A/N: Well this certainly came out of nowhere. Sally on GW asked a simple question and thus spawned a ficlet. Now, due to popular demand (LOL), I've expanded the scene.
Set during Affinity, a continuation of the scene in which Sam shows Jack the ring he-who-should-not-be-named gave her. Also...in keeping with canon I can't just do what I want with them, so...
Sam bit her lip and sucked in a deep breath. It was now or never, she knew she wouldn't have the opportunity—or courage—to ask this again. She looked up, her eyes searching his face for some sign, some indication of his feelings. "What about you? If things had been different...?"
"I wouldn't be here." O'Neill looked away for a moment and Sam could see his jaw working, the muscles on his neck flexing as he clenched his teeth. She knew he was struggling and wished for once he would simply...let go...and tell her what she wanted...needed...to hear. Finally he looked up, his usually warm brown eyes dark with pain.
"Carter..." He began, then abruptly broke off and stepped away from the table.
Sam sighed and waited for him to disappear through the doorway. To her surprise he gently eased the door closed and quietly twisted the lock. O'Neill took his time returning to his position opposite her, his eyes lingering on the ring box still sitting larger than life between them. This time when he looked up at her his eyes were slightly warmer.
"Sam. What is it you want me to say?" O'Neill leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table, bringing himself to eye level. "I'm...I'm in an impossible situation here. Let me ask you something. Does Shanahan make you happy?"
"I...he..." Flustered, Sam struggled to speak.
O'Neill held up a hand, stopping her prevarication. "No, you don't need to answer. I think, really, you just did, but...don't. The thing is Carter..." O'Neill shoved himself up off of the table and began pacing restlessly. He ran a frustrated hand through his hair and then stopped, his back to Sam. He jammed his hands into his pockets and turned to face her, his back quite literally against the wall. "What do you want from me, Carter? Do you want me to tell you to say 'no'?" O'Neill shrugged. "That makes me the bad guy. Do you want me to give you my blessing?" He blew out a breath and looked down at the floor. "Okay. You have it. It might kill me, but you have it."
The General deliberately walked across the floor and stopped again opposite Sam, his eyes intent upon her own. "Carter, if that guy, if...Pete..." O'Neill ground out the other man's name. "If he can make you happy, then...nothing should stop you from saying yes. But..." He left the rest unspoken, expressing his feelings instead as he always did, with his eyes.
Sam sat captivated by his gaze, unable to look away. She could see that small muscle twitching just below his left eye, reminding her of when she'd been trapped behind the Goa'uld force field and he refused to leave. She was filled with the same sense of panic and longing and she knew. I can't do it, she thought.
There it was.
He was right, she'd put him in an impossible situation and it wasn't fair. Sitting there, her stomach filled with a rush of pleasure and excitement that came from just looking into Jack O'Neill's eyes, she had her answer. She dropped her gaze to the ring box between them and slowly reached to pick it up. Jack said nothing as her hands brushed the soft black velvet-covered box, only his eyes moving as he watched her slide it back across the table and into a desk drawer. She bit her lip and met his gaze again, this time fighting back tears. "You're right," she whispered. "I'm sorry."
O'Neill stepped around the desk and stopped at her side. He reached down and with his thumb and softly brushed away the tears that spilled down her cheek, then he lifted her chin with gentle fingers. "Don't cry. I hate it when you cry."
Sam gave in and leaned her cheek into the hand still resting there. God how she longed for things to be different. She blinked back several more tears and met his gaze again. "Sir...Jack. I...I need to..."
Neither of them had moved, Sam still sat on her stool, her cheek still cradled in O'Neill's warm hand, her eyes intent on his. After a long moment she slipped her eyes shut. It was easier to say what she needed to say if she couldn't see his eyes.
"I need you to know that I still–"
Jack slid his hand from her cheek and pressed one finger to Sam's lips. It took everything she had not to purse her lips together and press a kiss to that finger. She shuddered slightly with the effort to control that instinct and she opened her mouth to try again to speak, only to have Jack press his finger down more firmly.
"No, Sam. Don't." Jack dropped his hand and bent low, his face inches from hers. "If you say it, Sam, that's it. If you say it, there's no going back. I won't be able to go back, ever. I'll be in...all the way in. If you say it...then I become someone I won't like and someone whom you ultimately would never respect. If you say it, I become...the other guy...the poacher...the guy who breaks up the happy picture."
Sam watched as he closed his eyes, his long lashes brushing his cheeks. When he opened them again she swore she could see the sparkle of tears nestled among the delicate strands. His beautiful brown eyes searched her own, gliding past suddenly useless defenses and slipping easily into the deepest reaches of her soul.
"I won't be...I can't be...that man, Sam." Jack's voice was soft, he was so near that his words whispered across her suddenly heated face. "You deserve better. I deserve better."
"You do, I'm sorry."
Impossibly, Jack leaned closer. Sam caught her breath. If she just leaned forward... that... tiny... little... bit... she bit back a moan, chewing on her lip. Jack's gaze dropped from hers to fall on her lips and she swore she could feel him there. "No?" She whispered, proud that her voice was steady at least, if a bit soft.
"No more 'I'm sorry's,' Sam. We're done with that."
"Oh." She nodded, then leaned back slightly to regain some equilibrium. "I...ah...okay. I guess I don't have anything more..." Sam trailed off as Jack leaned in again, his eyes dark and intense.
"I have one more thing, Sam." Jack waited for her to lift her gaze to his. "If, and I do mean if, you ever decide that...Shanahan...can't make you...can't be what you need, all I ask is that you tell me first, okay?"
He was so close now that Sam could only nod. She was afraid that if she opened her mouth it would only be to demand that he kiss her, or to put her lips to his and kiss him as she'd wanted to for years.
"Okay. Well then..." His voice was rough with suppressed emotion.
Jack stayed where he was for another moment, still close enough that Sam could feel every puff of his breath. She watched as he studied her, sure he had something else to say. Since she couldn't trust herself to put together two coherent thoughts that didn't involve breaking promises to others, Sam waited him out.
"I lied before, you know. I have one other thing, Samantha. I guess I should offer my congratulations."
His voice was barely above a whisper as he leaned in and Sam's entire world narrowed to the deep golden brown of his eyes as they moved closer. As Jack's eyes slipped closed so did Sam's, her last image was of his tongue slipping out to moisten his lips. This time she was unable to stifle a soft whimper as his lips gently—finally—settled on hers.
Sam was lost.
And despite the sensation of finally coming home...at long, long last...she also felt utterly alone.
The sequel to this story, When It Counts, can be found back on my main ff dot net page.
Afterword: The "Don't cry, I hate it when you cry" line is something that Rick said to Amanda as they were filming Threads. I really loved that he said that to her and had to use it in a fic.
Added afterword based upon reviews: The above "Don't cry..." thing has generated a lot of questions. It comes from something Amanda said in one of the companion books about filiming Threads. She said, "I was crying really badly because...it was Carmen...and he was dying in the next scene (Jacob Carter really), and I really love him and I was so sad that he was not going to be playing Jacob Carter anymore.
I eventually pulled it all together, and went into the observation room to shoot a scene with Rick. We're sitting getting ready for this little scene between Carter and O'Neill, which is quite wonderful and some interesting things are brought to bear. Rick turned to me and said, 'You're not crying are you?' and I went, 'Yes, I am.' And he replied, 'I hate it when you cry. I hate it.' And it was just the perfect prelude to that little scene between us." So, now you know.