Disclaimer:

Though great, these characters are only on loan.

Poor me, the show isn't something I own.

This story is for fun, so whatever you do,

Keep that in mind, and please don't sue.

Excuses

by Linda Bindner

There was little sound but the clacking of typing on keyboards in the SGC Control Room personnel hurried to finish their work as the end of the day at the end of a very busy week neared.

Then, suddenly, a female call rang out through the room. Colonel Carter, you've got to take a look at this!

Sam Carter swiveled on her chair to regard Lieutenant Colby sitting at another computer station in the small room. What are you doing now? she asked, a tiny amount of amusement in her tone. You know, I have real work to do, like this 'Gate diagnostic that...

I know, Colby patiently said. But, truly, I have something to show you this time.

With an amused roll of her eyes, Sam scooted over on her chair to Colby's computer. All right, Lieutenant, she sardonically said, What have you got for me?

Colby shrugged, then continued in a hushed voice, so that Carter was the only person likely to hear. Well, I was just wasting time, you know, it being Friday and near time to head home, with no time to start something new, really, so I was just seeing if I could work my way into the FBI computer network from here, you know, for fun...

That's not exactly a compliance with regulation, Lieutenant, Carter reminded with another roll of her eyes. However, she also had to concede to herself that it was highly useful to have another computer geek on board at the SGC who knew how to navigate the governmental computer system. It wasn't anything she hadn't done herself, though she had always been more discrete about her activities.

Colby at least had the decency to blush as she quietly said, I know, Ma'am, and I wouldn't announce this to just anyone... But, you really need to take a look here. She pointed to her monitor screen with an index finger for the Colonel to focus on.

Sam gave another half sarcastic, half amused roll of her eyes, then did as she was bid. Then, she looked again. After pausing for a second in shock, she looked a third time.

The file she was peering at was perfectly labeled at the top of the screen: 'Background Checks - August - December, 2004.' And there, in bright bold letters, stood her name.

How can that be? Sam mumbled. Who could possibly have done a background check on me?

Colby's hands immediately started to fly over the keyboard, as she was the closest to the computer. Let me see if I can pull up the entire file so that we can get the name of the person who requested it.

There was a silent moment while Colby concentrated on the computer, and Carter entertained thoughts of sinister people such as rogue NID operatives who might need to delve into her background a bit. At last, Colby muttered, That's got it, I think!

Colby clicked her mouse, and suddenly the screen changed so that they were only seeing the Colonel's name, instead of her name among a list of twenty others.

Colby grunted. There it is... oh.

In larger print than before was the name 'Samantha Renee Carter, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF, August fifteenth,' and right at the end, under a field titled 'Requested by' were the names 'David Farrity, FBI, C/O Detective Pete Shanahan, Denver, Colorado' beside it.

The blood drained right out of Sam's face, and the numbness of horror mixed with humiliation set in. Her eyes grew wide, her face grew white, and then the anger she was feeling sifted like daggers through her eyes. She had known about Pete's 'stalking' her to Daniel's house during the Osiris Operation, of course, and had laughed the incident off, even though his being there had caused a near fatal accident. His 'chance' appearance in a place he most definitely shouldn't have been had been highly inconvenient for her as well as for SG-1. But she'd never had any idea that the detective had ordered a background check on her only a few days before the operation. Her anger settled even further into her mind.

Colonel Carter... Ma'am? Colby inquired worriedly as she watched Sam's face grow pale. Um... Are you all right?

But Sam was no longer listening to her. In fact, Colby's voice had receded so far into the background that Sam didn't hear it any more at all. She stared at the computer screen, and tried to remember to force herself to breath. But she kept reading the entry over and over again, zeroing in on the date of August fifteenth... That was the day after... Pete must have made his request that very morning, right after he'd left her house to... The file gave a time of 6:30 A.M....

Suddenly, Sam stood up so fast that her chair rolled backwards and hit a computer bank full of blinking lights. The large bank of computers beeped in distress, but Sam ignored this new sound, which illustrated her heightened sense of focus on the governmental file that her friend had discovered. She walked woodenly over to the public phone hanging on the wall, pushed the number four to get an outside line, then hit a several buttons with rapid punches of her finger. A moment went by before someone answered.

Shanahan here.

Sam didn't greet him in any other way than to demand, Are you already in Colorado Springs?

Yeah, he answered obliviously. I'm here for our night on the town... Why..? He eagerly inquired, You got a surprise for me or something?

Sam bit down on her ever-increasing anger... He had some nerve to be thinking about presents when she was angry enough to nail his backside to a nearby wall! she thought. But she still replied in a terse tone that those in the Command Center hadn't heard her use ever before. Oh, you bet I've got something for you. I'm still at work... Get your butt over to the base... You have fifteen minutes. She slammed the phone down with a bang, and stared at it, her heart pounding fury through her veins. At last, she whirled to stomp down the stairs and head for her lab, where she always kept her engagement ring while she was at work, and where she could retrieve it now.

It was just at that time that General O'Neill bounded down the other set of stairs that led to his office. He caught sight of a livid, red-faced Colonel Carter disappearing down the opposite staircase, and his eyes clouded over with his confusion. What's up with Carter? he asked as he slowly set the files he'd been carrying onto a conveniently free desk. He turned to the computers, and noticed that a 'Gate diagnostic was still running on the terminal that Sam typically used. But she had left the diagnostic running without her... That wasn't like Sam at all. Alarmed, Jack then turned towards the others in the room, waiting for an explanation.

Um.., Colby hesitantly said in order to catch the General's attention. He looked in her direction, still clearly confused. I think it's my fault, Sir.

Your fault? Jack echoed. I don't quite understand...

Here's what she left her 'Gate diagnostic to look at, Colby said, and pointed.

Jack crossed to Colby's computer station, and leaned over her shoulder so he could see her computer monitor, just as he had done countless times with Colonel Carter. He carefully read what the Lieutenant was indicating with her finger.

Oh... Crap, Jack said under his breath.

The Lieutenant told him what Carter had said over the phone, then apologized. I'm sorry about wasting time with playing around in the governmental computer system, Sir... It won't happen again, Colby contritely said, but Jack wasn't listening to her.

Instead, the General grabbed the receiver for the nearest internal phone, and dialed Daniel's extension. Daniel? he asked.

Yeah? Daniel replied, recognizing the voice as belonging to his friend. Look, Jack, I don't suppose you can call back in a few minutes, or...

But he got no further in requesting that Jack hold off on asking his question, because Jack barked, Carter... Emergency... Grab Teal'c... Then he demanded of the personnel in the Control Room, Did she head for her lab? At their universal nod that she had gone in the direction of her lab, he turned his attention to the phone again. Meet me at her lab, ASAP! Then, without giving Daniel a chance to reply, he set the receiver back into it's cradle, and hurried in Sam's wake.

Honestly, Jack had never seen Sam as angry as she had been while stomping down the Control Room stairs just now. In even the small sample of her features that he'd seen, the resulting red of her anger left him a bit worried as to what she would do. Would she hurt herself? Would she hurt herself while kicking somebody else's butt? Like Pete's, perhaps? He also kept in mind her phone conversation with Shanahan from only a few moments prior. Now fully anxiety-ridden, he hurried after her.

He chose to climb the exit stairs to the floor where Sam's lab was located instead of taking the slower elevator. He hurried down the corridor, dodging Air Force personnel in his way, and arrived at the door to her lab in the shortest time possible.

Jack glanced into the room, found the light on, a table drawer gaping wide open, but no Carter. Damn, he had missed her.

It was then that Daniel skidded to a stop in the lab doorway, Teal'c right behind him. Jack! Daniel yelped as he almost crashed into Jack's still form standing just inside the lab. Got here as soon as we could... What's going on?

Jack started grimly back down the corridor. I'll tell you in the elevator on the way to the surface.

The surface? Daniel repeated, his own bewilderment growing with his every word.

I think that's where she's gone... To meet him... Pete.., Jack clarified at Daniel's confused expression. He went on, I'm afraid she'll do something that she'll regret later, like kill him, or something. Jack led the way down the corridor at a run until they reached the elevator, where he swiped his card, then pressed the correct button, but still had to wait for a car to arrive.

Kill him?!? Daniel repeated what his friend had said, his voice cracking on his sense of bemusement. Why would she do that? he asked.

Because he ordered a background check of her last year. Jack punched the elevator button a second time; It seemed to be a slow elevator that day...

He did? Daniel seemed to be surprised, and simultaneously not surprised at all, which was disturbing.

Yeah, Jack continued to mutter under his breath. I always knew that I didn't quite trust that guy.

But Daniel was going on. You say that Sam went somewhere? he asked.

Is there some trouble that ColonelCarter is having? Teal'c next inquired in his patently bland, unhurried tone.

I think so, yeah, Jack replied as the elevator door finally opened. He flung himself into the car, and pushed the button for the top floor that this elevator would take him to. Shanahan had that background check performed on her just last August, you know, before the Osiris thing, and...

A background check? Daniel repeated again, blurted his words to show his bemusement, interrupting. But, why would he do something like that, for Heaven's sake?

No idea, Jack said. But when she found out about it, she got so angry... I'm afraid she might hurt... Finally, he turned to face his friends. Look, maybe this is dumb, but I'd rather be dumb now than feel stupid later for not trying to stop her when I had the chance.

Teal'c was the first to respond. Understood, O'Neill. Then, he leaned back against the railing of the elevator, looking unconcerned, but taut and ready to act should the time come.

The three jumped out of the car the minute the doors opened, and ran around to the second elevator that led to the surface. They bolted out of that car, as well, to be met by cold air and rows and rows of vehicles parked sedately in the parking lot.

Jack scanned the lot. Do you see her? he asked.

There, Teal'c said, then pointed towards the front of the lot, where Sam was standing near a car stopped at the lot's entrance. It appears that Mr. Shanahan has already arrived.

Crap! Jack muttered again, not really caring that it was a word hardly considered to be General material. He cautiously started forward, then silently indicated that he wanted the other two men to fan out in a semicircle behind Carter and her 'guest,' thus boxing her and him in, putting them in a good position to move in quickly if they had to stop her from doing anything to her fianc‚ that she might later regret.

Pete Shanahan was, indeed, present, as Teal'c had reported. He stood in front of his SUV, confronting what was a very angry Air Force officer. She was so angry by then that she was vibrating, though she did her best to contain her emotions, and to be civil. You performed a background check on me, didn't you? she demanded to know of Pete.

First, he tried to explain, Look, Sam, that was so long...

She cut him off. I don't care when it was... That's an invasion of privacy, Pete, and totally taking advantage of the contacts you have as a police officer! Not to mention the little issue of not trusting me to begin with!

Sam.., Pete tried again.

But Sam was too angry to listen to him. I don't want to hear it! she yelled. Then she thrust out her hand, holding what was a diamond ring glittering in the last rays of the afternoon's sun. Here! I don't want your damned ring if you don't trust me enough to go with it in the first place! She grabbed for his hand, pulled it wide, then slapped Pete's ring into his waiting palm.

Pete was starting to get desperate, as plainly showed in the pleading expression on his face. He hurried to say, Sam, you can't... Wait, and I'll explain!

Oh, buddy, you've already had your chance to do some explaining! Sam growled, then was about to turn when Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c slowly approached them from behind.

What are they doing here? Pete demanded to know in an icy tone of voice as he caught sight of her friends.

Jack quickly answered as diplomatically as he could, in order to sound more at ease, more mature, more... Well, just older, friendlier, and more with it... He said, We're just here to make sure no one gets hurt, that's all.

Pete interrupted, You expect me to believe that? he barked incredulously. It's always been me against you guys, and let me tell you, I'm getting sick of..!

That was when Sam's hand curled into a hard fist, and she let loose a punch that stayed close to her body for maximum effect, and landed somewhere near his left cheekbone. Jesus! Pete exclaimed as he tottered in the direction of his parked vehicle.

Carter! Jack yelled, stepping forward so that she would be sure to see him out of the corner of her eye, but deciding that it would be judicious of him not to touch her in her anger. But he still allowed himself to yell an order. Stand down!

Sam couldn't ignore the tone of that militaristic voice, a voice that she had been responding to for years, and let her fist uncurl, but vocally exploded, I wasn't aiming for your nose, Pete, so make no mistake that I missed! Don't you dare say anything nasty about my team that... She heaved in a deep breath, visibly trying to calm down, then simply hollered, Get out, while you still can, before I do something we'll both regret!

Pete began entreating, Sam, will you just..?

But it was Jack who quietly interrupted him this time. I'd do as she asks, if I were you. She can do plenty of damage... I've seen her do it before...

Pete stared at Sam, who was trembling in her anger, at Jack, who stood protectively with his arms out, and at Daniel and Teal'c, who were poised behind Sam, ready to jump into action if they had to. Outnumbered, and angry himself, he acquiesced, and after shoving his reclaimed engagement ring into his right jeans pocket, climbed back into his SUV without uttering another word. He slammed his SUV into reverse, swung it around, then headed at a higher speed than normal back towards the first checkpoint leading into or out of the military complex.

Sam drew in a deep, ragged breath as he drove away, watching him go. She tried to gain control of her anger, and partially succeeded. What a relief, she said as he disappeared around a corner onto the main road heading into town. But Jack didn't know if she meant that it was a relief to her to finally be free of the suspicious Pete, or if she meant that she was relieved that she hadn't hurt him any worse than she already had before he'd had the chance to leave.

Either way, Jack figured that he needed to take charge of the situation before Carter managed to hurt anybody else. He was about to say something to defuse them all when Daniel beat him to speaking.

Sam, are you all right? Daniel asked, stepping closer to her now that the crisis was clearly at an end.

Couldn't be better, Sam quipped in a brittle voice, and turned to face them. Thanks, guys, for being ready to stop me from doing something stupid.

Teal'c responded, It is our honor to come to your aid when we can, ColonelCarter.

Jack warily kept his eyes on the exit of the parking lot, just in case Shanahan chose to return. But after a minute of quiet, he gestured towards the underground bunker. Come on, let's get back inside before we freeze to death out here.

As one, they all turned to the entrance to the underground complex, and started for it. Suddenly, a much calmer, apologetic Sam stuffed her hands in her trouser pockets and, head hanging low now that her anger was dissipating, repeated, I mean it... Thanks a lot, guys.

No problem, Jack answered, speaking for all of them. Any time...

God, I feel so stupid! Sam then exclaimed as they entered the base, and headed for the elevator.

Don't feel too bad, Jack said as the doors opened to an empty car. I thought you showed great restraint out there.

Really? Sam wanted to know.

Sure, Jack said. He shrugged. If it had been me, I would have broken his nose. You were being awfully nice to him.

Suddenly, a splutter of laughter carved through the tension of 'after a crisis,' and Daniel had to lean against the back of the car. Only you, Jack, only you, he said with a shake of his head, then was joined by more laughter from his friends as they continued on their journey down to the SGC.

* * *

It was so near the time to head home for the weekend that the four decided to call it a day right then and there. Whatever they had been doing could wait until Monday morning, they agreed. Daniel and Teal'c drifted away down the corridor to grab some dinner out, and Carter and Jack paused in front of her lab.

Well, good night, Sir, and thanks again, Carter was saying as she turned towards the door to her lab.

But Jack wasn't eased by her placid demeanor and calm words; He could tell that she was still angry. The trembles that kept running up and down her body were a hint. Jack's hand reached out for her arm before he could stop himself from making such an action that was sure to bring her into contact with him. He cleared his throat, then said, I'm not letting you drive home when you're in this kind of a state, Carter. I'll drive you home.

No, really, Sam instantly said, stubborn in spite of her own good sense. I can...

Ah! And Jack held up one finger to stop her protests. No argument! he told her.

Sam sighed, then admitted. Well, I can't say that I particularly want to be alone right now, anyway. She shrugged then. I might get angry again... well, angrier, she admitted, then went on, ... and punch a hole in the wall or something. She ended with an attempt at humor.

Jack grinned... he couldn't help himself... then gestured down the corridor with his thumb. It was just beginning to enter his brain for good that Carter's engagement to Shanahan had ended, and she was free once again. Do you need to change into civvies..? he said instead as he continued to process her new freedom. At Sam's nod, he told her, I came to work in BDUs this morning... I'll just get my coat while you change...

Sam started towards the locker room, and Jack headed back to his office, grabbing the files he'd laid aside earlier in the Control Room, then going on up the stairs. He noticed with some satisfaction that Lieutenant Colby had wiped away the data on hers and Colonel Carter's computer screens before leaving for the day, then continued on to his office, where he placed the files on his desk, grabbed his coat, ordered Carter's favorite Chinese meal for supper, then locked the doors, and headed back down to the locker room. He was waiting, leaning patiently against the wall, when Sam emerged, dressed in the hottest pair of jeans and shirt he thought he'd ever seen on her.

Jack swallowed hard, and tried to ignore how Carter looked by sending her a reassuring smile, and said, Let's go, if you're ready..?

Sam nodded. I just need to lock my lab...

They stopped at her lab so she could turn off the light and lock the door, then they were off, heading to Sam's house in Jack's truck. He tried to behave normally, but he couldn't help the fact that he was more aware of her on a feminine level than he had been for months. He told himself that his emotions were a natural reaction to the fact that he knew she had just broken off her engagement, but he was still plenty aware of the outfit she was wearing, and how she filled the jeans and shirt out.

They arrived a minute before the Chinese food was delivered. Jack responded to the knock on her door, and answered it with the comment, I thought to order some dinner for you... He paid the delivery girl, then lowered the food to Sam's coffee table in her living room.

Sam eyed the full bag resting on her table. There seems to be plenty for two... Want to stay for supper?

That beat eating a meal alone in an empty house any day, Jack reasoned. But he still wanted to play it cool. He shrugged. Sure, he said, and took off his coat to hang it up near her door just as Sam returned from her kitchen with two glasses of water and two sets of chopsticks. I thought that Chinese food is so salty, water would go better with it. Besides, Carter said with a smile and a blush, I don't have any more beer... Pete must have drunk it all, and I never got around to buying more...

Water sounds perfect, Jack declared, then grabbed a set of the chopsticks and pulled several boxes from the bag still on her coffee table. He opened the food boxes, then sat back on her couch in a semblance of relaxation, but was far from completely at ease, he admitted to himself.

Jack and Sam shared the food, handing the boxes to the other without having to be asked to do so after only a few moments. Sam absently took the container holding Vegetable Lo Mein from him, swapping it for the box that contained Chicken In Peanut Sauce that she had been munching. This is fun, she commented, then, and grinned at him, her anger finally draining completely away in the relaxed atmosphere. It's been too long since we've done this.

Well, Jack said, still trying to act like it didn't really matter to him when it actually did matter, quite a bit. You've been rather busy lately, he went on to say, excusing her past behavior.

Have I been that bad? Sam asked quietly, peering down at the floor.

Jack choked on the food still in his mouth. No! he exclaimed, not wanting Carter to feel uncertain about any of her recent actions towards her team mates. Not at all! he lied. It's just that you've been sort of... preoccupied... lately.

Jack saw Sam wince. I have been neglectful, then, she noted. I can tell by what you're not saying...

Jack lowered the box in his hands. Carter, you were otherwise... He didn't want to use the word 'engaged,' though that's what came immediately to mind. ... otherwise... busy, he finally ended. You've been busy, as you should have been. There's no reason to feel badly about it, he said with a note of support in his voice that he was proud of.

Sam hesitated then, her chopsticks stilled in the box of food she was holding. At last, she turned to him, and requested, Can I ask you something, sort of off the record?

Off the record? Jack tried to swallow against the lump that suddenly rose in his throat. Um... Sure, he said, anyway, no matter how he was feeling at the moment. But his heart raced away in his chest. What is it?

Sam set the Chinese food aside. Off the record, she ascertained.

Jack nodded. Go ahead; say what you need to say, he invited. The Air Force will never hear a word about it from me, he continued to promise.

Sam gave a duck of her head, then glanced at him sitting beside her on her couch. Did I... hurt... you with this engagement? she asked in a small voice.

Jack's heart beat in double time, if that was possible. That question not-so-subtly brought up the forbidden subject of their feelings for each other... or, at least, his for her... and Jack didn't quite know what to say to her. Um.., he ineffectually hummed. He had thought that she was over anything she had previously felt for him, but apparently not. Or, at least, she was aware of his feelings for her if nothing else.

Sam went on, I know that even asking about how you feel goes against Regulations and everything... Then, she sighed, the sound heavy in the quiet room. Jack, just be honest with me...

She'd called him 'Jack,' he noted, amazed. Her personal touch was almost his undoing.

But she went on and shook her head. I must be tired to even be asking you this...

But before she could ask anything more, Jack interrupted. No, I can't say that I'm at all physically hurt by any move you've made in the past, or one you'll make in the future. He knew he was being purposefully dense, but he didn't know what else to say.

Sam smiled a tiny grin at his answer, then clarified, No, I mean, were you hurt emotionally?

Jack paused again, chewing his food slowly and thoroughly to give him the necessary time to think of a reply. Finally, he decided that all he could do was dodge the question. I don't know if it makes any difference one way or another... I'm still your Commanding Officer, and the Air Force is very clear about emotional regard for somebody in a direct chain of command situation. Coward! he thought to himself.

Carter's tiny smile came again. This is off the record, she reminded him. I'm not talking about you as an Air Force officer, but as a person... as who you are.

Damn. She had just totally ruined his chance to avoid answering her at all. However, he tried again. Sam, he gently said, specifically using her first name to add weight to his reply. It shouldn't matter to me what you decide to do in your own life; it's your life. Whether or not you hurt a few people along the way... physically or mentally.., he said as an aside, and she giggled slightly, ... it's their problem, really, not yours.

Jack, Sam answered very firmly, but glancing at the coffee table instead of at him. That's the biggest load of B.S. you've ever given to me, pardon the impolite sounding terms, Sir.

Jack winced. Double damn. He couldn't fool her, no matter how nice and forgiving he was trying to sound. He sighed, then, caught. Okay, he said at last. Do you want to hear the truth?

Mutely, Sam nodded, simply waiting for him to speak.

Jack sighed again. You know that I'm not very good with all this emotion stuff...

I punched a guy in the face today because I've been busy lying to myself for months, she reminded. Like me, you need to stop hiding and lying to yourself. Then she grinned at him beside her on the couch. Before you hit someone, too, she added, her grin growing wider as she spoke. I know you... You can do a lot more damage with one punch than I can.

Jack smiled at her words, but his smile was much more grim than hers from a second before had been. If I'm hiding and lying to myself, it's in self defense, he told her.

She wrinkled her nose. Self defense?

Jack shrugged. Well, self defense wasn't exactly a choice, really, he said then. She still looked confused. All right. He dropped his food box beside hers on the coffee table, then ran a hand through his hair in nervous defeat. Here's the way it was... is... whatever. He explained, You asked if your engagement hurt me somehow... He shifted on her couch, hanging his head, staring at the floor. Yeah, he finally admitted. It did hurt, if you want to know the truth, but that wasn't your fault, so don't start blaming yourself, or feeling bad about it, or anything. He sighed once more. The way I felt was not the way I was supposed to be feeling about a subordinate anyway. I knew that...

Jack, she said, but he interjected.

Don't apologize or say anything, he cautioned. This isn't a way meant for me to garner your pity.

Sam's eyes widened when she heard that. This isn't about pity, she instantly said. It never was.

Jack looked up at her. What's it about, then?

Sam was silent for a moment while she thought about what to say. If I did cause you any distress, she said at last, I'm sorry for that. It wasn't my intention at all.

I know that, Jack insisted.

But I thought...

What? he prompted.

It was Sam's turn to sigh this time. I thought that you didn't care about me anymore. She looked at him and protested, You didn't stop me from agreeing to Pete's proposal! I thought that you wanted me to...

Sam, Jack halted her again. Gently, he went on, I couldn't stop you, not if I was complying with Air Force Regulations at the same time. It always had to be your decision. I couldn't influence you one way or the other, no matter what I personally wanted. He shook his head. It didn't mean that I didn't care, or... His voice trailed off as they studied each other.

They were silent for a moment while Sam thought over what Jack had said. Finally, she shook her head in a semblance of disbelief. We're caught between a rock and a hard place... We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't...

Don't go getting all philosophical on me, Jack warned. You need to keep everything simple. He grimaced a smile, then. I'm a simple guy, really, ya know... I'm not that complicated.

Sam gave a start, a jerk of her entire body beside him on the couch.

Jack was instantly concerned. What is it? he inquired. Was it something I said? When she didn't answer, he told her, I'm not complicated, as in 'not that complex.' Does that help?

Sam stared at him, meeting his gaze for the first time in months... years. When... when.., she stuttered, and had to regain control over her thoughts again before she could go on and explain, When I was on board the Prometheus all by myself...

Yeah, I remember, Jack said. I about tore my hair out, I was that worried about you.

Sam gave a wan smile, but continued, I hallucinated...

Bad concussions will do that to you.

All semblance of control was lost, now. You... Sam pointed at him. She blinked. I dreamed about you... hallucinated... I don't know for sure what it was.

Dreams..? About me? Jack wanted to make sure.

About Dad... Teal'c... Daniel... You...

Jack sat back into the corner formed by the cushions and the arm of the sofa. I'm sure I didn't say anything that might be considered helpful...

Actually, you did, Sam negated. Only I didn't quite understand at the time... She blinked again, lost in her memories.

I said something helpful? Really? Jack seemed surprised, as if he didn't think he would ever be helpful in a technological situation such as she had faced while being alone aboard a space ship caught in a nebula.

Sam smiled again. Don't sell yourself short, she said. Mostly, you prodded me into saving myself.

Jack nodded. That sounds like something I would do.

You had total faith that I would come up with the answer.

You always do, Jack said, as if stating the obvious.

Sam pointed at him again. Just like that... Total belief that I can think my way out of any situation.

Jack shrugged again. Well, you can.

Sam shook her head. But, I couldn't think my way out of Pete's proposal, she insisted.

Jack's brow furrowed. What do you mean?

Sam smiled again, if a little in self deprecation. I mean that I was confused, and I shouldn't have been. I should have known the minute he proposed that Pete wasn't the right guy for me, I wasn't the right girl for him, and ended any contact we had with each other. Instead, I accepted his proposal, like the emotionally sterile person that I am, and hurt the one person I never wanted to hurt in the world... in the whole universe. She let her head fall gracelessly onto the back of the couch to hide her agony. I am such an...

Hey.., Jack soothed instinctively, quickly reaching out to touch her before he could analyze the meaning of such a movement coming from him. His hand ended up on her shoulder in a comforting squeeze. Don't be so hard on yourself. So you made a mistake... God knows that I'm one who should admit that we all make mistakes.

But this mistake hurt so many people.., Sam started to protest.

And mine didn't? Jack was forced to ask. God, Carter, my stupidity killed my kid, destroyed my marriage...

Made you think that what Charlie did was somehow your fault, Sam said. Then, she gently went on to argue, That was never your fault... His was the natural curiosity that all children have. That's all.

Jack's face darkened. That's just an excuse, and you know it, he said. There's nothing that can deny that it was my gun that Charlie used to...

Do you believe in fate, Jack? Sam interrupted to ask, changing the subject with the abruptness of a train wreck.

Fate? Jack echoed. What do you mean?

This may sound cruel, and I don't mean to be cruel... Sam stopped herself in order to reorganize her thoughts. What I mean is your marriage to Sara ended while you were on that first mission to Abydos... I should have gone on that mission, would have probably died if I had gone. But I didn't go, I only went on the second mission to Abydos.

So? Jack asked in confusion. What's your point?

Well... Sam hesitated. We met...

Jack had no idea what she was trying to get at. In the Briefing Room, I remember.

Sam hesitated for a second, looked towards her bookshelf, which held the odd spiral bound notebook on the second shelf, then saw the pencil resting on the top of the TV. Bear with me a minute, she said, then launched herself up to retrieve both the notebook and the pencil. She flipped the book open to the last page, which was empty, and began drawing with the pencil.

Jack sarcastically sighed. Oh, here we go... She's drawn out the big weapons again.

Sam smiled. Charts and graphs? she jokingly asked.

Jack sat forward in order to get a better look at what she was drawing. Remind me to get you a set of pencils in a carrying case for Christmas, he teased.

I'd lose them in a month, Sam pointed out.

Jack commented, Not if I lock them up when you're not using them. They were both silent for a moment, then Jack finally asked, Whatcha workin' on?

Sam stopped her maniacal scribbling, and showed the notebook to him. He took it, staring at one horizontal line drawn across the page, and two additional diagonal lines drawn from the horizontal line to both top corners of the page. On one, she had made a large point, labeled it 'Sam's Mom dies,' followed by another dot on that line, labeled 'Sam's engagement to Jonas,'followed again by another dot with 'Sam's engagement to Jonas ends.' There was her assignment to the Pentagon, where she had spent years studying the SGC Stargate, and then the second mission to Abydos was labeled on the horizontal line, near where it bisected the diagonal line, where she had printed in her even hand 'Sam meets Jack and Daniel, later forms part of SG-1 with Teal'c.' There were only two more dots on that line, labeled with 'Sam's engagement to Pete,' followed very closely with another dot, and the words 'Sam's engagement to Pete ends.'

On the second diagonal line, she had written 'Jack joins the Air Force,' followed by 'Jack marries Sara. Charlie is born... (sometime around here).' Jack smiled when he read that little bit of information; it was a common joke on SG-1 that Jack refused to tell them the exact date when Charlie had been born or when he had died, though Daniel had wasted entire evenings spent by campfires, trying to wheedle the information out of him. Another dot denoted Jack's first mission to Abydos, and a big dot was labeled 'Jack and Sara get divorced after Charlie's death,' followed with 'Jack meets Sam in the Briefing for the second mission to Abydos, where he is reunited with Daniel... SG-1 formed, Jack commanding' written directly underneath the first notation about Jack and Sara's divorce. Only 'Jack's promotion to General of the SGC' was marked as a significant event on the diagonal line. From there, Sam had drawn the horizontal line with an arrow pointing off the right hand side of the page, with an infinity symbol leading to the words 'the present.'

See, Sam said then, I have this theory...

Of course you do, Jack pretended to groan, though there was more than a hint of pride in his voice even as he made his statement. It was true, he thought, that Sam did always have a theory about everything under the sun. Sometimes, it amazed him what kind of bits of information occupied her mind.

Sam grinned, knowing that he was teasing her. She grabbed one side of the notebook, while Jack held the other. Their shoulders and thighs rubbed in the close proximity, but they were both too wrapped up in whatever Sam had to say to notice. She grinned, and said, Here... Let me try to explain myself a bit...

That would be nice, Jack casually remarked, and it was the nonchalant sound in his voice that let her know that he was teasing again.

Sam pointed at her diagonal line. Here... View all the things we've been through as layers that make up our personalities. Just think, if those layers hadn't been created... unknowingly by us... at exactly the time that layer was included in our histories, we might be different people than who we are today.

So you're saying that..?

Sam grabbed a pen laying on the coffee table, and drew in more diagonal lines close to her original pencil lines. That's the alternate realities, she noted, getting that overly bright light in her eyes that said she was about to discover something, or say something profound. Now, the difference between the realities is as simple as including or excluding one of the personality layers.

Jack squinted at her. So, you're saying that we might not have met? he asked after a minute of thought.

No, Sam said, and shook her head. We might have met, but maybe it would have been under different circumstances, so we'd be different people.

I might have never fallen.., Jack began, but cut himself off before he could actually say the words. Mentioning his regard for her seemed to somehow give his feelings more substance than if he refused to give words to his emotions. In fact, if he were honest, he was afraid to say the words out loud for fear of somehow jinxing his and her professional relationship.

But Sam, it seemed, wasn't as chained by fears as he was. No, we might not have fallen in love with each other, she said. Or, who knows, I could have fallen in love with Pete...

God forbid.., Jack mumbled.

The point is, Sam said, We've been heading towards each other from the very beginning of our lives, preparing ourselves through our experiences...

Are you saying that it was necessary for Charlie to die so that I could meet you? Jack asked, unconvinced.

Sam sighed. I'm not saying that Charlie needed to die, no, but I am saying that because he did die, you and Sara separated, then you met me...

And we went to Abydos...

Out of which emerged SG-1, where we've spent the last seven years saving the world, Sam glibly told him, as if saving the world were an everyday occurrence. They had done it so often, it was a daily occurrence! Sam thought. Then she pointed to the end of the horizontal line of the page. Which brings us to... right about... here. She indicated the part of the horizontal line directly before the arrow.

What happens right there? Jack asked.

Sam shrugged. I don't know. No one's figured out a way to predict the future, so there's no way for me to know. I mean, I wouldn't have anticipated punching Pete even as late in the game as this morning. I would never have anticipated breaking our engagement.

Suddenly, Jack's features wrinkled in concern. Does it bother you that you're not engaged any more? he asked again, needing to make sure of her response, though not particularly wanting to know if she was or if she wasn't, sounding like he felt forced to ask.

Sam considered for a moment. It bothers me that I hurt one or two people, and I didn't mean to hurt anybody. But ending that relationship... She sighed, having to be honest with herself for the first time in months. It doesn't bother me as as much as I expected it to, she admitted. Not as much as it probably should.

Suddenly, Jack ripped the page out of her notebook, balled it up, then threw it into the trash can she had sitting in the corner of her living room.

The action shocked Sam. What..? What did you do that for? she asked.

Because, Jack explained. Hell, he might as well be honest with himself, too, he figured... And if he were completely honest, he would have to admit that the feel of her thigh and shoulder were both driving him insane. But, he tried to ignore his inner turmoil, and go on with his statement. Because no one... He stopped, and the cowardice that he had always associated with his every encounter with her reared up, then. For a moment, it was so strong that it blindsided him, and he couldn't continue with what he was planning to say to her. Instead, he shrugged disarmingly, and lamely said, I just don't think it's a good idea to tempt fate, and try to predict the future. She stared at him, and Jack had to force himself to acknowledge the slight look of disappointment that colored her features under her expression of natural interest. Not even you can do that, he ended with a slight smile he sent in her direction.

For just a second, Sam glanced away, her sense of confusion so obviously displayed on her face, and Jack winced at the look. Then she turned back towards him, and the mask of indifference that she had always worn around him was back in place, far more firmly this time than it had been before, and again Jack winced. But she either didn't see his expression, or ignored it, for she went on as if nothing of note had passed between them. You know, all that's happened today has made me kind of tired...

Even as he agreed with her, he hated his feeling that he needed to back this particular decision of hers. I can understand that you...

But she was continuing over him. I think I'll just go to bed... Sam rose off the couch, and Jack had followed her in standing, when she stopped suddenly, and faced him again. There was a little more hesitation in her expression now, and Jack couldn't help it when he felt hope suddenly flutter in his heart. But she killed any hope that he had of her being the courageous one in their twosome when she said, I have to admit that I'm a little worried that Pete might try something tonight or tomorrow...

Would you like me to stay? Jack asked before he thought better of the suggestion. I could sleep on the couch..?

Sam's nose puckered for a second. Do you mind, really? she asked, pled, actually, as she confronted him.

Jack turned away from her to study the couch with an eye towards sleeping on it rather than using it as a seat to crash on, and watch movies during the many team nights he had spent at her house. But he had to admit to himself that not once had Carter asked him or Daniel or Teal'c to stay with her after those parties she had hosted, and he also couldn't quite squelch the sensation of feeling special to being singled out by her now.

Sam continued on, I would feel a bit better if you stayed... You know, for moral support, I guess...

Sure, Jack said, a tad too fast in his response to her request. But if it would make her feel better for him to stay, then stay he would.

You don't mind? she made sure.

I don't mind at all, he firmly said.

The decision made, Sam smiled her tiny smile again, and said, Thanks! I really appreciate it. She moved away from him, then, and headed to her linen closet. I'll just get some sheets and blankets for you...

Don't feel like you have to go to any trouble.., Jack began to say.

Sam yelled back to him, her head stuck in her closet, Oh, it's no trouble, really. After all, you're doing me a great favor...

Then why did he feel so bad? he asked himself. Trying hard to bury his emotional response to their previous situation, he took the sheet set, blankets, and pillow that she handed to him, and laid it all on the coffee table beside him. Thanks... And this is no big deal, really, he impressed upon her.

Sam smiled that same tiny smile once more, and put away the food in her refrigerator before she then lifted her hand in a half hearted gesture of farewell. Good night, then.

Good night, Jack wished her, and watched as she disappeared into her own bedroom. She shut the door behind her.

Only when Jack was alone did he close his eyes in obvious regret at what he had just done, berating himself for his actions, but not knowing what else he could have chosen to do.

Silently, he bent to retrieve a sheet, and make up a bed for himself on her couch.

* * *

The next morning, after neither of them had slept much the night before, but refused to acknowledge that detail to each other, Jack suggested that they clean up at their own houses, respectively, then Jack would return in his truck to collect Carter, where they would then hit the town's best restaurant for breakfast. By the time she had joined him in his truck, she requested that they stop off at the public library after breakfast, as she wanted to quickly return two books that she had checked out.

They ended up staying in the library for three hours, perusing titles of books, movies, and ended up checking out the children's picture book, the 1960s classic version, as well as the newer version of the Christmas tale about a young Who and the Grinch she charmed into growing a new personality. The afternoon was spent at Jack's bigger house, where he more importantly had the VCR necessary to watch the classic version of the movie, and ended up watching a green being... Kind of looks like a bloated Thor, Jack had noted, causing Carter to lapse into enough giggles that they'd had to briefly pause the movie so that they could laugh together... for the rest of their day. Then Jack agreed to drive Carter back to her house late in the afternoon, and they quietly argued in a friendly manner about the newest version of the classic holiday tale while they both did their collective best not to think about the preceding night, or its conversations.

It was better than I thought it would be, Sam conceded of the 2000 movie at last, quietly staring out the front window as the Autumn leaves skittered across the road in front of Jack's truck.

It was hilarious! Jack protested then as he turned down Carter's street.

It was funny when it wasn't trying to be funny, Sam corrected. You only think it was funny because it appealed to your particular brand of humor, she ended.

And what's my 'particular brand of humor?' Jack asked as he tried to maneuver his truck between two cars on the side of the street opposite Carter's house.

Sam was silent, then finally admitted, Well, you like things that are rather... crass... Sir.

Crass?! he half asked, half yelled. I'm not sure if I should be insulted or not, he eventually told her.

Sam giggled again as she grasped the truck's door handle. You asked, Sir, she said with a smile, and shrugged her shoulders.

Jack affectionately grinned back at her. Watch it, or I'll steel your next doohickey from your lab while Daniel sits with you in the Commissary for lunch, he teasingly threatened.

Sam barked a laugh in disbelief. You wouldn't dare! she exclaimed.

Oh, wouldn't I? Jack asked again. Together, they alighted from the truck, and started to cross the street.

Now, I'm really getting worried, Sam admitted. I think I'll start locking the door to my lab every time I leave, she said.

That will get to be a big pain in the butt when you just have to run down the hall to use the rest-room, Jack mischievously cautioned. I'll just wait for that one time when you forget to lock everything up, he said, still grinning. Then... wham... right when you least expect it!

And I'll be sure to tell everybody that the General of the base is the cause for all the locked doors, Sam threatened back in an equally calm voice, yet her own balefulness was evident in her tone.

Jack laughed, his voice full of appreciation, now. You would do it, too, he said. Then he wagged a finger at her. I know you, don't forget.

I'm not likely to forget that, Sam said, laughing, which made Jack's stomach twirl, and caused him to remember why he had suggested they spend the day together in the first place. But then, Sam turned and got a good look at her front steps. Oh, she said in a dead voice.

Sam's tone made Jack blink, and look again. That was when he saw the dozen roses sitting in front of her door.

Stay, she hurriedly commanded, but Jack didn't have any time to reply one way or another before they both heard the sound that Sam had secretly dreaded hearing all day.

Hi, Sam, Pete said as he approached them from his SUV parked at the side of the curb. He must have been sitting in it, waiting all afternoon for her to return home. Can I speak to you for a minute? he gently asked.

Sam had instinctively grabbed the edge of the shirt Jack wore under his leather jacket, even as he uncomfortably stuttered, I-I-I... think it's time for me to head out.

No, Sam said, I would really like it if you stay for dinner. We can order out for pizza or...

Pete interrupted her avoidance tactic, Sam, I really need to talk to you... Please... I won't do anything, I promise..

Jack felt caught in the middle of two highly incensed individuals, and his sense of discomfort increased. He was about to cry off when he heard Sam sigh. All right, she grumbled. Guess I should get this over with... She pulled her house keys out of her jeans pocket, and proceeded to unlock the front door. Come on in, both of you...

Jack hesitated on her sidewalk. No, truly, Carter, I...

But Sam broke in on him this time. You can stay in my bedroom, if you like, so you don't have to hear anything, but... She looked from Jack to Pete, and back again before she continued, I'd really like it if you stayed... for awhile.

That statement surprised Jack enough for him to blurt, Really? He sounded flabbergasted at her request; She had always been so... independent and strong...

Sam smiled a small smile. Really, she told him. Then she peered at him more squarely. But there's no reason for you to feel uncomfortable... My bedroom is at your disposal.

That was a loaded invitation! Jack thought.

This shouldn't take long, Sam finished saying.

Ouch, Jack couldn't help but think, allowing the simple affinity he naturally felt for Pete's probably sensitive emotional state right at the moment to cringe just a bit. But after the second passed, he could only dredge up the glad swelling of his heart in pride for her lack of hatred for a man who had betrayed her trust, after all. But Jack then shrugged his shoulders, said, Okay, I'll be in the bedroom if you need me. Then he couldn't help but mischievously add, Going through your underwear drawer just to settle my natural curiosity... Do you really alphabetize everything in there? he asked Sam.

But she just gave him an aggravated shove towards the bedroom as she removed her coat and hung it on the hooks she had installed in her entryway. Once and for all, she told him in a voice that was more exasperated than kind. I don't have an underwear drawer, she finished.

Look in the top drawer of her dresser, Pete then called to Jack.

The General raised his finger, and pensively said, I'm not sure I like the fact that you know that.

Pete sighed. Hey, I was bored one Sunday afternoon and snooped a little, he said, not apologizing for his knowledge.

Sam rather gaped at him with her mouth half open in a soundless 'oh,' and Jack decided that he didn't want to touch Pete's remark with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. Instead, he just disappeared into Carter's bedroom, and firmly shut the door.

Jack turned around to survey the room. He'd so rarely had reason to be in Carter's personal sleeping domain that he admittedly felt a bit like a heel now, even though he had permission to be there at all. When his eyes lighted on her dresser, he couldn't help but note the top drawer was open just a crack. He remembered Pete's commentary on the contents of that drawer, but didn't cross the room to take his own peek at her belongings. It wasn't that he didn't want to get inside Carter's underwear... There had been very little else on his mind as recently as the night before... But he didn't want to do it by rifling through her dresser drawers! So he turned, took his coat off to throw across the neatly made bed, and started to read the titles of the books she had on some shelves in the corner.

Thirty seconds later, he was astonished to note that every book was indeed carefully alphabetized by the author's last name, and placed precisely on the shelves. He was even more astonished to note that four of those books had been written by Sam herself. Published years before, three were on physical theories and applications, and one was a computer book that connected the many programs that she had written with computer virus software that entailed too much technological mumbo jumbo for Jack to show interest in much more than the first few pages.

He was just about to place the book back on its shelf when he heard a light knock on the door, and Carter herself was suddenly filling the entryway. Jack raised his eyebrows.

Pete's gone, Sam told him. He brought the roses as an apology for that background check he made. He...um... Sam glanced down at the floor. He said that he'd known that he would regret the decision to make that check someday down the road, and he was right.

Jack held out the book he had in his hand, not commenting on what Carter had just finished saying. You alphabetize all your books? he incredulously asked instead.

Sam recognized the cover of the book he was holding. You found that one! she exclaimed, ignoring his statement about the way the books were arranged. So, she said as she stuffed her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. Did you understand any of it?

Jack wondered if she knew how her posture pulled taut her t-shirt across certain areas of her anatomy, but he refrained from embarrassing her by telling her about his discovery. I looked at a few pages, he told her, But, no, I can't say that I understood much of anything.

Oh, she said, then added, Jonas had a lot of questions about it, too.

Jack gave her a friendly scowl. Jonas! he blurted. That...

But before he could call their Kelownan friend and past team member a brown-nosing pest, Carter moved further into the room to stand next to him. She nodded her head towards her dresser while he replaced the book, and looked down at her in sudden regard that he didn't bother to hide.

Did you look in the top drawer of my dresser? Sam wanted to know as she stared up at him flirtatiously from the corners of her eyes.

Jack swallowed as he felt heat rush into his face when he noticed her expression. He and Carter had been so successful in the past at covering their emotions for each other, partially because neither of them ever flirted with the other, for fun or for other reasons. Uh.., Jack mumbled, trying hard to gather his scrambled brain together. No, he finally blurted. I caught sight of the books you published, and 'the rest is history,' as Teal'c likes to say.

Sam laughed a bit when she heard this, but said, Good. Then you don't know that my underwear drawer is really the second one, and the first is full of shirts.

Ah, Jack said in comprehension. No, I didn't know that. Was she drawing closer to him, or was it his imagination? he asked himself then, and his breath hitched in his chest. What did Pete want? he asked, mentioning the man's name in the hopes of reminding her that until the day before, she had been an engaged woman. To get back together again?

According to the sudden understanding look as to what he was doing that shot through her eyes, she completely disregarded his attempts at steering the conversation to safer ground, and instead said, No, he wanted to apologize for making that background check in the first place, to offer the notion that he wished to remain friends, and that as his first bit of friendly advice, wanted to know what I planned to do about you now that I can do whatever I want.

Jack was surprised at her words. Do about me? he asked. What do you mean? He gazed at her, then suddenly grinned. You gonna take me out, Carter? Kick me out on my keister?

Sam didn't immediately respond to his teasing comments. She stared at the books on her shelf, and particularly at the book that only a moment before had been in Jack's hand. She lovingly fingered the familiar binding, running her index finger down the spine. The way she did it, touching it exactly the way Jack had just handled it, strangely illustrated her emotional level of regard she felt for the man who had recently handled it. Then she turned to look at Jack head on. No, she solemnly answered. I don't want you to leave, and I'm certainly not going to 'kick you out on your keister.'

Well, that's something, Jack joked before he noticed the serious expression she was wearing as she stared at him. Butterflies instantly erupted in his stomach. In a low, quiet voice, he went on, But that still doesn't tell me what you plan to do with your General. He had purposefully used his rank as a gentle reminder that she could technically do nothing to him because of the Air Force Regulations that had always stood between them like an impenetrable brick wall.

But Sam seemed to make up her mind that she wanted to have nothing to do with those Regulations rather than nothing to do with him. She very softly ran her right index finger up the end of his arm in the same manner she had just fingered her book. She whispered, I plan on doing something that I've waited for a long time to do. She continued to tell him, And I hope that you don't think too badly of me for finally disregarding something that I should have disregarded a long time ago.

Jack smiled a little. While trying to decide if she were talking about the Fraternization Regulation in a very round about way, he said, I could never think badly of you, Carter, you know that.

Jack, she said, shocking the hell out of him by calling him by his first name again, exactly as she had done the night before. I just want you to know that, even though I'm still considering breaking the rules that I've always allowed to shadow my entire life, I still have the utmost respect for those rules, and always will.

Her finger slipped up to his elbow, and his sensitive skin there seemed to be electrocuted by the warmth of her touch. Jack swallowed, completely mesmerized by that finger of hers, but said in one last ditch attempt at restraint, Uh, Sam, maybe we should talk about this first... Had she completely forgotten what an ass he'd been the night before, or had she decided to disregard that unfortunate decision on his part?

It's ironic, Sam noted, also thrilled that he had used her first name instead of her last.

What's ironic? he asked, mostly as a way to keep saying something, anything, so she would prolong the event of her finger rubbing over the skin of the inside of his elbow. It felt far too good for him to want that motion to end.

Sam licked her lips, and went on with her explanation. It's ironic that you, a man known to be a man of action, wants to 'talk,' while I, a scientific geek who's known far and wide as a talker, wants nothing more than to kiss you right now.

Holy... buckets. Was she serious? Apparently she had decided to forget about his actions the night before... One glance into her blue eyes already hazing over with anticipation convinced him of that. And he had to admit to himself that there was little in the world he wanted to do more than to kiss her back. But what about the Regulations? he argued in a low voice to her.

The Regulations writers didn't exactly have us in mind when they originally wrote those rules, did they? she glibly answered. Now she had moved her finger from his elbow, and he would have complained at the loss of her touch, except she had slowly stood on tip toe to wind her arms around his neck, squeezing tight enough to tell him that she didn't mean to let him go soon, but not so tight that she hurt him. Instead, her arms cradled him in what was clearly an embrace.

Jack was going insane with her closeness, trying hard to resist her, but ultra aware of the smell of her nearing skin the entire time, anyway. He breathed in, and caught her unique smell mixed with the smell of the fire that he and she had shared at his house that afternoon. The mix was an enticing combination that was slowly driving Jack wild. And he couldn't afford to be driven wild, as much as he wanted to. But how could he ever resist her..? He swallowed again. Uh...

Sam continued as she drew ever closer to him. Jack, she whispered again. I think it's time that we told the Air Force chiefs of staff that we've formally 'requested' the need to rewrite that damned Regulation to exclude any serious relationship that happened to start in a chain of command, because... She didn't finish what she was saying as her mouth now hovered only an inch from his. She stopped her forward motion to stare for a moment straight into his somber brown eyes, asking for acceptance before anything transpired between them.

And there was no way on this green Earth that Jack was going to deny the way every inch of him now tingled from her actions. To hell with how he felt he should act. He gazed into the depths of Sam Carter's brilliant blue eyes, and wanted so badly to possess each and every inch of her that the emotion made his heart pound in his chest. The unmistakable feel of his desire wormed its way through his jeans and into her thigh. Suddenly, a request to rewrite the Regulations that had always torn them apart seemed like an eminently logical thing to do. It does seem rather strange that those who want the well-being of the soldiers serving under their command go out of their way to ensure that those soldiers are nothing short of miserable their entire lives.

That's exactly what I think, Sam agreed. Now, if you don't kiss me right now, I might have to take matters into my own hands, and seduce you on the spot.

Jack stared at Sam again. Are you threatening me, Colonel? he asked.

Sam suddenly smiled, the expression that reached all the way to her eyes, making them sparkle with the feelings she felt for him, and that had always made Jack instantly melt. You bet I am, General, she whispered back.

He ran a finger through her hair that always hung on her forehead, and stared straight into her eyes for once, holding her magnetic, blue, gaze instead of skating away from her eyesight.

She rubbed her cheek softly against his chin, and the touch sent electric tingles all the way to his toes as she rose the rest of the way to closing the distance between them, until her lips just barely touched his. She kissed him in a hesitant movement that was still able to show him the powerful height of her emotions for him.

It forced him to lean in closer yet, to close the hesitant distance between them, and breath in the scent that always meant 'Carter' to him.

The kiss quickly evolved into something that was much more ravenous, more primal, more intense. It knocked his socks right off his feet.

She felt so soft, and so perfect, and so warm, and so delicious that it was easy to tell in seconds that one kiss was never going to be enough for either of them.

I'll call those Air Force officials today, Jack mumbled to her in between kisses. That way, they can start writing as soon as they can... or I'm gonna break the regs whether they want me to or not.

Sam seemed delighted with his promises. Me too, she told him in a whisper. Me too.

The End


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