Things Are Different Now

Summary: Once Carter transferred to Area 51, she wasn't in O'Neill's direct Chain of Command any more. Which makes everything between them different.

Rating: G

Author's Note: For Hobbit_Hunter over at Livejournal. Not just romantic but as good as canon, too. :) In fact it would have been canon if an SGA scene hadn't ended up on the cutting room floor and Joseph Mallozzi says he considers it to be pretty much given.

Things Are Different Now

Sam pinched the bridge of her nose and stared at the monitor. Working at Area 51 was great, but staring at a computer monitor all day when you were used to being out in the field and actually DOING took a little getting used to.

"So, this memo comes across my desk about something called the Gatebuster…"

She smiled up at him. "General."

His expression turned mock-stern and he waggled a finger at her. "You're no longer in my Chain of Command, Carter. You're allowed to call me Jack."

"Yet you still have to call me Carter?" she countered, grinning.

"Calling you Sam would just be strange." He shrugged.

"Yeah, that's kind of how I feel about calling you Jack."

"Ah." He nodded, hesitating for a moment. "Think you could try plain old O'Neill on for size?"

"Okay, O'Neill." It came out a little awkwardly, but she would get used to it fast enough. Using his name, rank-free, felt nice.

"Hey, uh, do you have a minute?"

"For you?" She nodded and saved her work, climbing to her feet. "What's up?"

Instead of answering, he leaned out into the hallway, looking both ways before coming back into the office and closing the door. Which he promptly locked. Her eyes widened.

"How big a problem do we have here?" she asked, clearing her throat and wondering why he wasted the time to come down here himself to collect her when he could have scrambled a jet and had her where she was needed in half the time.

"No problem," he answered, shifting uneasily. "I just don't want to be interrupted."

"Uh, okay." She nodded. "Sure. What's going on, O'Neill?"

"Um, remember the whole thing with the Za'tarc Detector?"

She colored. "I used to dream about showing up for my graduation from the Air Force Academy naked," she admitted, looking away. "Now I dream about being in that room with you and Janet staring at me…" She shook her head, still unable to make eye-contact.

"The things you said in that room, you still feel that way?"

Her jaw dropped and she stared at him, stunned. There was no way he was going where he seemed to be going…

"If you don't, that's fine and I'll never mention it again. It was a long times ago, things were different." He shook his head, looking irritated with himself. "Never mind, Carter. Sorry to bother you."

He had gotten as far as unlocking the door before she was able to shake off her paralysis and touch his shoulder.

"O'Neill? If you're bringing that nightmare up, I know you have a good reason for doing it. Are you asking me out on a date?" she asked, voice shaking just a little.

He turned slowly, face a little pink as he admitted, "Actually, now that Cassie's back at school, I'm inviting you for a couple of days at my cabin."

"Wow," she whispered, rubbing the back of her neck. "Why now?"

"Honestly, Carter, I've been trying to nerve up for this since you left the SGC. I've got better than thirty years of indoctrination telling me that, direct subordinate or not, I should not be here asking this of you."

"That was all you were waiting for?" she asked, staring. "But…"

"I couldn't put your career in jeopardy."

She reached out to cradle his cheek, needing him to know how much that meant to her, but still afraid to actually initiate the contact. He hadn't been kidding about the years of indoctrination. The rational part of her mind was screaming against this course. From the look on his face, he was fighting the same battle.

Finally, after what felt like hours even though it could only have been a few seconds, he lifted a slightly shaky hand to the one she had suspended between them, sliding his fingers between hers and squeezing gently.

"It's going to take some getting used to," he whispered, staring down at their twined fingers.

"Yes," she agreed, swallowing to get her heart back in her chest where it belonged.

"But it's going to be worth it. Everything we're feeling right now? I'll make it worth every second for you."

"I know." She smiled and nodded. "Just like I know that it was worth the wait."

He grinned, opening his mouth to respond but falling silent as his cell-phone went off. He looked really irritated as he flipped it open and read the message on the screen. He sighed and put the phone away, shaking his head.

"I hate to drop something like this on you and run…"

"Go save the planet," she answered, nodding her understand. "That's still the way it has to be. I'd respect you a lot less if you let anything get in the way of that."

He smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Carter."

"And, when you're done saving the planet, you have my number. I'll look forward to seeing what wacky solution you come up with this week."

"I'll call you," he promised. Then he turned bright red. "I love you, Carter," he whispered, fleeing the room looking mortified.

She couldn't help it. He had teased her too damned much in the past for her to let such an opportunity slide.

She leaned out into the rather-crowded hallway and shouted after him, "I love you, too, O'Neill!"

"I'm gonna beat you for that, Carter!" he laughed, grinning at her over his shoulder.

She smiled. She didn't think there was any way he could get any redder. Which didn't stop her from trying. And succeeding…

She smirked and shook her head, aware everyone was staring at them and not really caring. Actually being open about her feelings for him was something she could see herself getting used to.

"Yeah, yeah. Promises, promises…"

He went from crimson to a shade even brighter. "Uh… Yeah. I, uh, I… I… I've got a planet to save," he explained, pointing over his shoulder and taking off at a run.

"Make a hole, people!" she shouted to the hallway at large, and not even to tease him any more than she already had.

He did, after all, have a planet to save. And, once every warm body in the hall had flattened itself against the closest wall, he had a much clearer field to reach whatever emergency that much faster.

Because some things did change and some things never would. And, where Jack O'Neill and his place in her life were concerned, she was good with that.