PART ONE: Chapter 1
It’s incredible. There’s no other way to describe the sight of her crushed beneath him, the sound of her breathless moans, the smell of their mixed bodies and sweat, the taste of her first climax lingering on his tongue, the feel of her pulling, trembling, loving. She’s incredible, and when that earth-shattering moment is finally upon them, her walls pulsating around him and his name on his lips, Jack lets go of all he ever knew and gives her all he knows he has.
They lie in and on each other for an eternity, limbs circling and moulding until they forget their names and lives and simply are. The night air is cool, even chilly, but they welcome the breeze that drifts through the open windows and dance upon their damp bodies. The crickets make love outside, and the soft bedside lamp drowns out the silver of the moon.
When they finally move again, it’s from neither necessity nor idleness, but an instinct that has recreated and redefined them. He rolls off her to rearrange the sheets and turn off the light at the same time as she shifts and reaches for the covers, the cotton just thick enough to ward off the cold. When their respective tasks are complete, they settle into each other again, this time with her weight on him. He has an arm wrapped around her, enjoying the soft, damp skin of her lower back under his fingers. Their breathing steadies, and the occasional brush of her lashes against his chest tells Jack she’s still awake. He wonders what she’s thinking.
“Comfortable?” There’s a hitch in his voice, the words unfamiliar territory for them both. Jack feels her breathing still.
“Yeah, I’m good,” she says softly, after a long silence. “You?”
They have returned to the basics because it’s the only place where they can still exist together in their spring cocoon. Simple pronouns, fragmented sentences, the absence of sir or Carter. “Good.”
It has been a long week—a long lifetime—and Jack desires nothing more than to savour a moment of peace with her in his arms. But he’s alert enough to catch the slight inflexion that tells him she wants to talk. Jack isn’t sure he was ready for words—if he’ll ever be ready for words—but he’s the one who started the conversation; now he doesn’t know where to begin. He doesn’t even know what he should call her.
She saves him from his indecision. “These last few days have been great.” Barely a whisper, her warm breath caresses his chest, making his spine tingle. “Thank you.”
“It was nothing,” Jack replies, too casually, before realising what he’s implying. “I mean, it was really something…”
He trails off, unsure if he has said too much. They kissed, they touched, they came together, but they never told each other. For them, feeling—and knowing—has always been enough.
“I should set the alarm.”
She surprises him with her offhand remark, and it takes Jack a while to process what she’s really saying. When he does, his stomach tightens. “What time?”
He reaches for the digital clock, fulfilling her request. It’s only nine-thirty, but the night feels much older. Jack’s fingers linger as he sets the clock down, hoping she will interpret his hesitation as reluctance at the prospect of rising so early.
“You can still sleep in,” she says quietly, her voice betraying none of her feelings. “It’s still Sunday for you.”
Perhaps it’s his imagination, his paranoia, but she almost sounds eager to leave him in bed as she slips out the next morning. It will be so unlike their last few mornings, waking up to the sun on his face and her in his arms, their soft kisses more delicious than the lazy brunches that followed. Those hours seem unreal now, and instead of their laughter and murmurs, Jack hears the finality of her shoes against the floor as she returns to her life. Perhaps it will come easily to her; perhaps she has done the same many times before with her previous lovers and it has become routine.
“You okay?” The trace of her hesitation prompts Jack to swallow the resentment rising from his chest, dispelling the images he inadvertently conjured.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he replies, an echo of their earlier exchange. But their words mean something different now, and when Jack holds her again, her tense limbs tells him she’s aware. “I’ll get up with you tomorrow. See you off at the airport.”
“Thanks,” she says, and Jack knows she means it. She relaxes in his arms, her breathing resuming its steady rhythm. The last few days are a blur—a sweet, blissful blur—of their own haze, and Jack has forgotten there’s a world beyond them. But she remembers—she’s obligated to remember—and only spoke out of consideration for him.
They have had their week-long vacation, all those hours at his cabin that’s the heart of his life, uninterrupted after Daniel and Teal’c left early to give them some privacy. A long time ago, Sunday would have meant one more day of kisses and cuddles and slow love-making; the end of a week, resting just before the beginning of another. Week’s end, weekend.
But there were no weekends in Colorado Springs, only a steady stream of Mondays for months, followed by a Thursday evening every half year if they were lucky; their schedule was based on the ever-present need to defend their planet. Even with the Goa’uld finally defeated, even with the promise of a more stable, punctual job, Jack looks back and only sees the months that just roll on into years. Now, because he doesn’t have weeks, there is no weekend. Now, it only feels like the end.
He doesn’t want them to end.
The conviction he suddenly felt startles Jack. He has toyed with the idea of them before, acted out the scenarios in his mind like a boy with his figurines, but he never thought more of it than he should. Perhaps he has spent too much time playing that he’s forgotten how to discard his toy soldiers in favour of the real thing. When they shared their first kiss—their first real kiss—days before, it felt unreal. Oh, she was incredibly real, her scent and her hair and her lips that found his throat, but that was beyond the reality of the outside world. But here in his bed, lying with her hours after they made love, Jack’s struck with an impact that makes him feel sick with joy and regret. Joy because they have finally made it so far; regret because it has taken them so long. And because he has to watch her go tomorrow without knowing if she would return.
Jack closes his eyes and takes a slow breath, inhaling the faint jasmine from her hair and, beneath that, the deeper, muskier scent that’s all her. For eight years, her scent had taunted him, danced around him in a quiet whisper, eluded him when he tried to grasp it. Eight years, and he has finally caught her. He won’t let them end. Jack touches her hair softly, letting her know that he wants to talk, that he’s ready to talk.
His heart falls when he realises she has fallen asleep. Not wanting to wake her, Jack withdraws his hand, ignoring the slight trembling. She has fallen asleep, on him. Granted, it isn’t during the middle of sex, and she does have a full day ahead of her, plane after plane, but she had indicated to him she wanted to talk, only to fall asleep.
And all of a sudden, words bubble to the surface. Incomplete thoughts and barely-coherent sentences struggle to be said, and Jack tightens his jaw, fighting to keep them from escaping. He needs her to listen and understand, he needs her reassurance that she will be back in his arms again, and soon. He has spent so many years lost and adrift, now he needs to be grounded again. He needs to build his life again, and this time with her.
The frustration at not being able to convey his feelings, to tell her all of this now, gnaws at him. He will have to wait till morning, and hope that she will be receptive enough without her coffee. Jack winces, instantly realising his mistake. Coffee first, then. Then…
He has another week off before starting his new job at Washington DC. He has ample time to pack his belongings and, if she agrees, hers as well. Jack hadn’t been ecstatic about the part of his promotion that comes with a desk and its mountain of accessories, but he sees the advantage now. She had worked on the Stargate program from the Pentagon before, and now the Goa’uld threat no longer exists, she will not be needed in the forefront. There is no more forefront, after SG-1 disbanded. And that gives Jack room for something more important than saving the earth on a weekly basis.
Jack knows there’s no possibility of getting any sleep that night. His mind whirrs—this can happen; they can happen. There would be no end—only one hell of a beginning. She wouldn’t have to go to Area 51, hours away from him; there are gadgets and spaceships for her to play with in Washington DC, ten minutes away from where he would command Homeworld Security. They would buy a nice apartment, the penthouse, so they could spend their evenings making love under the stars, and she would point out all the planets they had visited, and he would trace all the freckles on her back that belong to her own constellation. They would share breakfast in the quiet companionship of two people who have finally outgrown the mess hall, quickly pile their dishes in the sink, then drive together to work, listening to Melissa Etheridge or The Clash, depending on whose day it is. He would give her a quick but firm kiss goodbye as he drops her off, and wear a smile as he weaves through the traffic before reaching his own destination. After a few hours of reading reports and approving proposals, he would rise from his chair, nod to his aide on his way out of the office, and join her for lunch. On days when the sun turns the nearby ponds into a dazzling blanket of velvet, they would stroll in the park and feed the ducks. Their lunch break would end all too soon, but they would part ways with lighter hearts. In the afternoons when he attends meetings and negotiations, his mind would drift away from political repartee to the way she had smiled and her presence as they walked, hand in hand. He would give her a call on the cusp of dusk, and minutes later, he would greet her with another, more thorough kiss, and he would drive them home, caring only about the music of her voice. Dinner would depend on their mood—sometimes, it would be at an intimate table in their favourite restaurants; sometimes, it would be a barbeque on the balcony, beers in hand; sometimes, it would be a simple dish adorned with wine, candlelight, and each other. They would chastise the other when one was tempted to take sick leave after a long night, but they would plan their weeks in Minnesota around their annual leave. There would be the occasional visit to Colorado Springs when Daniel returns from Atlantis, and a few trips to Dakara to visit Teal’c. Perhaps they would decide to explore more of their own planet, and travel to Asia, across Europe, all the way down to Australia, and finally discover the Furlings. Perhaps they would even have children—if that’s what she wanted. Jack would do anything, as long as she wanted it.
The sky’s no longer completely dark. The first birds start to chirp for the morning; if Jack remembers correctly, the alarm will go off in another ten or fifteen minutes. He looks down at the woman whose face is now buried in the side of his chest, and is surprised he did not notice her shifting through the night. Jack rubs his eyes with his spare hand, taking care not to disturb her while she still uses his other arm as a pillow. Vaguely, he feels the slight numbing sensation that consolidates the reality of their night spent together. He hopes there will be many more nights, days and nights that resemble the pictures he paints in his mind. Those images of what could be teases him even as he runs his fingers gently through her hair, the golden strands only just visible. It would be perfect—their life would be perfect. He’s sure of it.
Jack holds onto that certainty as she begins to stir, first with the altered rhythm of her breathing, then with her leg that rubs sleepily against his, and finally with the slow turning of her head towards him, her eyes opening to reveal a blue deeper and more captivating than any vortex.
“Hey,” he whispers, his voice cracking from disuse. “Sleep well?”
She blinks a few times to clear that precious haze of waking, but keeps her gaze on him. “Yeah,” she replies in a rough, low tone that vibrates through him. “I had the most amazing dream.”
His lips curves into a smile as he brushes them against her forehead. “So did I.”
Jack can’t see it, but he knows she smiles in response. Then, quietly, making him throb with desire, and something more, “It’s not time yet, is it?”
“No,” he says, just as softly. “Not yet.”
Her hand plays with the hairs on his chest, then rests above his heart. Jack wonders if she can feel what she does to him. “I don’t want to go.”
Jack draws in a breath, more sharply than he intended. The birds continue to sing after her revelation, the sun continues to climb above the horizon, but his world stills, pinpointing that moment as their own. He does not hesitate, does not stop to think—he’s done with thinking.
“Then stay. Stay here, with me.”
She lifts her head, pinning him with boundless blue eyes—the world to him. She questions him with those eyes, and somewhere in the depths, Jack sees a flicker of confusion, of doubt. He quickly speaks again, striving to cast away those shadows before they can form.
“Not here,” he says, gesturing to his bedroom, his cabin. Then he covers her hand with his own. “Here. Stay here, with me. Always.” She relaxes. Encouraged, Jack continues. “You’ve been in my life for the last eight years, and I want to spend many, many more beside you. Don’t go to Area 51. Move with me to DC, Sam.”
Her name rolls off his tongue with a familiarity born for lovers, startling them both. But Jack had been prepared to face her surprise, not her discomfort; now, even with her in his arms, his heart in her hands, she withdraws into herself, her easy smile fading behind the mask he has seen so many times before.
Jack swallows, the sound pounding in his ears. “Sam?”
This time she pulls back her hand and shifts back so they are barely touching. Jack sees her reach for the sheets and draw a line between them, but he pays the action no heed. He refuses to glance down to confirm what he already knows.
“I should be getting ready,” she says after a long pause. “My flight’s at eight and I still have to pack.”
The finality in her tone makes his stomach drop. She has seen how they complement and complete each other, and yet she still chooses to turn her back—but Jack will not let her go without a fight, not without knowing why. “Just then you said you didn’t want to go, and now you can’t wait to get out the door.” His statement’s a challenge, for explanations, for answers. She’s almost at the edge of the bed now, clutching the sheets to cover her chest. This time he looks down at her hand; she shifts uncomfortably in response.
“I didn’t mean it like that…”
“Then what did you mean? Why don’t you spell it out for me, Sam?” She shudders—actually shudders—at his words, at his way of address. A flame lights somewhere within him, a heat completely different to the slow warmth he felt that morning. She has hurt him with her silent refusal, and now that Jack has found his ammunition, he doesn’t refrain from pulling the trigger. “What is it, Sam? Why can’t you tell me, Sam?”
He can see her struggling for words, undoubtedly for an eloquent and polite way to answer him. For a logical way. But he doesn’t want something pretty and constructed; Jack wants to hear the truth, ugly and raw.
“There are things I have to do,” she says, fixing her attention on the space between them. “I had a great time—really, I did—but the week’s over and I have to go now, to do things. Please, understand that.”
Her vagueness does not go unnoticed, and her slight plea only serves to anger him more. “So I’m just a week-long fling. Of course, now that you’ve got it out of your system, you can go back to doing all your very important ‘things’. Sure, just give me a call whenever you need another quick fuck. You’ve got my number.”
The alarm sounds, punctuating his last word with a shrill ringing, sending her jumping. Even as he swears silently and turns off the device, Jack relishes the perverse pleasure in seeing her flinch—a flinch caused by his words—and hates himself for it. He had expected her to struggle, to argue, not to acquiesce in a defeated tone, eyes sad. “Why do you have to cheapen what we have? Can’t you just take things as they are, Jack?”
Any trace of his anger dissolves when he hears her say his name, in that broken sigh that tugs at him. It dawns upon him exactly what he has said and done, and Jack’s swarmed with regrets once again. He had simply wanted to talk and share his joy—how did they end up like this, an arms-length away, a world apart?
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” he says, almost in a whisper. “It was completely uncalled for.” He opens his arms in an invitation, fearing for a heartbeat that she will turn away from his offer, from him, and walk away without a second glance like he deserves. But she moves towards him, albeit hesitantly, until they are curled in each other again, this time with bated breath, as if the slightest movement will cause the fragile illusions they built around themselves to shatter again.
He doesn’t know how long they stay like that, barely breathing, but it feels like an eternity and is too short. The rising sun, the universal enemy of lovers, finally stirs them.
“I really need to get ready and pack,” she murmurs against his neck. “I need to be in Nevada by noon, and I have to catch—”
“Two planes,” he finishes for her, trying to ignore her sudden stiffness. “I know.” He breathes in her scent before untangling from her, reluctantly.
She’s still uncomfortable—that much, he also knows. He moves quickly, without warning, swinging his legs across his side of the bed and rising, slipping into the boxers he picks off the floor, gathering the other clothes he discarded the night before. He turns around to give her as much of a smile as he can manage.
“I’ll take the other bathroom. Same thing for breakfast?”
She nods, her features softening, her mouth parting as if she can’t find the right words. Unsure whether he’s ready to hear what she has to say and starting to feel exposed in the doorway, Jack returns the nod and leaves her to her privacy. He makes for the shower, barely waiting for the water to heat before stepping in and taking solace in the few moments where everything washes away. Only when he turns off the tap and dries himself does he realise he has merely succeeded in washing off her scent.
But Jack refuses to allow himself to dwell. He has lost a night of sleep, but his body had been so well-rested during the past week that it picks up his slack. He dresses and heads for the kitchen, hearing the slight hissing from the pipes that tells him she’s still in the shower. Jack moves on instinct now, reaching for the eggs and the plates and the dash of beer, his arms and legs flying as he tends to the coffee and the orange juice. When she emerges from the room—his room, their room—Jack has finished setting the table, the steam still rising from the omelettes, the coffee hot. He pulls out the chair for her then takes his own, adding milk and sugar to his coffee while she sips hers, black. He picks up his knife and fork only after she does, and they eat together in silence, occasionally glancing at each other, then away.
It’s such a familiar scene, yet so different. The silence had been there during the other mornings, but it was of slow content, of being too engrossed in each other, of the shared heaviness in their limbs after having just made love. It was only the day before yesterday that he took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing it gently at first, then with more intent, before taking her fingers into his mouth. After that, they abandoned their half-eaten breakfast and satisfied another, deeper hunger, a chair tumbling as they sprawled onto the floor. It was wild and beyond imagining—she was wild, her hair jagged against the tiles, her cheeks flushed with desire, her legs wrapped around his waist, urging him on. When he sought her lips, she tasted like coffee as he had never known. They lay side by side afterwards, hands entwined, speechless for about a minute before a strained sound left her throat, their eyes met, and they let loose laughter that ended with them in tears. They were giddy, hysterical, in their own universe. Now they barely meet the other’s eyes.
Jack finishes his meal a few moments after she does, craving for more than what the food can provide. But he doesn’t know how to proceed, doesn’t know what he should say or do to ensure that this is just a rough patch and they would be okay, doesn’t know whether they are okay. All he sees are the shadows in her eyes, the thin line of her usually full lips, a stagnancy he has instigated by having said the wrong words for the right reasons. His heart falls as he realises he has no way of knowing whether she even understands his reasons from their convoluted conversation that morning.
But he won’t let that show, not here, not now. When he first drove them to his cabin, Daniel and Teal’c not far behind them in a separate car, Jack had sworn he would give her an amazing week, regardless of whether she allowed herself the luxury. So Jack raises his head and lifts his lips into another smile, one that falls false until he remembers that the woman he loves is sitting across him on the table in the kitchen of his cabin, his private retreat. The fact that she’s still here attests to so much.
“I’ll deal with the dishes,” he says. “You go back to your packing.”
She hesitates; she has always helped with the dishes. He cooks, she cleans—it had been their unspoken ritual for the past seven days. Jack doesn’t want to break it either, but he knows her preparation for her trip’s far more important. And he had pushed too far, too fast before; he needs to give her space.
“It’s okay, Sam,” he murmurs, unable to resist saying her name, unable to tear himself from her gaze. “It’ll really suck if the last thing you did as my guest was getting stuck elbow-deep in detergent.” Unable to hold back from taking her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze, he playfully adds, “Carter, that’s an order.”
Jack hasn’t called her that since the moment they first kissed; he has avoided her name altogether, in his speech and his thoughts—until that morning, he only let those three letters, that simple syllable, slip between gasps of pleasure. But he has made the right decision—she’s relaxing now, back on familiar ground. She gives him a smile of her own, a slow sunrise, and dips her head just enough to remain subordinate. “Yes, sir, right away, sir.”
He watches her rise, and waits for her footsteps to recede before letting his shoulders drop, his head in his hands. He hates this, hates all the subtext and tension that resides between the lines. The last eight years were written with things left unspoken, and though he’s thankful those stifled moments and awkward glances were a testament to their feelings, he wants to leave that part of his life behind. Jack’s a simple man, and he craves the sacred simplicity of having her at his side.
But first, he needs to know what she wants. And he has no way of finding out until she’s ready to tell him.
Jack rises to his feet in resignation and starts clearing away the plates and the coffee cups. He works methodically, rinsing, scrubbing, then rinsing again. Several times he almost lets the plates slip from his nonchalant grasp; he has always hated cleaning up, and now’s not an exception. After he places the last mug on the rack to dry, Jack glances at the orange numbers on the microwave that tells him they have to leave soon.
Sure enough, he hears her walk to the living room, suitcase in hand. She stands in her dress blues, medals gleaming, shirt neatly pressed. Jack must look surprised, because she smiles a little, and says, “I wasn’t sure how long this vacation would last, so I’d packed this, just in case.”
He relaxes at her words, comforted that some part of her had wanted this, even before she was certain of his reaction. “C’mere,” he says, gesturing at her with a hand. She closes the distance between them, her heels clicking against the wooden floorboards. Jack straightens her collar, catching a whiff of the jasmine and frangipani that he will always associate with her.
“There. Perfect.” The same doubt from earlier flashes across her eyes, and Jack fights hard to ignore it, keeping his voice light. “Ready to be chauffeured to the airport?”
She smiles at his choice of words. “Thanks, I really appreciate it.”
“No problem-o.” He grins, taking the suitcase from her and grabbing his keys. “It’s too far to walk anyway.”
He hears her soft chuckle as they make their way to the door. Jack’s turning the handle when she speaks up again. “Oh, I did your laundry with mine, but I’ve left your clothes in the dryer—we’ve got a few minutes so I could go and fold them now…”
He waves a hand, dismissing her. “I’ll deal with it later. Really, Carter, you’re supposed to be my guest.”
She looks a bit sheepish. “Sorry, sir.”
They have unknowingly slipped back into their ranks again with an ease for which he’s both appreciative and scornful. When they were soldiers they had wanted something more; now, he’s afraid they are comfortable with something less. Adamant to prove himself wrong, Jack abruptly drops the suitcase and pulls her to him, finds her lips and kisses her without reservation. She gasps, startled, and he wastes no time in slipping his tongue into her mouth, stroking her until she begins to moan. Her hands find his hair, and she tilts her head to give him better access, returning his kisses with the same fervour. Jack had been half-hard when he saw her in her dress blues; now, encouraged by her lips and tongue entwining with his, he throbs with need. As if reading his thoughts, she pushes her hips against his, causing him to groan and break the kiss.
“Oh god Sam, I swear I could take you right now.”
She responds by finding his lips again, her sweet, hot tongue caressing his mouth. Jack feels her hands slide under his shirt, her nails digging into his skin. He groans at the sensation, kissing her back. But as his hands travel down her neck, he finds the collar he fixed only minutes before, the crisp fabric a sharp reminder of where she has to be. He pulls back reluctantly, making her whimper. He feels as disappointed as she sounds.
“You have a plane to catch, remember?” he whispers, resting his nose against hers. “Two planes. And as prepared as you are, I doubt you brought a spare shirt.”
“No ironing board?”
There’s hope in her voice. That she considers, that she wants, is enough.
“No ironing board,” he repeats. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re surrounded by trees, trees, and more trees. Which is why it’ll take two hours to get to the airport.”
He sees the realisation on her face, followed by the embarrassment that stains her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking…”
“Ha, never thought I’d out-smart you!” She half-glares at him, then shakes her head in good humour. Grinning, Jack kisses her nose, then picks up her suitcase, crossing the short path that leads to his truck. He opens the door for her and follows it with a flourished bow. “Shuttle bus at your service, ma’am.”
This time she laughs aloud. “It’s too small to be a bus,” she mutters lightly as she climbs in. He scoffs, then closes her door, opening another to place her luggage in the back seat. He bites back a wince when he starts the ignition—the tightness of his pants will be uncomfortable during the long drive, especially since they are sharing a small space, but Jack knows he won’t regret his decision half as much as if he had not stopped them. More importantly, he doesn’t want her to have any regrets, and knowing Samantha Carter, Jack’s certain she would be angry at herself if she’s late.
He backs out the driveway to the trail that leads them away from his cabin. “You can choose the music.”
It’s a nonchalant offer, but the words bring back the long night of his futile fantasies. He dares not glance at her, afraid she will see his pain.
“Sure.” Oblivious, she reaches for the sun visor and considers her options. A few moments later, she still hasn’t made a decision.
“You didn’t seem to mind The Clash on the way down,” he jokes. Then he lets loose the first song that comes to mind, the words more spoken than sung, “‘I wanna get serious right away, 1-2, I got a crush on you.’ No?”
She fights hard to keep a straight face, and if he isn’t trying to make her laugh, Jack would’ve been wounded. “I think I’ll give The Clash a rest,” she replies with a smile. Her voice softens. “I kinda feel like something without words, you know?”
Jack nods; he couldn’t agree more. Those songs would drown out the words they carry in their hearts—right now, they need something that will encourage and tease out their thoughts without saying anything. “Check the glove box.”
She complies, withdrawing the stack of CDs. “Oooh, Aida—I’ve always wanted to see that! Wow, I didn’t know you listened to opera.”
“Every now and then,” he replies, making a mental note to take her out the next time Verdi’s performed. “I find the screeching…soothing. Leontyne Price’s screeching has the added bonus of also being smokin’ hot.” She elbows him in the ribs, and he chuckles in response. “There should be some other Classical in there, instruments only.”
She flips through the CDs, and Jack glances aside occasionally to see her reaction. She seems to be fond of Tchaikovsky; Mahler, not so much. His attention’s back on the road when she draws in an excited breath. He’s dying to know what it is.
She doesn’t answer, but takes the disc from its case and inserts it into the player in his radio, skipping to a particular track that she checks with the insert. The anticipation becomes a little too much.
“C’mon, what is it—?”
She shushes him. “You’ll find out.”
Jack resigns, keeping his eyes on the road, his ears on the sounds around him. He only hears the dirt passing below him, the hum of the engine, her suitcase jangling in the uneven road. And then…
The first chord, with its tender forlornness, grips him for three heartbeats before it slides into a scale so sensual he wants to cry. She has chosen the Bach Cello Suites—No. 5, to be exact. Of course. He aches, terribly and desperately, with every note of the cello that resonates through his truck, drowning out the erratic rhythm of his own heart. It has been so long since he listened to this music, so long that he has forgotten he even owns the recording. But this piece of music has stayed with him for life; this is what he always came back to. He had listened to the suites with his grandfather for as long as he can remember, the notes from the gramophone embracing him as he curled up with Gramps in the rocking chair. He had spent many nights during high school lying on his desk, losing himself to the music for hours on end, pulled away from the pile of homework he never completed. He had sighed with the cello after things didn’t work out with his first girlfriends; years later, after he lost Charlie, Jack had locked himself in his son’s room and let the music open up all his anger and grief. Throughout all these years, Jack had grown so intimate with Suite No. 5 that it has become him, and vice versa. Now, with the Prelude slipping into the Allemande, the Courante, Jack feels raw, exposed, his hands shaking as he grips the wheel.
She finally speaks, during the Sarabande, her voice complementing the cello. “Jack? Wanna talk?”
He has to clear his throat twice; still, he doesn’t trust himself to speak. “I’m okay,” he finally manages. “It’s just… I mean, it’s just really…”
“It’s the music, isn’t it?” She leans forward and finds his hand. “I’ve never heard this one before, but…wow. It’s so beautiful, it’s hard to breathe.”
He can’t love her more.
They listen on in silence, but something nags at him. Jack turns onto the highway, and realises pinpoints the twinge when they reach the sixth and final movement of the suite. He has to ask. “Why this one?”
“I don’t know. I’ve always loved No. 1, but I didn’t know anything about the other Suites and just wanted to try something new, so… I don’t know, it just seemed right, for some reason.”
He nods. The piece finishes, giving them a short interval before moving onto the livelier Sixth Suite. Jack loves this too—he loves all of the Six Suites—but it isn’t quite the same. He sighs softly, but there’s relief in that sound. “You want to borrow it? There’s some really good stuff you might like.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” he says, uncertain whether he’s lying. But she has refused him in so many other ways already, Jack needs her to accept at least this. “Really, you’ve only heard No. 1—you need to be re-educated!”
The atmosphere’s lighter, thanks to the playful turn of the music. “All right. Thanks.” Then, after a pause, “You know, I’ve always wanted to learn the cello.”
Jack suddenly sees her sitting with the instrument, caressing a Sarabande in the same way she makes love to him. “Why don’t you? You’d be amazing.”
“Learning an instrument takes a lot of dedication,” she says. He steals a glance at her, raising an eyebrow, unconvinced. “And time. A lot of time.”
“Ah.” That’s more plausible. “You’ll have more time at Area 51, won’t you?”
She considers his point. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
They grow quiet again, content with just having Bach enveloping them. They are halfway there, with an hour left in the drive. Their time’s far too short, but Jack doesn’t mind the silence because he knows she’s carefully listening to every sound of the cello, to every word he had tried to say and failed. The minutes always pass quickly when he listens to the Suites; this is no exception.
They have almost reached the airport when she surprises him by placing a hand on his lap, instantly getting his attention. “I’m sorry about…before. I guess I should have explained myself better.”
So they are having this conversation now, driving seventy miles an hour towards their inevitable goodbyes. And their next words would determine how loudly those goodbyes will ring.
“I’m sorry, too,” he replies. “I over-reacted and said things I shouldn’t have.”
She strokes him gently on the leg, accepting his apology. “I know the Goa’uld are no longer a threat. There are more important things to attend to, like Atlantis. The government can’t keep pouring money into a maintaining a frontline team when there’s no need… I know all of that.”
She’s making her way up to her point, so he listens without interrupting.
“But science…it’s important to the world, and it’s important to me. We can’t stop researching and experimenting just because a war’s over. Yes, we’ve made extraordinary leaps these past eight years, but there are so many more places to go, so much more to discover and learn. We’ve been pushing ourselves because it was a necessity; now that the threat’s over and war has ended, we shouldn’t just abandon science. Now is the most important time to research, to experiment, to challenge ourselves in ways that weren’t possible when we were fighting. The progress we made under stress has been remarkable, but now we need to breathe, and explore other possibilities, expand our creativity. Our imagination knows no bounds, and we must make the most of our peace to test those boundaries.”
She looks at him expectantly, afraid of his response. Jack drops a hand from the wheel and takes hers, wondering when she formulated those exact words, in all their eloquence. Perhaps at the cello’s Prelude, perhaps in the wake of this morning. Perhaps during the debrief forty minutes after Anubis’s demise.
“I never meant to belittle what you do.” He chooses his words carefully. “You know how much I respect you as a scientist, Sam. I just thought…maybe you could continue your research at the Pentagon. You’ve spent a few years there, working on the Stargate, before.”
“It’s not the same. All the technology, all the most important research’s conducted at Area 51. You know that.”
He does know. But he also knows he has wasted eight years, and he doesn’t want to spend the next few holed up in his office, hours away from her, only able to see and touch and kiss her during the holidays. “The Pentagon has several projects too—you can work with the companies developing the technology.” She shakes her head, but he continues. “And your rank will mean a lot more at the Pentagon than in Area 51, so you’ll have more flexibility to do what you want, and—”
“There’s nothing in DC for me.” The words slice straight through his heart. She starts, instantly realising her mistake. “I mean, there’s nothing for me to do in the Pentagon. Everything I’ve ever dreamed of doing’s in Nevada.”
Her clarification doesn’t hurt any less; in fact, it lodges the knife deeper. “So Area 51 it is.”
“Area 51 it is,” she repeats. Then she sighs and squeezes his hand. “This is important to me, Jack. Please understand that.”
But the truth is, no matter how much he tries, how hard he tries, he will never understand, because she’s the most important to him. Anything else is unfathomable, and that he can be otherwise, second—by a long, long way—on her list, is a slap in the face. Science is everything to her; he is nothing.
Jack withdraws his hand on the pretext that he has to concentrate on driving, but he knows she won’t buy it. After a brief hesitation, she removes her hand too, leaving his entire leg suddenly cold. He drives on, nearing the airport, finding himself not caring any more. There’s nothing in DC for her.
He pulls into the departures ramp after a lifetime, and all too soon. He doesn’t bother killing the engine.
“Here we are.” He keeps his weariness out of his voice. “Don’t forget the Bach.” Jack isn’t sure if he’s referring to the music any more. He softens when he catches the flash of pain across her features. “Need help with your luggage?”
“I’ll be fine,” she says, composing herself. She gives him a small smile, one that doesn’t reach her eyes. “Thanks for…everything.” She’s halfway out the door when she turns around. “I’ll call you.”
Jack can only nod. She seems satisfied, if only just for a moment.
“And say goodbye to Daniel and Teal’c for me?”
“Yeah, I will.” He longs to reach for her, to apologise for being an ass and to tell her that he will support her, regardless. But he would be lying to ease both their uncertainties, and she deserves better. “Take care.”
“Yeah, I will,” she echoes, her voice just as hollow. She takes out her suitcase and pauses. “You too, Jack.”
She closes the door, and with it, any hope he has of escaping reality. She walks away without a second glance, stride sure, head high. Jack watches as she approaches the building and the automatic doors that welcome her to begin the next part of her life. A life that doesn’t include him.
And then she’s gone.
His engine’s still running. There’s nothing left but to drive away from her, drive towards what’s left of her, drive back into the past week with her. So he pushes away all his emotions, all the confusion and ache that tear at him, and drives. There isn’t a sound left in his truck, not the cello, not her soft breathing, only the taunting of his good-for-nothing thoughts. He’s tired of thinking, tired of deliberating and planning and hoping, when it all comes to no avail. He’s just tired; perhaps it’s the sleepless night, perhaps it’s his age catching up to him. But the road rolls on, the miles and minutes passing at an excruciating pace, the asphalt mocking him. Turning off the highway and onto the dirt road that leads to his cabin offers him little respite; he still has a good twenty minutes of a bumpy drive, one which increases the pounding of his head every time his truck jars against him. Jack tightens his jaw, having no outlet for his frustration, having no choice but to endure.
His cabin comes into view, but it proves to be the anticlimactic end of a tedious drive. Jack swears loudly when he steps out of his truck and his knees almost give way from the unexpected weight. He slams the door shut, cursing under his breath as he twists the handle and lets himself in. In his preoccupation with the woman whose place in his life’s now uncertain, Jack has forgotten to leave the windows open. The rooms are musty and stifling, and Jack wants nothing better than to go for a run in the woods and let the fresh air cleanse him. But he’s also exhausted, his body protesting, and he needs to bury himself in his bed, in her scent, and tell himself that it will be all right, because they are real, they will somehow get through this. Finding comfort in the thought, he stumbles through his cabin, heading for the one place that can be his haven.
When he finally walks into his bedroom, the tears rise within him, swift and hot. She has re-made the bed. The sheets that were stained with their languishing and laughter and love have been stripped; in their place are stiff new linen, sterile. The old sheets, the stray strands of hair and the indent she left on her pillow, are gone. The memories are gone, washed away and smoothed over, carelessly left in the dryer. She had done it out of consideration, perhaps even out of guilt for having to leave him; Jack takes it as his punishment for not understanding, not trying hard enough.
And now, the only sign that she has been in the room, that she has been in his life so intimately at all, is the resounding emptiness of his heart.