PART TWO: Chapter 5
Sam surveys the empty rooms, the ache growing in her heart. Her opinion of the penthouse has not changed since her last visit—if anything, she finds the apartment even more appealing. She now notices new things from the old things: the slight inward curve in the living room, the simple silver doorknobs, the rough texture of the wooden shelves in the built-in closets. Her first visit had been about her grand plans of transforming the place to her home; her second sees the small details that already bespeaks of homeliness. She loves the apartment, and wants to call it hers.
But this time, because the excitement of realisation has worn off, Sam has a chance to observe the man taking in the empty rooms with a reverence she has only seen a few times before. Still reserved and quiet, he plays his part of accompanying her rather than being there for himself; but Sam knows Jack too well to buy his façade. He wants the apartment just as much as she, perhaps more.
And he deserves to be there, more than she does. In the few minutes they had to themselves before the real estate agent arrived, Jack had quickly told her about his current living arrangements, how this is his first attempt at house-hunting since moving to DC. She hadn’t asked for an explanation—not so much in words—and had felt a twinge of sympathy.
“Funny, how we’ve travelled all around the galaxy but still don’t know where home is,” he had said.
Now, Sam watches him, the man who has taken so much away from her but has given her so much more, and sees that Jack longs to make this place his home. And only she stands in his way.
Sam tears her eyes away and looks around the penthouse again, through the windows, up the windy stairs. She would’ve liked to replace the blinds with curtains, soft lace for the living room, rich velvet for the bedroom. The walls would be painted a light blue, reminiscent of the event horizon, but the study would be green, peridot even. She would prop her cello downstairs, perhaps even buy a baby grand and learn that too—she would certainly have the room for it. But Sam will never know how the laces and paint and piano would look; this place will never be hers.
With the courage that had escaped her once upon a time in her lab, at a moment when it really mattered, Sam finds his hand, and squeezes it gently.
“You should buy it, Jack. It really suits you.”
His initial surprise at the unexpected touch turns into guilt. “What are you saying?”
Sam offers him a watery smile. This feels like a replay of the scene all those years ago, and though the script has been altered, the ending will remain the same. “You’ll turn it into a good home. You should buy it.” When he simply stares at her with an intensity that makes her tingle, Sam breaks their contact and walks towards the glass balcony door, running a finger down the smooth surface. “I can’t really afford it anyway,” she says, not daring to look at him in case he sees through her lie. “And there are a few other places I’m considering, which are more along the lines of what I’m looking for. So you should take it.”
He’s beside her, and she longs to lean against him and feel his cheek against her hair, like they’ve done so many times before. “Are you sure?”
Once, she had been too afraid to tell him her true feelings; now, she will lie if it grants his happiness. She can give him that much. Sam swallows, then squarely meets his eyes.
“Yes, I’m sure. You should buy it.”
He nods, slowly, as if listening for the words she has not said. “If that’s what you want.”
His response puzzles her, and Sam finds his proximity too close for comfort. Her resolve begins to crumble, and she feels the urgent need to be far away, where she can regain her control. Even after all these years, after all her efforts and preparation before taking the plane that brought her to the city where he lives, Sam can’t deny the effect he has on her.
So she makes an excuse and hopes he won’t be suspicious. She doesn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed when he nods again and watches her leave.
Sam shares her lunch in her new lab at the Pentagon with a comprehensive review of the hyperdrive specifications for the George Hammond. She’s almost finished her salad when she hears her ringtone and searches her memory for the unfamiliar number outside the military, flashing across the small screen. She brings the phone to her ear, her other hand still making corrections on the document in front.
“Samantha Carter speaking.” She crosses out a number and pencils in her own.
“Good afternoon, Ms Carter, this is Valerie Andrews from Chatel Real Estate. Is this a good time for you?”
Sam’s hand stills, and she tries to recall whether she had done anything to warrant the phone call. “Yes. Is this regarding the penthouse on 7th Street South?”
“That’s correct.” Sam places down her pencil. The joy in the woman’s voice carries through the connection. “I was wondering if you could come by the apartment sometime today? The sooner the better.”
Sam frowns. “I’m sorry, Ms Andrews, I’m not sure if I understand what’s going on here.”
“You are interested in the penthouse, am I correct?”
Sam considers replying in the negative, but she doesn’t want to provide any further explanations for her sudden change of mind. Besides, her curiosity, once aroused, is not easily dispelled. She makes a sound of agreement.
“Then I insist you drop by, Ms Carter. Perhaps in the next half hour, if it’s convenient for you?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” Sam replies, her perplexity increasing.
“Excellent. See you soon!”
The real estate agent hangs up before Sam can reply. She systematically makes a note of her progress, quickly changes into a blouse and jeans, then leaves the building, climbing into the Ford she’s rented for the week. She tries to unravel her confusion as she drives. When she pulls into the parking area, Sam glances at the clock, which confirms the apartment is less than ten minutes away from the Pentagon. Somehow, the consolidation of this knowledge only serves to increase her anxiety about the sudden call.
Sam makes her way to the building’s entrance, fixing a cool smile when she spots Valerie, a slim briefcase in hand. Sam can’t dismiss the agent’s genuine smile and twinkling eyes.
“Ms Carter! I’m so glad you could make it!”
“Yes, thank you,” Sam replies quickly. She follows the agent through the door and into the main foyer, then up the elevator to the top floor. Sam fidgets as she listens to the other woman’s small talk.
They reach the apartment, the door opening noiselessly after a twist of the key, and walk inside, stopping beside the kitchen.
“Congratulations, Ms Carter! I hope you’ll enjoy your new home!”
And Valerie holds the ring of keys to a bewildered Sam. Speechless, Sam takes it, her hands trembling. Dimly, she hears the briefcase being opened, followed by papers shuffling and the distinctive crinkling of cardboard and plastic.
“Here’s all your completed paperwork,” the agent continues, passing it to Sam. “And a little something, courtesy of Chatel Real Estate. I’ll put it on your counter here.”
Sam watches the woman move the dark red bag, no doubt containing a bottle of champagne. In her daze, she wonders about its variety and vintage.
“General O’Neill insisted upon your preference for Moët, and I hope the bottle chosen by our sales team is to your liking.”
Jack. All of a sudden, the pieces—until now, Sam didn’t know how many there are, or where they are—glow before her. She looks down at the paperwork, the complete legal contract for the penthouse, and those pieces click together so loudly that she feels dizzy.
There, on the line for the owner of the apartment, her full name stares back at her in Jack’s bold handwriting. She sees no hesitation, no second thoughts in the black ink woven into those letters. She skims through the first page, then the next, and the next. When she has gleaned all the crucial details of the contract, Sam turns back to the first page, the one with her name in his hand. The penthouse is now completely hers.
“General O’Neill also asked to give you this.” Sam puts aside the contract and takes the envelope. “Those are one complete set of keys,” Valerie gestures at the jagged brass, a cacophony of metal, in Sam’s hand. “The other set’s currently at the office, and I’ll drop them off in your mailbox later this afternoon. The transaction happened so quickly this morning that I haven’t had time to retrieve them from our sales manager—I’m sorry I can’t get them to you sooner. Do you have any questions?”
Oh, she has plenty of questions, but there only one man can answer them. “No, thank you,” Sam says, her eyes not leaving the keys, the contract, the envelope. She wants to be alone with her whirring thoughts and her pounding emotions, to untangle all those threads—but to voice that would be impolite. She doesn’t try to hide her gratitude when Valerie lifts her briefcase.
“Congratulations again, Ms Carter. I’ve left you my business card, in case you need to contact me. We hope you enjoy your new home.”
“Thank you,” Sam repeats, feeling like a broken record, but not caring. She doesn’t wait for the agent to leave the apartment—her apartment—before bringing up the envelope, tracing his name and rank, printed in the upper left corner just below the Air Force insignia. She turns it over, slipping her thumb under the flap, breaking the thin film of glue, transformed by his saliva. She lingers at the spot where his tongue has been, her heart clenching.
She pulls out the note, the thick stationery haphazardly folded. She drinks in his writing, just as bold, just as certain, his strokes just as powerful.
You told me to buy it, so I did. You’ll settle in in no time—just don’t go inviting Ancients to your housewarming and then blow up the place when you’ve put together a makeshift Stargate in the spare room.
All the best,
His words taste like goodbye.
Sam closes her eyes, not seeing the granite kitchen counters, the arch that leads to the dining room, the cloudless blue sky from the view that first captivated her. Instead, she sees Jack’s sincerity and anxiety, softened by the morning sun that filters into his cabin, when he asks her to move in with him, to stay with him, always.
And then she understands. With a muttered curse directed at herself, or him, or perhaps even both, Sam rushes out the door, his note in one hand, her keys in the other. She leaves the contract, not caring that the one document which entitles her to the penthouse, which stipulates her complete ownership without a mortgage, which contains clause after clause of every fitted light bulb and bathroom tile which now belongs to her. The apartment doesn’t matter, the promise of a home doesn’t matter.
None of it would matter, if she lost Jack.
She drives to the Pentagon first, parking in her designated spot but heading for his office, not hers. She meets his aide, and Sam’s anticipation dissipates when she’s told that he’s left for the day. She stands aside and pulls out her cell, pressing the number that would call his. It briefly occurs to her that she already has him on speed-dial. She bites back a groan when his voicemail greets her. She waits a few moments, pacing the floor and clutching her phone, before trying again. The result’s the same; she puts away her phone, the disappointment heavy in the slouch of her shoulders.
She turns back to the young Lieutenant, who’s been eying her the entire time. She asks, in a tight voice, for the General’s address. The Lieutenant respectfully refuses, reciting a privacy clause that Sam waves away mid-sentence. She explains, clearly and concisely, that she’s a Colonel of the United States Air Force and needs to contact him urgently in regards to a matter of national security. Under other circumstances, Sam might’ve been stumbled over the lie; now, she only focuses on finding him before it’s too late.
The aide shifts, uncomfortable, then picks up the desk phone, calling to confirm Sam’s identity. When the younger woman hangs up, Sam knows she has won, at least for now. The Lieutenant apologises, then reluctantly reads out the General’s address. Sam doesn’t need to hear it twice; she gives the aide a curt nod and is out the door before the Lieutenant can pick up a pen.
Sam spent her years in the city not far from where he lives, and only consults her map once when stopped at a red light. She pulls into his driveway, frustration welling when she sees his truck’s not there. Undeterred, she rings his doorbell, straining to hear any footsteps inside. When she receives no response, she tries the door and finds it locked. She can’t help but smile, knowing he’s finally developed the habit. It fades when Sam realises the locked door might indicate that he’s planned to leave the city for a while.
The memories return, hot and heavy. She’s at his cabin again, firmly tucked under his chin, away from the demands of the world. He murmurs into her hair, fingers running through it with a tenderness that makes her sigh. Even now, Sam wonders what he thinks of her shoulder length hair, and whether he would prefer if she cuts it. But she didn’t hold his opinion so highly then—she did, but she was too scared to allow it—and, as she releases her fist, Sam sees herself, immature and misguided, turning away from all he offered.
Sam wipes away the unexpected tears with the back of her hand, and tries his number again. She hangs up before the voicemail message reaches its third word. She sits on his porch and decides to wait, the keys to her new apartment digging into her thigh from its place in her jeans. She gets up after a few minutes and returns to her car, flipping through the maps left by the rental company. The only interstate one she finds is for Maryland, and Sam briefly considers driving to the airport and taking the next plane to Minnesota. She pauses when she remembers the aide mentioning nothing about an extended leave, and Sam slumps back into the seat, cradling her head in her hands. She’s never felt so restless or helpless.
It’s almost six now, the sky beginning to dim. Sam starts the ignition, her mind on the set of keys still in her pocket. She remembers the longing in his eyes as he drank in the apartment, and feels the same longing, too. She drives slowly, not knowing what to do once she reaches the apartment that’s now hers. The adrenaline has long faded, and Sam only feels a pang in her chest when she opens the door to the foyer for the first time. The ache increases as she rides up the elevator, and Sam isn’t so sure any more. His gift’s beyond generous, and, with the thrilling delight wearing off, she knows she can’t accept it.
Sam steps off the elevator at the top floor, slowly crossing the short distance to her door. The key slips in effortlessly, and she turns it, wondering if this first time would also be her last. She opens the door fully, allowing the light from the corridor into the apartment. Her breath catches when she registers what she sees.
There, in the middle of the empty living room, is Jack O’Neill.
He’s looking out the window when she finds him. Sam watches as he sees her, his expression unguarded. He has changed out of his dress blues into a casual shirt and dark pants that remind Sam of their evening at the opera; without his uniform, Jack looks like an ordinary man, embarrassed about being caught.
But Sam knows, better than anyone: he’s far from ordinary. Holding his gaze, Sam lets go of the door, letting the stream of light fold into itself until it disappears completely. She takes a moment to adjust to the darkness, then walks towards him, her eyes never leaving his. She stops at arm’s length.
Jack clears his throat. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be here.” He looks away briefly. “I just wanted to give you a house-warming gift.” Another pause. “I ran into the agent and she gave me the spare keys to drop in your mailbox, but then I saw the stuff you left in the kitchen and figured you were gone for a while. I shouldn’t have assumed.”
He starts to fidget, tugging the hem of his shirt, but Sam wants to be selfish for just a bit longer, and melt in his voice and memorise his face all over again.
“I just wanted it to be a surprise.”
She stares at him, and sees him swallow, the irony lost on neither of them. Sam had been ready to address the larger issue, but her curiosity has been piqued. “What is it?”
Jack gestures towards the balcony. Sam’s eyes widen at the silhouette against the city nightlights.
“A telescope? Jack…”
His name is a soft caress on her lips. Jack fights to relax, telling himself over and over that this is normal, that this is just a gift between colleagues…
“I was going to leave it at the door,” he continues, voice still thin, “but I thought I might as well put it together for you. Not that you’re incapable or anything. You can probably build a better one yourself.”
“Probably.” A smile flits across her lips; she has never seen Jack so nervous. His eyes dart down towards the movement, and Sam’s smile widens, just so.
“I should go,” he says softly, though he makes no effort to move. “Sorry for intruding.”
Sam lifts her hand, just slightly, before he can walk away. Jack inhales sharply, making the air swell around her. Then she finds his hand, and the world stills.
Her voice, as he had tried to seal away for the past few years—soft, confident, as smooth as the mouth from which it came—washes over him. And her hand, he longs to hold it against his heart, her skin cool like the last dew of morning. Jack knows what she’s asking, but he also knows she expects him to brush aside the unspoken question, because the answer’s been with them all along.
So he simply turns his hand, threading his fingers with hers. “I thought it’ll be nice to have something here to remind you of the Stargate program. Now you can look at the stars any time you want, remember the SG-1 days, plan the next time you travel among them.”
His words remind her of her dreams and aspirations, and tell her how much he understands and respects those whimsies. Perhaps, they wouldn’t be here, against the backdrop of evening lights, their joined hands between them, if he’d shown the same empathy years ago. Perhaps, they would’ve found another place, a house in the suburbs where he, retired, would look after their children, and she would leave her lab everyday and return to her family. Perhaps, they would’ve both retired to another planet, their only job in life to love each other and be loved. In an instant, Sam sees what they could’ve been, had she been more open, had he been less impulsive. And perhaps, at this same moment, all those other thems, with their own trials and tribulations, are being played out in the alternate realities where she didn’t turn him down and he didn’t walk away.
But she’s of this reality, the one in which Jack looks at her with liquid fire in his eyes. And in this reality, their endless possibilities are just about to begin.
She takes the smallest step towards him, her other hand raised, just a whisper away from his cheek.
“I don’t need the stars, Jack, or the program.” Her fingertips touch his skin, and he leans into her caress. “I need you.”
She reaches for him, slowly, tentatively; he meets her halfway. Sam closes her eyes at the feel of his lips, so soft, so tender, so like their last, but so much more. Then his arms are around her, and he kisses her as he always has, and always will. She moans into his mouth, his slight stubble sending tingles down her spine, and their tongues begin the age-old dance they’ve both so missed. Her hands pull at him, sliding under his shirt and up his back, marvelling at the hard heat of his body. His mouth leaves hers, only to press kisses across her jaw, down her neck. She whimpers when his tongue traces a path to her ear, and he responds by grazing his teeth against the sensitive skin there.
“Sam.” His voice is husky, hesitant, and she feels the urgency that simmers just beneath the statement that doubles as an implicit question. She closes her eyes again, inhaling his strong, spicy scent. All these years, she’s sought reminders of that smell: the smoky richness of black Russian tea, the sharp tang of naquadah, the mellow haze of her cello. She’d been a fool to think anything could come close.
She pulls away just enough to meet his gaze. “I need you, Jack.”
The doubts in his brown eyes melt into pools of desire. Her bold declaration leaves her naked, but Sam doesn’t care, her hands joining his as he strips her. He lays her down, the plush carpet warming to the blood rushing beneath her skin, then kneels, shedding his own clothing. In the semi-darkness, he’s wild and primal.
“Sam,” he manages, and then he’s inside, filling her, completing her. They make love, guided by their past, driven by their future, pinned by their present need to touch, to taste, to possess and be possessed. They come together, with tears, and sweat, and hearts, mingled.
All is still in their pocket of the world, high above the city. They hold and are held by each other like always, as if long months haven’t passed since the last time. Sam’s hand curls on his chest, and Jack nuzzles her hair.
She’s the first one to break the silence.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call.” Her words drift over his heart. “I wasn’t… I didn’t know how.”
Jack rubs his foot lightly against hers. “I’m sorry I didn’t try harder.”
She shuffles closer. They both know their apologies are unnecessary, that what happened, happened. And now, other things will happen too, little things, magnanimous things, things freed from the tinge of loneliness. Jack closes his eyes and smiles, and she smiles, too, and he knows this because her ear shifts slightly against his nose.
Then, unexpectedly, she shivers, and Jack gropes around for his jacket. She helps him, and their arms swing in the dark for a few moments. He only manages to find her jeans, but Sam’s more successful, returning with his shirt. Jack pulls the cotton over them, making sure her back is covered. When they return to their former position, her hands are cold.
Jack feels the soft contours of her body, and, knowing the answer, can’t resist his next question. “Are your nipples hard?” She jabs him sharply with her elbow. Jack accepts his punishment, and rubs her hands, then laces them with his fingers. “We need to get some blankets.”
“And a bed. Preferably one that goes in the bedroom.”
Jack nods. He decides not to voice his doubts about them making it upstairs on most days. “A couch in the living room. A very big one.”
She snorts softly, and Jack wants to hear more of that sound. “A sturdy table in the dining room.”
He groans, getting a vivid image of making love to her on such a table. Her soft giggle tells him she’s seen through him.
“We should paint all the walls a different colour,” he adds, and wonders why the idea of seeing Sam pushed up against a bright green hallway turns him on so much. “The entire Crayola collection.”
“Major General O’Neill,” she manages between laughs, “with a fluoro pink study. They’d think you’ve been brainwashed.”
He grins, then sobers a bit. “Not having a study. Work’s staying at work, for me.” It’s not really possible, but Jack’ll honour those words as much as he can. “Besides,” he murmurs between her brows, “don’t you need one of those, and then a lab?”
Sam’s throat clutches. “Work should stay at work. We should have a book room and a TV room, though.”
“Are you sure?” Jack understands her hesitation, but he also knows the importance of her position and won’t make the same mistake in asking her to choose. Sam responds by kissing him slowly, thoroughly. They part just enough to utter words of love, and then words turn into voices, voices into cries, cries into laughter.
When the sun starts rising, her fingers are warm and still tangled in his.
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