Disclaimer: Gekko et all owns them. I sure don't. Sad to say.

Life Interrupted

by Linda Bindner

The phone rang annoyingly in Sam's ear, and she was forced to put down the pen she'd been writing with, as well as the small Boggle playing board that she had only just shaken in her hand. The dice of the game, each covered in letters, still lay scattered on the board, but she had to ignore them as she first turned down the music of Christmas 2006 that was blaring from her stereo, then answered the incessantly clanging phone. Hello? she muttered tiredly into the receiver.

What? asked a surprised sounding voice that she instantly recognized. What happened to you answering the phone with that crisp, cute little 'Carter' you always used to say?

It was him. Jack. Sam's heart sank to her toes, and she winced even as she fully comprehended who it was. She wasn't sure right now that she wanted to be in contact with anybody, and especially not with him: she wasn't at all certain that she could contain her emotions anymore when talking to him. It was far safer to simply ignore his existence than to speak to him, to pretend that everything was normal, when, in fact, everything was far from the 'normal' they had shared for eight years of their lives. He had moved on from his feelings for her, and she had... she had been forced to move on from everything that she had ever known.

No! she fiercely ordered herself. Don't think about that!

To distract herself, she turned her attention to answering his question. In case you don't remember, 'Carter' isn't my name anymore, General.

Bull, Jack immediately said, and sounded as if he were half smiling, and half mocking her at the same time. He went on, It doesn't matter what you call yourself these days... you've always been 'Carter' to me, and that's who you'll always be.

Despite his seemingly jovial tone, she could only think of that time when the phrase 'Carter!' had been showered over her on an hourly basis, and of the myriad of unrequited feelings that had inevitably accompanied that sweet sound. For a moment, her heart twisted in painful regret for the past, and for things only now remembered, her memories accosting her before she was able to clamp down on her emotions lest they have a chance to completely overwhelm her.

Sam now could only run a hand over her face as she tried to banish the images of happiness that had come to her for years when he had said her name, happiness without any of the joy that typically accompanied that kind of emotion. For a long time, just hearing her long time name helped to renew the sense that one day there would be a 'Jack' along with her 'Sam.'

But not any more. It was too late to hope for a 'them' now, Sam firmly reminded herself as she thought about a reply to his comment. With all due respect, General O'Neill, I'm not that person I used to be, she reminded him. So a simple thing like answering the phone shouldn't really be the same, either, she argued on a sad sounding sigh.

There was a pause, then Jack gave a low whistle into the phone. Daniel was right, he suddenly proclaimed.

You've talked to Daniel? Sam asked, instantly interested in spite of herself. But even she was able to admit to herself that she missed Daniel, missed his friendship. She didn't blame him for not coming around to see her more often. Who would want to come around very much just to see her in the condition she was now in, after all? But she missed him anyway. I haven't talked to Daniel since this past weekend. It's been ages since I've actually seen him.

Jack puffed air into the phone. I thought he said that he'd stopped by just this Tuesday?

Caught. Sam sighed, then admitted, He did. It's just so rare for him to stop by that I tend to forget those visits, and forget him, except for his phone calls.

Carter. Jack's voice held a hint of reproving disbelief now. He told me that he stops by at least twice a week when he's off world, and more often when he's on. There was that pause again that proclaimed louder than any words he might have said that he secretly thought she was nuts, or going nuts, to even be thinking such a thing. Are you sure you're all right?

No, she wasn't all right, but she was damned if she was going to admit it, especially not to him.

But at the same time, she didn't blame him for wondering if she were going crazy. It wasn't an attitude that was new to her, or that Sam was unaware of. It slammed her in the face, beat her over the head, every time she stepped out her front door. The walker that she needed to use now for support simply freaked most people out the second they saw a fairly young person using one. There was no nice way of saying it: grown-ups stared, and young people stared even harder, as they weren't aware yet of how very rude they were being. Half the population treated her just like normal, true, but the other half took one look at her with her walker and branded her 'freak' before a word had even come out of her mouth. And no matter how they acted next, how hard they tried to pretend the opposite, Sam could see the look of revulsion at even having to deal with her cross their faces.

Sam wasn't a complete idiot, though she had done many idiotic things in her life, she was now able to admit to herself. She saw those expressions that people tried to hide from her, and had learned the hard way how to deal with them without losing the rest of her sanity; this time she was... sort of... smart. She had begun staying home not long after she had fully recovered from the accident, not wanting to voluntarily torture herself with seeing those kinds of looks that met her seemingly everywhere she turned. It was ironic, actually, that because she didn't like the looks she always got when she went out in public, she now stayed home, not hiding, but because she didn't want to become the world's biggest 'blank glare' receptacle. Then, when she stayed home to avoid the more unpleasant aspects of her new life, her friends told her that she needed to get out more. It was a conundrum no matter how she looked at it.

However, one thing Sam Carter now understood that she hadn't been aware of before the day of the accident, October 1st, 2006 was that she'd had no real idea who or what she was putting her life on the line for on a daily basis. It's a good thing she hadn't known, she ruminated now, or she might have thought long and hard about whether the people of Earth were worth the personal sacrifices that automatically come with the job she had.

Damn! But she was beginning to sound like a bitter person, constantly angry at life in general. She had to be careful how she even phrased certain things in her mind, to say nothing of what she spoke aloud, or she would get a reputation for being hard, and biting, and unpleasant to be around. That's not what she wanted to be like, certainly not how she used to be in the past. Life had been so much simpler during the earlier years at the SGC, even though things had seemed insurmountably difficult then. She had blindly assumed so many things.

Not anymore. And the affections of the man she was currently on the phone with was one of them. However, in spite of her new determination to behave more pleasantly, she couldn't quite keep the enmity she was feeling out of her voice when she defensively asked, What? She sighed again, then admitted, Okay, maybe Daniel does come by to see me quite a bit, but Teal'c's off world on Dakarra now... I doubt he even knows about what happened. I haven't seen him in...

Jack interrupted her. Daniel told me that he thought you sounded depressed, and now I have to think he's right.

Sam scowled then. Oh, and Daniel suddenly has a psychiatric degree as well as a degree in archaeology? she sarcastically inquired. Is he all knowing or something?

So, you're not depressed? Jack then asked, sounding more timid than he had sounded in the whole conversation. Or at least, he was sounding timid for him.

Of course I'm depressed! Sam then huffed. Who in Hell wouldn't be in my position? How the frak does everybody expect me to feel?

'Frak?' Jack questioned then in a lighter tone.

Sam felt some of her anger at his words ebb away, and she had to laugh a bit at his inquiry. Hey, she said. At least I didn't use the 'f' word that I really wanted to use. Be grateful for that.

Jack had to chuckle as well at her comment. I'm glad that you didn't use that word, but if you really want to use it, go right ahead. We worked for years in the military, after all. Being around all those men all the time... No one with sensitive ears ever gets passed Basic Training.

Sam had to laugh again. True, she told him.

Then Jack turned the conversation onto why he had called her so unexpectedly in the middle of the work week. I was wondering if you're going to be home later on today? I have something to tell you, and...

She had to actually see him? To distract herself from the way her stomach suddenly fell to her toes, Sam began to mutter her replies. Um... Ah... Sure, she eventually had to say. I'll be home. Then she went on a little self disparagingly, Where the heck would I go, anyway? She was careful to sound nonchalant and uncaring rather than angry and bitter in spite of her words. It's not like I can walk far once I drive somewhere particular, and I sure as Hell don't want to get into a situation where everyone just stares at me like I'm some freak. So... um... yeah, I'm gonna be home all day.

The inquisitiveness in Jack's voice came out loud over the line as he asked, You think that people think you're a freak? He paused, but not long enough for her to respond to his question. You aren't any freak, Carter, you're a damned hero! he protested. Of all the missions to have gone South faster than anything, it had to have been that diplomatic mission that I went on with SG-1 to... whatever it was that planet was called. He sighed loudly over the phone line. By now I should know that it's always the diplomatic missions that go bad, and I should have been prepared for it. Jack sighed again. (Was that regret she heard in his voice?) Diplomatic missions are always the worst, he grumbled. And I was the most experienced officer there. He paused again, and a heavy silence of guilt engulfed them. I should have known. He paused again, and the silence fell heavily onto them. At last, he quietly noted, Or I should have guessed.

Sam abruptly understood what he wasn't quite telling her. He blamed himself for what had ultimately happened to her on that mission now known as 'the mission from Hell.'

But the thought of blaming him for what had happened to her was so far away from reality that it was amazing! It wasn't your fault, Sir, she said in a sincere voice.

The silence continued, though, growing even heavier as time ticked by. Finally, he said, I honestly thought we had a good chance of making it back to the 'Gate before those Yellow people could attack us.

Yellen, she automatically corrected. Those Yellen people.

Yeah, that's what I said, he teased her over the phone line. His shrug then sounded loud as he went on, I mean, those people were only angry at first. Then, he sighed, and she could imagine him running his agitated fingers through his hair as the memory of that day on P4C-297 clearly accosted him, according to the tormented sound of his voice. That just goes to show how much I know. He took in a sharp breath of air, then, as if he wanted to calm his memories. His voice sounded loud with his apology, however, as he adamantly continued, I hate to think where I would be right now if you hadn't been constantly on my six when those bullets were aimed at my back as we were running towards the Gate.

You'd probably be dead, Sam informed him once again so that she could keep him on topic, though she was clearly tired now. The several thoughts that ghosted through her mind as she spoke made her tired, as they always did: I stepped in front of those bullets that had been aimed at you. And I saved you. That's what's important, in spite of all my bellyaching and complaining now. You're alive. That's what it really all comes down to.

How's the back? he next asked, oblivious to her thoughts, but cognizant of the exhaustion coming through in her voice.

It hurts, Sam admitted. Dr. Lam said the swelling will be around for a long time, a year at least. That swelling then pushes on my spinal nerves; it keeps me up at night. Then she quickly said, But I'm fine. She paused for several thoughtful seconds, then slowly added, If you had died, though... I'd probably not be in the military anymore.

His voice turned a bit harsher then, more full of something that sound like an apology again when he noted, Carter, you're not in the military anymore.

You can say that again, she indignantly mumbled, then kicked herself for trying to take her recent foul mood out on him.

But Jack wasn't deterred too long from his determination to cheer her up. You're being sarcastic, aren't you? he next asked. Then he mumbled as well, I taught you too well.

You only have yourself to blame, Sam lightly said then, her voice sounding calmer after her sardonic commentary of a second before. It was proof that she had succeeded in keeping from sounding as disrespectful as he had always sounded.

Yeah, Jack muttered, halfheartedly agreeing with her, but letting his voice trail off as he spoke the word. Then he seemed to rally for a moment, for he queried, What ya doing right now? I have news for you... I could come over and tell you my news right now... unless you're busy or something.

What could he possibly have to tell her? Sam wondered. But she didn't ask, just snorted into the phone. Busy? she repeated, her voice now sounding surprised. She stared at the ignored game board she'd left before her when he had called. Here's how busy I'm not: right now I'm playing Boggle with myself. I'm real busy, she sarcastically stated.

Damn! she immediately thought. There was that sound of sarcasm again in her voice. She would really have to work at sounding less harsh, even if she felt a tad off kilter these days. So she more cheerfully added, When I think of how I used to get so excited over my newest doohickey that had come back through the 'Gate, I'm amazed. Did that time ever really happen? Was I dreaming? Or did we visit an alternate reality?

Jack had to laugh at her alternate reality comment. No, I don't think we were ever in any reality but our own...

Fuck, Sam teasingly said in a much lighter-sounding tone. She was so pleased with herself at her lightness of tone that she allowed herself to use a curse word. Than she jestingly told him, You just dashed my last secret hope.

Jack really did give a full belly laugh this time, Well, at least you said it the way you really wanted to say it.

Sam had to grin at that. Yeah, actually, I've developed quite a potty mouth recently. You would hardly recognize me if you heard me.

Keep it clean, Carter, we're on National TV, ya know, Jack warned, still teasing.

Sam could tell that he was playing with her grasp on reality, and decided to tease him back. She grinned again. I thought that we were on cable, Sir, she said. We don't have to keep things as clean there.

Jack sighed in mock distress. How many times do I have to tell you, Carter? Drop the 'Sir.' You aren't in the Air Force anymore, and I'm not your CO.

That may be, Sam immediately replied. But I don't hear you calling me 'Sam' or anything, she accused. When did you tell me that was gonna start again?

Point taken, Jack shot back, his grin loud in his voice as he did. So, you're gonna be home, right, Sam?

Sam chuckled. Right, Jack, she answered. Come on over, and if you're lucky, I won't throw my Boggle pieces at your head.

Boggle... Jack hesitantly questioned. I'm surprised you even have such an old game as that one. I'm right, aren't I? Isn't that game ancient or something?

I found it in my Dad's stuff yesterday when I was cleaning out my attic, Sam explained.

Jack seemed surprised now. You actually clean out your attic?

On a good day, Sam mysteriously said. Most of the time, though, I'm lucky I can even get up to it. In fact, Daniel helped me by carrying some of the boxes down the steps for me a long time ago. He left them all in a corner of my living room for me to go through later. I just got to them yesterday, and that was when the game caught my eye. Then she sighed, sad again for a second. Not that 'catching my eye' will do any good in the long run. Playing a game by myself just makes me even more pathetic than I would be anyway.

Carter! Jack's tone was fierce. Don't you go all maudlin on me! he warned. I forbid it! In fact, I order you to be cheery! Or at least to fake it!

Sam had to laugh again despite his use of an angry tone. Yes, Sir! she crisply barked, and would have dropped the phone and saluted if he'd been standing right in front of her.

Jack laughed, too, releasing the feigned anger from his tone. Haven't drummed all that military attitude out of you yet, I see, he remarked.

Sam appreciatively commented, Well, no, but it only shows up when I talk to you. After a second, she added, You're at least encouraging me to be honest, no matter how icky that might make you feel. I figure that if I'm miserable, then I'd better have company.

That's what misery loves, Jack commented. But he paused again, and finally asked, Are you really miserable now?

That was funny, Sam thought to herself. Her own husband hadn't bothered to ever ask that same question of her, even before the divorce, even if they hadn't been married for all that long. One would have expected that if anyone would have cared enough about her to ask such a question in the first place, it would have been Pete.

But all that was over and done with. Sam sighed, thankful for that, at least. The divorce had become final just the month before, even though the Shanahans hadn't behaved like a happily married couple for the entire previous year. They hadn't even lived together during that time! But at least now she no longer had to think about that horrible period in her life when she had been married. No, she had equally as horrible things to think about now, she reminded herself.

But she didn't voice any of these distressing thoughts to the General. Instead, she asked, You're in Colorado Springs now, huh?

Can't seem to stay away, Jack quipped. We both know that the VIP suites at the SGC have never seemed appealing. Besides, you aren't at the SGC to bug anymore...

Why would that matter? Sam asked herself, confused, but kept this comment to herself, too.

Jack was going on, anyway, capturing her wandering attention. So why would I voluntarily hang around here?

Oh, Sam nonchalantly said. Maybe because as head of Homeworld Security, you, sort of, RUN the place?

Jack had to concede, You're right. I can't get anything passed you, can I, Carter?

Sam didn't reply, but invited, If you want to talk to SAM, then come on over. If this is a CARTER thing, don't bother.

No 'Carter,' I promise, Jack said then. See you in a few minutes... Hey, before I go, you want pizza or anything?

Sam grinned. I'd love a pizza, and maybe some beer...

I thought you couldn't have alcohol anymore, Jack noted. Didn't the doctors say that it wouldn't mix well with your medication, or something like that?

Spoils sport! she proclaimed. I would like to get good and drunk, I think. Doesn't it figure that the one time I actually want to get drunk, I can't have any alcohol. Does the Universe have it in for me, or something?

That sounds like paranoia, Jack joked and cautioned at the same time. If you aren't careful, I'll start claiming you're a freak, too.

Oh! Sam huffed, not really angry, but wishing she were. Life would be so much easier if she could just be angry with him. But she had never been able to stay angry at Jack O'Neill for more than five minutes at a time. That was still the case, even now. Just bring the pizza over! she mockingly ordered. Oh, and bring me a soda.

I know... diet soda, Jack stated, sounding totally disenchanted, but giving into her habits... albeit reluctantly. Anything else, oh mighty queen?

Sam grinned in spite of the anger she wanted to feel. I'm sure I'll think of something the minute I hang up the phone, she proclaimed. But no, I can't think of a thing right now.

Anything special you want on your pizza? Jack inquired before he hung up.

You know how I like my pizza, Sam told him.

Drat! Jack complained over the line, still teasing her. Are you really going to make me eat that Pineapple crap of yours?

Sam smiled. Youbetcha, she replied. And if you're really lucky, I'll still be playing my game, and you can join me. See you when you get here. With that, she hung up without saying a goodbye.

Well, Sam reflected, that had gone well... for a person who wanted to keep a level sounding tone of voice, anyway. Sounding cheery had been a greater challenge than she had anticipated. But she had managed it despite its natural sense of challenge.

Besides, no matter what she told herself she wanted, she had an impending visit from Jack to look forward to now, too. And look forward to it she did, though she tried to tell herself that she didn't want to see him. In reality, she actually wanted to see him very much.

It was confusing. She shook her head to get rid of the opposing thoughts she was having.

Still, she was utterly amazed that she actually had a lunch date. Now, all she needed was for Teal'c to come waltzing through her door, and her life would be complete.

* * *

Jack showed up twenty minutes later. He didn't bother to knock, or ring the doorbell, like he would have if he'd been visiting a normal human being. He simply used the key that she had given to him years before, and let himself in. Sam was sitting on her couch, her head bent over her game again as if his earlier phone call hadn't interrupted her, and she didn't even look up as she called, Come on in... I know you will, anyway. So drop that pizza right here, and grab a beer out of the fridge! I think there's still one or two left in the back on the bottom shelf.

Jack gently placed a heavenly smelling pizza in a carry-out box right in front of her, and leaned over so that he could see the paper she was writing on. He pointed to one of the words she had found in the word game puzzle she had been playing, and that she had written down. Is that really how you spell 'tear?' he asked.

Sam glanced at what his finger was pointing at. Oh, I was writing down the word 'tear...' I didn't realize that its actually two separate words spelled the same way. She quickly wrote down the new word that he had unwittingly suggested.

Hey, he protested. That's my word! He straightened up in order to pretend to glare at her. Aren't you cheating?

You bet I am! declared an unrepentant and enthusiastic Sam. I know now that it doesn't really matter if I cheat or not. I'm not gonna get some great cosmic reward just because I follow some silly rules that someone else made up twenty years ago. She didn't say how she and he had gone out of their way to follow the rules of the military for so long that time had finally run out for them. They certainly hadn't been awarded some cosmic medal for denying their true feelings for so many years. But she didn't say that, even though she was thinking it.

And according to the look of pain that briefly flashed across his face, so was he. But he didn't say anything, either. He only cleared his throat, then said, How 'bout you pass me some paper, Sam, and we can both play while we have lunch.

He'd called her Sam! She tried not to look like it affected her overly much as she nonchalantly (she hoped) handed him a piece of paper, a pen, and something to write on. You're not gonna get a beer, then?

Jack cleared his throat again. Didn't I tell you? he lightly claimed. I gave up beer for Lent. I'm drinking soda now.

Sam rolled her eyes. It's not Lent, Jack, she reminded him.

Lent last year, he corrected.

Sam laughed, but was going on with her protests, And you're not a practicing Catholic, anyway.

Practicing... Not practicing, Jack said. What difference does it make? Catholicism kind of pops up at the weirdest of times, kinda like a penny. Besides, my mother would be rolling over in her grave if she knew that I wasn't following the rules of the Church.

Sam rolled her eyes again. Jack, your mother's alive and lives in Cleveland.

How do you know that? Jack asked accusatorily.

Sam sighed, then admitted, I searched through your office for your classified personnel file once when you were down in the Control Room. I was looking for any family history. Sergeant Harriman had promised to keep you in the Control Room for fifteen minutes if I shared whatever information that I might find with him.

Damn! Jack swore, though still in good nature. I always knew that I couldn't trust you two together!

You almost caught me at it, Sam then told him. You came in the Briefing Room door as I got away out the hallway door. Then she wickedly grinned. But I did find the file I was looking for.

Jack winced. And why were you trying to pry into my family history in the first place?

Sam answered readily enough. Because you never talked about any of it, and I was curious. She shrugged. I thought that maybe the classified files might tell me something that I didn't already know.

Curiosity killed the cat, Sam, Jack reminded as he sat beside her on the couch, and released his writing paraphernalia in order to pull the pizza box closer to him so that he could take a slice for himself.

He'd called her 'Sam' twice! Try to act cool, she told herself, and said, Yep, I know. Sam pushed her game aside so that she could grab a slice of pizza from the box of food as well. I always thought you hated clichés, she mildly accused as she took a bite. Cheese dripped off her chin. Heaven!

Jack shrugged this time. I also always hated scientists, yet here I am, he pointed out.

That is a bit on the weird side, Sam admitted to him. She took another bite of pizza, swallowed, then asked, Are you sure that you're not a freak, Sir?

Jack pretended to consider the problem for a moment. I might be, but I'm not sure... You would have to ask General Hammond. Then he turned to more fully face her. But so help me, Sam, if I ever hear a 'Sir' come out of your mouth again...

Ok, you have my word that I'll be a good girl and never say it again, Sam contritely promised. I did make that condition to the rules that we always use first names, didn't I? She held up a hand, and her first two fingers split into a 'V.' So I'll be good... Scouts' honor.

You were never a scout, Jack told her with a grimace on his face.

Sam balked for a second. And just how do you know that? she demanded.

Jack's face burned a beet red, and he buried his embarrassment by taking another quick bite of pizza. She looked at him with that 'Tell me what you know, dammit!' expression on her face, but didn't say a word. But then, she didn't have to as the glare she wore said it all for her.

Finally, Jack sheepishly admitted, Because one day I got Walter to keep you in the Control Room for fifteen or twenty minutes while I looked up your online record... for the tenth... or eleventh... time.

Sam giggled, which kind of destroyed the hauty expression she was trying to send his way. It took you that many times to memorize my records? she inquired.

No, Jack said. Not the main details. It just took that long for the question of whether or not you had ever been a scout to come up in conversation between me and Daniel. I was checking your records again when I talked to Walter that day.

And what did you find out from my records? she asked him. That I had been a scout, or that I hadn't?

That you hadn't, Jack told her. Daniel said that you had. You won me twenty bucks that day.

You bet on me? Sam blurted in incredulity.

For his reply, Jack scowled. As if you weren't aware of the entire SGC betting on the two of us for years! he retorted in a voice half strangled by fear. But he was somehow able to squeak out, I figured that a few more dollars couldn't hurt the situation any.

Hmph, Sam grunted. They're probably still betting on the two of us. Jack and Sam had become much more open about their regard for each other since her divorce... Well... open for them, anyway. It was almost as if that divorce of hers had made them suddenly even more equal. Yet being honest with him, and being honest with herself, still scared her half to death. So she grimaced. Not that betting will do any good in the long run now, she managed to nonchalantly comment.

What's that supposed to mean? Jack demanded as he faced her again, not sounding as nonchalant as she had, but suddenly intense. Daniel told me that the minute your divorce was finalized, and known in the SGC as finalized, the bets took off again like you wouldn't believe.

Sam tauntingly shook her head. Oh, come on, she wheedled. You can be honest, after all. This is still me, you know. When he didn't say anything, she continued, What would you want with someone like me, anyway? She looked pointedly down at her legs, as if she were reminding him that she couldn't even walk without help these days. However, her voice was still light, if a forced light, and she jokingly added, I can't even do any ironing anymore!

His expression the opposite of her joking one, Jack scowled heavily, and dropped his pizza back into the box. He meticulously wiped his fingers with a napkin that he'd been given at the pizzeria, then carefully asked, Is that what you really think, Sam? That anything I might have ever felt for you can be reduced down to whether or not you can do any ironing now?

Sam gazed blankly at him, pizza sauce covering her fingers as well. In another situation, she might have thought this scene was from a TV comedy or something. But the scowl on his face was no comedy.

Jack then went on in incredulity, I don't even have any ironing!

Sam carefully placed her slice of pizza back in the box on the side nearest her. So then, he was going to be more open about how he'd always felt for her? That was all right... she could talk about what seemed to have been common knowledge anyway. Equally as deliberate as he had just sounded, she said, No one would ever blame you, you know, if you didn't make those bets have a grain of truth in them. People just can't give up something they've been doing for a decade over night.

What are you saying here? Jack asked then in a suspicious tone.

Sam explained it to him as if she were explaining the situation to a small child. I'm saying that... She looked at Jack like she hadn't looked at him in years. She saw something burning in his eyes that she also hadn't seen for years: raw, bare-boned affection. For her.

Which surprised her. How could he still harbor feelings of any kind for her? And harbor them now? But, no matter how either one of them may or may not have felt, they looked at the situation in a new light now: it was waaaaay too late for looking at it at all. Way too late for them. Way too late for her. Come on, Jack, Sam gently prodded at last. You can't really think that I think that... Just how had they gotten onto this topic, anyway?

Jack cut her off by abruptly standing and gazing at her in a pain that was so carefully concealed that it looked like he might crack at any moment from the internal stress of continuing to keep his feelings for her bottled up inside him. So it sounded like he simply blurted the next thing that came to his mind. I retired, Sam, he precipitately told her.

Sam blinked. She abruptly felt almost too numb to ask, You did what?

Retired, he repeated.

Finally Sam felt a tiny bit of thawing begin around her mouth and throat. She asked, Why would you do that?

Jack sighed, his hands on his hips, and also looking as if he wondered how they had gotten on this topic of conversation, even though he had been the one to bring it up. He sighed again, his breath of air sounding almost regretful in the room. Are you really that dumb? he asked at long last.

Sam gaped anew. He'd always proclaimed that she was a genius... hardly someone who was dumb! Am I..? She choked. ... dumb? She continued to stare. Well, no! she said at last, and swallowed to help her regain her equilibrium. But no one, least of all me, would ever expect you to still have even the same respect for me anymore! To say nothing of feeling anything more...

Do I seem that shallow to you? he probed, cutting her off.

Sam sat, stunned, on the sofa. Well... No! she eventually was able to exclaim. But I...

You, of all people, should know...

Why should I know anything? Sam demanded of him, her incredulity bordering on anger now. You've never said one word to make me think...

And did you say anything? he suddenly challenged. Then he gestured at her. You were engaged to another man! he exclaimed. You even married him!

Yeah, dumbest thing I ever did, Sam shot back. I knew before the honeymoon was over what a stupid mistake I'd made. Hell, I'd known even before then. But you were already gone by the time I got back to Colorado, she accused. You weren't even around for me to tell!

I sure didn't want to stick around here and watch Mrs. Shanahan at the SGC! Jack scoffed. He looked like he was trying to restrain his natural inclination to get angry with her now, but he was losing the battle.

Just as angry as Jack was obviously becoming, Sam spoke, and her voice was incredulous as well as angry. Is that why you took that Homeworld Security promotion? Why you just disappeared one day? Because I got married? When Jack didn't respond to her question in any way, she went on, Just what did you expect me to do at the time? she asked, her words ripping accusatorily from her mouth. It was clear that she had wanted to ask this very thing of him for years. You were getting all cozy with What'shername, so I took...

Jack no longer looked angry. He only appeared confused. His brows lowered in a thunder of befuddlement over his forehead. What do you mean? he blurted, barely able to restrain his innate sense of betrayal, a sense that he obviously felt every time her marriage was even mentioned. Who's What'shername?

Sam sneered. As if you don't know! she exclaimed.

Jack grunted at her. No! he told her. I don't! His glare grew even more focused on her. You were the one who went traipsing off to God knows where with that husband of yours. His expression lowered in mocking sympathy, and he sarcastically commented, It's a real shame that that marriage didn't work out for you.

Sam interrupted his tirade again to proclaim, And do you know what he said after I signed the damned divorce papers? Jack had to shake his head, so Sam continued, He stood there, looked straight at me, and said, 'He'll never want someone broken, you know. You should have stayed by me when you had the chance. Now you don't have one fucking thing. And that's the way it should be.'

Jack's face screwed up in horror. He actually said that to you? he bellowed.

And more! Sam bellowed back. And do you know what else? she rhetorically continued to yell, highly incensed now. She would have stood up to face him if she could stand. The sad thing about all this was that, even though I hoped with all my might that he was wrong, deep down, I knew he was right! Then she seemed to deflate right before Jack's eyes as she suddenly leaned back into the couch cushions behind her. I came home and cried for the rest of the afternoon. Not that you cared, she snarled. Then she glared at him again. What the Hell are you here for anyway? she asked. Why aren't you spending all your sudden and retired free time with her?

Jack was beginning to get fully irritated now. So help me, Carter, if you don't tell me what you think is going on here, I might just blow a gasket!

Oh, you suddenly care now? Sam queried with a growl. How magnanimous of you. Come to say 'hi,' bring food, then leave as fast as you can to go back to...

His sudden flurry of activity stopped her cold. Jack leaned over her reclining form, not touching her, but placing his two hands on either side of her body so that she couldn't escape. He ground out through clenched teeth, If. You. Don't. Tell. Me. Right. Now. Who. You. Think. I've. Been. Spending. My. Time. With, Then. We. Have. Nothing. Left. To. Talk. About. His voice got lower and lower as he spoke, and sounded more dangerous the lower it got.

However, Sam matched him glare for glare. You know! she accused. With What'shername from the CIA!

Jack reared back for a second. The CIA? he echoed, baffled. Who the Hell's been hanging around me lately who's from the CIA?

Her name's Johnson! Sam hissed then. What'shername who I ran into that day I saw you and her in the backyard at your house! Don't tell me you've forgotten that day!

Jack looked as if she had just slapped him. His confusion was growing by the second. Kerry? he asked at last. Kerry Johnson? Is that who you mean?

If he still looked confused, Sam looked totally enraged. Why do you think I got married in the first place? she queried, her voice deadly. I was there in your damned back yard to pour my heart out to you, and What'shername walks out of your house like she owns the place! What the heck was I supposed to think except that you two were as cozy together as...

Suddenly Jack burst out laughing. Kerry! he chuckled in incredulity.

Kerry... What? Sam fiercely demanded. She didn't particularly appreciate being laughed at.

Now that he'd started, Jack couldn't stop laughing. It's just that..! He had to stop to laugh again. When he'd once more calmed enough to take control of himself, he went on, though still chuckling, It's just that... Kerry dumped me later on that day, even before your father died!

What? Sam skeptically asked him. She did what?

Dumped me! Jack chuckled. Years ago! Didn't you know?

Sam scowled at him, though her heart flipped over at what she had just heard him say. But she didn't dare to allow her sense of hope to take hold in her heart again. So she scowled at him instead. Why do you think I would know anything that happened to you? I didn't hear about that 'thing' going on between you two in the first place, so why the Hell should I hear that it had ended?

Just as suddenly as he had started laughing, Jack abruptly stopped. He gazed at her in sudden understanding. That's why you got married, he announced then in a normal sounding voice. You thought that I... He had to suddenly swallow. He wasn't laughing now. That I...

Sam acrimoniously finished for him. That you and What'shername were shacking it up, living the high life in DC while I was trying to put my whole fucking life back together again to...

Hey! Jack pointed his index finger in her face. You were off getting married to someone else while I was alone in DC! And it's not like you asked how it was for me, or anything!

Sam opened her mouth to retort something more, but she couldn't say anything as the truth of what had happened then suddenly hit her full force.

For the second time, the wind seemed to fly out of Sam, and she deflated right in front of his eyes. Crap, she softly said then, closing her eyes against the look on his face, and the horror that was slowly taking over her heart. Crap, she quietly repeated. I got married because I thought that you were with her... that you didn't care anymore. The numbness, instead of leaving, had enveloped her entire body now. Crap, crap, crap!

Jack plopped down on the sofa next to her. He dully said, You thought I was still with Kerry, so you got married because you thought that I didn't care anymore, and I thought that you got married because you didn't care anymore, so I left the SGC, so you couldn't ask me about why I had so suddenly left like that in the first place.

Sam's eyes were still closed, but she could practically picture the agony that had to be marring his features. And I knew I'd made a horrible mistake in about a month, ruined Pete's life, ruined my life, ruined your life, lived the year of hell, and got a divorce, all because of the fact that I just had to follow those dumb rules as if my life depended on it, which...

You know that regulation isn't just a 'dumb rule,' Sam, that it's there for a reason, Jack softly corrected her. If something had happened when we were in the field...

She cut him off. Something did happen when we were in the field, she acrimoniously stated. My whole life went in a direction that I never expected it to.

Jack stared at her from pain filled eyes, remembering. He slowly confessed, I was so scared those days when you were unconscious after the accident. He shook his head now as he recalled it all. The doctors in the Infirmary... Well, you know how they are. We didn't know if you were gonna make it or not. Finally he admitted, I was almost forced to leave the military during that time.

Forced? she asked, curious in spite of herself. How?

Jack gave a sharp grimace, as if he were now remembering something that he would prefer to forget. After a week, I was ordered back to DC, but I said that only Anubis and his band of merry Jaffa could make me leave, and then when the President threatened to either ask me to leave, or ask me to retire, I told him that I was right where I was most needed at the moment, and that... with all due respect, of course... that he and the Joint Chiefs could go defend their own friggin' planet themselves the next time it was under attack, that I'd had enough.

You didn't! Sam noted, half amused, and half horrified. When he didn't say more, she softly inquired, And the President let you get away with talking to him like that?

Jack shrugged. Well, I'm still here, aren't I? Then he conceded, At least, I was until yesterday, when I retired again, for good this time.

Sam almost couldn't quite believe what he was saying. You came to see me first, right away after you left DC? she asked, her natural affection and confusion at the situation while she had been unconscious now showing in her voice. Why? Why do any of it? She gazed at him, wanting to understand. You have to know that I... She took a breath, then plunged on, That I... Well, you thought I was still married right after that accident. She went on, adding, And now, that I'm not married, but a... She didn't go on, but she could tell that he knew what she wanted to say when she glanced again at her legs. You can't possibly want... Well, at least she'd tried to be honest with him as her voice was soaked up by the heavy silence now surrounding them.

Jack leaned back into the cushions behind him. What do I want now? he softly repeated at last. I want you. Then, louder, he went on, And no, I didn't come by here first. I didn't know you had been discharged. When she stared at him in disbelief, he added, I never read any of my memos! You know that! At last he went on to explain, Anyway, I went to the SGC first... got a room, a place to stay. Then I came here.

Sam stared at him in amazement. He had come to see her as soon as he had arrived in Colorado? Basically? And what time did you get in? she queried next.

Jack was silent, then he whispered, 0500.

Sam turned to stare out the window at the frozen ground of early December in utter astonishment that he'd wanted to see her so soon. That frozen sight that she was staring at was exactly what had become of her nervous system, as it was now completely numb, though this time it had gone numb in awe.

Finally, she was able to take in a bit of what she was staring at. It hadn't snowed yet, but the mountains had snow on their peaks, and it was only a matter of time before Colorado Springs would be buried under a blanket of white powder as well. Probably by Christmas, Sam absently thought. So that's how it is, she grunted at last in a tone of understanding, her voice sounding small in her empty house. That was quick.

As quick as I could get here, he said then, trying to explain to her.

She turned to gaze at him, taking in for the first time the gun metal gray sweater he was wearing. It's casualness matched his jeans quite well, and made his silver hair shine in the afternoon light. How long do you plan to stay? she gently inquired.

Jack gave her a tentative smile then. That depends on you, he softly told her. I can head up to my cabin right now and disappear into a future of hazy retirement. Unless... you want me to stay here, he suggested, his voice light, nonchalant... but the hope in it was palpable.

Um... Sam sounded timid, in spite of her best efforts not to. Then she gave voice to her own sense of hope that was even now only lurking in the back of her mind. She couldn't help it. Um... Christmas? she hazarded to suggest. For the time being?

Jack grinned. Subject to change at any time in the future? Make it more... permanent? he asked, making a condition to her original suggestion. She nodded, smiling shyly now, too. As long as that change only goes in the right direction, Jack told her again. And I end up staying... for awhile... you've got a deal.

He smiled sappily at Sam, and she couldn't help smiling just as sappily back.

Quiet now, they ate their pizza in silence.

But as it began to snow, they both had to admit that the quiet had become a flirty silence rather than a heavy, regretful one. And they both liked that. A lot.

* * *

On December 15th, an unremarkable, sealed envelope landed on the desk of a certain Detective Pete Shanahan at the Denver Police Department, where he had transferred back to after his and Sam's divorce. He opened it to find a letter, with only a few lines of text included.

Shanahan,

You don't know what you're missing. And it's got to drive you crazy knowing that, because of you, I got EXACTLY what I wanted for Christmas.

General Jack O'Neill, US Air Force, Retired


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