Summary: Siler fic. -She hated the regret that tried to claw through her, refusing to give Jack that much right over her life after all this time. Refusing to betray the man she forced herself to turn her head to look at, meeting the half-amused, half-resigned expression she could read under Siler's familiar impassive mask.-
Rating: PG13
Disclaimer: I ain't got no money, and nobody'd be daft enough to pay me for this. As it is thought, so let it be said; you make the toys, I play with 'em.

AN: the first scene just appeared.. but then I couldn't bear to leave Si' like that..

Jack rolled the pins resting in his hand as he waited at the door, looking around sightlessly, trying to dismiss the nervousness he felt. Every time they saw each other these days there was tension and all sort of unresolved.. 'feelings' waffling about. Not that there hadn't always been, but lately they had so little left in common that he could feel them getting further and further apart with every stilted conversation. Hell, he'd hesitated to do even *this*, for crying out loud!

When the door opened, he looked up to Carter height with a practised smile and froze, finally lifting his eyes another few inches to meet impassive hazel ones instead.

He actually wouldn't have thought anything about his presence except that Sam wasn't in the habit of having her favourite repair-helper working without a shirt on. Or walking around her house with his jeans unsnapped. And then he couldn't stop himself from finishing the visual analysis: dripping hair from a shower and bite marks on his neck.. of various ages. Bare feet.

He'd thought touching that ring box hurt... At least *then* a part of him had been able to stay angry that she was making such a crap choice. That she was obviously not happy. Was somehow expecting something of him.

But now... He couldn't be angry about this. He cleared his throat, making sure he kept his tone bland. "Siler."

There was acknowledgement in the sergeant's eyes, recognition of the situation; but nothing else. No judgement or apology. "General."

Way past uncomfortable, and again losing his nerve with Sam as the subject, he started to turn, muttering, "Maybe I should-"

"Did I hear the door, Siler?"

Siler raised a brow and Jack read the offer to answer the shout from inside whatever way he preferred. He realized that no matter how much he wanted to run right now, he owed Sam. And.. he *did* want her to be happy. Unable to find the words, he opened his now-clenched fist to show the sergeant what he held.

He wasn't sure how to interpret the brief, unfamiliar, smile that crossed the man's time-worn face, whether dry humour at his choosing to stay or pride in Sam's accomplishments. Either way, he shouted back, opening the door wider for Jack to come in, "Yeah, you've got a guest."

Sam frowned, wondering who the hell Siler would call a guest. She hurriedly grabbed the nearest sweater rather than struggle into a shirt after her shower and walked into the living room with her head bent, running her fingers through her hair to make a ponytail. When she raised her eyes and met brown ones that held all-too-familiar hurt, she froze, a chill very literally nailing her in place. Oh hell.

She hated the regret that tried to claw through her, refusing to give him that much right over her life after all this time. Refusing to betray the man she forced herself to turn her head to look at, meeting the half-amused, half-resigned expression she could read under Siler's familiar impassive mask.

Annoyed at herself for once again managing to hurt everyone in her life, she straightened, setting her priorities clearly in her mind and turning back to her old commanding officer with a friendly but impersonal smile. He really didn't have the right to give her such a guilt-inciting look; they'd passed up all their damned chances and she hadn't *planned* to throw her life in his face. "General? To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Priorities set or no, it hurt to see him flinch; at either the tone or the words, it hardly mattered. She knew how this situation felt from his shoes and she would have protected him if she'd known he was coming; she owed him that after the mess she'd made of things last time. Then he straightened and went blank, just as she'd known he would; the good general, dutiful to the last.

"Wanted to be the first to congratulate you."

Sam's brows raised, curious. Looking down when he brought his hand forward to expose the two silver eagles of a colonel, she smiled widely, honestly delighted; as she'd always been at reaching another rung on the damned ladder. Looking up to thank him for telling her in person, she kept her peace when he opened his mouth first.

"Colonel Carter. Attention to orders." Sam's brows went up again as she obeyed the words, even though he hadn't put any authority behind them, straightening to at ease and seeing Siler do the same off to the side, both of them giving respect to the man rather than the tradition. "For your success in finding, repairing and landing Atlantis, and your ability to work with its staff, among manifold other reasons, you are hereby assigned the post of Commander of Atlantis, effective in 5 days."

This time she gawked, shocked at the very idea of the responsibility.. the completely different duty.. the- She turned her head mechanically when she felt Siler walk up besides her, only then realizing that she must have stood there like a fool for literal minutes since Jack had lost his fixed look and was actually grinning at her, already holding a glass of whisky like the one Siler held out to her with one of his extremely rare smiles, pride shining from his eyes and clear in his soft voice, "Congratulations, Sam."

He held up his glass in a toast, Jack raising his to hold up besides it, both waiting for her to accept the congratulations of two men who meant the world to her, however badly she was showing it. Bare chest and jeans or neat shirt and slacks; age and experience and a wealth of strength and affection, each in their own way. And all she seemed able to do was hurt them. But she swallowed the regrets like a good soldier and clinked glasses with both at the same time, looking forward to the burn of the alcohol in her throat.

When they all finished their drinks and before she could open her mouth and put her foot in it again, Jack gave Siler his empty glass and clapped his hands together in a gesture so familiar she expected to hear the gate klaxon start up. "Well, time to go. Report to Landry tomorrow; he's got the paper copy of your orders. Have a safe trip, don't forget your golf clubs, don't forget to write. Stay away from the freaky-looking white-skinned monsters."

She knew what his fixed smile would look like before he finished the spiel; had her moves memorized, unhindered by Siler taking her glass and stepping away from them. They'd been here so damned often it hurt to think about it.

She followed him to the door silently, hand closed on the insignia still in her hand. She didn't want to look at them and confirm the suspicion that they were used. Were his. What had he expected when he showed up here, anyway?

He turned to face her when she followed him out, both standing at the edge of her porch, staring at each other with too many memories naked in their eyes.

"Siler's an old friend."

There were unkind comments wanting to slip past his lips at the unapologetic, quiet, words, but he really couldn't. At the very end of the day, *this* man he actually approved of. That Siler was as too old for her as he was, that he put her career at equal risk.. were choices for them to make. Closing his eyes for a second and wondering if *this* was the last time they'd see each other, Jack finally nodded, unable to make himself smile; trying to put the honesty in his tone, "He's a good man."

Siler had collected his clothes and came to stand at the door as Sam whispered "He's not the only one.". Staring at the scene straight out of Casablanca, he shook his head in disgust, watching the general turn and walk away. He looked up ironically, half-expecting it to start raining as Sam watched the truck drive away. Hell, he could even pretend he saw O'Neill's eyes meet his through the distance and tell him to take care of her. Especially in the oh so anticlimactic bright sunshine.

When Sam finally turned and came to stand in front of him, trying to smile, he nodded to the disappeared general, speaking evenly, "Go after him."

"Siler..."

He rolled his eyes, smiling unwillingly into her too-lost blue ones. She always *could* get to him. "The two of you are too stubborn for your own goods. Go after the man."

She'd been affected enough by the little drama to let the old pain show as she glanced toward the departed general and spoke quietly, "..He won't listen."

Even though it hurt to actually have what he always knew confirmed, he had years of experience keeping anything from showing. Siler just slid his palms around her delicate jaw, his jacket barely staying on his forearm, and locked his eyes on hers, making a point to pay attention to the feel of her soft skin under his calloused hands, knowing he'd never feel it again. "You go after that stubborn idiot, kick his wrecked knees out from under him and handcuff him until he *starts* listening. You are a colonel of the United States Air Force, Samantha Carter," closing his eyes, he leaned over and dropped a kiss in the centre of her forehead, whispering, "Believe me, Sam, he *wants* to be convinced. He may be a major general these days, but O'Neill still needs his usual kick in the ass to accept the truth and deal with it."

Feeling the danger of staying too close, he pulled back, opening the jacket to shrug his arms into it as he watched Sam's familiar expression. He could easily read the thoughts she cycled through, including the one where she stopped on loyalty and decided to stay there. Annoyed, he stepped back up to her, grabbing and shaking her shoulders with a growl, "Goddammit Sam, don't look at me like that! We had fun; and I will *always* be your friend. But you are not using me as an excuse. You go and clear things up with the stubborn jerk or I'll damn well find a way to get you both locked in a small, hot, humid place until you get your heads out of your asses!"

The sudden crack of her laughter at his uncharacteristic outburst just about broke him as Sam slipped out of his loose hold and wrapped her much-smaller self around him in a tight hug that he returned with an aching feeling before consciously pulling on the best of his sergeant's faces and stepping out of the embrace. Approving of the fight now in her eyes and posture, he smiled briefly and nodded, "Go get him."

He turned then, heading for his bike, only half-visible besides her car.

At the last instant, he swung a hand out and gently tapped the back of hers where it hung by her side, not turning to catch her expression as he straightened and lengthened his stride out of her life.

####

This was far from the worst meeting he'd had to nerve himself up to... but Jack still hesitated outside the repair hangar, twitching in the damned stiff dress uniform. He really hated grey-zones; black and white decisions were so much easier. Snarling at himself silently, he marched into the messy room and followed the sound of low voices to the two young soldiers crouched near a MALP with legs sticking out from under it.

"Airmen, go take a break, I need to talk to the sergeant."

Siler stiffened, silently swearing at the man's stubbornness. He did *not* want to have this conversation. Not in a million years. "I'm sorry, general, I can't leave this unfinished at this stage."

"That's alright, Siler. You finish up... You didn't need their help, did you?"

Siler closed his eyes briefly, wondering if lying would get him out of this and dismissing the thought as cowardly. And unlikely. "No sir. Was just training them. Though I do need someone to pass me tools."

He heard shuffling around the mess of equipment in the room and saw the dress slacks appear in the small opening of his little prison, barely holding back a tired sigh at his predicament as he got back to work rerouting the guidance system of the new generation MALP.

He only got a couple minutes, rewiring the connections he'd just prepped, before the general spoke abruptly, "I would never have taken her from you."

He'd known it was coming and kept his flinch under control, finishing wire-nutting the two wires he held before he answered calmly, "Sam was never mine. #2 flathead please." He held his hand out, unsurprised when it took a minute for the general to grumble his way through the toolbox and find the screwdriver he needed.

"You care about each other. You would have stayed together."

Siler hesitated, staring at the row of terminals in front of him and waiting for his mind to stop replaying those words and start making sense of the job he had to do. He finally reached up to loosen the screw he needed as he spoke, hearing the ragged edge too late to get rid of it, "We are friends, we enjoy each other's company and we have fun," he stopped, clenching his teeth and swallowing the useless anger that tried to make him snarl, "Yes, we might have stayed together for the next 20 years; or she might have gotten her head straight while on Atlantis." Shifting the wire to its new home and tightening that screw with a grunt, he shoved himself out from under the machine and met the general's eyes fiercely, barely keeping his voice low enough for privacy, "She would have been settling for a separate peace and I would have let her because the alternative was that she'd be alone. But if you were finally willing to try, then there was no way in- *Hell*, that I was standing in the way of Sam having what she really wants!"

It took a few seconds of getting his annoyance under control for Siler to notice that O'Neill was neither glaring at him nor looking like he was trying to run from his new relationship. "Sam's not just going to forget she hurt you, sergeant. It's going to eat at her. Just like it eats at me. All else aside, the chances that we're going to suddenly settle down into.. connubial bliss, is practically impossible after all this time. The chances of my making a mess and hurting her are a damned sight higher. I can't help but think you made the wrong choice."

Thoroughly uncomfortable with someone wanting to help him when there was no way to do so, Siler grabbed his wrench and slid back under the robotic probe, starting the next phase of the job rather than keep facing his old boss's compassion. "In case she neglected to mention this, general, Sam loves you. It wasn't a choice." He turned his head, spitting and swearing when dust and dirt fell on his face as he got the panel open. He held the wrench out, hoping the man was still helping him. "There's a cable harness in front of the MALP's wheel, can you pass it in? I'm not sure what you're expecting me to say or do, general."

"I expect you to tell me why you put in for a transfer the very day Sam left for Atlantis."

Grabbing the cables the general passed him and starting the tedious and memory-tasking job of rewiring the machine, Siler wished he'd thought to wait until the general left for D.C., too. "I've been here a long time, sir, since back before your first mission. It's time to train up someone else for the job before I can't do it anymore."

There was quiet for a few minutes and Siler let his mind escape in his work, not quite forgetting, but at least distancing himself from the conversation.

"What do you want to do?"

His hands stilled, distracted out of mental schematics by the sudden question, "Sir?"

"What post do you want? It's the least I can do. If Sam was here, she'd do it herself."

He hadn't really thought about the next step, assuming that the bureaucracy would find somewhere to stash him without needing or wanting his help in the decision. It wasn't as though he really cared. He'd never really settled anywhere and he knew he could learn to do whatever job they handed him.

But if he could chose.. "McMurdo."

He could almost hear the disbelief in the silence, smiling to himself at having surprised the man.

"..Why??"

"I hear they found another section to the Ancient outpost. There's a lot of technology to be investigated. With my years here, I think I could be useful."

"..It's your creaky joints, sergeant."

Before he came up with a suitable reply, he heard the general's knees pop as he stood up and his voice trailing away, "I'll get you your helpers back."

####

"Who the hell taught you to tighten bolts, airman? My old backwoods granny got them tighter! And she wouldn't leave a mark on 'em, let along strip 'em useless! Use the damned *appropriate*-sized ratchet you bleedin' idiot; if you think I'm letting anyone with such a damned ham-fisted attitude anywhere near Ancient technology, you're even dumber than you look!"

Watching the man scuttle back to his job -with the right damned tool this time!-, Siler took a deep breath, aware that he was getting toward annoyance level 4. Three more hours to this shift. He needed a break, one way or the other, or he was going to do something that neither his skills nor his seniority would get him forgiven.

"Sergeant??"

About to crouch down to get into the guts of the console in front of him, he froze for a second, shocked to hear that voice, but then he turned around, saluting and calling out to the soldiers in the room, "Atten-tion!" Damn he hated the formality of this place sometimes; the SGC had spoiled him with its aggressive focus on results rather than strict protocol.

Still amazed at having listened to Sam's quiet-spoken old lead hand actually yelling at someone, Jack gave him a dry look for the formality that he damned well knew Jack hated. Nonetheless, the general correctly saluted back before calling at ease and waving the people in the room back to work. Then he grunted "Walk with me, sergeant."

Leading the way to a quiet corner, his fingers immediately grabbed the nearest loose item and started playing with it. Staring around the repair bay and feeling déjà vu nibble at him, he turned back to the sergeant standing with familiar patience besides him. The taciturn expression and usual glasses couldn't hide the darkness under his eyes, nor the noticeably deeper lines on his face. The guilt Jack had forced into hiding after getting him this post tried to punch through his amused mask; the only thing keeping it a bay, the knowledge that it wouldn't be appreciated. "So why is it that the fellow that I knew as one of the calmest at the SGC is known here as a temperamental son of a bitch?"

Siler's brow rose, amused at the name-calling. "Here to reprimand me, sir? Bit overkill for a mere sergeant."

The man snorted, his humour souring as he rolled his eyes before muttering grumpily, "I *wish*. No, they've got some damn dog and pony show going, showing off all the Ancient gizmos to a pack of Washington bigwigs to whom they probably look like just another TV receiver."

Siler barely held back a smirk at the Washington bigwig that was systematically destroying an admittedly already malfunctioning radiation meter. "Yes, sir."

"No; you just came up because your boss was making smalltalk and thought I'd want to know about the sergeant from my old command. Almost wondered who he was talking about when he described you."

Siler shrugged, aware that he'd changed when he came here; aware that the general would assume the change had to do with Sam. He wasn't sure himself if it did or if it was simply being in a different place, with people that weren't up to the level of the ones he'd left behind. "Everybody changes, sir."

"..Yeah." The general glanced at his watch and put his toy down, straightening with a grimace, "Someone got the brilliant idea that we should spend the night enjoying the base's hospitality. Having been warned of this wonderful plan, I wisely smuggled in some liquid stress-reliever for after what will no doubt be an ulcer-inducing supper. Come by whatever hole in the wall they assign me and we can talk about the good old days."

Blinking in surprise, Siler wasn't sure how to get out of the casually dropped command appearance, "Sir-"

O'Neill waved his hands at him, "Ah ahah! By the time I get out of there, Siler, I will be *praying* for replicators to come kidnap me. Chatting about them with an old friend is the closest I can get." When he still hesitated, the general tilted his head at him quizzically, "If it's your reputation you're worried about, everyone knows you worked for me, and everyone knows I break protocol as often as I can; including having a drink with a mere sergeant."

Over his shoulder, Jack saw the airman the sergeant had just dressed down look up in shock when the man laughed out loud in response to the dig; he wondered if Siler had laughed at the SGC...

####

His first swallow of 24 year-old scotch was enough for Siler to give up feeling uncomfortable relaxing with a senior officer. He lounged back in his seat with a sigh, glad he ranked his own room; as long as no one caught him reeking of booze on his way there, he might just get away with this little time-out reasonably scot-free.

Content to sit in silence, he closed his eyes, waiting for the general to unwind back to his usual gregarious self and start pestering him. The smooth alcohol he was swallowing made him pretty damned willing to put up with a bit of his clumsy smalltalk.

"Enjoying the new post?"

Opening his eyes, Siler nodded at the offer of a refill before he answered, "Sure. New gadgets every week. Life-threatening problems only every couple months."

The general nodded solemnly, "..Airmen with heads to bite off and nurses to warm up utility closets?"

Siler's crack of laughter was honestly amused, "Is that still making the rounds?"

O'Neill grinned at him, "General Craig sounded envious."

"No doubt. *Mrs* General Craig would take her high heels to his balls though." It wasn't until he'd spoken that he even realized what a relief it was to let himself be sardonic. Damn he missed his old life.

Snorting agreement, the general didn't call him further on the rumour, losing his smile and grimly staring into his drink instead, and it occurred to Siler that maybe it wasn't complete coincidence that the man was in his neighbourhood. Let along that he'd taken the time to look up a 'mere' sergeant. Neither of them was really going to start chatting about the assortment of dangers they'd faced at the SGC. And he bet he wasn't the only one missing work and the SGC.

"Sam still on Atlantis?"

The general's head jerked up at the calm question and they shared a look of understanding. Of silently admitting that they both missed her.

"Yeah."

Feeling maudlin, they didn't bother to say anything as they finished that round of drinks. This time Siler hesitated to accept another shot; he *did* have to get to his quarters somehow. And work tomorrow.

But in the end, it was late as hell and the corridors would be empty. And he'd worked hung over more than once in his life.

Staring into his drink, he could feel his mind relaxing with what he'd already swallowed. Could feel the denied grief loosing his tongue, "I didn't think about the fact that last time we barely knew each other, whereas now we were friends." He stopped, glancing up long enough to gauge if O'Neill looked like he didn't want to hear this. But all he saw was a hint of that loneliness he'd suspected; the same need for something to connect him to Sam that had led Siler to actually look forward to this tense visit.

Still, he kept his voice low, leaving him the choice to hear or not. "I never *could* regret that first night; we happened to be in the same bar and she needed a friend. And a lover. But then I couldn't think of anything to say the second time to stop things without hurting her."

He really *had* wished he could. She'd deserved better. But he'd eventually accepted that settling wasn't always a bad thing. She *was* happy with him; he was pretty damned sure of that. And even though he knew he was getting entirely too close to her, he couldn't let the fear run amok; they really *could* have been together for years if things had been different. That he was giving up someone he loved rather than just a friend was a bill he still didn't regret paying; he'd at least tried, and he had faith that she *would* be happy with Jack.

"I.." he looked up as the general spoke quietly, meeting much less hurt than the man had shown six months ago when Siler'd answered Sam's door, "I'm glad you were there for her. She could have been alone. I really hate to think of her alone."

"Yeah." That she was right now physically alone so far away that neither of them could do anything to help her wasn't discussed. That Siler was now 'alone' was equally ignored. A few drinks weren't going to make life perfect. For anyone. That didn't mean they couldn't be momentary company in the grey night.

Tomorrow was another day and Sly Siler was a survivor. And Samantha Carter had everything to fight for. Chances were, they'd all live on.

"Just do me a favour?" Siler waited for the acceding nod, approving of the earnest light in the general's expression, "The next time you're about to be an idiot with Sam? Remember me and count to whatever number it takes to not hurt her."

This time he didn't mind the guilt he saw in the man's eyes as the major general raised his glass in acknowledgement. Whatever helped make Sam's life run smoother was an acceptable price in Siler's book.

####

Ten years later, Siler stood at the edge of the sand, eyes fixed on his high-speed target to the exclusion of the people coming and going around the park. At least until he felt one of them come to a stop besides him and a voice that hadn't changed bark his old rank in shock.

"Sergeant??"

Shifting a little so he could keep his target in sight while politely giving his old general his attention, he nodded a casual return greeting, hiding his own surprise behind an old impassive mask he'd almost forgotten the feel of, "General."

Giving the man a quick look, Siler thought that although he'd definitely put on some weight and wrinkles, he was also looking a heck of a lot happier than at any time the retired sergeant remembered. Before he could throw some smalltalk out there, his brows rose sharply, seeing a woman step up to the baby swings with a small toddler. For a second his breath caught, but then he jerked the reaction away, finding his speedy target again, "Is that-"

"Cassandra Fraiser's first. Our granddaughter by any other name."

Siler grinned at the pride in O'Neill's tone, wondering if Sam tried to keep the general from spoiling the girl or if she joined forces with him. He nodded at the 3 year-old with curly red hair, running from one piece of playground equipment to the other, "Michelle's oldest son's youngest. Only seems to be able to move at light-speed." And find more ways to hurt himself than Siler used to.

Jack grinned at the sappy fondness in the man's tone, finding he still remembered their last meeting enough to be beyond relieved at the change in him. Siler smiling was almost shocking, but seeing him happy was a balm to an ancient ache he'd almost forgotten about. Looking away from the sergeant's charge to look at his own family, he asked politely, wondering if Sam would recognize her old lover at a glance if she looked around for where Jack had taken himself with only a cryptic comment of having 'seen someone'. "Michelle?"

"My partner. She was dragged away to play frisbee with the older ones."

Jack chuckled at the love hidden in that statement, looking around in curiosity, "Lady with the shoulder-length white hair and electric blue top?" The short, slightly chubby but energetic woman laughed out loud as the younger girl she was playing with caught the antiquated plastic disc with a cheer of victory. He wondered if the sergeant was even aware of the way he automatically shifted ever so slightly toward the sound.

Siler watched with a strange feeling as little Brian stopped by the newcomers at the swings long enough to say 'Hi' to the tall, grey-haired woman, still in jeans a tank top after all these years, and then ran off again, not interested in a baby too young to play with. "Yeah. Retired civil engineer."

"Looks like a nice woman."

Watching his grandson's bright, innocent, happy smile, Siler nodded, "She is. I'm just lucky her football-playing sons didn't decide they hated my guts."

"Didn't think you could take them, sergeant?"

Picturing the muscle-bound 6'5" boys who knew how to hold their own in the dingiest bars, Siler snorted at the dig. Then he grinned in fond memory, "*She'd* have kicked my ass if I touched her boys."

Just as the retired general's laughter rang out, Siler sprinted forward, tackling the small body that had taken a sudden interest in something off in the trees beyond the play area. "Oh no, you don't, escape-artist." He lifted the wriggling boy and, smiling, threw him up a few inches, catching him and doing it again until he stopped trying to escape Siler's hold. Nuzzling his forehead, he grinned into Brian's wide blue eyes, "Let's go join grandma and your sisters, shall we, little man?"

He let the boy slide down his body to walk on his own, only then remembering his old comrade. Looking around, he saw Jack walking with Sam toward the lake and smiled, pleased for them. He looked down at the little boy looking at him quizzically and winked at him. And for himself. Life was good.

AN: you have no idea how.. unnatural it was to write that. to not use my mental established ship for the characters... ughughugh -glares at muse- no more growing. I like my writing the way it is.