"I'm finding every reason to be gone
There's nothing here to hold on to
Could I hold on to you?"
Sara Bareilles - City
He picks her up in a blue convertible. It's a Ford Mustang, showy and not her first choice, but something that is easy to rent and fun for just a couple days and she certainly isn't going to complain. He lays the garment bag containing her dress uniform on top of his carefully and then tucks her duffel bag into the trunk next to the small bag he packed for Daniel. He's in jeans and a leather jacket and so is she and they grin at each other, looking the other up and down. He has the top up - it's early and there is a chill in the air.
"Did you eat?" he asks. She shakes her head. He opens the door for her and shuts it after she slides in.
Hammond had ordered them to go despite the Colonel's argument that conferences were for geeks. He was, after all, an expert on tactics. Daniel got sent via Russia for negotiations and would meet them there. Teal'c got benched, on account of not being human.
"That's racist," the Colonel had said. "Or speciesist. Or something." Sam had rolled her eyes. He'd teased her for the whole afternoon and then had ended it suggesting they drive to the conference. It had seemed like a good idea, like a reward after several years of very good behavior. She felt confident that it would be friendly and fun.
He'd said, from the door of her lab, "We don't get a lot of chances like this, do we, Carter?"
She'd taken a sharp breath - a stab of achy longing poking at her just under her ribs.
But later, driving home, she'd convinced herself it would be fine. That it always was fine and fine it would continue to be.
They stop at a coffee house on their way out of town. He gets regular black coffee and nudges her with his elbow when she gets a latte because he thinks it's frou-frou. They split a banana nut muffin sitting at a little square table in the corner.
They don't talk much. It seems like all the danger lurks in saying something that can't be unsaid, so they sit quietly, companionably and take turns breaking off pieces of the muffin and popping the sweet bread into their mouths. When they're done, he cleans up the mess of crumbs and napkins and she tucks their chairs back in. He holds open the door for her and they emerge into the sunshine.
"Ready?" he asks.
She nods. They tussle over the keys for a moment, but she gives in easily enough because it's his rental and besides, she'll want to drive more in the afternoon when they put down the top and it's all warm air and sunshine. She fiddles with the radio while he pulls out of the parking lot and navigates the city streets, headed toward the freeway on-ramp.
Coffee cups in the cup holders, the Beatles singing as my guitar gently weeps... and two days of open road ahead of them.
"This was a good idea," Sam says because it feels honest.
"I hope so," Jack says. He doesn't elaborate but his mouth tightens a little, hard around his teeth.
They stop for gas around eleven and Sam puts the top down while Jack fills the tank. She slips her jacket off and tosses it in the back seat. Her shoulders and arms are bare and when Jack walks by her, she thinks she feels just the tips of his fingers brush her elbow. He holds open the driver's door for her. It's something he never does at work, that sort of gentleman's behavior. He'll keep his arm extended if she's following him and let her slip through, but for the most part, he treats her exactly the same as any other guy.
But out here, where no one is watching, he holds it open and makes sure she's in before he shuts it and jogs around the back to get in on his own side. She looks at him as she starts the car, a small smile on her face. She doesn't thank him - he wouldn't like it, but she's acknowledging it nonetheless.
"You gonna be the speed demon I know you to be?" he asks.
"It'll be fine," she says noncommittally.
He slips on his sunglasses and leans back in the seat. "I trust ya, Carter," he says.
That's good enough for her.
Having the top down makes conversation difficult. It's okay because their strong suit has never been talking to one another anyway. He finally finds a radio station that he likes and plays drums on the dashboard for awhile. It makes her smirk but he's gonna have to work a little harder for a full smile.
The sun is warm but not relentless and she's glad that she so recently cut her hair short because the wind doesn't whip it into her eyes. The back of her neck and tops of her shoulders are warm and the sunscreen she rubbed into her skin early that morning seems a long time ago now. She'll burn, just a little, but it's amazing the kind of base tan going off-world will build someone even as fair as she is.
Jack is tan and only seems to brown more in the sun. The hair on his arms glints golden over brown skin and she has to make herself look back at the straight road in front of her more than once, her mouth dry.
She pulls off the road for lunch and she pulls into the fast food restaurant's lot. Jack puts everything into the trunk and she hands over the keys.
"I'm going to the bathroom," she says.
"Do you want me to order for you?" he asks. She agrees without thinking too much about it. They've shared thousands of meals together and she trusts him.
When she comes out, her hands still damp from the inefficient hand dryer, he's sitting at a plastic booth with a receipt in front of him. She wipes her hands on her jeans and slumps across from him.
"Hi," she says.
"Hi there," he says. "We're order number 65."
"Hmm," she says. "Did you get it for here or to-go?"
"For here," he says. "I figure, what's the rush?"
When their number is called, she bounces up before he can, snatching the receipt away and going to the counter. She fills the empty cups before she returns to the booth - diet soda for her, root beer for him, and then balances it all easily. The large fries are his, and the burger. The chicken sandwich and the little cup of pathetic looking fruit are hers. It's mostly pale melon with a grape and a blueberry thrown in for color.
"Not even a strawberry?" he asks.
"Maybe it's at the bottom," she says. "Oh, I didn't get you ketchup!"
"It's all right, I'll get it," he says. But she's already standing again, scanning for a condiments bar, deciding to pump ketchup into a little paper cup instead of using the disposable packets.
They eat quietly. He steals a piece of her cantaloupe with his bare fingers and she lets him because she doesn't care much for it anyway.
"Just eat the fries," he says when he catches her staring. "That's why I got a large."
So she indulges in three, reveling in the salty, deep fried bliss of each bite.
While she clears the tray, he refills their sodas and gets hers right without asking. He holds open the glass door for her and she steps into the sunshine.
The sunset is lovely and in Salt Lake City, they talk about stopping for the night, but Sam thinks they can go for longer. They stop for dinner at a steak house - it's odd how Jack seems to just know what to expect from every little town and every city they pass through.
"Spend a lot of time in Salt Lake, sir?" she asks as he parks.
"Not really," he says.
Either he just has good instincts or he did a little research for this trip. But the first seems more likely and she doesn't think too hard about it. He holds open the heavy wooden door for her and when the hostess seats them, he puts his hand on her back as they walk through the dining room to their booth.
She forces herself not to lean into the touch and not to pull away.
When they are seated, menus open in front of them, he leans in conspiratorially and whispers, "I bet it's not as good as O'Malley's."
"You mean the place we are not allowed to go back to?" she chuckles.
"Give it a year, they'll forget all about it," he says.
"You broke the pool table!"
"The Air Force reimbursed them," he says.
When the waitress comes, she sticks with water and he orders a beer and they both get steak.
"You got some sun, Carter," he says. She cranes her neck to look at her shoulders and they are pink, but they don't hurt yet. When she looks in the mirror, she'll probably see the bridge of her nose is pink too, right up to the line where her sunglasses sit. "Maybe we should leave the top up tomorrow."
"No, let's not," she says. "I'll just be more diligent about sunscreen."
"I almost never burn," he says.
"I know," she sighs. He quirks an eyebrow and she shrugs one shoulder. "You think I never see you in the sun?"
"I just didn't know you were noticing," he says.
"I always do."
They falter, now. Too close, too much, too like something else entirely.
She looks at the couple sitting across the aisle from them. They are older, eating salads before their entree. The woman picks a tomato right out of his salad and puts it in her mouth. Sam looks back at Jack.
"Do you think Daniel is having fun in Russia?" he says, moving back onto a safer topic.
"Does Daniel have fun?" she asks. He smirks.
Their salads come with their drinks and the waitress apologizes for the delay. The restaurant is busy and all they have is more driving and it's nice just to be out of the car.
"It's fine," she assures the young girl.
"Hey, Carter," Jack says, pushing his salad toward her. "You want these tomatoes?"
The weirdest things hurt - sharp, sharp pains.
They stop at a Best Western in Twin Falls, Idaho. It's a little over half way and Sam pulls in tired and antsy. It's been over 12 hours in the car and they're both ready for a break. Jack slept for an hour, his long frame tucked up in the leather seat, but as soon as she hit the city limits, his eyes opened and he directed her to the motel.
His instincts are uncanny.
"Let me pay for the rooms," she says.
"The government is gonna pay for the rooms," he says.
"At the conference, yeah, but this doesn't seem..."
"I okayed it with Hammond," he says. "Don't worry about it."
It could all be a ruse for her to let him pay but she doesn't argue. They carry their bags down the carpeted hallway silently and smile wanly at one another as they open their doors.
"Night," he says.
"Night, sir," she replies.
The room has a door that isn't a closet and isn't the bathroom and she realizes her room connects to his. She hesitates because... no, it's too easy, too much, too tempting. She sets her bag down on the luggage rack and her purse down on the bed.
There's a light knock.
She unlocks the door and opens it and he's there, his own door open wide, leaning against the frame.
"We didn't talk about tomorrow," he says.
"What time do you want to leave? Early?" he asks.
"Well, it's another ten hours or so, so probably early is best," she agrees. "Seven?"
"All right," he agrees. The conference doesn't start until the next day anyway so they don't have to rush. "Maybe we leave at seven and then have breakfast and then get going."
"Yeah," she says. "I like it."
"Okay," he says. "I'll leave you to it."
"I'm just gonna... yeah. Shower and sleep I guess. Unless you want to...?" Unless he wants to what? She shakes her head before either of them have a chance to fill in that blank. "Sleep well, sir."
She closes the door but not hard enough for it to latch.
In the shower, she lingers. It's warm and bright in the tiny bathroom and the fan is so loud all she can hear is the water and the whirring and she just stands for a while, letting the hard spray hit between her shoulder blades. Finally she shampoos her hair and puts in the conditioner and is thinking about whether it is worth the effort to shave when she hears a loud knock. She nearly jumps out of her skin.
She shuts off the water.
"Sir?" she says.
"Come on," he says. "We have to evacuate the building!"
She hears it now, that the water is off, the distant shriek of the fire alarm.
"Oh God, seriously?" she mutters. She grabs a towel and wraps it tightly around her and cracks the door.
"Sorry," he says. "I'll just... be in the hall."
She throws on her jeans and it's a struggle over wet legs and then a black t-shirt and shoves her feet into her sneakers without socks and opens the door. Jack is arguing with an employee and stops when she opens the door.
"She's right here, we're going," he says, and Sam follows quickly, her arms crossed over her chest. There's an emergency exit into the parking lot and they slip through, moving onto the asphalt with the other weary guests in their pajamas.
"Bad timing," he offers, as they look up at the building. Nothing seems to be on fire.
"No kidding," she says. He slips off his jacket and hands it to her and she's not above putting it on. She'd feel better with at least a bra and her wet skin makes everything cling uncomfortably. "Thanks."
"I'm sure they just... I'm sure it won't be long." It does little to reassure her. In the field, he never offers reassurance. She is expected to tough it out with no complaints but he seems agitated on her behalf now. He keeps glancing at her and at the sprawling building. Either some faulty thing set off a smoke detector or some kid pulled the fire alarm or there actually is a fire but either way, it sucks.
"This is humiliating," she mutters.
"Nah," he says. "That lady is in a robe and that guy by the Pepsi machine doesn't even have shoes on."
"True," she relent. The wind picks up and she shivers and he immediately steps in front of her, trying to block some of it. "Maybe we should push it back to 7:30."
"Don't give up hope yet," he says and inches closer. "Are you cold?"
"Come here," he says and pulls her against him.
"Shh," he says. "Survival skills."
"Oh, is that it?" she murmurs, letting her arms unfurl and hang by her sides. He has one arm around her and the other drops onto the back of her neck at her wet hair line.
"Carter," he says. "Your head is slimy."
"Conditioner," she sighs. "I was right in the middle of..."
"I know," he says. "Our little secret. Us and the good citizens of Idaho."
His hand is so warm on her neck. She lets her forehead rest against his shoulder and takes a deep breath and he smells like sunshine and his aftershave and it's all just a little too much.
She tries to step back but he only lets her go so far.
"What are we doing?" she asks.
"Relax," he says. "It's not wrong."
"It feels like it might be," she says. She tries to say this lightly, but it just sounds uneven and unsure.
"Does it hurt?" he asks.
Oh boy, does it ever.
"If it hurts, then we haven't crossed any lines," he says.
"I don't know if... that's true," she says.
"Trust me, Sam," he says. "I walk a lot of fine lines."
It feels like he hasn't called her Sam in ages.
She does trust him and she's tired and it is cold and she steps back into him, letting herself believe that in this parking space of this parking lot of this Best Western in the state of Idaho, they're doing just fine.
By 7:30 they're drinking coffee in a booth at Denny's and by 8:15 they are on the road. Jack drives first while Sam pours over the packet of conference information.
"Do you want to know about the keynote speakers?" she asks.
"The other panels?"
"I don't even know about our panel," he says. "You think I want to know about the other ones?"
"Do you want to know about the food?" she asks dryly.
"Oh yeah, now we're talking," he says.
Midday, the sky starts to cloud over enough that Jack pulls into a rest area and they put the top back up. She feels a little gritty from all the wind and it's nice to get back into the quiet car. She turns the radio down when he turns the engine over and leans her head back against the headrest.
"Tired?" he asks.
"A little. I didn't sleep that well," she admits.
It had been hard to sleep knowing he was just on the other side of the wall. It wasn't sex keeping her awake, or the longing for sex, or wondering if they could get away with it - it was intimacy. She thinks about sex with Jack O'Neill plenty, of course, but what actually had tempted her the night before was the idea of just crawling into his bed and letting him hold her the whole night through. That feels more dangerous than sex, somehow. More real.
"Motel beds are pretty rotten," he agrees. "Where are we staying in Portland?"
"The Doubletree," she says. "I think it's nice. They have you and Daniel together, though."
"But they also give you a cookie when you check in," she says. "You like cookies."
"Everyone likes cookies," he says. "You get your own room?"
"I could share with Daniel, Sir, he won't care either way," she offers. She's clocked so much time in a tent with Daniel that a hotel room would be like sleeping in a palace.
"Nah," he says.
"Well, if you'd prefer to sleep with Daniel..."
"I'd prefer to sleep with..." She stops, colors. "I just mean, it doesn't... I don't... It's just..."
"Relax," he says.
They lapse into silence, his hands tight on the wheel like he can't heed his own, simple advice. The SGC is the most challenging, difficult thing in her life and she'd be lying to herself if she didn't admit that at least half of that was Jack O'Neill.
"Easier isn't always better, Carter," he says, like he's reading her mind. His voice is gentle and sure and it reminds her of when he'd gone ancient - that small wedge of time between the download and losing his languages. He'd just seemed so certain about things.
"Lucky us," she says.
"Oh, I'm definitely lucky," he says, shooting her a smug grin. "Sure, I get shot at more than most jobs but we get to do some pretty cool things."
"Yeah," she agrees.
"Better than NASA, anyway," he says, and now she knows he's just egging her past the awkward slip.
"Way better," she says.
It's a little easier after that and if he notices that she's sitting on her hands, he doesn't say a word.
Downtown seems bright, almost garish after so many hours on the open road. Jack has a map open on his lap and is giving her simple directions while she navigates, stopping for pedestrians and yellow lights and large buses careening around corners.
The car seems wrecked. Empty coffee cups and soda cans, a bag of fast food wrappers and in the cup holder, an open bag of gummy worms. Sam has one hanging out of her mouth right now - she likes them for long drives. They are quick bursts of sugar and enough work to eat that she stays awake. Her mouth feels thick with sugar and she's just holding the worm between her teeth more for company than fuel at this point.
"No, I'm saying 16th runs parallel to highway 30," Jack says.
"And I'm saying it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong because the hotel isn't on 16th," Sam says around the worm. It's starting to dissolve and she slurps a little more of it up.
"But you have to... look, you have to take it up to Multnomah and then there is a green square and then the hotel," he says.
"Green square?" she asks looking at him. "You mean a park, sir?"
He reaches out and grabs the end of the worm and yanks. It comes apart easily - half in her mouth and half between his fingers.
"You look ridiculous," he says, and then pops the rest of the gummy worm into his own mouth.
She licks her lips and clears her throat and returns to squinting through the windshield.
"I think... yeah, I think it's this big intersection up here," she says.
"Yeah," she says. "Left past the green square, got it."
"How do you eat this shit, Carter, I think my teeth are rotting," he says.
"Well, I'm much younger than you, sir," she says. "Maybe you've just lost your sense of whimsy?"
She pulls into the turn lane and flicks on the turn signal with a flourish.
"Gimme another one," he grumbles. They reach for the plastic bag at the same time and their fingers touch and she yanks her hand away and he tucks his back into his lap and they look at the bag and each other and he opens his mouth, probably to apologize but then the car behinds her honks because the light has turned green.
She makes the turn and he rolls down his window a crack.
"We gotta get out of this car," he says.
The hotel is in the distance, she can see it and lets herself exhale.
"Almost," she mutters. "Almost there."
They walk out of the hotel into the night, intent on dinner. Sam has changed her clothes but Jack looks the same as he did in the car. She'd splashed cool water on her face, put on a clean t-shirt, changed from sneakers to sandals. It feels nice to have her toes free.
The pavement is dry, but it smells like rain, like maybe it rained a bit before they pulled into town and now the people are out in droves and there are little white lights strung on the trees that line this busy street. It's somehow dark and light at the same time - the sky is inky but she can see Jack just fine, his face lined deep in the warm glow. He's got just a bit of stubble and she tries not to think about how it would feel dragging across her neck. Tries and fails.
"Any requests?" he asks, nearly brushing against her as they walk, but he readjusts just in time and steps away again.
"You choose," she says. She'd be happy to walk all night, just strolling around watching the people and being by his side. But she knows eventually she'll get tired, and probably sooner rather than later. Those hours on the road are going to catch up with her. The caffeine will filter away; she'll crash from the sugar.
"Chinese?" he asks. They're outside a small little restaurant. It's dark, something her father would call a hole-in-the-wall. But she's nothing if not adventurous.
"Sure," she says. He holds the door open for her.
It doesn't take them long to get a little table, but it feels like forever before they get more than two glasses of room-temperature water in little glasses. Finally, someone brings a pot of tea and two menus. Sam studies hers for a moment but they always get the same thing when they order Chinese. She and Teal'c both like the beef and broccoli. It will feel odd not to share with him.
"Probably just the one order of beef and broccoli instead of three this time," Jack murmurs, watching her set her menu aside.
"Seriously, stop reading my mind," she says. He just gives her that lazy smile.
Sam watches the people on the street while they wait for their waitress, the cars passing and the ones parked. She tries to imagine the people who own the cars, where they might be going, the kind of life that they lead. She can see a carseat in the back of the car parked directly in front of the restaurant. She wonders how old the child is, if it's a boy or girl.
"Do you think Daniel is already in the air?" he asks her.
"Yeah," she says. "He's gonna be a grouch when he gets here."
"As opposed to..."
"Well he's not usually cross with me," she says teasingly. "Sir."
"I need him to be his charming self," Jack says, eyeing the waitress across the room, as if he could summon he by will alone. She does not turn to look at them.
"And what about you?" Sam asks. "Still allowed to be a grump?"
"What?" he says, dragging his eyes back to her face. "You don't find me charming?"
She finds the whole damn situation just a little too charming. Their rental car parked under the hotel in the garage, their bags in their rooms, side by side, the little light bulbs burning hotly on the branches of what seems like every single tree - tangled up into constellations like stars in the night sky. It will be easier in the morning when she has to slip back into being Major Carter.
"You know I do," she says, instead.
And now the waitress appears, pulling her little pad of paper out of her apron and placing her hand on her hip as if she's been waiting on them for some time.
Jack orders a beer, looks at her, and orders another.
Sam is surprised that a Starbucks is open this late, but when he suggests coffee, it does sound nice. She's pleasantly full and one beer isn't enough to get her drunk or even buzzed but she feels a little looser. She's not clenching her teeth so hard anymore.
She pays for the coffee and he doesn't make too much of a fuss. She gets him decaf and herself regular. Her metabolism is fast enough that one small cup of coffee isn't going to do her much damage, but she does add a splash of milk and a little packet of sugar to hers. He takes his black.
They sit at a little round table by the window. The place isn't totally empty, but it's not loud and there's a kid in a green apron sweeping the floor, looking like he just wants to go home. Sam blows across the top of her cup.
"Why don't we let Daniel stay with you," Jack says, finally, as if he's been thinking about it all day and maybe he has.
"Of course, sir, if that's what you want," she says. It's not a problem. She and Daniel get along and actually, she might like the company. "We can leave a key for him with the desk."
"Besides, you snore," she says, a little smile on her face. He looks too contemplative and she wants to break him out of it - to get the light mood from dinner back.
"Daniel sleeps like the dead," Jack says. It's true. Sam used to feel bad about waking Daniel for his watch off-world, but now she just kicks him in the side like everyone else. "It's not..."
He trails off.
"What?" she asks, snapping the plastic lid back onto her cup now that the liquid is cool enough to drink.
"Nothing," he says. "Let's go."
She doesn't know why she presses. They walk down the sidewalk, the hotel still visible in the distance, tall and looming.
"What were you going to say?" she says. He glances at her, his gaze like a warning shot meant not to hurt, but just to graze across her bow. She doesn't give in, though.
"If Daniel's in there, I'm not gonna do anything stupid," he says.
"Oh," she says. "That."
"Yeah, that." He tosses coffee cup into a trash can that they pass, but hers is still half full.
"What if I do something stupid?" she asks, stepping delicately around a crack in the pavement where weeds have pushed up and buckled the concrete. Better than looking at him.
"You're not stupid," he says. "You're the smart one."
"I'm not sure that's very fair, sir," she says.
"Life isn't fair," he replies. They're a half a block away now.
"Obviously," she breathes. And suddenly, she does feel jittery and she doesn't want any more caffeine and when the big doors slide apart to let them into the hotel lobby, she throws her coffee away.
"I'm gonna tell them to leave a key for Danny," Jack says. "If you want to head on up."
She should. Go to bed, get some sleep. She shakes her head. "I'll wait."
They fall into step as they head for the elevators and she pushes the button to call for the car. When it arrives, it's empty. They step inside, he pushes the button for the floor.
It's not like she makes a conscious decision or anything. She just looks at him and finds that he's already looking at her and she says, without much thought, "Jack?"
"Don't do this, Carter," he says.
She flinches. But it's not a rejection, it's a plea.
"It has to be me, though," she says. "Doesn't it?"
He's not ever going to start something with a subordinate officer, would never do anything to compromise her career. She's right, because he doesn't respond.
The elevator arrives and they walk down the hall. His room is first and then hers, but she doesn't keep walking. She stops when he stops and it's almost gratifying, the way his fingers fumble just slightly with the plastic keycard, and he has to insert it twice before the light turns green. He pushes open the door, holds it enough that she can slip inside.
The door closes with a loud click and they just stand for a moment looking at one another. She realizes he's not going to make any move, that following him was not explicit enough consent.
Her career flashes before her eyes as she lifts her hands to hold his head.
He tastes of hot coffee, of the salty food they had for dinner, a little spicy and exotic and that's just from pressing lips to lips. It takes him a moment to engage, to step into her, to tilt his head so that their lips fuse instead of simply touch. He runs one hand up her back, dipping where her body dips and she wishes she wasn't wearing her jacket so she could feel his fingers along the bumps of her spine.
She presses up onto her toes, wraps her arms around his neck, and presses her tongue into his mouth.
Distantly, she feels her back hit the door.
Their tongues slip and slide and she's getting little jolts of pleasure all the way down to her toes.
But now that they've given in, there seems to be no rush. They kiss and kiss and just keep kissing. His hands push her jacket to the floor and it's good. She was getting too hot, too dizzy, and the hairs on her arms stand up when the air hits her skin. His palms smooth them down, moving from wrist to shoulder and back again.
His mouth breaks away to kiss down her neck and she hears herself gasp, sucking down air.
She just wants a little bit more. She pulls his shirt up and he pulls up hers and then their bellies touch and it's better, the blinding desire, with a little skin to skin contact.
His teeth scratch at her pulse and her whole body shudders.
He slips a strong thigh between her legs and she forces his mouth back to hers. Maybe they'll just stay like this all night, kissing and touching and she'll get just enough if not quite her fill and it will turn out to be okay.
But then he lifts his thigh, grinding it against her, right between her legs and she actually cries out, a high-pitched squeak, a noise that is bordering on a wail and she's never, ever heard that sound come out of her own mouth before. She'd be embarrassed except for as soon as she makes it, he growls and spins them around so they're stumbling blindly toward the bed.
Somewhere between her falling to the mattress and Jack settling his weight onto her long frame, he sheds his jacket.
Her legs wind up around his hips and there are several long minutes of him thrusting against her and her doing the same to him with her tongue.
Outside, probably right across the hall, a door slams.
Jack breaks away, their lips parting wetly and he looks down at her, his eyes dark but suddenly clear.
She raises a hand to her mouth to wipe some of the slobber away. Her skin there feels tender and she knows it must be bright red.
He rolls off of her and onto his back.
"Christ," he says. "I didn't... I sorta lost it there."
She's not really up to words yet. She lets her head rest against the mattress and closes her eyes, taking deep breaths until she can both inhale and exhale evenly.
But it's no use. The room already smells like sex, like her own arousal.
"I'm sorry," she says. She doesn't open her eyes.
But the feeling of his hand on her stomach where her shirt is still scrunched up, revealing a strip of white skin doesn't startle her. His hand is warm and big and when she breathes in, it moves along with her. The hand rubs a small circle and then is traveling north to cup her breast.
Here she is again, panting, and all that work of calming down is forgotten.
"Please," she whispers.
"Please what?" he asks, his voice low and close to her ear. His hand moves, massaging her breast, her nipple poking hard against his palm through her bra.
"Please tell me a way to make this okay," she says.
But he isn't going to lie to her, isn't going to say things that aren't true. That's not the kind of man he is. His fingers ripple across the skin of her stomach, drumming out time while he thinks of a response.
"It's gonna be the way it is," he says. "And that will have to be okay."
Sam wakes up early, partly due to her internal clock still being on mountain time and partly because she never really reached a deep sleep. Jack is asleep though, snoring softly because he's lying on his back. She's still tucked against him, her head wedged into the crook between his neck and shoulder.
They've been like this for most of the night.
And while there is a vague sense of disappointment, she knows it's a lot more tolerable than sharp regret.
She moves just enough that Jack's snoring stops and his arm tightens around her.
"Hey," he mumbles. "Stay."
She relaxes against him. Another few minutes won't hurt. It'd be nice to go back to her own room before Daniel gets in but she's not certain of the time and not certain of his arrival. The room is dark, just a few lines of light coming in from behind the closed draperies. It seems overcast - the light is dull.
Jack runs his hand up and down her arm.
"Carter," he says.
She makes a little noise of acknowledgment.
"I'm... I'm, uh, sorry about the way things are," he says.
"It's isn't your fault, sir," she says. It's not their fault and it is. They didn't do this on purpose but then, they probably should have requested transfers long ago. She tries to imagine life without SG-1, a life where she wakes up every day with Jack and she can't quite do it. She can't give up the gate and she can't give up her team, not even for what she thinks is love.
"Maybe not," he says. "But I'm still sorry."
"Do you ever worry this isn't real?" she asks, tilting her chin up so she can look him in the eye. He looks sleepy.
"That we're just... this is all some big reaction to the life we lead and the danger and if we actually tried, it'd all fall apart?" She sucks her bottom lip in.
"No," he says. He leans in and kisses her, kisses her until she opens her mouth, her lip set free, kisses her soundly. "I have never once thought that."
She wants to kiss him more, but she doesn't. She crawls out of the bed while he watches, pulls herself back into order and pulls open the heavy, loud door of the motel.
Daniel, way down at the end of the hall.
"Hey," she says, uneasily.
"Hold the door, I hate these key card things," he says, picking up his pace, his suitcase squeaking slightly as he drags it along.
"Uh," she says, still tired. "Actually, we're a couple more down."
"Oh," Daniel says.
"Oh," Daniel says.
"It wasn't... it's not like that, Daniel," Sam says, her cheeks burning. "Nothing happened."
"I believe you," he says, though he blurts it so fast the words all land on top of one another.
"Really," she says. She feels a little anxious now and she has to resist the urge to wipe her palms on her pants. What's the point of not giving in if even their closest allies do not believe them?
"Okay," he says.
"How was Russia?" she asks and they move, now, down the hallway. He answers but she can't hear it. Just a low level buzz that seems centered in her back molars, though it travels well - down her throat and out through her ears. She opens the door for them and Daniel barely lets her get in before he's lugging his bedraggled suitcase past her.
"Gonna shower," he says and the bathroom door closes behind him.
She just wants to go back to Jack's room, but she cannot. She sits on the edge of one of the beds and looks at her feet.
When Daniel comes out with a towel around his waist and no glasses, he squints at her.
"You sure you're okay?" he asks.
"Yep," she says.
The bathroom is already steamy and warm from Daniel and the water comes out hot as soon as she turns on the tap. It's tempting to linger, but she doesn't. She lathers up quickly and rinses off, leaves herself enough time to dry her hair.
And it's true. The moment she slips on the uniform, she remembers what's important and stops thinking about herself so much. Thinks about the work, the panel, how she's going to spend the day answering questions in half truths, sitting between two man boys who won't want to behave.
God, she misses Teal'c.
After the panel, they go out. Daniel just wants to sleep, but Jack won't have it.
"Beer," is all he says. They're forced to go back to the rooms to change because Sam won't go out in her dress uniform and Jack shouldn't either. She knows the Jack that drinks to relax, to have fun and watch sports or grill up some meat and this isn't him. This Jack is dark and brooding, tugging at the knot of his tie as they approach the hotel room door.
Sam puts on her jeans and her leather coat again and Daniel drags his feet, pawing through his suitcase.
"Why do I have to go?" he whines and she swallows.
"I need you to," she says. "Please." He won't say no to that, but he looks at her with his blue, blue eyes, his brain working. He wants to ask her if she's okay again, but he doesn't. He's biding his time, collecting more information.
"Sure," he says.
They take a cab. There are bars close to the hotel, close enough to walk, but the Colonel doesn't want to socialize with any of the panelists and in a way, she's glad. People tend to corner her, ask her whole litanies of questions and while she likes talking about her work as much as any other geek, talking about it outside of the mountain is exhausting.
Squeezed into the back, Daniel sits in the middle and Sam watches the city fly by. The streets are filled with pedestrians and cars, buses and bicycles and everything is damp and green and the lights twinkle.
"I'd live here," she comments, because Daniel is too tired for conversation and Jack is Jack.
No one says anything.
The bar is about six miles away from the hotel. Far enough that no one from the conference will be there but close enough to walk, if they need to. What is six miles on Earth after countless hikes on alien planets? Nothing at all.
The bar is dark and a little stale. There are people, but not a lot, and the walls are lined with flickering neon signs, half of which don't light up anymore.
"I'm gonna grab that table," Daniel says, pointing to a round one in the back corner with four chairs. There is a pool table, a couple of dart boards. Sam can either follow Daniel to the table or stay with Jack. She follows him to the bar. He's in his leather coat too.
"What do you want?" he asks.
"I'll have what you're having," she says. He orders three beers to start. It doesn't mean they won't switch to something else later on, but she carries one and he carries two after leaving his credit card with the bartender. This could be a long night.
"So you drove, huh?" Daniel says, finally, slumped into his chair. He does look tired, has that haggard paleness that comes with jet lag and gate lag and the crazy hours they all keep.
"We did," Jack says, after a long pull. Sam plays a little game with herself where she tries to keep up with him. He drinks fast.
"How was that?" Daniel presses.
"Fine," she says. "It was nice to see the country."
"Long," Jack adds. "But in a nice way."
"We talked about you and Teal'c the whole time," Sam adds, trying to tease. Jack finishes his beer and she has to rush to do the same. Her head swims. Dinner was already a while ago.
"Another round?" Jack asks. Daniel still has half a beer.
"I'll go," she says and her chair scrapes the floor loudly as she gets to her feet. A few people watch her walk up to the bar the way that men everywhere glance at her but no one approaches. From the bartender, she orders three jack and gingers. The Colonel is a beer drinker and Daniel is a total lightweight, but maybe she wants this night to be about what they could be. The three cocktails are supposed to be inspiration, not a challenge.
She's thinking about how she's going to carry everything - she was never much of a waitress - when Jack is at her elbow, taking two of the glasses.
"My ambitious Major," he says.
"You know me," she says, waggling her eyebrows. "Reach for the stars and all of that."
He chuckles and the noise makes her heart skip a beat. Their eyes meet and they hold it for a beat, another, and then too long and he clears his throat and when he drags himself away and back toward Daniel, she gulps down a third of her drink.
Daniel holds his face up with his cupped hand, his elbow sliding out more and more. He takes a couple sips but when Sam finishes her drink, he pushes his toward her.
"I'm leaving," he announces.
"Night is young," Jack says. It's an indirect request for Daniel to stay but Daniel ignores it like he does all of Jack's requests - indirect or not.
"I don't care, I'm exhausted," Daniel says, pushing to his feet. "I'll see you tomorrow morning."
Their flight leaves after lunch. Sam plans on getting good and drunk. It will be strange to get into their rental car only to return it to the airport.
"Do you need cab money?" Sam asks, fumbling for her purse, but Daniel just touches her shoulder.
"Night, Sam," he says, and walks out the door.
"That guy does not know how to have fun," Jack mumbles, finishing the rest of his drink.
"His idea of fun is just different," she says. She doesn't know why she feels the need to defend Daniel except that her idea of fun is different sometimes, too.
"You're fun," Jack says, seeing right through that. "You're dangerous fun, Carter."
"You like a little danger," she says. Whoops. Drunk.
His eyes get dark for a moment.
"I'll get another round," he says.
It happens like this: she gets up to use the restroom and when she finishes and opens the door to go back out, he's standing in the hall waiting for her. And instead of following him out, she pulls him in, all the way into the stall.
He's kissing her before she gets the door locked and their bodies pressed against the door keeps it closed.
His tongue is in her mouth when she hears the bathroom door open and she pulls away.
"Not here," she says. Drunk girls have to pee a lot. So they gather their wits a bit and move from the women's bathroom to the dark corner at the end of the hallway where the payphone is out of order. The wall is sticky against the leather of her jacket, but his hands slide under her t-shirt and cup her breasts and she doesn't care what the people walking by think of her because this is Jack O'Neill and no one else in this bar has any idea what that means.
Someone yells for them to get a room and it occurs to Sam that they have one. They have a room already.
"Jack," she whispers. "Let's go."
He has to pay the tab and sign the slip and she stays close to him but doesn't touch him, her face red and her mouth swollen and her hair tousled from his hands. Outside, he pushes her against the brick facade around the corner from the entrance and kisses her again. She can feel him through his jeans, hard and insistent and she doesn't think anything that feels this good could actually be bad.
And then she remembers the parking lot in Idaho and him asking if it still hurt and she realizes that what they're doing now doesn't hurt it all. It's straight pleasure.
"Hey," she says, tearing her mouth away. "Sir."
"Hmm," he says, kissing her jaw.
"We should walk," she says. "We should walk it off."
He looks at her and it takes him a few moments to clear the cobwebs but then he's there with her, nodding and stepping back. He tucks his hands into his coat pocket.
Their first few steps are unsteady like newborn deer, but by the end of the first mile, she doesn't have to hold onto his arm and by the time the hotel is in their sights, she feels a lot closer to sober. A sharp pain is blossoming behind her eyes and there is a dull ache in her chest and everything seems too crisp and too clean and all of the lines are so painfully drawn.
In the hallway, he doesn't invite her in and she doesn't expect it but as she's about to walk past him, he grabs her elbow.
"I'd give you anything you wanted," he says. She bites her lip.
"I know you would," she says.
"It's an offer that doesn't expire, by the way," he says. "For later when... for later."
"Good to know," she says. He lets her go.
The dull ache in her chest turns sharp once more.
The flight home is uneventful. Sam thinks about trying to confide in Daniel but decides against it. Jack is quiet, moody, and Daniel is tired and so Sam is just quiet. A little jittery - she keeps dropping things and sloshing her coffee over the rim of the cup.
Touching solid ground is good. Sam realizes too late that Jack had picked her up from home in the rental car and so when they're dropped off at the base, neither of them have cars.
"I'm sleeping here," Daniel announces at the elevator. "Possibly for a very long time."
"You haven't been home in forever, don't you want your own bed?" she asks. She wants a ride from him but doesn't want to seem selfish.
"Plants are already dead at this point," he sighs. "No food there, either. I just want to lie down as quickly as possible."
She tilts her head. She could stay on base, too, and get a ride home later but it's early and she just wants to salvage what's left of this day off. She looks at Jack.
"Gimme your keys," he says. Daniel, for his part, does not seem perplexed in the slightest and simply fishes them out of his pocket and tosses them to Jack. He catches them. "Come on, Carter."
"See you guys tomorrow," Daniel says, calling for the elevator. It dings when it opens for him.
Sam follows Jack to Daniel's car, the strap of her bag digging into her shoulder. In the car, he starts the engine and then fusses with the seat, scooting it back too far and then inching it back up to where he wants it. He touches the mirror and peers at the dashboard. Daniel's car is old and generic and second hand but reliable. It's not her muscle car and not Jack's big truck. It's just a Honda, dark gray, crappy upholstery. The radio is set to NPR. Jack just turns it off.
On the road, he says, "We made a lot of mistakes on this trip."
"The whole... the whole trip was a mistake, sir," she says.
"We knew that going in," she says. "Didn't we?"
"I thought..." He falters. "Yeah."
"I'll talk to General Hammond," she says. "SG-9 lost their scientist last month."
"No," he says. "You are not... Sam! You are not a 9! You belong on SG-1. We're both staying right where we are."
"Just pretend like it never happened?" she says. "Sir, I'm not sure I can do that."
"Yeah you can," he says. "We both can."
"What if we can't?" she presses.
"We can," he stresses. "There's no other option."
She presses her lips together. She already wants to kiss him again. Already wants to feel the compartment that divides their seats pressing against her belly as she leans across it. Wants to invite him into her house, to her bed, to the parts of her life that he doesn't already inhabit. Her vision swims a little and she thinks it's absurd that he physically makes her dizzy but then she realizes it's tears. She blinks them back.
"Yes, sir," she says.
He pulls up outside of her house. She can see the little pile of newspapers on her porch.
"Maybe we'll just get over it," she says.
He breathes in and out and taps his knuckles against Daniel's steering wheel.
"Nah," he says. "I'm not going to ever do that."
She has to reach out and hold the door handle, has to squeeze it hard.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Carter," he says and then shakes his head. "Major."
She opens the door and he doesn't help her get her bag out of the back. She slams the trunk hard and steps on to the sidewalk. He starts the car, pulls smoothly away. If she squints, maybe she can pretend that it's Daniel driving away from her.
She breathes cold air into her lungs, squeezes the canvas strap of her bag into her palm until it stings.
She starts the long walk to her door, the long night in front of her, the years and years of waiting yet to come.