A/N: This is the requested sequel to Being There. When I wrote that I really had no intention of writing a sequel, but so many of you wrote, both here and privately, that you wanted one. Here it is.
Set throughout Threads. I save and answer all reviews left with respondable links.
When it Counts
Sam jumped as the shrill ring of her cell phone shattered the tense silence. Every eye in the room was on her. She bit her lip as she caught the disbelief and vague disappointment in Jack's eyes at the interruption. She fumbled for the phone, yanking it from her pocket and hastily turning it off. She bit back a grimace as she noted the caller ID. Now of all times he had to call her! Sam avoided the eyes of the men at the table and apologized. "Sorry! I thought I'd turned it off."
She turned her attention to Jack as he continued the briefing. Half of her attention was on what was being discussed and the other half on the madness that had become her life. She felt as if she were on a fast-moving train with no way off. An express. A high-speed monorail transit. No, she thought. I'm one of those little rabbits caught in a trap. A different analogy flashed across her brain. She remembered being trapped on the Asgard ship, her fear rising in time to the water that threatened to overtake them. She'd thought then that she was finished. Only then, she remembered, she'd been with Jack. Looking back, her fear hadn't been as real then as it was now. Because then...then she'd had Jack by her side. Now....
Chief Harriman entered and stood just behind Jack. He gently cleared his throat, clearly hesitant to disrupt the discussion. O'Neill turned to him slowly, surprise evident on his face.
"Yes?" He somehow managed to make the question sound like a small reprimand. The unspoken, 'what the hell could be more important than the end of the world' rang through the single syllable.
The Chief swallowed hard. "Sorry to interrupt, Sir." He turned toward Sam, his expression apologetic and slightly...annoyed. It wasn't a look she was used to seeing on the usually affable Chief's features. "Colonel? There's a call for you. Apparently it's...urgent."
Oh, God. He didn't. He wouldn't. Sam apologized quickly and stepped to the back of the room to take the call. "Carter," she muttered into the open line.
"Babe. Are ya coming? We're twenty minutes late to meet the florist!"
Pete's voice had a tone in it she'd never really heard before, an annoying, almost grating sound that rubbed against her already frayed nerves.. Maybe it had always been there and she was just now noticing it. Sam angled her body to block as much of her conversation as she could and whispered hastily into the phone. "Pete! Are you...is there an emergency? The Chief said the call was 'urgent.'
"It..ah, it is, Babe. Look. This is our only chance to–"
"Pete." Sam bit off his name, gritting her teeth. "I am in the middle of a real emergency. Deal with it without me, okay?" She turned back to the men sitting at the table, catching Jack's eyes on her. She was surprised to see the concern on his face, she'd half expected to find him glaring angrily at her. He raised one eyebrow and she quickly turned away.
Sam listened with half an ear as she focused on the discussion that continued behind her. She could feel it, the water rising again around her, threatening to choke the life out of her. And this time she was alone. She chanced another glance at Jack to find him looking at her again, his brown eyes steady but guarded. Again she turned away, fighting the feeling of loss and panic as she broke his gaze. Pete's voice was rising in her ear and he was asking her when he could expect to see her. She was reluctant to commit to a time. She was needed here. The SGC needed her...Jack...she hoped...needed her. She apologized again to Pete, mentally urging him to get the hint and get the hell off the phone. She thought that if she had to listen to him for another minute she'd simply scream. He finally wound down and Sam breathed a sigh of relief, a feeling that was fleeting as he said goodbye.
"I love you, Babe."
She couldn't do it. Those scary black waters closed over her head and she floundered in the dark, desperately reaching for a lifeline. There was no way she could say those words back to him with Jack a mere ten feet behind her. She didn't know what it would do to him but she knew it might just kill her. Finally she settled on a vague, "Yeah, me too. Bye." She abruptly hung up the phone, taking a deep, fortifying breath before turning around. To her dismay the meeting had already broken up. Teal'c and Bra'tac offered her brief bows as they departed. As Sam rejoined her Dad and the General at the end of the table, Jack stood and began shuffling the papers in his briefing packet. She apologized again. "Sorry about that, Sir."
"No, no. Just a misunderstanding."
Her dad glanced between the two of them, then asked, "Hey, weren't you supposed to meet Pete at the florist this morning?" The carefully innocent look on his face didn't fool her for a moment. He was making a point and he wanted her to know it.
Jack glanced up before returning his attention to his paperwork. For a man who hated the stuff, Sam thought he was taking exceptional care with this stack. She glared at her dad and said through gritted teeth, "No…Dad." She narrowed her gaze hoping he'd get the hint and drop it.
No such luck.
"No, I'm sure that's what you said. For the wedding."
If looks could kill, Sam knew that Jacob Carter would be a smoking corpse. She leveled a glare at him that had felled lesser men. Like she needed reminding about her own wedding! "I know!" Drop it, Dad, please. Just drop it. She shook her head at him, her movement subtle.
Not subtle enough, it seemed. Jack looked up at her again. "Go ahead, Carter. It's supposed to be your day off, anyway."
Carter offered him a pained smile. Please don't send me away, Colonel. Please let me stay. Please...I'm drowning here. "It's okay, Sir."
"Teal'c and Bra'tac are meeting with the Jaffa. There's nothing to do around here. Go...pick flowers!"
Oh my God. I'm drowning...I'm slowly suffocating and he wants me to pick flowers. Sam's heart ached as he flashed her a smile and strode off, leaving Sam alone with her father. All of her anger and frustration roared into her head and Sam turned her attention to her dad.
Jacob shrugged his shoulders, putting on the most falsely innocent look she'd ever seen. "What?"
Sam scowled at her dad, not buying his act. She knew what he was doing. He was a master at it, this..."teaching moment" is what her brother had always called it. Jacob would say nothing directly, only saying and doing things that would eventually lead Sam and her brother to come to their own conclusion about their mistakes. Sam remembered him being much more subtle when she was a kid. Or maybe she'd been just more obtuse on this issue. Either way, she'd gotten the message loud and clear. If she was this uncomfortable simply planning the wedding than she needed to take a new look at things.
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Dark smoke rose lazily from behind the house, indicating to Sam that Jack was not only home but he was slowly burning some defenseless slab of cow. She closed her eyes against the wave of pain and nausea the flowed through her when she thought of the afternoon's activities. After Jack had sent her away she'd met Pete at the florist's. He'd managed to charm the woman into staying open two hours longer than her regularly scheduled closing to accommodate Sam's late arrival. Sam found herself caring less and less about what flowers she wanted in the bouquets that she and Cassie would carry. She'd finally settled on yellow roses; it wasn't until she'd pulled into Jack's driveway that she realized his front garden sported the very same flowers she'd picked for the bouquet.
Great, like I needed yet another sign.
After the florist had come the "surprise." A house...complete with imaginary dog. The biggest problem was that it didn't come with her imaginary husband, it came with a real one. The wrong one. As Pete disappeared into the home he'd purchased for him, the flood waters in which she'd been treading for so long simply overwhelmed her.
She had to get out. And get out now. Sam had refused to enter the house, and when Pete came out to get her she'd insisted on being taken back to where she'd left her car. She'd made some excuse to him and said as little as possible, escaping as quickly as she was able.
Out. She needed out.
She needed...she needed...Jack. Jack.
Oh my God. I can't do this. I...I have to say something. Do something. For one fleeting second she hoped they'd be unable to stop Anubis, that all of this would be solved without her hurting anyone. That brief flash of weakness was followed by shame. Shame that she'd wish for the deaths of billions so that she could be spared making a hard decision. Shame that she was going to hurt a kind man. Shame that it had taken her this long to put an end to something that never should have begun. And hard on shame's heels came the overwhelming sense of relief.
Mindful of Jack's request to her, just a few months ago, Sam resolved to tell him first. He'd asked for her promise and she'd given it. Promises to Jack were something she felt she could, and would, always make and keep in good conscience.
Taking a deep breath, Sam stepped out of her car and walked around the side of the house. She'd tell him first...just as he'd asked, and then she'd tell Pete. But first... "Hi, Sir."
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Sam held her dad's hand as his words washed over her. The drive from Jack's house had passed in a blur of tears and mortification. She'd come to fulfill her promise only to find that it didn't matter anymore. She was too late. Too late for a lot of things.
This wasn't happening. This. Was. Not. Happening. Thiswasnothappening!
Around and around in her head the words flew, and Sam wasn't sure it they were the result of her disastrous discussion...or lack thereof...with Jack or because of...Oh, God. Dad. She closed her eyes against the tears and focused on what he was saying to her. Already she could hear the strain in his voice, could hear how he was struggling to draw a full, deep breath. She bent her head and let the tears flow. When he finished speaking she rose and leaned over, placing a gentle kiss on his forehead. "Rest a while, Dad. I'm going to check in with Ja...with the General. I'll be back soon."
Jacob didn't stir as she released his hand. She nodded to the nurse, reassured that someone would be with him while she changed. Her eyes blurring with tears, Sam moved through the base on autopilot, finding SG1's dressing room blessedly empty. Letting the door fall closed behind her, she didn't bother to lock it. Nobody but SG1 used this room. Teal'c was with Bra'tac, Daniel was...wherever he was...and Jack.... Jack was at home. Making dinner. With...
The moan that fell from her lips echoed eerily in the small room. Bereft, Sam walked blindly across the room. This time she did nothing to stop the tears from falling, finally giving in to the pain and desperation she'd been feeling for months, exacerbated now the revelation that she was going to lose her dad.
She was losing everything. Everyone. Daniel was gone. Teal'c was leaving. Her dad was dying, and Jack...Jack...Jack.... It was too much. Her legs gave out and she collapsed against the lockers and slid gracelessly to the floor. She wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her forehead against her knees, a picture of dejection and loss, sobs shaking her suddenly frail body.
She never heard the door open, never heard him cross the room, but suddenly he was there. The scent of him washed over her as he wrapped her up in his arms, tucking her head up under his chin and holding her tightly to his chest. He didn't say a word, simply rocked her and cuddled her, offering her his strength. And, she realized, his love.
After a long while her tears subsided, but she was loathe to move. She had a pounding headache brought on by stress and tears and her eyes were gritty from crying. She glanced down at herself through puffy eyes and realized she still had to change. She had no idea how long she'd been there and was suddenly seized by panic. She stiffened and made to pull away, only to be caught by his strong hands, hands that caressed and soothed. That comforted.
"He's fine, Carter. I just left him."
The last of the tension drained out of her and she collapsed into his embrace again. "How long..."
Jack tipped his head to one side, clearly trying to figure out what she was asking.
"How long was I down here, Sir?"
"Connelly said you left the infirmary about twenty minutes ago. I left...home...right after you."
"Oh. I'm sorry, Sir."
"For..." Sam trailed off, leaning slightly out of his arms. She shifted and rested her head against the locker behind her. When he moved to release her she shook her head and laid a hand on his arm. "Sorry for choosing right then to come to you. To talk to you."
"You didn't know. And for that, I'm sorry. Whatever it is, it can wait, Carter."
She shook her head, holding his gaze. "No...I don't think it can." She took a breath. "Jack."
Jack's eyes widened and he studied her carefully. "Okay." He waited for a moment, then added softly, his words a whisper in the darkened room. "It's okay, Carter."
For the first time Sam didn't look away. She held his gaze and tried to tell him without words what needed to be said. Then she realized...that was part of their problem. Too often what was said silently was misinterpreted. She took another deep breath. Despite knowing that he was with someone else now...and God, didn't that just tear her heart further to shreds...she'd made him a promise. If nothing else, she'd keep this one.
"You asked me...you made me promise to tell you if...if...I ever realized that...he...couldn't be what I needed, that I'd..." As she said the words out loud, Sam realized that she couldn't finish. He'd moved on and this wasn't fair to him. Jack's soft voice picked up where she'd left off.
"...That you'd tell me. I remember." Jack sighed and looked away for a moment, pain marking his features. "And...that's what you came to say to me today?"
Sam nodded, fresh tears welling up in her eyes. Then she slowly shook her head. "That's not all of it," she confessed in a whisper.
She shook her head, desperately holding back her tears. They hovered there, trapped by the web of her lashes, threatening to break free at the slightest provocation. Jack's softly spoken, "Oh, Sam" did it. Despite her attempt at control, the dam broke and hot tears traced new paths down her already flushed cheeks. She turned her head away and blinked rapidly, trying to stop the flow. She couldn't do it. She'd taken so many risks, she simply couldn't go that last step. She couldn't do it to him and she found she was unwilling to do that to Kerry.
"No." Jack reached out and pulled her to him again. "No, Samantha. Don't cry. It's okay." Jack blew out a long, slow breath and began to speak, his words rumbling in his chest, comforting her as she lay tucked against him. "Let me say some things, then, Sam. You shouldn't be the only one sticking your neck out, here. I love you. I think you already knew that. But...I love you, Sam. Heart and soul." His arms tightened around her. "More than that, Samantha, I need you. It was killing me to smile while you planned your wedding to...someone else. I love you."
"Oh, Jack. I'm so, so sorry."
"Hey. I told you before that we're done with 'I'm sorry's,' Sam. No more." He held her a moment longer and then tipped his head down to meet her eyes. His voice was velvety soft as he again urged her, "Tell me."
Sam's heart leapt into her throat as she looked deep into his eyes. Sucking her breath in, she stepped off of the cliff. "I love you," she whispered. "I'm in love with you. I can't...I can't remember a time when I wasn't, really."
As she spoke a wide, genuine smile slid across Jack's face, lighting his eyes with a fire she hadn't realized had been missing until now. She watched as he blinked back his own tears and bent his forehead to hers, whispering, "Thank you. Thank you." As she wrapped her arms around him, he reassured her. "It'll be okay, Sam. It will."
"No. It'll never be okay again. Dad's...oh God. He's dying, Jack. He's dying and I'll be...I'll be alone."
"You'll never be alone, Sam. I promise you."
Sam lifted her head and met his gaze, losing herself in the warmth and strength of his brown eyes. "But...today...I saw..." She couldn't say her name.
Jack just shook his head, bending forward to place a soft kiss on her forehead. "I've never made her any promise Sam. None." He leaned away again to make sure he had her attention. "I've only ever made promises to you. Only you. And I intend to keep them. All of them."
Sam stared at him, absorbing his words. He was offering her a lifeline. A lifetime, too, maybe. She nodded, hating herself for accepting so easily what he was offering. And who he was offering to cast aside. "I wouldn't have told you...not after seeing her there. But...I...I promised. And...I've never broken a promise to you, Jack. I don't think I ever could."
"It'll be okay, Sam. Really." Jack brushed another kiss across her forehead before easing back and releasing her. "You need to change and get back to Dad and I...I have things I need to do."
"Yes, Sir." Sam allowed Jack to help her to her feet and watched as he left the still darkened locker room. She took a deep breath and wiped the last of the tears from her face. She'd kept her promise. She'd stepped off that scary cliff and told him. And he'd caught her.
Now it was time to see to her dad.
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Sam watched as Pete ripped the "Sold" sign off of the realtor's billboard and angrily tossed it into the back his Jeep before driving off. She sat there with elbows on her knees, saddened that she'd hurt a good man but unbelievably relieved that it was over. She no longer felt as if she was drowning. The safety of the planet was by no means assured, but for the first time in months Sam felt as if everything was going to be okay. She thought of her last real conversation with her dad, of his trying to tell her to take what she wanted.
Jacob lifted his head from the pillow, pinning Sam with his stare. "You...can...still... have... everything...you...want."
Sam didn't feel as if she could tell him about her discussion with Jack. Or her decision to break things off with Pete. She wanted him to go believing she was going to be happy. She tried to reassure him. "I do, Dad." She put as much sincerity as she could muster into the words. He sighed and dropped his head, exhaustion clearly taking over. Sam could see he was frustrated. She tried again, squeezing his hand. "Really."
She might not have everything she'd always wanted, but she'd taken the first steps. She continued to hold his hand, offering what comfort she could while Selmak slowly faded away inside of her father.
Later, it had been Jack who offered the comfort. She sat, hands clasped tightly on the desk before her, gazing down at her father and the Tok'ra who had come to say farewell. The door opened and Jack entered, saying nothing as he slipped onto the stool beside her. He mirrored her pose and eventually asked quietly, "You okay?"
"Actually, I'm fine. Good even, strange as that sounds. I thought I lost him years ago. Since then we've been closer then we ever were my whole life. In a way, Selmak gave me the father I never thought I'd know."
Jack turned to her and slowly extended his arm. "C'mere."
Sam slid unquestioningly into his embrace, her hand coming up to hold his where it rested on her shoulder. She leaned her cheek against his warm skin, absently caressing the back of his hand with her thumb. She glanced at him, then back down to where her dad lay. "Thank you, Sir."
"For being here for me."
"Always." Jack's almost whispered words were a promise, and they both knew it. She looked at him, acknowledging both the words and the commitment, then, overwhelmed with love for the man holding her and the man over whom they kept vigil, she tugged his hand and arm tighter around her body, gratefully accepting everything that he offered.
Below them she saw the activity in the room still as her dad whispered something to his Tok'ra friend. The solemn man lifted his eyes to Sam's he laid a hand upon Jacob's shoulder. The truth was in his eyes and Sam knew that this was it. Her heart stuttered for a moment and she felt lost. Immediately, Jack's hand tightened on hers, offering her his strength. His love. She turned away from the sight below to find his warm, loving gaze on her. Taking a deep breath she rose and stepped around behind him, her hand trailing down his shoulder to his hand, relishing the final squeeze he gave before releasing her to say her farewell's.
As she entered and reached for his hand, Jacob's eyes flicked upward once toward Jack and back to her, then his mouth twitched in what Sam knew was the ghost of a smile. She nodded slightly, her eyes filling again with tears as her dad closed his eyes in relief.
He opened them again, his gaze steady upon hers and whispered, "I love you."
As she bent over her father, kissing him goodbye one last time, she could feel the strength of Jack at her back. Always.
The sudden vibrating of her phone interrupted her thoughts and Sam jumped as she reached to answer it. Only now did she realize just how late it was getting...and that she had no car. "Carter."
Sam leaned back against the bench, hidden from view in the growing shadows stretching across the yard that would now never be hers. She felt a rush of joy at the warmth she heard in his voice. "Hi, Sir."
"Jack, Sam. When it's just us...it's Jack."
"Where are you?"
"Well...it looks like I'm stranded."
"What?" Jack's anger was clear. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, Si– yes, Jack. It's just...well, he left and I'm here at the house..."
"The one he..."
"Give me the address, I'll be there for you."
"Jack...Sir. You don't have to come. You can have someone from the motor pool, or I can call a cab–" Sam could hear the frustration in his voice as he cut her off.
"Samantha. Seven kinds of hell are breaking loose around here and the fate of the world...hell, that galaxy...as we know it will probably be determined in the next few hours. Despite all that–"
"Sir...all the more reason to–"
"Sam." Jack interrupted her again, his voice both firm and loving. "I'll be there."
And he was.