"Well…if you don't believe me, you'll just have to watch some of it," she says, her expression unreadable.

He glances down at her hand where it rests on his arm. "That does seem to be the only logical course of action," he says, gladly taking the lifeline she's tossing out to him.

"I think so," she says, looking relieved as she moves back over to the bed and sits cross-legged on the end.

Glancing around the small suite, Jack shrugs off his jacket and lays it on a luggage rack. Carter hasn't exactly put herself up in the Ritz, to judge by the general lack of non-bed related furniture. After another moment of hesitation, he kicks of his shoes and sits near the headboard on the non-rumpled side.

Sam glances over her shoulder at him, un-muting the TV when he's settled. She begins filling him in on what he's missed and he leans back against the pillows, stretching his legs out. He smiles at her less than flattering descriptions of the characters, each one seemingly a bigger moron than the one before.

Apparently, it's a really stupid movie.

Jack's listening, he really is, but the bed is just as comfortable as it looks and something about Carter's voice is incredibly soothing, lifting away all the annoyances of the day. Even the Russians.

He's asleep long before the moronic protagonist can defy all logic and save the day with his idiotic plan.

When next he wakes, the TV is off, the room dark except for the soft spill of light from the partially ajar door to the bathroom. Carter is curled up on her side next to him, one hand pressed up under her cheek.

He's slept next to her off-world more times than he can possibly count, but something about seeing her here, completely relaxed… His hand lifts to brush across her temple, her hair soft under his fingers.

The clock on her side of the bed catches his eye, informing him that it is well after midnight.

He should probably go.

He doesn't really want to. This tiny room, this intimate space, is probably the most relaxing place he's been in since he moved to this city.

He's still half-heartedly mulling over the best way to climb off the bed without waking her, when her voice stops him.

"You can stay."

He shifts to look at her, but her eyes are still closed, her body unnaturally still as she waits for his response. Her freaky mind-reading powers are a lot more disconcerting in such an undeniably intimate setting.

"Are you sure?" he asks.

Her eyes open, lifting to his face. "Yeah. If you want to."

It's not really a hard decision. "Okay," he says, sliding further down in the bed until his head is even with hers, shifting a bit in search of a more comfortable position.

She gives him a sleepy smile, her free hand lifting between them, hesitating before surprising him by lightly touching his face, mimicking the same path his own hand had taken when he thought her still asleep.

He lies still, focusing on the sensation of her fingers tentatively crossing his cheek, slipping into his hair, but he can't resist the urge to cover her hand with his. Turning his head, his lips touch the inside of her wrist, trailing up to press against the pulse point at the base of her hand, indulging himself in a brief taste of her skin.

He hears the hitch in her breathing, feels the tightening of her fingers under his, but doesn't know if the reaction is simply the thrill of the unfamiliar, the forbidden, or if this is a particularly sensitive spot for her.

There is still so much he doesn't know about her.

He allows himself one more press of his lips to her skin before lowering their hands to the space between their pillows.

"Go back to sleep," he says, his voice barely above a whisper and rough with something he isn't sure is sleep.

She holds his gaze as if looking for something there, eventually nodding. Her hand squeezes his, her foot brushing against his shin. "Goodnight, Jack."

He really likes the sound of that, the corner of his mouth lifting. His thumb rubs across the back of her hand. "Goodnight, Carter."

He has the best night of sleep he's had in years.

It's barely after five when Sam approaches the bed to wake Jack.

She's actually a little surprised by how deeply he is sleeping that none of her morning routine has roused him. He's not just faking it, either, out of some need to offer her privacy. He's sprawled on his stomach, his mouth slightly open, clearly dead to the world.

Off-world he had always been a notoriously light sleeper. It's been more than a year now though, she has to remind herself, more than a year since he left SG-1. Clearly many things have changed. Like the fact that even in slumber he appears careworn.

She wishes there were some way she could ease his burden, still feels a bit guilty for not seeing it, for not allowing herself to see it for so long.

He looks so peaceful she's loathe to wake him, but she's already put it off long enough.

"Jack," she says, gently squeezing his shoulder.

"Carter?" he asks, eyes opening, but obviously still half-asleep.

"I have to catch my plane," she reminds him. When he only blinks up at her, she presses her room key into his hand. "I have the room until ten. You should stay and get some rest."

His hand curls around the plastic card and she allows herself the luxury of touching his cheek, trying not to remember the feel of his lips against her skin or she'll never manage to walk out the door.

"I'll talk to you soon," she promises, stepping back from the bed.

She's gathering her scant luggage by the door when she hears him roll off the bed.

"Sam," he says, his voice rough with sleep.

She pauses in her motions, straightening as he steps up behind her, his hands touching her shoulders and sliding down her arms.

"I just… Thank you," he says, sounding like he's having a hard time putting something into words. "For doing this. For coming to see me."

She feels her chest constrict, hating how close she'd been to not even trying. She leans back against his chest and his arms unhesitatingly wrap around her. She feels his face lower to her hair, hears him breathe in deeply.

Closing her eyes, she lets her head drop back against his shoulder. "I'm really glad I was wrong," she says.

I just had to see for myself that it really is too late.

Jack's arms tighten around her. "So am I," he says.

Turning around, she looks up at him and knows he felt the same bone deep ache that had taken her by surprise when she first spoke those horrible words.

She tries to smile, to make light of it by shrugging up at him. "It was bound to happen eventually," she says.

"What, you being wrong?" he asks. "Or this?"

It's a comfortable bit, a variation on a routine they've carefully honed over time. A year ago, hell, a week ago, she would have rolled her eyes and dutifully looked away, knowing these obtuse antics were designed to illicit such a response. Sure, to make each other smile, but also to create distance, meant to dispel any dangerous moments that strayed a bit too close to the truth. They've flawlessly stuck to the script for years.

This morning though, she doesn't look away, instead stepping closer and sliding her fingers across the stubble on his jaw, abandoning the familiar act. She doesn't answer the question, refusing to analyze if she ever truly let herself believe there would be a day he would look at her this way, intense and honest, that she would be able to touch him. Instead, she lifts up to kiss him, shifting her hands to the back of his neck, urging him closer, but his hands are already at her waist, eliminating any last distance between them.

They've barely managed to wake up a whole host of pleasant sensations when she reluctantly breaks the kiss. "I have to go," she sighs against his neck, not wanting to step away.

"I know," he says, but still holds her there another long moment, his fingers trailing lightly over the small of her back. It's insane how they've gone eight years intentionally not touching each other and now in the span of a day, they can't seem to stop.

They both step away then, Jack stuffing his hands in his pockets and Sam likes the idea that he has to work to keep his hands to himself. Standing there now, his uniform in disarray, there's no trace left of the polished, distant man he'd been the day she arrived, striding across that cold marble floor.

Turning to her luggage, she ducks her head to hide her expression, her sheer relief at the transformation. Apparently she's not quick enough, or he just knows her too well, because he says, "What?"

"Nothing," she replies automatically, far too used to keeping such thoughts to herself.

"Carter," he draws out, refusing to be brushed off. There was a time he would have let her get away with it.

Biting her lip, she gives herself a moment to deliberately look him up and down, amused to see him fidget under the scrutiny. "I guess it's just nice to see you looking so…," she trails off, trying to think of the best way to put it.

Jack raises an eyebrow at her. "So what?"

She casts around for the right word. Relaxed? Half-dressed? Dare she say, happy? "Rumpled," she eventually decides on.

"Rumpled?" Jack repeats, one hand pressing down on his hair as if trying to decide if that's a good thing or not. He may never understand just how good it is.

She can't resist tilting her head to one side, looking him over again. "Yeah. It's sort of cute."

He looks at her in horror. "Don't you have a plane to catch?" he complains.

Laughing, she pulls the door open. "I'm going, I'm going."

He stops her from stepping out into the hall though, his hand once again resting at the small of her back. "I was thinking maybe you could…call me when you get in?" he asks, back to looking earnest and slightly embarrassed.

She's surprised by the request, but intensely grateful as if the definite future event somehow makes this all more concrete.

This is real, she thinks.

"Definitely," she promises.