Title: Conversations We Never Had
Author: Annerb
Summary: Conversations Jack and Sam never had, but probably should have.
Categorization: Sam/Jack, angst
Rating/Warnings: G, none
Disclaimer: Stargate isn't mine. Just playing for fun!
A/N: This is something I started a million years ago for one of holdouttrout's birthdays. So, happy birthday, Trout, even if it is nowhere near your birthday. Consider this payment for all the hours you spend listening to me whine. :)

Conversations We Never Had

[1]

"My father has cancer."

Sam has no idea what possessed her to actually speak the words. Next to her, Colonel O'Neill appears to be sleeping, but any hope that he hasn't heard her hastily blurted words evaporates when his hand moves to touch her arm, thumb sliding across the back of her wrist.

"Sam, I'm sorry."

She shakes her head, her throat tightening. She doesn't have the words to explain NASA and disappointment and her father dying thinking she's given up hope. At least not without an accompanying avalanche of tears she refuses to let fall.

She feels like she's come a long way building the Colonel's trust in her, but not quite to the bawling her eyes out in front of him phase.

She glances over at him, taking in the hard line of his jaw, the exhaustion in his eyes. This isn't just lack of sleep, but something much worse. The dead and the dying, and things just don't mean what they did this time yesterday.

"How did that reporter really die, sir?" she asks, her voice barely above a whisper.

His eyes darken. "I don't know."

He's just another man in her life without the answers, only one who never tries to pretend otherwise. If she lets herself looks, she knows she'll find them—his suspicions, his horror. Was that reporter's life taken because of them? For them?

Is this really what they fight for?

"I have to believe," she says. Believe it was an accident. Believe that her father may understand, somehow. Believe that the medals Hammond will pin on their chests won't be drenched in innocent blood.

She waits for him to tell her she's being naive.

"Tell me about your dad," he says instead.

He doesn't let go of her hand.

[2]

Jack finds her in the isolation room. The equipment is gone along with the Tok'ra, their dead disappearing with them, but the room is no less heavy with the events of the day for their absence.

He thinks this room may always feel like this from now on.

"Carter," he says.

She has her back to him, but doesn't turn.

"You okay?" he ventures, but it's a stupid question. Today has been nothing but not okay things, one after another. Fears and bad choices and grim futures and impossible decisions. A body on the gate room floor.

One of Carter's shoulders lifts, rolling like she's trying to shake something off. "It's hard," she admits. Her hand lifts to rub at the back of her neck. "She's mourning him."

Jack feels a shiver roll across his skin, an echo of that day when Carter wasn't Carter anymore, a voice calling out after him. But which voice? Who?

"She loved him," she says.

He starts, feeling something inside him go very still. "Jolinar?"

By her sides, her hands twitch, just the slightest movement. "She loved him, but she always put the mission ahead of him."

He swallows, forcing his hands to unclench. "I'm sure he understood."

She turns, finally meeting his eye. Challenging him. "Do you really think so?"

He gives her a sad little smile. "Yeah."

She regards him soberly. "You don't think it sounds…mercenary?"

Jack takes a few steps further into the room, leaning both hands on the back of the chair still sitting in front of the now empty table. "Do you think she regretted it?"

A hardness flashes across her face, something just foreign enough to Carter to cause Jack's jaw tighten with unease.

"Jolinar didn't believe in regret," she says, voice the tiniest bit bitter. "She thought it was a weakness." She pauses, looking down at her hands. "Like wishing things could be different, even when you know they can't."

Pushing off the back of the chair, Jack shoves his hands in his pockets. "That's the Tok'ra for you."

She looks caught off guard with his sudden flippancy. "What?"

"Always black and white with them."

She frowns. "And you think humans are different?"

He looks at her, willing her to hold his gaze, to really get what he's saying. "We understand that hope isn't a weakness, Carter," he says, voice quiet. "It's just…human."

She closes her eyes, shoulders finally dropping, Jolinar's foreign hold slipping free. "Okay," she breathes, head nodding.

"Come on," he says, leading her out of the room.

It's time to leave the ghosts to the dead.

[3]

Half listening to the low murmur of Daniel's voice as he talks with Malachai in the distance, Jack leans against the stone altar. This damn lump of stone is to blame for the last untold days of insanity he and Teal'c have suffered.

He spreads his hands across the warm stone, careful not to touch any of the buttons.

He lets himself imagine for a moment that there is some secret combo, some magic word that might actually make it work, let the user go back and fix things. It's more tempting that it deserves to be.

"It doesn't work," he says out loud as if to remind himself.

Carter, across from him, glances briefly up at him, something strangely luminous in her eyes before she lowers her face to the altar again. "No. I don't think it does, sir."

Probably for the best, he tells himself, his palm slapping against the edge. He's about to push away and check on Teal'c, when Carter speaks again.

"I would fix it if I could." The words are rushed and tumbled as if she's lost control of them or just wanted to shove them out before she lost her nerve.

He knows she isn't just talking about the machine.

I lost my son!

It's not something they have ever talked about. Jack just always assumed Daniel filled her in at some point.

He stares at her hand fisted against the edge of the stone and realizes this volatile energy she's emanating is for him. He'd let a little more show than he would normally be comfortable with, too used to the reset to still his tongue.

He can still remember the taste of their stolen kiss.

He shifts his weight. "I never would have come to the SGC," he points out.

They never would have met.

Her face lifts and the smile curving her lips is bittersweet. "But you would be happy."

"Yeah," he admits, because this is his kid they are not talking about and no matter how much he enjoys this job, cares about his team, he would still trade them in for one more day with his kid in an instant. Maybe that makes him a bastard, but Carter doesn't seem to blame him.

"Maybe we all would have met anyway," he says, because despite all of that, he can't quite imagine his life without them. Without her.

"You think so?" she asks, head tilting to the side and eyes brightening.

He shrugs. "Daniel could have randomly rear-ended my car."

She laughs. "Who knows?"

She's the one always telling him realities are infinite after all.

She gathers her equipment up and moves to walk past him, and on impulse he stops her, hand on her sleeve. "Thank you."

"I didn't do anything," she reminds him.

He shrugs. "Yeah. But you would if you could."

[4]

Sam doesn't know how things slid so fast from smiles and happy banter at a banquet in their honor to making her the destroyer of an entire alien race. That sort of close call with unimaginable consequences isn't new. Only it is.

Because it isn't making the bomb against her better instincts that bothers her. It isn't even the way Daniel and the Colonel's typical bickering has devolved dangerously into fighting with a bitter broken edge that has her wondering if they'll actually work it out this time.

As she sits in the locker room post-mission, exhausted as always by the close calls, it's something else entirely that presses down upon her shoulders.

Teal'c and Daniel gone, he's sitting next to her.

"I'm sorry," he says, his thumb sliding across the inside of her wrist.

He isn't apologizing for the bomb. She wishes he was.

They've let things slide just a little too far. He hadn't ordered. He'd nearly asked.

"We have to do better," she says. There's way too much on the line.

His hand leaves her arm. She wants it back. More than anything.

"I know," he says.

They sit there for a long time.

[5]

She's sitting in front of his desk when he comes in, back ramrod straight like a soldier waiting for reprimand.

"I yelled at Bill," she confesses, as if it is not already all around the base. Jack's heard of little else since he got back. Major Carter lost it, they all whisper.

"He probably deserved it," he tries to joke because he knows that's the least of it. She also lost it in front of Teal'c, and tried to throw herself on her sword in the middle of the gateroom, but he pretends not to know any of that, knowing she prefers it that way.

"He didn't," she says, eyes steady in a way that tells him she knows exactly what it is she's done.

He shrugs as casually as he can manage, wanting to give her the absolution she's looking for. "So you'll apologize," he says like it's no big deal.

She nods, looking away. "Of course, sir."

He winces, knowing he's said the wrong thing. She doesn't miss it.

"No," she says. "You're right. I'll apologize." She gives him a brave soldier smile like that will be enough to make everything go back to normal.

"Carter," he says for lack of anything else, because telling her he would have done the same thing won't make anything better.

Her smile falters, just the slightest bit, and he thinks she's heard it anyway. "I just… I thought this was supposed to get easier."

So did he.

[6]

Awkward doesn't even begin to cover it as they fall back into silence. Sam can't remember an elevator trip ever taking this long before. She's never humming again as long as she lives, she silently pledges.

Eventually though, the doors do open on the Colonel's floor, and Sam tries not to let her sheer relief show as he steps out.

"Carter," he says, turning back to look at her, and she stretches out a hand to keep the doors open despite her desperation for this trip to be done with.

"Sir?" she asks.

He regards her. "You know I just want you to be happy, right?"

She feels her throat tighten, and has to look away, her eyes dropping to the floor.

"Carter?" he presses in that tone of his, the one she tries so very hard to forget these days.

Oh, god.

"I'd wait," she says, not looking at him, way too scared to see what she might find there. Or what she wouldn't.

"What?" he asks, and she thinks his voice sounds a little hoarse.

Gnawing on the inside of her cheek, she takes a breath and forces herself to look up at him. "If you asked me to."

There's a flicker of something in his eyes, quickly smothered. "I would never do that."

Her lips quirk in a humorless smile. She drops her hand, stepping back into the elevator. "I know," she says, for once letting all of her own confliction and regret have free reign. She has a moment to see it all reflected perfectly back in his face. "Doesn't mean I can't wish you would."

The doors slide shut.

[7]

The evening is quiet, nothing more than the sound of the summer breeze sliding across the water. Carter steps up next to him on the dock, close enough for him to feel the heat of her body.

She opens her mouth as if searching for words, some way to acknowledge what it has taken to bring them here, to finally bridge that gap after so many years.

Eventually she looks up at him. "There's really nothing left to be said, is there?"

He takes her hand, holding it tightly in his own. "No."

.fin.