A/N: This is the third part of the triptych, beginning with Small Steps and Giant Leaps and continued in Promissa Facta Sunt. As always, I love reading your reviews. It's how I get better.
I wrestled with where/when to set this. GateSeeker2 (at whose suggestion these two follow-up stories exist) offered DC in Season 9, but I feel that's a bit too late. So, I hope you like where we ended up. Special thanks to Leiasky for excellent (and fast!) beta work.
Sam stood in the driveway of the modest house, absently jiggling the keys in her hands as she stared at the imposing structure. The email in her inbox, the first thing she'd checked after they'd returned from Minnesota, was from Jack and had been brief and oh-so-Jack-like in tone.
2917 E. Cheyenne Ave, JSO E. Lake Mead Rd. You might like it. I'll give you a call when I land at Nellis next week. Make sure you've scoped out a good place to eat.
She'd shaken her head in disbelief. Just five minutes ago she'd dropped her official request for transfer to Area-51 into Landry's inbox. After grabbing a cup of coffee, she'd unlocked her lab and . . . Jack's email. Her attention still on the house, Sam reached inside and felt her fingers brush the printed copy of the email. She'd printed it for the address, she told herself repeatedly.
The transfer to Nellis had come through so fast that Sam wondered if the orders had been in Landry's office already, just waiting for a signature. It didn't matter, really. Sam's heart wasn't in the SGC, not anymore. Teal'c was leaving Earth, Daniel had been given the Atlantis project and Jack . . . Jack wouldn't even be in the state of Colorado. And then there was Cass to consider.
Taking a deep breath, Sam slowly turned and looked back down the street. Tucked right into the base of Frenchman Mountain, set above the surrounding neighborhood, the house was . . . huge. Much, much bigger than she or Cassie needed. Sam shook her head. Whatever possessed him to A) look at houses for her, and B) point her toward a monstrosity of a house? The view's nice, though, she thought. She was, quite literally, at the end of the road. Avenue, Samantha. Cheyenne Avenue at that. With a soft chuckle, followed quickly by a long sigh, Sam arched her back and stretched, then leaned carefully back on the trunk of her rented car.
She was putting off going inside and she couldn't really pinpoint why. As she idly leaned back and watched the never-ending stream of air traffic move in and out of the Las Vegas airspace, she reflected on the craziness of the last two months. How much can change in just three weeks, beginning with a phone call and a simple, "I need you."
"I need you."
Sam shook her head, an embarrassed half-smile playing across her face. She self-consciously rubbed her blazing cheeks despite knowing there was nobody around to see her reaction. Just the memory of the words, spoken in his low, even voice was enough to flush her from head to toe. Her reaction, coming so quickly on the heels of her realization of the colossally bad mistake she was making with Pete had forestalled any reaction, and she remembered Jack's impatient voice.
"I . . . uh, I'm here, Sir."
"I know it's your day off, but–"
"You need me," Sam said quietly into the phone as she turned partially away from Pete, suddenly glad that the sound of the drill covered her words.
The silence on the other end spoke volumes, and then O'Neill said, quietly, his tone suddenly deeper, heavier. "I do."
Sam looked over her shoulder at the man spread out on her floor. The wrong man, she suddenly knew. The space to which he'd helped himself wasn't his. Would never be his. Not the space on the floor and not the space in her heart. Both, and all that came with them, belonged to another, just as she did. It was time, too, to lay claim to what had been hers for so long.
"Sir? I'm coming to you."
And she had. Without so much as a backward glance she'd literally raced out of her house, tossing Pete out as she went, and gone to him. Not in a silly, romantic schoolgirl fashion, but in her efficient, Sam Carter comes to save your asses kind of way. She was there. Ready to work. Ready to . . . do anything really, just to be there for him. Jack needed her, so she went.
It had taken her two more days to finally talk to Pete. To end it. She'd tried when he'd picked her up the next day for her "surprise," but the surprise itself had knocked the words—and the wind—right out of her body. The whistling sensation of the life-force she needed to survive being sucked away every time Pete spoke finally ended on that small bench in front of the dream he'd bought for them both.
Pete sat with his elbows on his knees, twisting his fingers in a way that reminded Sam abruptly of Jack. "I wish I could believe this had something to do with your father. You needed some time to sort things out."
He glanced at her and Sam could hardly meet his eyes, afraid of what he might find there. She'd never been unfaithful, never lied to him. She was more guilty of lying to herself, and therefore by extension, him. That didn't make it any better. And it didn't matter. She'd lied and he was hurting. So was she, truth be told, be she doubted he would see that. She was saying goodbye to not only him but to a dream of "normal." A dream of a family, of children. She was giving up the illusion of a life she thought she wanted for the life she lived now. And, if she was lucky, really, really lucky, she'd have someone with whom to share it.
Sam wasn't counting on Jack to honor, or even remember, the whispered promises they'd made four years ago, wrapped together on the floor of her closet. It didn't matter. She glanced again at the man sitting beside her, his guileless blue eyes brimming with tears. This man, this basically good man, didn't deserve to have his own happiness sacrificed to her fantasy. In the end, it would hurt them both.
Beside her, Pete shifted, then reluctantly stood, shoving the jewelry box back into his pocket. "
I guess all I can say is, I hope you get what you want."
Sam watched as he drove away, her own eyes swimming with tears. I hope so too, she thought.
The Jaffa victory at Dakara, Daniel's return and her Dad's funeral had filled her days, allowing Sam to effectively bury herself in work. She'd barely had time to eat and sleep, between dealing with the aftermath of the multiple life-changing events, including welcoming Cassie home. When she'd finally had a moment to sit down and regroup, Jack had sprung another surprise on her. She, and not just to celebrate Daniel's return, had finally gone to his cabin in Minnesota. It was on the drive up, two days ahead of Daniel, Teal'c and Cassie, that Jack had given her his news.
Sam stretched, one hand sliding across the back of the bench seat and the other pressing against the roof of the truck. She'd been filling the time during their drive by catching up on a couple of science journals. Beside her Jack seemed content to drive, one hand tapping absently on the wheel in time to the music playing softly. He'd shot her a grin when he'd picked her up that morning.
"Hope you don't mind classical, Carter. It makes the drive go faster for me."
Sam blinked in surprise. "No, Sir. I knew you liked opera, but . . . what's on the play list for today?"
He shot a mockingly stern look her way. "Carter, are you ever going to lose the 'Sir' with me?"
Grinning sheepishly, Sam shook her head. "I've managed . . . once or twice." They shared a long look before she continued. "I'm working on it."
"Good enough." Jack waved his iPod and fm receiver at her. "Ladies choice."
Sam had picked Bach and the warm cello suite had carried them out of the Springs and onto the Interstate. They'd exhausted the YoYo Ma collection before stopping for dinner, the music serving to relax them both. As they slid into the worn booth of the small family-style diner, Sam watched Jack nervously fiddle with the straw wrapper. She slowly stretched her hand across the table and laid it on his, stilling his movements.
"What's wrong . . . Sir?" Sam asked softly.
"Carter," he began, then smiled as if he realized the irony of his hinting for her to drop the 'Sir' while he still called her by her surname.
Sam offered him a sweet smile of her own. "Okay, Jack. I don't mind the 'Carter,' you know. You're the only person who's ever called me that."
"Well, I mean, aside from my time at the Academy. But . . ." Sam shrugged. "It's . . . different when you say it."
"Good." The simple satisfaction in his tone warmed her.
The waitress took their orders and efficiently disappeared, leaving Jack to fidget again. Finally he blew out a breath and said, slowly, "Car–Sam. I'm . . . I've been asked to . . . I'm leaving. The SGC."
Sam felt her jaw drop as her eyes widened. "You . . . you're . . . they . . . who? Who is . . . are they making you retire?" A sudden wave of fury swamped her, startling them both as her eyes blazed. "Oh, no. I'm calling . . . we're gonna call–"
"Sam." Jack reversed their positions, laying his hand on her to stop her protests. "Hammond asked me to take his spot."
"I . . . what?" Sam sat back, trying to catch her breath. "Is he . . . why? I mean, why now?" As she spoke her mind whirled. Not now. Not when I can finally, finally, tell him. When I've reached the point where I don't give a tiny rat's ass about what the regs say, now . . . NOW he's being moved out of my chain of command? She couldn't fight the snort of disgust that ripped through her. It didn't dawn on her that his moving might be good for them, only that he was leaving her.
If Jack was startled by her outburst he didn't show it. He looked as miserable and upset as she, his face, for the first time in her memory, looking careworn. Sam wrestled her own feelings into control and again reached out to him. "Are you okay, Jack?"
Jack turned his hand up and tangled his fingers with hers. He shook his head slightly, then turned his gaze toward the window, obviously fighting for control. After a long minute he gave her fingers a squeeze and turned his brown-eyed gaze to her. "I'm . . . okay, I think. I'll hate DC, but . . . maybe . . . something good can come of the change." He held her hand and her gaze until the food came, saying nothing more.
The week at the cabin had been wonderful for all five of them. The 'family' time had been critical for Cassie, Sam realized. The young woman had learned her "I'm fine" coping response from the best and it had not served her well. She'd bottled up the anger, fear, and betrayal she'd felt at Janet's death until it reached unhealthy levels. Everything had come to a head on their last night in Minnesota.
A squeak of board against board was Sam's only hint that someone was behind her. She waited, mentally narrowing her choices of visitor. Daniel had crashed out an hour ago and she'd left him snoring loudly on the couch. Teal'c, she knew, was resting on what served as the front porch, declaring that he'd wanted some time alone following Jack's announcement earlier in the evening. That left Jack or Cassie, and Sam was pretty certain that . . .
"Sam?" Cass' soft voice carried across the still night air.
She half turned and reached out to the young woman who'd now, legally, become hers. "You doing okay, Cass?"
Cass shook her head as she moved to join Sam. Together the two women leaned on the rail that overlooked the smooth lake. There was no breeze and the multitude of stars glittering above were reflected on the still black waters. Unlike space, however, the night was alive with sounds. The bullfrogs' bass calls rang through the darkness, with the higher tenor of the crickets offering a counterpoint. Mosquitoes lent a soprano voice to the nighttime symphony, and the occasional firefly added color. All in all it was a spectacular show.
"Sam, I need to ask you to do something for me."
Cass took a deep breath, then turned to face Sam. "I need you to promise me you'll stop going through the gate."
Sam whipped her head around and studied Cass' tense features in the dim light. "What?"
And the dam broke. For all her poise, for all that she insisted that at nineteen she was an adult, Cassandra Fraiser was what she was. A young woman who'd lost not one, but two mothers. "I c-c-can't. Sam. I . . . can't. I can't take it. Y-y-y-ou . . . and Jack. You're all I have left. P-p-p-lease. Don't leave me."
Reaching out, Sam had barely caught Cass before she'd collapsed onto the floor. She held the sobbing young woman tightly, shifting to pull her into her lap, her attention wholly focused on comforting her. A small part of her was relieved that Cass had finally broken, was finally able to open up and cry. "It's okay, honey. It's okay. Cry it all out. Let it go. I'm here. I'm always here for you. Always." Over and over Sam murmured reassurances, not at all certain that Cass would hear the words, but absolutely certain she'd feel them. She knew what it felt to have those very things said to her.
So intent was she on Cass that she was startled when a pair of arms enveloped them both. Sam glanced up to find Jack on Cass' other side, supporting them both. He met her watery gaze over the bent auburn head and whispered, "Always."
The roar of an approaching jet jarred her from her reverie and Sam started in surprise. She glanced at her watch and realized she'd been staring blankly at the darkening sky for more than thirty minutes. Get it together, Sam. With the setting sun came the cooler desert air that made it so much easier to breath. Sam took another moment to marvel at the rich hues painting the early evening sky and shook her head again. The house really had a fantastic view of the valley floor. Too bad it was so darned . . . big.
Well, he'd taken the trouble to have a realtor send her the keys, she might as well have a look around. Stepping inside, Sam was surprised to find the house cool and inviting, not as cold as its outside dimensions would suggest. It was furnished, another surprise. She walked slowly through the living area and into the large family-style kitchen, fighting a losing battle with herself. It's too big, she thought. We don't need all this space. We don't. I can't afford all this . . . Her thoughts trailed off as she made her way up the wide, sweeping stairway that curved up and around, leading to the second floor.
Immediately at the top of the stairs was a cozy nook, complete with built-in bookshelves. She bent and skimmed the titles, delighted despite her determination. The New Time Travelers: A Journey to the Frontiers of Physics by David Toomey, Einstein's Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics, all books she had been wanting to find time to read. Sam shook her head. Not fair. She couldn't help herself and she ran her fingers across the other books arranged almost haphazardly, as if the owners just threw them into place. String Theory and M-Theory: A Modern Introduction, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory were tucked side-by-side, and there, at the end of the shelf she spotted, Einstein For Dummies (For Dummies (Math & Science)). Sam couldn't help the peal of laugher that rang out. Jack, she thought, what are you up to?
The hallway branched left and right and Sam guessed that the master bedroom was to her right, judging from the large double-doors at the end of the hallway. Now that she was up here, she could hear faint sounds coming from one of the rooms at the left end of the hallway, so she chose that direction. As she neared the door she realized that the sound was in fact music and, if she wasn't mistaken, someone was . . . humming . . . along to Carmina Burana.
Easing open the door, she couldn't immediately spot anyone. It was only after she stepped all the way into the room that she found him. Flat on his back, head and shoulders hidden in the depths of the closet. Delighted with the unexpected surprise of finding one Jack O'Neill stretched before her, Sam was sure that the grin that crossed her face could have lit several galaxies. She said nothing as she quietly walked across the plush carpeting, listening to his humming, interrupted by the occasional muttered "crap" as he wrestled with whatever it was he was doing.
Without a word Sam eased down beside the jean-clad legs, taking a moment to admire the way they fit. His t-shirt had risen up with his efforts, exposing a taught and toned belly that her fingers itched to touch. That she ached to kiss.
Her hand moved, almost of its own accord, to hover just above that tantalizing skin. She stopped and bit her lip, wondering if she should. If she had the courage. If he . . . would he . . . want her to? They'd touched often over the years, and moreso while together in Minnesota. Never, however, going past the bounds of propriety. A hand on the shoulder, arm or neck in passing, a hug, fingers crossing as cups, papers, or reports were passed. His hands over hers and his arms around her as he "taught" her to properly cast her line into the lake. Hers on his shoulder and neck as she leaned over him, teaching him in her turn how to play the card game she and Cassie enjoyed. Touching, lots of touching, but never . . . touching. Again he muttered a curse and she almost withdrew her hand.
Then he did it.
With a grunt muffled bang accompany his movement, he planted his feet and arched his back, apparently to give himself some extra leverage. All thoughts fled Sam's mind as the sliver of skin became a wide band of tempting, sculpted, tanned flesh. Her mouth watered and she was reduced to mono-syllabic thoughts. Sucking in a deep breath, she watched helplessly as her hand moved again, her body's craving for contact with his overwhelming any last inhibitions and fears that she held. She laid gentle fingers down onto that inviting skin and skimmed them up and under the edge of the soft cotton of his shirt.
His movements stilled and she felt his stomach muscles tense, then quiver in response to her feather-light touch. Then his voice, rough with . . . something. "That'd better be you, Carter."
Sam slid her hand out and sat up, tugging him with her. Once they were seated, facing each other, she cocked her head at him. "Expecting someone else?"
Jack grinned. "Nope. But . . . well, the satellite TV guy was giving me a look earlier . . ."
Sam grinned at him. "I can leave, Jack, if you'd rather be alone with him."
He simply smiled at her in return, his eyes warm in the softly-lit room. "Find the place okay?"
"I did." She shook her head. "I can't believe you found a house on 'Cheyenne Avenue' though. And . . . it's really . . . big, don't you think?"
"Oh, I dunno."
"Jack." Sam smiled gently at him. "What're you doing here? Where's your car?"
"Hid it, it's in the garage. I was taking a chance that you wouldn't check that out first." He paused. "You didn't, did you?"
"No. I did, however, discover the 'library' at the top of the stairs." Jack's grin warmed her, and Sam could see that he was happy that she'd noticed his effort. "Thank you." She sighed softly, regretfully. "It's a beautiful house. Really, but . . ."
Speaking quickly, Jack began to tick off the features of the property, one by one. "It's close to UNLV, only a 20-minute drive. I checked. Cass can transfer and complete the year here. You're here. You're only thirty minutes from Nellis and from there the daily short-hop to Groom." His tone was almost pleading.
Sam sighed. "I know that, and it really is perfect. But . . ." Sam bit her lip. "It's so . . . big, Jack. It's too much. For me, I mean. I know I've got all that combat pay banked but . . ."
Jack spoke softly, his voice tender. "It's not too big, Sam. I figured, this room could go to Cass. That's why I was in here, pulling the satellite line in. And . . . the other rooms . . ." He trailed off when he saw her expression.
His word twisted and tugged at her heart. His first thought was of Cassie, of making her a home here. That mattered. "I . . . Cass?" She knew she sounded faint, weak almost, but she didn't care.
Jack stared at her, confused. "Yes, Carter. Cass. Cassandra? She's yours now." He stopped and looked away for a moment, then back at her, his warm eyes intent on hers. "Ours. She's ours now. She's always been ours, SG-1's, but now she's ours. Yours and mine. I know she's an adult, but she's . . . she's Cassie. And she needs a home. With you. With . . ."
Her eyes on his, Sam held her breath. Not once during their week in Minnesota had they had a chance to discuss anything about . . . them. Not once. It had been, as it should have been, a time for reconnecting with their family. Their chosen family. But Sam had missed it. Missed him. Wanted to talk to him. To see if he remembered, as she did.
"I remember, Sam."
Sam started at his echoing of her thoughts. "Jack?"
He gestured to where they were sitting. "Four and a half years ago I told you that I loved you." He looked away and then back up at her. "I haven't . . . that's not changed. That's what DC is, for me. To give this . . . us . . . a chance. If you still want to."
"But . . . you just said . . . DC."
"You are thirty minutes from Nellis. My apartment in DC is ten minutes from Boling, which shares space with Anacostia NAS. And if the head of Homeworld Security can't bum a ride from the Navy . . .." He shrugged, a slightly smug glint in his eye.
Blinking back tears, Sam could only nod. Jack lifted her left hand from where it lay limp across her knees. He cradled it gently in her own, idly tracing her left ring finger. She hadn't worn Pete's ring long enough to even leave a tan line, let alone an indentation in the skin and she was suddenly fiercely glad of that. She curled her fingers around his. She sniffled softly, then said, "I want you to know that I . . . that it never went away for me, either. That I always . . . still . . .," she trailed off. It sounded so awful to say it, to tell him that she'd accepted another man's ring while still loving Jack.
"Shh, Sam. Shh." Jack pulled her into his lap, his move an echo of one smoothly done so long ago. He tucked her shoulder into his and then bent low, brushing his lips over hers. "What matters is that you're here now, Samantha Carter."
"I am here."
Sam wasn't certain who moved first, only that she lifted her head to look into his eyes and found his lips on hers. Her senses exploded as she felt his tongue brush against her lips, felt his mouth open beneath hers, and felt them open to each other. The long, loving kiss lasted just as long—longer even—than had the one they shared in another closet. In another lifetime. This was sealing the promises they'd made then and making more. When the need for air overwhelmed her, Sam pulled back just far enough to see his eyes.
Those eyes. Those bewitching, tawny eyes. As they had in her old house, they caught the last rays of the reflected sunlight and now Sam could see, along with the flecks of deeper gold, a brighter light of joy dancing in their depths. She wondered if he saw the same in hers.
"I . . . it's not permanent, you know."
Sam pulled herself from her perusal of his eyes, realizing that he'd spoken and was expecting her to respond. "I'm sorry? What's not permanent?"
"The house." Jack gestured to the room with his chin. "I ah . . . didn't buy it." Sam couldn't stop her flinch, the memory of Pete's 'surprise' still fresh. He reached and tilted her chin up when she ducked her head, "Hey. Sam, look at me. I wanted to . . . well no. I didn't want to make the same mistake, ah, he did. This," he waved vaguely, indicating the house in general. "It's a rental. Buddy of mine was at Nellis for years and built at the right time. He's TAD to Italy right now, so . . ." Jack shrugged, his eyes still on hers, waiting. When she said nothing, he added, "I hoped we could look for something permanent . . . together."
"Oh." Sam slowly looked around again, this time taking in the details of the room, her mind wandering again through what she'd seen downstairs. "I'd wondered." She couldn't explain the relief she felt. He got her, he understood. He knew she didn't want things picked for her, that she needed to be a part of the process. "But . . . it's still so, well, big."
Jack shifted Sam until she turned and was now straddling him. He looped his arms around her back and slid them down to her waist. Leaning his head back against the wall he studied her, his eyes missing nothing. Sam felt open, exposed to his gaze, and she ducked her head again. He cleared his throat gently. "Well, I was kinda hoping we could work on that, too."
Sam's eyes filled with tears and she looked away, struggling for control.
"Carter, look at me."
"I'm so sorry, Jack." Her broken whisper filled the quiet room.
Sam shrugged, still not meeting his eyes. She blinked back tears and whispered, "For all of it. I hurt you, I hurt . . . Pete. Cassie. Dad. He . . . he died believing I was doing something he knew would make me unhappy in the end."
"Oh, Sam." Jack rubbed her back soothingly, and she looked up to see him biting his lip, clearly debating something with himself.
"What?" Her soft question brought his gaze back to hers.
"I . . . no, Sam. Your Dad passed knowing that those of us who love you would do everything in their power to make you happy. Whatever it took. I promised him that, personally." He shot her a meaningful look. "And, as for Cass . . . she's getting better. She had us all fooled, really. But not now. Now we're onto her and we won't let it happen again. It doesn't matter how old they are when they come to you, Carter, kids'll break your heart. And you'll make mistakes. We will make mistakes. Big ones. Huge. But we'll make them together. And together you, me, and Cass—Daniel and T, too—we'll work our way through them. That's not all on you."
"Sh." He slipped a hand from behind her back and laid a finger across her lips. "No. And, Carter, don't forget you in this whole thing. You were hurt too." He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly to his chest. "I . . . I'm sorry too. I could have . . . well, I didn't. You did what you thought you needed to, we all did. Now . . . now we're here."
Sam could only nod against his shoulder, too overwhelmed with the realization that she'd thought she'd given up everything only to find that she now could have it all.
"Carter? What do you say?"
Sam let out a long, deep sigh and settled in closer, wrapping her legs around his waist and snuggling in as tight as she could get. Jack slid one hand up and into her hair, the other splayed out, covering as much of her back as he could reach. Her own hands were similarly placed, one in his soft, gorgeous hair and the other around his shoulders. This was good. This was home. Finally, where he was, this was home.
Tilting her head slightly, she rested her cheek on his shoulder and nuzzled her lips into the base of his neck. "Jack?" she asked, placing a line of delicate kisses along the edge of his t-shirt.
"Is the backyard big enough for a dog?"
Afterword's: "Adsum" is Latin meaning, literally, "I am here." It is used during the ritual of ordination, a priestly candidate responds with "Adsum" when his name is called. Connotatively, however, it means a whole lot more. "I am present," "I am here," "I am fully committed to that which I have been called," "I, wholeheartedly and with a complete understanding of what I am undertaking, accept the call."
In short, or to put it in Jack O'Neill terms, "I'm all in." It seemed appropriate based upon the prior story.
There really is a "Cheyenne Avenue." in Las Vegas, NV. Can you believe that? I think it's fate. I just . . . relocated it a bit for my purposes.
And lastly . . . here's irony for you. I have Jack humming along to Carmina Burana. I picked it because I love the orchestral arrangement. Now, for the irony. In writing this I decided to look up some details on the piece and found that the original work is actually a collection of Latin (as in ancient, not Latin American) love poems, one of which features this phrase repeatedly:
He who is without you in this season
If I could hold the girl I love
in the forest under the leaves,
I would kiss her with joy.
Thanks for reading.