Quid Pro Quo
"What does this smell remind you of?" Janet motioned with her hands, wafting the air towards Sam.
Sam paused, inhaled through her nose, and then considered briefly before answering. "Junior Year Science Fair. I entered a project based on common household items and their explosive qualities."
Janet eyes widened. She stared at Sam in consternation before speaking. "Let me get this straight—a high school gymnasium, filled with people—some of whom, I might add, are sweaty and pretty ripe—reminds you of your Junior Year Science Fair—for which, you entered a bomb?"
Sam grinned. "Pretty much. But it wasn't really a bomb, per se. I merely measured the explosive capabilities of common products people can find around their homes, and then posited theories about which ones could do the most damage were they to be confined in small spaces together and given an appropriate detonator."
"Did you have examples at the fair?"
"Of course." Sam sipped at her own soda. "You gotta have examples. That's the fun of it."
Janet's eyes widened further. "You're kidding me, right?"
Major Carter pursed her lips and shook her head. "Nope. But I didn't include detonators or catalysts—that part was mostly theoretical."
"I have to ask—how did you do?"
"I got disqualified." She watched as a few cheerleaders bounded perkily across the court. "The judges thought it was a bomb, too. Stinking Peaceniks."
Janet took a long drink out of her cup. They'd stopped on their way into the gym for sodas and popcorn—like they always did at Cassie's basketball games. Today, however, she'd been sure to drag Sam there early. The Colonel had asked her to—and as big a pain as O'Neill was in her infirmary, Janet knew that this particular conversation needed to be had on neutral ground.
"So, what does the smell remind you of?" Sam watched Janet down a handful of popcorn. For a little thing, she sure ate well.
"Same as you—Junior year." She grinned and swallowed, taking another sip from her cup. "But not as geeky—or disturbing. Really? A bomb?"
"Careful—isn't there this zero tolerance thing here? You're going to get us kicked out, and then Cassie will be pissed."
"Okay." Janet shook her head and took a deep breath. "Basketball semifinals, winning point at the buzzer. I celebrate with Travis Medders under the bleachers."
"Why, you little trollop."
"He was cute. Really cute."
"What position did he play?"
"So he was tall?"
"Six four or five, I don't remember."
Sam snorted, then gave up and laughed out loud. "What, did you bring an apple box on your dates?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are you even five feet tall?"
"Yes, I am, Sam Carter." Janet glared at the blond on her left. "We all can't be Amazon Priestesses."
Sam blithely ignored her and barreled on. "And you dated a point guard. Made out with him under the bleachers after a basket ball game?"
"After several basketball games, as a matter of fact."
"Janet. Seriously. How? Did you climb on a chair? Bring a ladder?"
"Shut up, Sam." Janet glared at her sideways, her dark eyes narrowed. "It's just that every time I get in a gym, it makes me think of that particular game."
"Gyms do all smell alike." Sam conceded the point with a nonchalant shrug.
"Dirty socks and popcorn." Janet answered with a smile.
"And some kind of cleaner."
"Solvent. They use it to get the gum off from under the seats." Sam grinned. "You know, you take the gum out before the hot make-out session—and stick it—" She made a sound like a 'thptz' and demonstrated with her thumb, "under the bleachers."
Janet chose to ignore that, focusing instead on a figure standing just to one side of the main doorway. He'd arrived. Nervously, she nudged her companion. "Hey, Sam."
"Look who came to Cassie's game today." She pointed as inconspicuously as possible.
"Who?" Sam scanned the crowd, then the floor, following Janet's finger. She saw the Colonel standing, unmoving, watching them. Suddenly, her chest felt too tight. The pleasure she'd found in the light banter of just a few seconds before had fled. She glanced sideways at Janet. "Did you know he was going to be here?"
"He'd mentioned he might show up." Janet shrugged. "In passing."
"Really?" Sam's skepticism drenched the word.
Janet crinkled her nose . "Okay, he asked me if you were coming." She leaned into her friend. "Sam, you really need to talk to him."
"And what if I don't want to?"
"Go." Janet reached over and placed a hand on Sam's arm. "You've got to get this worked out."
"There's nothing to work out, Janet. You're military—you know what I mean."
"Yeah. But first I'm a girl and your friend." Janet reached over and grabbed Sam's soda and popcorn. "That trumps stuffy old Generals any day."
Sam rolled her eyes and looked back down to where O'Neill stood, hands in his pockets, staring back up at her. His posture showed a mix of controlled patience and tolerant annoyance.
Sam sighed, then stood. "I'll be back."
"Sam." Janet reached out and grabbed the hem of her sweater. "Sam—remember that both of you are kind of raw here—you know? This hasn't just affected you."
Sam looked down at Janet thoughtfully. She hadn't really had a good girlfriend in her life before she'd met the SGC doctor. It was different than the kind of friendship she shared with Daniel. Different from any relationship she'd had outside work for a very long time. Janet truly wanted her to be happy. She smiled down at the little dark-haired power-monger. "I know. I'll be back."
And then she wended her way down the bleachers towards O'Neill.
He didn't smile as she approached, just tilted his head slightly and watched until she stopped in front of him.
"I take it you're not here for the game." Sam gestured with a thumb over her shoulder.
"No." He scanned the crowd again, as if performing recon. "I thought this would be a neutral zone."
"Somehow, I don't think that the NID will think to wire Cassie's basketball game for sound."
Sam smiled ruefully. "So you want to do this here, or—"
"There's an empty classroom out there." He motioned with a jerk of his head towards the doorway behind him, and its locker-lined hallway.
"Basic recon." Her voice betrayed an only slightly snarky attitude.
"Something like that." His betrayed a slight smile.
"Lead the way, sir."
He turned, after studying the crowd one last time. Sam followed behind, trying not to feel like she was heading out to visit the Principal.
The classroom was deserted, semi-dark, and quiet. O'Neill opened the door and held it for Sam to pass through, then entered, closed the door behind him, and pointedly turned the lock. There was a tiny window in the door, and a shade that he pulled down, enclosing them within the room in complete privacy.
The light from the afternoon sun filtered in through high windows on the opposite wall. Desks were spaced evenly through the room—in a traditional setting. Columns of them marched from the front of the room towards the back. A teacher's desk occupied one corner, sitting at an angle, and chalkboards graced the center of each wall, flanked on either side by cork bulletin boards. By the papers and pictures thumb-tacked to the boards, the room was used by an English teacher. The chalkboard in the front of the room announced the topic of the next test—"Symbolism in Shakespeare's Dark Lady Sonnets."
Sam stopped near the teacher's desk and waited uncertainly, watching as the Colonel made his way over to where she stood.
"Man." He looked around, taking in the room, its décor. "This takes me back."
"I know. Who was the Dark Lady, anyway? I never got that."
"Emilia Bassano something or other—she was a courtesan of Queen Elizabeth the First, or say they say."
"How do you know that?"
"Only one of my many skills." But the words were said without humor. "I didn't get much out of high school, but some things stuck."
"I know. Janet and I were just revisiting some high school memories, too."
"Just stuff." Sam shrugged. "Being back in a place like this makes you think of random parts of your past. Makes you think how fast life goes—how much there is to regret sometimes."
O'Neill didn't answer that. He leaned back against a student's desk, balancing himself with his hands. They took in each other's presence for a while, measuring mood, feeling out the atmosphere.
Finally, Sam couldn't take the silence. "Sir—I—"
"Carter," O'Neill interrupted her with a wave of his hand. "Let me go first. Please."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I didn't believe you. I'm sorry that I doubted you."
She lowered her eyes and breathed deep. She knew he was sincere.
"I know that you've been hurt by what's happened—and as much as I'd like to be able to take it back, or do it all over again, I can't."
"I think that we've both got to come to terms with the fact that this wouldn't have been as bad had it not been for the fact that there's other—stuff—going on here."
"I think that the—attraction—makes it more difficult to see things in the perspective that they need to be seen."
Sam studied the toes of the boots she wore. "I agree."
"But it's not going to solve things for you to be reassigned."
"I thought it would be easier if we didn't have to see each other every day—live in each other's pockets like we do both here and off-world."
She could feel O'Neill's eyes on her, and she looked up just enough to see that he was regarding her intently. "Do you still think so?"
"Sir, it's uncomfortable, sometimes."
"Yes. It is."
They both knew that she was talking about more than just the constant awareness that they had of each other. They'd handled that part as well as they could. Stolen touches and moments here and there went a long way towards assuaging the worst of it, and they'd fallen into a steady rhythm of advance and retreat. But Sam was talking about the more difficult times—times when they would be reminded of all that they couldn't have, and it would hyper-sensitize them to what they were missing.
Her mind flashed to one moment from several months ago. They'd been on a planet with a similar technology to their own, in a decent-sized city—a first contact locale. Their host had taken them into the City Center, to visit some of the historical sites. They'd walked two and two along the sidewalk, Daniel and Teal'c ahead, chatting with their guide, she and the Colonel trailing behind. There was a gazebo to their left, and as they'd passed, Sam had happened to glance over to see a couple inside, sitting close, heads bent close. The man had smiled and gently combed back the woman's hair, and she'd leaned into his caress. It had been a scene of such sweet intimacy that Sam had stopped, unable to take her eyes off them. Inside her, something had happened. She'd felt wanting. She'd felt empty. And when she could finally move again, she'd noticed that O'Neill had stopped next to her, seen the same scene. But instead of looking at them, he was examining her with an odd, uncomfortable intensity. It had taken a supreme effort to move ahead, when she'd wanted nothing more than to find a gazebo of her own.
Now, she watched him watch her, studying his dark, deep eyes. He was normally difficult to read—today it was impossible.
"I don't know what would be harder." She thought out loud, without being truly conscious of it. "Being with you every day, or not being with you every day."
O'Neill tilted his head and drummed his fingers against the edge of the desk he leaned against. "The not. Not seeing you all the time would be harder. These past few weeks have been—tough. I've missed you."
He shook his head, stopping her words. "Carter—I think that you know what's going on here—don't you?"
"I'm not sure." She said. "Do I want to know?"
"Well, if we're going to settle this—total trust thing, we've got to know where it stands."
"But regardless of where it stands, it's got to just stand there—not moving—until it's time. Right?"
"Yes." She inclined her head. "I agree."
He stood suddenly, then scratched his ear. With an exasperated sigh, he ran a hand through his hair. "So, you know where we stand?"
She tried to fight, but couldn't, the smile that begged to emerge. She sometimes saw him agitated, or annoyed. But this—this uncharacteristic bundle of nerves was different. She had gotten most of the smile controlled by the time she answered. "Apparently, there's some sort of attraction. Where we stand."
"Something like that."
She decided to turn the tables for a minute. "Do you trust me sir? Attraction aside."
"Absolutely." He paused, cocked an eyebrow. "Do you forgive me? Attraction aside."
"Absolutely." She smiled. "And I'm sorry that I screwed up. I should have told you that he'd taken human form again. I was wrong."
"And I got jealous." He blurted out the words, surprising even himself. "I did. And I shouldn't have—but I did. And seeing you so happy with this—alien dude—that really ticked me off."
"Sir, I—I wasn't with him."
"I know that now." His lips thinned, and he reached out and grabbed a pen that a student had left on a desk. He took the lid off, then put it back on. "I know that. It surprised me—how upset I was."
"I was shocked when I thought you'd been spying on me."
"I know. I didn't know what else to do."
"I understand that." She bit her top lip nervously before going on. "But I'd still expected more out of our relationship—like I deserved something more from you."
"Carter," he continued playing with the pen as he spoke. "I'm a simple guy. I don't have much—a job, my house, a great collection of videos. A cool truck."
"It is cool." You had to agree with that one.
He waved her quiet. "I don't have much. The whole of what I am, is basically a character—a certain integrity that I hope I've demonstrated in my life." He stopped, put the pen down, and stepped toward her. "There isn't much that could damage me. Losing my job wouldn't do it. I believe in what we're doing. I would hate to jeopardize it, but it wouldn't take me down. Losing you—that would do it. Losing what trust you had in me—that's another. Simmons and his friends were trying to get something on us—trying to discredit us—and he used us against each other. And you were hurt in the fallout."
She made a move to protest, but he held up his hand again. "You were hurt. And you can argue about how you should have told me what and when—but it doesn't matter. I should have done more—"
"You did enough, sir."
She watched as he struggled for his words.
"Sam." He started again, his eyes dark, earnest. "What I'm saying is, I know that through this you've started to doubt this." He motioned between them with one large, elegant hand. "But I just want you to know that, no matter what. No matter what—you never have to doubt that this is real. And when I said I didn't have much, I mean that I don't have anything if I don't have you."
She swallowed a sob, forcing it down her throat. She blinked back the heat that came before tears—but her eyes were dry. After a lifetime, she could speak. "I know. Me too. You too—you know what I mean. Ditto."
He observed her struggle as long as he could, then held out one arm. "Come here."
And she crossed the void and walked into him, his arms instantly surrounding her. She wasn't going to cry—her relief was too profound for tears. His body was warm, and she soaked it in—inhaling him, devouring all she could of his feel, his touch. He lowered his head until his cheek touched hers, and she felt his breath stir her hair. Her fingers smoothed out over his back, loving the substance of the man who held her. Loving the man who held her.
"This is real." He repeated. His hands, his arms, pulled her closer. "Don't doubt that."
"I won't." Sam's words were little more than a mumble against his chest. She turned her head into him, rested her forehead on his shoulder. "I don't."
A knock sounded on the door, and a voice yelled something about maintenance. Jack momentarily tightened his hold on her. "We've gotta go. I'm sure that's the janitorial staff."
"Yeah. Probably." Sam rubbed one hand over his back again, shoulder blade to waist. Regretfully, she pulled away, resting her hands on his hips before moving to step back. She breathed deeply, motioning to the door. "I'd better go find Janet."
"Finish watching the game?"
Sam turned and started towards the door. Reaching it, she turned the lock and started for the handle, her mind so full of images and thoughts that she didn't see Jack's big hand force the door back shut.
She turned, her question in her eyes.
"Didn't Hammond tell you to be wise?" He smiled ruefully before leaning forward and pressing her back against the door, then pressing his lips to hers. He raised his head briefly, her head framed on either side by his hands on the door. "It would be really unwise to waste an opportunity."
Sam smiled and tilted her head up to him. "That, it would," she said before his head descended again.
The second quarter had started when they both finally made their way back to where Janet was sitting. She stared up at them as Sam scooted over next to Janet and the Colonel lowered himself next to Sam.
"Nice of you to join me."
"How's Cassie doing?" Sam leaned over and retrieved her drink from the floor. Absently, she took a sip and then handed it to O'Neill, who followed suit.
Janet grinned. "She's doing well. She'd already made six points."
O'Neill nodded appreciatively. "Well, good for her."
"The team's having a great run this year." The doctor watched as Sam reached for her popcorn, bracing one hand on the Colonel's knee as she bent over.
"Oh?" Jack's hand steadied the Major, offering additional balance at her waist.
"They might make the playoffs."
Jack reached over and took a handful of kernels from Sam's container, then leaned back in the seat, stretching his left arm casually across the backrest. He had a self-satisfied smirk on his face. A similar look graced Sam's.
"Will you be coming to Cassie's playoff games?"
Sam turned to her and scrunched her nose up. "Of course. Why would you ask that?"
Janet grinned and leaned over. "Hey, Colonel."
"You ever play point guard?"