May 2011

They've been sitting across from one another for the past 20 minutes. The only sounds in the kitchen are the gentle crunches of two sets of teeth chewing cereal, and the occasional clink of a spoon against the bottom of a bowl.

Sam finds herself wishing for the rustle of a newspaper page turning every few minutes. At least the distraction of reading the morning paper would be a good reason for studiously ignoring one another.

The awkwardness that's plagued them for the last eleven days – ever since she returned from an eight-month assignment on board the Hammond – is new. Even that first morning waking up together a year and a half ago hadn't been as awkward as things have been since she's been back. There's a part of her that wants to talk about it, to figure out what's changed and why, but a much larger part of her acknowledges that they're terrible at communicating and she doesn't want to waste her last three days in DC fighting with him.

Jack drops his spoon into his bowl and shoves it away. Between the sharp metallic clatter and the angry china squeaking across the wooden tabletop, Sam starts, surprised.

"Can I ask you something?" His voice is tight, frustrated. It mirrors his body language perfectly.

She fights the urge to squirm in discomfort. "Okay."

He looks at her then – really looks at her – for the first time in almost a week, and his expression is painfully familiar. He's looked at her that same way countless times over the years. It's the expression he wears when he's looking to her for answers, expecting her to be able to make everything make sense for him.

The old fear that this will be the time she doesn't have the answers he's looking for squeezes deep in her gut.

"Are you happy with this?"

"With what?"

His hands hover over the tabletop, pointer fingers enacting a complicated choreography as they gesture between him and her. "This. Us. The way we are now."

Sam bites her tongue. Her first instinct is to plaster a big grin on her face and assure him that of course she's happy. This, them, the way they are now is what she's been wanting for over a decade. She's supposed to be happy, ecstatic even, that they're finally free to be together and act on their feelings.

But the truth is that she's been asking herself the same question ever since she got back, and the answer isn't the stuff fairy tales are made of. Sam feels she owes him the courtesy of an honest answer. Besides, he wouldn't be asking unless he's been having doubts of his own.

"It's been… different since I got back," she admits haltingly.

"Carter," he drawls warningly.

"I don't remember being so uncomfortable around you. Or this awkward together."

"Are you happy?" he says.

"No." She averts her eyes from his gaze. "I'm not unhappy, I'm just…"

He saves her from her own inability to express herself. "Yeah, me too."

Sam blows out a slow breath, relishing the relief that it's not just her that's been feeling this way. "This isn't working, is it?"

The fingers of his right hand drum idly on the table, filling the silence that stretches a heartbeat too long. When he answers, his eyes dart to a point an inch and a half above her head. "No, it's not."

Sam bites her lower lip, her teeth worrying the flesh he's only just barely pressed his own lips to in the entire time she's been Earthside. "So what now?"

"I don't know."

The kitchen fills with the soft sounds of two sets of lungs drawing deep, slow breaths. They're both deep in thought, contemplating the enormity of ending something they waited so long for.

To avoid having to look at him, Sam lets her eyes scan their home. The small DC apartment is testament to the fact that they haven't really gelled as a couple. Two coffee makers sit side-by-side on the far counter. Assorted mugs, plates and bowls from two different sets of dishes are piled up in the sink. Hell, last time she'd been home, they'd had two microwaves because he'd insisted he needed a pizza button and she'd been unwilling to give up the handy dandy pre-programmed settings on her old unit. If his hadn't died while she was away, it would no doubt still be stacked on top of hers. For a long time, Sam had convinced herself that the multitude of duplication throughout the kitchen – and the rest of the apartment, for that matter – was simply the result of two stubborn people set in their ways moving in together.

She understands now that on some level, they both wanted to hang on to their own things in order to make ending their relationship easier. A break up has never been inevitable in either of their minds, but they've both grown accustomed to planning escape routes.

Old habits die hard.

"I'll pack some stuff to take to Daniel's and box up everything else. Once I find a new apartment…"

Jack shakes his head. "You love this place."

"So do you."

Jack gives her the look he used to level at her when she disregarded his strict orders prohibiting giggling.

"We don't have to make any decisions now," Sam reasons. "I'll be off to Nevada in a few more days."

"You know, it's not like either one of us is here very often." Jack locks his fingers behind his head and arcs his back, stretching out the kinks that come with flying a desk day in and day out. "You're out zooming around other planets on the Hammond while I'm busy crisscrossing this one, playing nice with IOA members."


Jack shrugs and drops his hands. "So maybe there's no rush for one of us to move out."

Her eyebrows arc in surprise. "You want us to break up but keep living together?"

"There's a spare room that never gets used now that Cassie spends her summers cooped up in a lab on campus." He looks her in the eye for the first time all morning, regarding her with a seriousness that belies the casual tone of his suggestion. "Besides, we're friends, aren't we?"

He's testing her. Jack is fully aware of her terrible track record with relationships. Of her tendency to cut an ex out of her life because it's easier than dealing with the fallout and facing up to her own failures. It's different with him – he's been an integral part of her life for a lot longer than they've been together – but he's testing her anyway, assessing whether or not she realizes that he's a special case.

"I haven't had a roommate since college."

"I haven't had a roommate since the last time Daniel died."

In spite of herself, Sam's lips quirk in amusement. Jack grins back, evidently pleased that he can still make her smile, even if he can't make her as happy as he'd once hoped to.

"I don't know how to do this," Sam warns a moment later. "I didn't exactly stay on speaking terms with Pete or Jonas."

"I'm not them."

"I know." This time she does squirm, uncomfortable under the weight of her past failures. "I'm just saying, I'm… not very good at this."

"Neither am I. We'll figure it out together. Okay?"

Experience says this is a terrible idea. Being together didn't work, why should living together be any different? But she wants so badly to share in his faith that their friendship is strong enough to survive the failure of their romance that she finds herself nodding in agreement. "Okay."

"Okay," he repeats. Jack watches her for a long moment before pushing back from the table and getting to his feet.

Before Sam can even think about following suit, he's around the table and behind her chair. One strong, well-muscled arm wraps around her from behind, hugging her tight, and a tender kiss finds its way to the crown of her head.

She closes her eyes and accepts his affection. So long as they can hold on to this, to the warmth and friendship they've built up between them, they'll be okay.