Chapter 14

Carter's amusement was palpable. “This is all new to him, Sir,” she gently pointed out. “While I don't necessarily want a shadow, either, we shouldn't leave him at the...”

“He's known what we do for months, Carter. He can handle a little alien here and there.” Jack's interruption was as abrupt as his earlier words had been.

“But he didn't believe me about the aliens,” she reminded him, momentarily tightening her hold on Jack's neck, linking her fingers together near his hair.

Jack noticed her move, the potential for a romantic interpretation loud in her action. But Jack wasn't fooling himself; there was nothing remotely romantic in Carter's overtures so far that day, and he refused to let himself believe that just because he had Carter in his arms for the first time ever, she was going to melt in romantic longing. Carter wasn't the melting kind.

“Not our problem,” Jack responded to her argument. “Besides, what are you doing defending him? I thought you were so fed up with him that...”

“I'm not defending him, Sir!” Carter's face swooped into a severe frown that said much more than she did.

“Then what's your point?” Jack softly inquired.

Carter momentarily halted her agitated movements in his arms in order to think, scowling heavily the entire time. “This is a lot to take in, that's all. If I were thrown into this, I'd feel a bit more disposed to believe all of it if everyone involved at least cut me a little slack.”

Jack sent her a dubious look. “And that's all this is, huh? No better feelings for him, or..?”

Sam's snort cut him off. “No! I was just thinking of him in a general sort of way. I really don't care if he understands all this, or if he jumps out the nearest airlock.” She suddenly grinned in his direction. “Why? You didn't think I would do something so insane as feel sorry for him, did you?”

Jack cocked his head in concession. “Well, I do know you, Carter. That's something you would do.” Then he hefted her more firmly in his arms once again. “But I don't want to talk about Pete Shanahan right now.”

They had reached the Asgard equivalent of an internal transportation device by this time, and Jack moved himself and Carter into the small space. Brief panic flared in him as he failed to find any destination buttons on the wall, but then remembered how advanced Asgard technology was, and without further thought, said, “Infirmary.” His command given to nothing but the air around them had an immediate effect. The doors closed with a swoosh, and Jack had to quickly brace himself as the small transporter rose a level, then skittered sideways. You'd think that a species as advanced as the Asgard would have transporters that out-teched the equivalent of an elevator.

Jack ignored the swaying of the lift to regard the woman in his arms with a wry look. “So, you wanna go first, or should I?”

Sam's dry amusement didn't abate. “There's really nothing to discuss, Jack. We can't even talk about any 'us'... you run and avoid, and I clam up. I don't see that rehashing any of this will do any good.”

“Stop,” he said to Carter just as the transporter halted - they had reached their destination. Jack carried Carter into the hallway, but paused on his trek to the Asgard Infirmary. “I can't run now without taking you with me, or dropping you on your butt, which I don't wanna do. Here's your chance to talk if you ever wanted to. So take it,” he lightly ordered, hoping to look as if he wasn't aware that a reaming was coming his way.

Sam mournfully sighed.

“That's not a good sound,” Jack suspiciously noted, hefting her again. “Don't think so hard. Just let me have it.” His glare emphasized his next words. “And you have to tell me what you honestly think. This won't work if we let the rank thing get in the way again.”

Sam's second sad sounding sigh split the air of the empty corridor. “Jack, I don't want to hurt your feelings, or...”

“We might as well be honest, like you said,” she lightly interrupted. “Though I don't think there's anything to talk about anymore.”

“That's where you're wrong,” Jack interjected. He'd never thought he would ever say to Carter that she was wrong, but he figured there was a first time for everything. “You did the moving on thing, and I guess I don't blame you for that.”

Sam's brows rose in surprise. “You guess?

Jack scowled, admitting, “Okay. Maybe you had good reason. Maybe you gave me the opportunities to open up to you when you and the guy were...” He gave a head bob to indicate the time she'd spent contemplating Pete's marriage proposal. “That time... and maybe you didn't give me the right openings then. Anyway,” and he forcefully cleared his throat before she could react to his assertion. “You might have predicted that when you gave me those openings, I would do the avoiding thing...” She looked as if she wanted to protest, but he stopped her. “Ah! What I'm saying,” he went on in a softer tone, “is that if you wanted me to say something at the time to stop you, you should have pushed me into a supply closet and told me.” He gave a confessional wince. “I'm a pretty dense guy. You need to lay it straight out for me.”

Protests were still on the tip of her tongue, but again he stopped her. “I know that it's not your way to speak out,” he asserted. “And there was the whole rank and regulation thing... and those are pretty important things to deal with. But my point is we each know how the other will react to that kind of emotional situation.”

A silent moment went by as a familiar haze fell over Carter's blue eyes. Jack recognized the expression immediately - she was thinking again. Before he could again remind her not to think so hard, she cautiously suggested, “Maybe we shouldn't let the other do that.” At least she was thinking about them - she wasn't just reacting any longer.

“I guess that... this talking thing... we've never really gotten into that, have we?”

Jack tilted his head in agreement. “Not really.”

“Maybe... I shouldn't have expected you to... do that talking thing.” She shrugged a shoulder. “Well, you're talking now... why don't you tell me what you were thinking... thinking then, I mean.”

Jack gave her an assessing gaze, and instead of telling her his thoughts about the whole Pete thing during the Pete thing, said, “I don't really need to tell you anything, do I? It wouldn't have taken you two weeks to accept his proposal if you didn't already know what I was thinking, and was trying to talk yourself into ignoring it.” He slowly moved forward again.

Carter gave a partial wince and a partial huff of frustration.

But before she was able to respond in any way to his comments, Jack reluctantly confessed, “And... maybe I shouldn't have avoided like I did.” His reluctance increased as his confession continued. “Maybe... I should have stayed to fight... without looking like I was fighting.” His reminder of having to deal with the regs while dealing with all that other Pete-mess was helpful in letting her know what he had been up against at the time. “But maybe... if I was ever going to stay and fight... for you, that is...” he uncomfortably added. “That was the time.” Jack looked chagrined as well as honest. “I'd already messed up once,” he said, referring to his marriage to Sara. “Why did I want to do that again?”

Sam sighed once more, but the tightening of her hands on his neck was a less antagonistic motion this time. “I guess you have a point. It is like me to just give up even though I know what you're likely to do. But if I had shoved you into a supply closet, then told off my CO, you would have just gotten mad and pulled rank, just because I'd made you uncomfortable if nothing else, and I would have been scrubbing toilets in Siberia before I could say 'naquedah.'” She shook her head. “It wasn't worth the risk, and I would have known that.”

“I would never transfer you to Siberia,” Jack asserted. “No matter what you did. Pulling rank... I might have done that,” he admitted, then gave her an inquisitive look. “But do you really think I would have done the Siberia thing?”

Sam considered. “I can see you pulling rank if I embarrassed you. And maybe you wouldn't have sent me to Siberia... but the scrubbing toilets thing...”

“Carter,” Jack broke in to warn. “I would never let my personal life direct professional orders like that.”

The look she sent him was more sarcastically wry than aggressive. “You expect me to believe that?”

Jack hedged. “Ok. I wouldn't do that when I had time to think better of it.”

“By then I'd have been on my way to Russia,” she told him. “Accepting Pete's proposal seemed better than the alternative.”

Jack's face momentarily darkened at this mention of the cop, but he pushed down the temper fit he instantly wanted to have in favor of saying, “Ok, you have a point this time.” He slowly resumed his trek towards the Infirmary. “I guess what I'm trying to say is you can't let me avoid and run like you know I'll do.”

She looked contrite. “And you can't let me clam up like you know I'll do.”

They had crossed where the fourth corridor intersected with the main hallway they were in, and he knew the Infirmary was only a few steps away. Jack slowed to a stop once again, right outside the door. “What do you say to us knowing that we both did what we did, we both could have handled things differently, and...”

“... should have handled things differently,” Carter ruefully amended.

Jack acknowledged her comment, but didn't stop speaking. “We should have known each other better... in fact, we did, if we had stopped long enough to realize that.” He scowled to show his discomfort with the direction his thoughts were drifting.

Seeing that he was quickly becoming lost in memories that were far from pleasant, to distract him Sam said, “We could have called the other one on what he or she was doing...”

“But we didn't.” Jack's voice was little more than a whispered sigh of regret at this point. This emotional discussing was hard for him to do, and these faults were difficult to admit to, but at least he was giving it his best shot. “Let's agree to disagree, and move on from there.”

Carter's brows slipped into her hairline. “Move on... from each other?” she asked in an incredulous voice.

“I was thinking more of with each other,” Jack said in that same soft voice. “That is, if you think you can stand it... me.” Then he grimaced. “Or want to.”

Sam's third sad sigh wasn't what Jack expected or wanted to hear. She silently glanced the way they had come, clearly thinking. Jack was about to tell her not to over think things again when she decisively replied, “I would like that.”

When she fell into silence once more, Jack's heart grew heavier and heavier as he prodded her, “I hear a 'but' in there.”

“But...” she dutifully said as she turned back to look at him, her eyes sad beyond anything he'd anticipated. “What happens if we argue sometime? You'll want to throw this mess in my face, and I'll want to...”

“Let's agree right now not to bring this up again, ever,” Jack quickly suggested, hearing her hesitance, but also hearing her hope.

Sam furrowed her brows. “Can we do that? It's too perfect a thing for you to not bring up sometime, or for me not to throw the idea of Pete at you, or...”

“Carter, don't.” Jack gave an audible groan. “Yes, it's a perfect point to argue with, to make the other feel like crap... and there will probably come a time when I want to do it, too, just to win an argument. But... The last thing I want to do, ever, is to hurt you. Using this engagement situation would be a pretty stupid strategic decision on my part.”

Sam slowly added, “I don't want to hurt you, either. I admit it would be a bad thing for me to to do, too, strategy notwithstanding.” She looked as if she didn't quite know what to do now that she seemed to be on the brink of agreeing with him.

Jack, fortunately, wasn't so restrained. “And I'll be the first to admit that I don't want to go back - not to the way things were; I don't want to become nothing more... more than professional colleagues again. I don't...” This was difficult, but Jack didn't see any alternative - if he resorted to letting her read his mind once again, there was always the danger that she miss every important point he wanted to make. “I don't want...” Dangerous didn't mean it wasn't hard as hell! “... don't want to feel like I need to use... humor and teasing... all the time... to cover up how I... I really feel.” Now that he was saying these words that he'd thought so many times, Jack found that the act of saying them was both easier and harder than he'd predicted. “I don't...” That didn't mean this wasn't as hard as hell! “... don't want to fret... over every look and... touch and... glance we might... share. I want... you know - the whole shot.”

Sam peered assessingly at him. It was again the most open, albeit halting, he had ever been with her, and she was so much more used to dealing with Jack on a closed off level.

At last, Sam lifted her bad leg. “What if this thing with my leg doesn't work out, and I'm the same Sam Carter that I am now?”

“Don't care,” Jack firmly stated.

Carter appeared surprised. “That was fast. Are you sure you don't want to think this over a bit first?” She was more than aware of how temperamental she could be now, even if he wasn't.

“Don't need to.” Jack's voice was still filled with firm intent. “And anyway, don't you need to do the same? When you look at this from the outside, we're both what they call 'damaged goods' - maybe you should take that into account.”

Sam didn't immediately deny or affirm his claim. She considered everything once more, just as she always carefully considered everything.

“You're thinking again,” Jack wryly told her. “Stop.” He let his forehead touch hers, and whispered, “I trust you, Sam. And you know how hard as it is for me to completely trust anybody.” Jack minutely tightened his arms around her, giving emphasis to his words, “Now trust me back.”

Sam wanted to let her thumb caress his cheek, but wasn't quite able to make the leap necessary to touch him like that just yet. But she was able to tell him an emphatic, “I do trust you... with my affections, I mean, not just with my life. I know I shouldn't, and I've tried to talk myself out of it, but I can't help it.” She smiled what tried to be a soft lazy expression, but came out as more of a grimace. “What if you regret this?”

“I hope you don't.” What had they just decided? Had they actually decided anything? He decided all by himself to try to push his chances. “Should we seal it with a kiss?”

Carter's eyes grew slightly cloudy. “Is that pushing things too fast?”

Jack's patient voice indicated his impatience with that idea. “Carter, if you think that I'm waiting one minute longer to kiss you after all this time...”

But the idea of a kiss, and the complete dream of them by extension, was cut short by the annoying sound of an Asgard clearing its throat.

Chapter 15

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