A/N: Written for Ship Day, 2009. This is a standalone story that doesn't fit into any Campfires or Embrace Me stories – but I'm hoping you'll like it anyway. As always, I don't take feedback and reviews for granted; they are, in fact, the best pay any fanfic author can receive (well, short of Amanda reading this and deciding that I just have to work for her!).
The title for this piece is in honor of the men and women who made the tremendous effort and sacrifice to put humans on the moon, forty years ago this month.
Small Steps and Giant Leaps
Sam's arms ached as she struggled to lift to lift the last shelf into position while angling her power drill in place to secure the long screw. Flat on her back on the bottom of the closet-cum-library in the back bedroom, she pushed her heels deeper into the carpet to give herself some extra leverage. Just. . .a. . .little. . .
Suddenly the weight on her arms was gone and she let out a startled squeak. Angling her head awkwardly, she peered down the length of her body to see a pair of rather worn boots below rumpled khaki trouser legs. Just then the feet shifted and Sam found herself squinting into the sudden light that flooded in as the Colonel tilted the shelf so he could see her face.
Grateful for the reprieve, Sam let her arms flop to her sides and bit back a groan as her abused shoulder muscles reminded her that it had been a long time since she'd done this kind of over-the-head heavy work. She bit her lip as she tried to figure out how to get her suddenly aching muscles to shimmy her body out of the bottom of the closet. Before she came up with a plan, however, a warm hand enveloped hers and she felt a slight tug.
"C'mon, Carter. Up and at 'em. I think it's time for the relief to come on."
It never occurred to Sam to wonder, A) why her CO was in her house in the first place; B) how he'd gotten in without her letting him in; and C) how he knew to come at the point when she was pushing herself too far. All the mattered was the warmth of her hand in his; how his cool, dry, fingers felt wrapped around her own, and how she wanted to simply yank hard and bring him down to where she was.
What prompted her to do it, she didn't know. Years later she'd still not be able to define it fully.
Call it instinct.
Sheer, unadulterated stupidity.
Sam slid her hand deeper into O'Neill's and just . . . pulled. She anticipated that he'd be slightly off-balance and braced herself, quickly discarding the power drill to make sure neither of them were injured. Sure enough, her slight pull had offset the Colonel's position and she suddenly found herself on the floor of her back bedroom with her Commanding Officer bent low over her, his arms planted firmly on either side of her head, and his weight balanced precariously on one leg, the other bent at an awkward angle to avoid planting itself in her belly.
She looked up, the Colonel's chiseled features just inches from her own, and for a long, quiet moment, let herself get lost in the warmth of his tawny eyes. The late-afternoon autumn sunlight fell lazily through the open window, coloring the small room with a rich amber finish. The light hit his eyes at just the right angle, so that the brown that so captivated her was almost a translucent gold, accented with tumbling flashes of warm brown. Those amazing eyes held hers for a moment, an eternity, before they flicked down to her lips and just as quickly back up again to meet her gaze.
"Hi," she said softly.
"Hi back," he answered, his voice just as soft as hers.
Sam savored the opportunity, allowing herself to study his features unabashedly. He didn't seem in too much of a hurry to pull back, so she moved her gaze slowly across his features, taking in minute details and committing them to memory. The fine, tight lines that radiated from those magnificent eyes, the white in his eyebrow courtesy of an injury that had come so close to damaging his eye. The deep lines of his jaw and the ever-present grooves framing his lips, thanks to the often sardonic grin that seemed to continually lurk there. Sam caught her breath as those lips parted and O'Neill's tongue slipped out to wet their surface. She flicked her gaze up to find his attention just as carefully focused on her own lips.
Unconsciously mirroring his movement, Sam moistened her lips too. Looking up again she found his eyes locked squarely on hers, the silver-tipped eyebrow raised slightly in silent question. As if in answer she licked her lips again, tilted her head slightly, and then let her eyes slip closed in anticipation.
It seemed an eternity before she felt it. Felt the puff of his breath brushing across her face followed by the almost ethereal feeling of his lips meeting hers for the first time. Alien viruses didn't count, she decided. This. At long last, this . . . this counted.
Countless times she'd imagined their first kiss. Their first real kiss. In a park, in a parking lot after dinner, after saving his life, after he'd saved hers, after they'd saved the world. Again. Never had she imagined it on the floor of her tiny back bedroom with the smell of sweat and sawdust lingering in the air and mixing with his scent, with him hovering over her as she lay with her head and shoulders still mostly inside of a closet. Nope, not how she'd imagined it at all.
This was . . . so . . . much . . . better.
How long they lay there languidly exploring each other's lips, Sam didn't know. A lifetime later O'Neill slowly pulled away, and she blinked her eyes open to find that, aside from his lips welcoming her to the world she'd long been dreaming of, he hadn't moved. She glanced to once side and saw that his arms were trembling slightly with the effort to hold himself above her. "You can't be comfortable," she said, slightly surprised at how normal she managed to sound.
Above her, O'Neill quirked an eyebrow in the expression she loved so much. "Oh, I don't know. There's a lot to be said for this position. However . . . " He grimaced and then shifted slightly, bringing both legs around to rest on the ground. He eased back slightly, transitioning his weight from his hands to his hips. As he did so he shook his hands out, apparently trying to increase the circulation.
Sam quickly sat up and leaned against the doorframe of the closet so that they sat facing each other, O'Neill's legs extending into the closet and hers into the room. She captured his hands and began to rub them slowly, helping to bring the feeling back to his fingers. With her attention on his hands she could avoid his eyes for a moment.
O'Neill pulled one of his hands free and with it tipped her chin up, forcing her to meet his eyes. "Carter?"
O'Neill shook his head, his hand still cupping her chin. He traced a gentle thumb over her lips and said again, softly, "Sam?"
Sam bit her lip and met his gaze. She lifted her chin free and slid her legs up, wrapping her arms around them. She rested her cheek on her knees, facing him. She recognized her posture for what it was, a protective mechanism, but couldn't seem to make herself comfortable any other way. She eased her left hand free of her right and slowly–achingly slowly–reached out to where his lay where it had fallen, atop his own legs. She threaded her fingers through his, caressing the back of his hand with her thumb, absently tracing the small scars that were mute testimony of a life lived in combat.
The afternoon sun was giving way to the velvety cover of evening and the room was fast losing its golden glow, fading into the stark black and white of night. Sam was afraid that the moment they had shared would fade just as quickly if she put into words what was racing through her brain. Time and again she opened her mouth to speak only to find that the words caught in her throat, died on her tongue.
"Sam? Look at me, please." O'Neill's voice was as quiet as the oncoming night, his voice as velvety soft as the sky that had begun to darken outside her window.
"I . . . I don't want to."
"God, Carter? Why not?"
Taking a deep, fortifying breath, she closed her eyes and said, "Because I'm almost afraid that if I do, you'll be gone." She swallowed hard. "But . . . I'm almost more afraid that . . . even worse . . . you'll still be here."
"How is that worse?" O'Neill gave her hand a quick squeeze. "You have to help me out here, Carter."
Taking advantage of the deepening shadows in the room, Sam chanced a glance up. She met his tender gaze and what she saw there gave her strength. "It's not rational, Sir. But . . . if you are here, then we did just . . . " She flapped her hand rather vaguely, unable to bring herself to say it.
"Kiss. It's called kissing, Carter."
Despite what she was feeling, Sam bit back a smile. She gave his hand a squeeze. "Yes, I know. I mean, I know it's called . . . oh, for . . .." She gave up, flustered.
O'Neill worked his fingers free of hers only to reach up and pry her other hand free of its grip on her legs. He eased her knees down and captured both of her hands in one of his. With the other he slowly reached up and traced gentle fingers along the line of her jaw and across her lips. His large hand cupped her cheek and then those long, nimble fingers slid up and threaded through her hair. With the smallest pressure he pulled her forward, his eyes never leaving hers. "I'm glad you know what it's called," he whispered, "'cause we're about to do it again."
Sam's eyes slipped closed as he gently pulled her face closer to his and she once again felt the caress of his breath across her cheeks. And once again she felt the incredible sensation of his lips literally melting into hers. And once again she was lost.
What before had been the two of them taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity, this was deliberate.
This time when they separated she found herself resting in his lap and nestled safely within his arms. With a soft sigh she relaxed into his embrace, laying her head onto his shoulder, her lips pressed against the slightly rough skin of his neck. O'Neill tightened his hold on her as he leaned against the wall for support. Time seemed to have stopped for them both as they sat together on the floor of the tiny room. Through the window Sam could see the first stars begin to appear in the deepening sky. She absently named them as, one by one, they slid out from behind the mountain that meant so much to them both.
Finally she spoke, straining to keep her voice low and even. "We . . . I . . . can't do this, you know."
"I know." O'Neill shifted beneath her and spoke again, his arms tightening slightly around her. "I don't really expect you. . ."
Sam puffed out a breath and shook her head against his shirt. "You're not going to give me some load of crap about you not being good enough for me, are you?" She felt him suck in a breath and then relaxed even more as he began to chuckle, his voice low and rumbling against the ear pressing into his shoulder.
"Ah . . . no." O'Neill chuckled again. "I like to think I'm a bit of a catch, but . . ."
Now it was Sam's turn to laugh and she did so, burying her face in his neck and inhaling the unique Jack O'Neill scent that she loved so much. "Good. 'Cause I'd hate to have to kick your butt . . . Sir."
O'Neill's gentle laughter died at that word. "Sir," he said slowly.
Sam's laughter faded too and she sat upright, then turned and leaned in to press her forehead to his, their breath mingling together. She absorbed the sensations that washed over her, the scent of him mixing with hers to make something uniquely them. The feeling of love and belonging as he slid his hands over her shoulders and down her back to rest on her hips. Overwhelmed by the loss and longing that swamped her, she could find no words to ease the ache they both felt.
When he spoke, his voice reflected what she was feeling. Rough and unsteady he said, "You do realize, Carter, that we violated the Air Force's regulations years ago?"
Sam nodded slightly, unwilling to break their connection. "I know . . . Jack." She took a deep breath and then leaned back. He released her hips to clasp his hands in the small of her back, supporting her. She slid both of her hands behind his head, locking her fingers together, her thumbs caressing him slightly. One part of her reveled in the freedom to do this, to feel the softness of his hair beneath her fingers. Another part of her struggled. "But . . . That's not an excuse. Not really. We've been able to accomplish so much going as we are . . ."
"So much . . . for everyone else."
She just nodded, her eyes still on his. He held her gaze and then slowly quirked an eyebrow up and she shrugged in response. "I know. It's not fair. But that's . . ."
"Who we are," he finished, somewhat ruefully.
"Yes." Sam paused. "Sir." She studied him for a moment. "And . . . I have to believe that we wouldn't be here . . . like this . . . if we were, I don't know. Different." She cocked her head. "Does that make sense?"
Jack's expression was closed for a second as he sorted through what she'd said. Finally his expression cleared and his eyes warmed as he returned his focus to the woman in his arms. "Different . . . as in . . . having broken those rules in actual deed and not just in spirit?"
"Yeah. I think that's what I mean. As much as I . . . I mean, don't get me wrong, Jack. I . . . I really wish . . . but . . . going so far, disregarding so much . . . that's just not . . ." Sam trailed off again.
"Who we are," he finished for her again. "I know." Very slowly Jack reached up to cup her face, his thumbs caressing her fine cheekbones. He held her securely before his gaze, his brown eyes delving deeply into her blue ones. "I love you, you know." His words were soft, his tone even and as steady as his regard.
She could only nod, her eyes shining with tears. He gave her a gentle smile, brushing his thumbs along the teardrops caught in her lashes, catching them before they could fall. "I should have requested a transfer to another team ages ago, you know." Sam's whispered words fell between them. "Because I realized I was in love with you . . . and that made me afraid."
"Oh, Carter." Jack pulled her back into his chest. "I'm sorry it made you–"
"No, Jack." Sam pushed back slightly, her hands fisting in the soft cotton of his shirt. "I was afraid . . . not of loving you. But that my loving you would somehow hurt you. Or the team. I decided that . . . since it was probably a one-way thing, that I wouldn't let it. Hurt you or the team."
"And now that you know it's not one-way?"
Sam gave him a soft, secretive smile. "Oh, I've known that for a while. A long while. And now . . . now I can't imagine not working with you. Seeing you every day. Knowing that I've got your back. That you've got mine. It's not what I want, but . . . it's worth it."
"So . . . it's a trade-off."
"It is." She smiled at him. "For now."
"And . . . it's enough? For you? To not have this . . ." O'Neill gestured to the two of them nestled together on the floor.
Rather than answer, she turned the question back on him. "What do you think?"
Jack's loving brown eyes were intent upon hers, his expression serious as he said quietly, "Carter, it's worth everything to me to be a part of your life every day. In any way." He closed his eyes for a moment, clearly trying to find the words to say something. "Like you said, it's not what either of us wants. But . . . I . . . I think I need to know that it's enough for you, too."
Sam tilted her head and studied his face, as much of it as she could see in the gathering darkness. She traced his features, enjoying the days worth of stubble that enhanced his rugged good looks. As he had earlier, she let her fingers follow the line of his jaw, the edges of his lips, before sliding up into his soft salt-and-pepper hair. And, as he had earlier, she pulled him closer and pressed her lips to his. They melted together again and Sam opened herself further, her tongue seeking and finding his in the sweetest of caresses.
This time it was more than Earth-shaking.
It was soul-shattering.
And . . . it was a promise.
Trembling now, her hands locked tightly behind his head to steady herself, Sam eased back, fighting for control. She could sense him struggling for the same, feel the tremor in his hands where they pressed against her back. "It's enough. This," she glanced between them, "today . . . This makes it enough." She smiled at him again, this time letting everything she felt for him show on her face, knowing he would see it and understand. "For now."