Disclaimer: Others own them, and I know that, so no infringement intended, and no money changed hands... Darn... a little money would be good right about now...

Trilogy: Part Two: Still a Chance?

by Linda Bindner

A/N: Sequel to I Knew.


Sam barreled into the SGC, still in her civilian clothes and not looking like she had time to change. The minute she exited the elevator she pounced on Walter standing in the corridor like he was a cool drink and she had been in the desert for a year. Is General O'Neill h..?

Walter shifted the folders he was carrying to his other hand, then interrupted her to say, He's in his office, without letting her finish her question.

Sam didn't pause on her half walk/half jog in search of the General. Thanks.

Walter watched her leap up the stairs to the Control Room, the closest route to the General's office. Finally his voice caught up with her as he yelled, Has something new happened? Is it the Replicators again?

No! Sam called back down to him, not wanting to panic him, but... Not Replicators, though it is really important. Then she disappeared before Walter could ask what her problem was about if it wasn't the Replicators. She slipped into the Control Room just as he yelled after her, Colonel Reynolds is in the General's office right n... But she was gone.

Walter shrugged. I tried to warn her, he mumbled, then turned back to the waiting elevator and disappeared.

Sam sprinted up the steps on the far side of the Control Room, and entered the Briefing Room. She instantly glanced towards the General's office, and noted that he was in some kind of a conference with Colonel Reynolds. She slowed, hesitating, but then decided that unless it was a matter of someone's life, she could interrupt them this one time.

So a minute later found Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter barreling through the General's Briefing Room door without knocking. She heard Reynolds saying, ... which is why the science teams want...

Reynolds stopped to look around at the interruption. He wondered who was rude enough... or brave enough... to barge into the General's inner sanctum without requesting permission first, and noted the person's identity with some surprise. Colonel... Then he must have realized that Sam looked like a windblown mess, standing before them in her civvies the way she was. Her mode of dress meant haste, and that meant that something had happened. Is there something the matter? he asked in alarm.

Sam gulped. Colonel Reynolds, she greeted. Her gaze flicked to the surprised face of Jack O'Neill, but she ignored him to return her gaze to Reynolds. Unless this is life and death... I have something important I need to speak to the General about.

Reynolds obligingly stood. Uh, he stuttered. Finally he managed to say, No, not life and death. Just a report... A mining report... He stopped, looked hesitant, then made a decision. I can come back later and finish.

Give me an hour, Sam instructed again without consulting the General first. She heard the loud huff of his exasperation at her usurpation of his schedule come from the direction of General O'Neill's desk chair, but continued to stare at Reynolds. I'll be gone by then and you can... She gestured between Reynolds and the General.

I'll just go, Reynolds said, and exited as graciously as he could under the circumstances. He closed the corridor door firmly behind him.

Sam had already closed the Briefing Room door, so the silence now descended on the two soldiers in the office like a fine dusting of snow. At last O'Neill dryly welcomed her. Carter.

General, Sam greeted back to him, her tone equally as dry.

The air inside the small room was charged, as if a current of electricity had accidentally permeated the walls. It made them both uncomfortable, but neither moved to put an end to the feeling. It was as if they were both frozen in place, unable or unwilling to change the aura that had descended on the room. Or perhaps it was because neither of them wanted to do anything about altering the situation now that it was upon them.

Whatever the reason, a minute of pregnant silence went by, then O'Neill shifted in his leather chair. Playing with my schedule like that... He continued to just stare at her as if he expected her to combust at any moment. You'll end up giving Walter a heart attack.

Sam hadn't moved either once she was inside his office, but now she leaned onto his desk top so that she could stare right into his eyes. She placed her hands on top of his papers, then leaned even closer, cutting the distance between them by half. I need to ask you something, she quietly stated, again without mincing words.

General O'Neill reared back a little in his chair, but unless he wanted to obviously avoid her, he couldn't help but let her close in on his personal space like she was. Carter, he cautioned. This isn't about your dad, is it?

Sam's brow furrowed. Dad? Though her father had died as recently as the week before, she wondered if the General was using her grief to cover up some of his own churning emotions. Her voice was surprised into a squeaky quiet. No. Why?

He looked her over, and his gaze seemed to stick on a particular part of her anatomy. And you're not wearing your ring, he announced.

A hint of a smile flitted across Sam's face. He noticed! she immediately thought. No, she answered. I gave it back.

That brought O'Neill to a stop before he could say anything more. His eyes twinkled with sudden glee, but he carefully modulated his voice into the same smooth tone he'd used since she entered his office. He slowly asked, Why?

Sam sighed, as she could only stare back at him. While she stared, she rapidly thought through her options. She could lie, She could go on with the pretense that they had begun years ago - that there was nothing more than professionalism between them. Or she could tell him the truth, for once in her life.

Sam internally grimaced as her thoughts whirled. She mused that pretending sure hadn't worked for them. It was the reason behind the mess they were in right now.

And lying was not an option, not really, not if she wanted to remain the fine officer that she was considered to be.

Ironic, she thought then. If I uphold my oath as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force, I have to break other Air Force regulations. She gazed at him in an unblinking stare as she continued to think.

At last he prompted, Carter?

Sam didn't hesitate, though her heart was thudding in her throat. I can't marry Pete while I'm really in love with someone else, can I? Sir? she added for good measure.

Her words brought everything going on in the office to a screeching halt, including his breathing. That breathing of his started up again only after a painful sounding gurgle of... hope? Fear? Hopeful fear? It was as if she had announced her intention to dive off a cliff while naked. Completely surprised and utterly undone, Jack O'Neill made that strangling sound in his throat again before an expression of total amazement crossed his face. He was so stunned that he didn't even bother to cover up his look again, now completely out of control of his faculties for probably the first time in his entire life. Not much surprised him like this at this late point in his career. Looking astonished at what she had said, he asked, Care to explain that in a little more detail, Colonel?

Sam was pretty certain that he had used her rank as a way to stave off what she planned to say next. But it actually staved off nothing. As long as we don't do anything right now, Sir, the fact that your security camera is recording every move we make won't make a difference in the end. I'll still say what I need to say. No one will be the wiser.

Jack stared at her in amazement. Uh... Here? he asked in quiet astonishment. At the SGC? She nodded her head, but abstained from adding anything to the bomb she had just dropped. Is that wise? he asked at last in a voice that sounded strained, wrung out, and mutilated.

Sam considered her announcement from his point of view. Probably not, she admitted at last.

Next O'Neill's gaze turned suspicious. Are you sure you haven't bumped your head on something? He knew her propensity for finding concussions before they found her. She shook her head. So he queried, Have you been taken over by an alien? Again she shook her head. His eyes settled then on her hands spread out in front of him. Do you have some weird mind altering fungus growing under your nails?

Sam laughed, but didn't respond to his final question, not even to shake her head. She only blurted, I'm going to pester you till the ends of your days if you don't tell me. Even if you avoid this like you avoid the plague... Do you still care about me?

For a second time that day, the expression was wiped clean away in O'Neill's eyes from his utter shock. Uh...

Sam sighed loudly into the room. Do you..? she was repeating when he cut her off.

Jack squirmed in his leather chair as he again said, Don't you think that we shouldn't be discussing that here, at the SGC?

Sam straightened, then crossed her arms on her chest in a purposefully defensive posture. You're just trying to avoid this subject, she accused. Like you always do.

I do not! Jack argued, sounding slightly incensed now.

But Sam wasn't buying any of it. She went on, You'll pretend that I never asked anything of you so that you don't have to answer. I know you, she accused on a regretful sigh. Stop, running, Jack, she advised, not even noticing that she had called him by his more familiar first name. Then she repeated her original question. Do you still care about me?

Jack ran the events of the last few days in his head - there was no recent account of strange things occurring to Colonel Carter that would make her want the answer to this particular question, at least, not now, not here. But that didn't mean that she wasn't asking. After a moment of thought, Jack opened his mouth to reply, but she amended her question before he could answer.

And no, I don't mean like you 'care' for all of us on SG-1. I mean 'care' as in 'do you feel something more?' She thought to add, For me? in a quiet voice.

'Something more?' he dumbly repeated.

Sam leaned onto his desk again, looking confrontational, and meaning to. She said, Feelings, Jack. Do you have any feelings left for me at all, or have I stupidly killed anything you ever might have felt?

Jack could only stare at her with a mask of denseness clouding his eyes. At last, that fog began to clear, and he slowly stated, You could never be stupid, Sam.

She noticed how he didn't respond to her actual question, but sort of worked around the topic of her inquiry. At least he called me 'Sam,' she thought. That's not what I asked, she said aloud. Then she grinned. Though hearing that you don't think I'm an idiot is nice to hear, I admit.

Jack's own sigh spilled into the room. I still don't think this is the right place for this conversation, and that it's definitely not the right time...

Those are excuses again, Jack. Sam curled her fingers into his papers, she was so focused. I know my dad just died, and I know that we're both dealing with our grief over that, and that we're still dealing with Janet dying, and that, heck, I don't know about you, but I find the fact that Daniel's missing again is almost to be expected...

I miss him, too, Jack instantly divulged. But he continued to stare at her in the same blank way.

The silence between them stretched to last a minute, then five minutes. At last Jack slowly announced, However, Daniel isn't the reason you barged into my office, then rearranged my schedule without asking me first.

No, Sam quickly told him. She was beginning to get frustrated that he wouldn't answer her question, but she endeavored not to show her emotions on her face. I want to know... Have to hear it... What do you feel?

His sigh once more filtered through the office. Sam, this will do nothing but get us both court-martialed. Is that what you want?

He was still avoiding, giving her anything except what she was asking for.

Sam lost it then. She exploded out, Dammit, Jack, either you turn that stupid camera off so that you feel comfortable enough to finally answer me, or I knock it off your ceiling so that I look like I've gone crazy! She considered what she had said in conjunction with his surprised face. In a calmer tone, she added, Maybe I already have. Maybe this is what you've driven me to do.

That statement caught his attention! Jack gazed at her, but now his gaze was fierce and intent. Another heart-stopping moment went by where she could hear his breathing mixed with her own. Then, without a word, he flipped a button under his desk. You have about five minutes before someone calls to see if I'm all right...

Sam didn't waste any time. She knew that she had to say something about her feelings for him now. She may never get another opportunity to speak her mind. Then she would always wonder, not knowing for certain what might or might not have happened between them. She didn't think she could live with that idea any longer. I love you, she blurted while her heart squeezed in terror inside her chest. And I have since early after meeting you, she went on to admit. Her breath was stifled in her throat, and she tried to ignore the tight sensation enough to go on. But I figure that you sort of guessed that. What I want to know is...

Sam! Jack bolted up from his chair. What are you saying?

Sam reared back and again crossed her arms on her chest in order to cover the obvious pounding of her heart. It was jumping so much that her sweater was jiggling with every beat! I should think that's rather obvious, she stated in a wry voice.

Jack gaped. You've never spoken like this before...

Yeah? Well 'before' not saying anything... not knowing for sure... It was good enough, but now it's not. I'm sick and tired of not knowing.

Jack cut her off to quickly whisper a question of his own. Are you saying that this might be my one and only chance? he suddenly asked, staring at her with his piercing brown eyes.

Sam stared at him, trying to gauge what he was truly asking with his question. There won't be another Pete, if that's what you want to know, she finally promised. But I can't say for you if there will ever be another Kerry...

There won't, Jack instantly pledged. Is that what you're looking for?

No, Sam firmly, decisively said. Now that she was started with speaking, it got easier and easier for her the more she said. That's not enough for me anymore. It leaves too much open to interpretation. I want to know, now, or...

The black phone on Jack's desk rang, stopping her and her confession as surely as if she had walked into a wall. It was the SGC phone that had done the interrupting. It was an internal call. And it was typical of their infinite rotten timing,

But Jack didn't even reach for the phone. Instead, he leaned in close to Carter's form, as close as he could get without falling over his desk, and in a low, intense voice, stated, I was an idiot once before, because I thought it was what you needed, to be away from me, and I've been so unhappy ever since that night with the ring in your lab... He didn't finish his sentence, only once more stared at her out of suddenly anguished eyes. Yes, I love you, he stated in as dry a tone as he had ever used with her. His voice sounded so tight, it was as if he might break in two. If he wasn't dry, his emotions would instantly take control of him and he would careen away faster than he could handle.

After a gasped breath of air, he went on in the same tone, I was attracted to you right from the start. And I was in deeper a year later. Once started, he too could not stop his flow of words for anything except the destruction of the world. A constantly ringing phone hardly even seemed worthy of notice. And I was in too deep to get out a year after that. But you seemed to want to put it away, keep a lid on it, and I...

Sam shook her head. I know I wanted that, said I wanted that. Sam took a calming breath, though the air did nothing to stop her racing pulse. That was wrong of me, and you should have hit me upside the head for saying something so dumb.

Jack smiled a tiny smile. I would love to see you flatten me if I ever 'hit you upside the head.'

Sam snorted. Kiss me, then I'll flatten you, she told him without thinking about what she was suggesting. The time for thought had disappeared.

Jack didn't miss a beat for him to reply, which was unusual for him. Skirting a subject was much more like him, she knew, but now even he seemed to be infected with the impetus that had brought her here to confront him. He sounded brave, and defiant, and eminently terrified as he said, You bet I will. Tonight, 1700 hours, to be exact. I'll meet you at your house, since you're still on leave.

Sam tried not to think about what she was agreeing to... their planned breaking of the regulations... Sure thing, she responded. Bring pizza for dinner, and I'll be there.

Okay.

There... That had been easy. Far easier than she had ever thought it would be. Sam cleared her throat. Now please answer that damn phone before someone in the Security office wets their pants, she entreated.

Jack grinned at her outrageous prediction, but his hand shot out to the phone. He picked up the receiver, but never took his eyes off her. O'Neill... And before you ask, Airman, I'm fine. Colonel Carter's fine. She just had something to talk over with me that she didn't want a record of. Then he grimaced. Yes... As you say... Jacob dying last week... and all... He let his voice trail off. Yeah, I'll turn it on just as soon as Colonel Carter leaves.

I'm leaving now, Sam promised, but Jack's free hand shot out to lightly grab her wrist, keeping her in his office for another moment. Sam paused as Jack talked.

Give us another moment or two before you panic, Jack ordered. Yep, will do, he promised, then hung up.

Sam's forehead was furrowed once again. Jack? Is something wrong?

Nope, Jack said as he leaned an inch closer to her. Things are fine. He smirked. More than fine. His gaze flicked to the Briefing Room, which was empty, then landed back on her. In a move that was wholly unexpected, even to her in the unprecedented mood she was in, he surprisingly kissed her smoothly on the cheek. More on delivery, he whispered in her ear.

Sam abruptly grinned widely back at him. I'll be waiting on my front steps, she said. Impatiently, she added for good measure.

I'll be there, Jack said.

No running! Sam immediately stipulated.

No running, he promised. Not this time.

Good, Sam said, then kissed him on his cheek, not caring if someone saw her make that action. She knew that anyone standing in the Briefing Room would have to be a contortionist to see what she was doing. I'd find out where you were hiding, anyway, then come after you, she whispered to him, then kissed his cheek again.

Jack smiled back at her. Good, he said.

And it was.

Sequel: Trilogy: Part Three: 1700 Hours


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