Learning to Live With It Part 14
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
Title: Learning to Live With It Part 14
Author: Su Freund
Category: Angst, Drama, Action/Adventure, Romance
Content Level: Age 13+
Content Warnings: Minor use of mild language
Pairings: Jack & Sam
Spoilers: Matter of Time, Threads, and general S9 spoilers
Summary: "He opened the door and she was there. It was yet another surprise in his recently confused and peculiar life."
Sequel/Series Info: Sequel to Learning to Live With It Part 13
Copyright (c) 2006 Su Freund
Art Credit: There is a gorgeous pic of Jack illustrating this fic on my site, made into a book cover by Fulinn28. Thanks Fulinn. If you want to go take a drool, here's the link: http://www.ficwithfins.com/AA3_1/archive/2/learningto14.html
Author's Note: Many thanks to Bonnie for beta reading this fic
Learning to Live With It Part 14
He opened the door and she was there. It was yet another surprise in his recently confused and peculiar life.
"Sam! W-what are you doing here?"
He suddenly felt a little hot and clammy and tried to quell his nerves. Jack had thought he probably wouldn't see Sam again for a long time, but here she was larger a life.
When they'd parted a couple of weeks before, it had been painful to say goodbye and much harder to walk away than he'd pretended. Jack had thought about her a lot in the intervening period but wasn't sure he was ready to see her again so soon. Then again, he hadn't been ready for her last time either.
"I really need to talk to you Jack."
"Didn't we do enough talking a few days ago?" His tone was sharp and brusque.
"Not about this."
"Ah! I don't think I want to talk about that."
"Aren't you in the least curious to know why?"
"If this is why you came to DC, you wasted a trip. It's been months, Sam, why now?"
"Because now I can talk about it Jack. I understand it, at last. Aren't you going to let me in?"
"I don't know."
He really was debating closing the door in her face, but how could he do that? This was Sam, despite everything, this was the woman he loved, the woman he would do almost anything for - almost. What she asked of him might be too much. He risked exposure and that notion troubled him deeply. Hadn't he been exposed enough already?
"Jack, please! I need this, and I think you do too."
This was his chance to find out why, so why didn't he snatch at it? Maybe because he wasn't sure he wanted to hear what she had to say. Finding out how badly he'd screwed up might make him feel a whole lot worse than he did already. He didn't open the door further, merely stood there silently.
"Please. I've been plucking up the courage to come here ever since I saw you last. I've paced up and down outside for ages. I know I hurt you, and I deeply regret that. I need you to know why."
"So your conscience can be clear?" he retorted sarcastically.
"No, so yours can."
That simultaneously took him aback and stirred his curiosity, so he pulled the door open and gestured for her to enter.
"You could have just picked the lock, then I wouldn't have had any choice," he said acerbically, recalling their recent encounter.
"Generally speaking I believe in the concept of free will," she responded.
"So that's why you broke into my place a couple of weeks back?"
"That was a little different, don't you think?"
He said nothing but indicated she should sit down.
"So?" he asked, sitting opposite and deliberately keeping her at arm's length.
"Aren't you going to offer me a coffee or something?"
Sam wasn't sure she was bothered about having a drink but she did need to settle her nerves. Thinking about talking to him and actually carrying it through were two entirely different things. Now she was face to face with him, her anxiety had doubled and her brain suddenly seemed to have packed its bags, given up its occupancy and moved elsewhere; possibly on vacation to the Caribbean where it was sunning itself right now. Sam was kind of wishing she could go with it and played for just a small amount of time to allow her to focus.
"Will beer do?" Jack asked way more politely than she'd imagined.
"Sure. Thanks," she replied, offering a faint smile. Jack fetched one beer each and then sat down and looked at her expectantly.
"Okay, let's get this over with and then you can leave and let me get on with my life."
Sam knew he would make this hard for her and hoped she could find the strength to stand up to his obstinate and forbidding reaction. When she had broken into his house, once he'd got over the shock, he had behaved close to normal towards her. Now this. She guessed he reacted differently because this was an entirely different kind of meeting, with an altogether different purpose.
"Oh Jack, why do you have to make it so hard?"
"I should make it easy?"
"I guess I don't deserve you to."
Jack didn't respond, hiding behind the beer he was sipping and continuing to look at her. She was so beautiful. He wanted to...no, he could not allow that to happen. He couldn't open his heart again; it was still too raw, even after all these months. Tearing his gaze away, he sought to avoid her eyes in case she ensnared him, knowing it could easily happen if he let himself slip up by even a small fraction.
"I've done a lot of growing up in these last few months," she started. "I know I hurt you far too much, Jack. I never wanted that, but I couldn't do that growing up with you in my life. I needed to do it alone, evolve without you."
She paused to let that sink in, trying to search his face but finding it impenetrable. If only she could look into his eyes. If she could see... but he clearly was in no mood to allow that intimacy. Sam guessed she couldn't blame him for that.
"It was like going out with my CO," she declared, hoping that blunt and to the point might work for him. It elicited a response.
"I was your CO."
"I always felt that between us Jack. I was still taking your orders. I never wanted a relationship like that with you."
"Neither did I Sam. I didn't know that's what it was like for you."
The notion was disturbing, and upset him. He had never wanted it to be like that - never! Did she believe he did? Did she think he wanted to dominate her? It was never something he had even considered as a possible reason for their break-up. She had needed a relationship of equals and he had failed her.
"How could you not know? You were there," she said.
"Maybe I saw what I wanted to see."
"What does that mean?"
"I didn't mean anything by it. J-just... we all see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. So it figures, is all."
He wondered if he was being paranoid, picking over every word to look for the trap within. There had to be one, didn't there?
"I never meant to dominate or control you Sam. If that's what I did, then I'm sorry..." He sounded so reasonable that it was almost scary. This wasn't what she had expected and she wished he would loose his cool because she could deal with that. At least anger would make him penetrable. At the moment she had no idea if anything was getting through or what he was thinking.
"No, that's not it! I had to find out who I was, Jack, "she continued, "I had to define myself without you before I could think of myself with you. See how easy it is for me to call you Jack now? Maybe I've learned to see beyond the CO, subordinate thing. If you knew..." she stumbled over her words, which she realised were entirely inadequate, "if you knew how much of an influence you have been on my life, how much I depended on you, what I learned from you, how much I always respected and admired you, and loved you."
Jack started at those surprising words in disbelief. Love? What was she trying to pull here? He remained silent, allowing her to continue while he collected his thoughts.
"I needed to see who I was without you watching over me, telling what to do, supporting me. I needed to see beyond a dream to the reality. You were a fantasy Jack. I couldn't see beyond the fantasy, " she continued without pause, "Oh god, I wish I could explain all of this better."
"And what do you see now?" he asked trying to grasp the meaning of her words. He still hadn't recovered from her appearance, let alone allowed her words to sink in properly.
"I see... what I always saw: a good and decent man who doesn't recognise how good and decent he really is; a heroic and brave man, who would never describe himself as one; an honorable man who stands by his principals and his friends, no matter what - sometimes, even when they don't deserve his support because they treated him badly; a man who sticks to his promises. I see lots of things. Breaking up with you was never really about you, it was about me. I've come to realise you never were the fantasy that I feared you might be, Jack, and neither was the possibility of an us. You really are that man I thought you were. A man I am still in love with, after all these years, after everything. Always."
Although her words were moving, Jack was not convinced. He'd suffered from too much pain and Sam had almost put the nail in his coffin. She'd all but destroyed him and whatever faith he had left. He could still function as a General, was still good at his job, but as a person? A man of flesh and blood with feelings? He wasn't sure about that anymore.
"Nice speech," he said with some sarcasm and Sam shuddered at his iciness but pressed on regardless because there was nothing else she could do. She'd made a promise to herself, and to Jon O'Neill, and it was important that she keep her word.
"You think I would be here if I didn't mean it. Why would I do that?" she countered.
"Good point. Why are you here?"
He was expressionless and unforgiving and it made Sam wince. She had set herself a task that might be impossible to achieve, but it was so important to her that she achieve it.
"So I can explain, so I can tell you how I feel, how I felt. So I can restore some of your faith."
He looked at her sharply. Faith? Did she know how little of that, and hope, he had left?
"Yeah, faith seems to be a little lacking in my life right now," his tone was bitter.
"You used to have faith in me."
Those words cut into Sam's gut, but what had she expected? Jack felt betrayed and he didn't take betrayal lightly. She remembered Colonel Cromwell and how singularly unforgiving Jack had been towards someone he had once considered a friend. Now she thought about it, she realised how lucky she'd been that he'd allowed himself to become her friend when she so desperately needed him. It could so easily have been different.
That gave her some hope because she knew that Jack still cared deeply for her, that he probably still loved her. She wanted to believe that the latter was true as, if it were, how could he refuse her? Was he so stubborn that he would deny those feelings so he could deny her? Unfortunately she knew that the answer was yes, or at least maybe.
"I never wanted to destroy that faith."
"What did you think would happen after you screwed me over, Sam? I waited a long time, too long, and you found Pete, and then... it was all for nothing."
"No, please don't say that. I hurt you, yes, but you wouldn't let me even try to explain why I was doing it. You didn't want to listen, Jack. Although I have to admit, I didn't fully understand it myself at the time, so maybe I could never have explained it properly back then. I hope I can now."
Jack didn't comment, merely looked at her over his bottle. She could see he'd finished his beer. The bottle was part of his mask; he could hide behind it. She continued to push him, unable to do anything else.
"I wish I'd known what you were really thinking when we went out back then, how you were really feeling..." Jack said nothing so she carried on, "if I'd known, maybe things could have been different. You seemed so cocky, so confident and I... I was terrified: nervous and gauche. Frightened I was boring, frightened I couldn't live up to whatever expectations you had.
"You were an experienced, mature man, a real man. I'd never been out with one of those before. Me? I was just a kid by comparison, inexperienced, immature, as far as love and relationships were concerned at any rate. Don't be fooled by my relationship with Pete; that was never real, never truly grown up. I didn't think I could make the grade, Jack. Maybe if I'd known you were just as terrified as me under that mask you wear, maybe things could have been different."
Jack was shocked by her outburst. Is that how Sam saw herself? It was a total surprise. How did she know that he'd been terrified too? She hadn't known then, but knew now? How had she seen that? He needed to consider her words. If that was how she'd felt about him then it had been destined to fail. At the time he had only recently stopped being her CO and she couldn't overcome that in her mind. He knew that was also true for him. That coupled with this revelation about her fear... she never felt she was good enough for him? That was truly stunning.
"How do you know what I was feeling Sam? If you didn't back then, how do you now? Did you talk to Jon about this?" he asked more evenly than he felt.
"Yes, I talked to Jon. Are you angry?"
"I don't know. I need another beer. Want one?" she shook her head and he saw that she had barely touched hers.
Out in the kitchen he ruminated for a while and by the time he returned he was ready to respond. Without sitting down again, he let rip and Sam was almost relieved. Any feeling was better than none, even anger.
"Yes I was damned terrified, Sam. What would you expect after all those years? You think I didn't believe you had expectations too? You think I didn't have doubts that I could live up to them? And I didn't, did I? If I had we wouldn't be having this discussion now. You say things could have been different if I'd revealed some of that? Dammit, Sam, now you're turning it around to be all my fault. I'm me. I can't help who I am. I've learned to live with it, but you couldn't!"
Sam quailed under his steely and angry gaze, but plucked up courage for her response.
"I-I didn't mean to make it seem to be your fault, Jack. That wasn't why I said any of that. Please don't think that. I just want you to understand. Do you think you're a failure because you failed with me? Are you pissed because I could go out with Pete for months, but couldn't hack it with you for more than a few dates? Well you're not the failure here, Jack, I am! Do you really think I would have started a relationship with you if I had ever thought it would turn out that way? I would never have let that happen. I would never have wanted to deliberately hurt you. Never!
"No, Jack, I was after the dream. The love, the peace, the happiness, the lifelong commitment. I wanted it all with you like I never truly did with anyone else. I wanted your arms around me, to wake up with you next to me each morning, to make passionate love to you. I so wanted to be with you."
Jack stood in stunned silence so she continued to press home the advantage.
"Do you remember when I turned up at your place and Kerry Johnson was there? I came there to tell you that, kind of. Maybe I wouldn't have used those words or revealed so much but, in essence, that's why I came. Pete had put down a deposit on a house; he was talking about getting a dog. It suddenly struck me that he was settling with me and how settled he wanted me to be with him. I knew then that I didn't want to settle, not with him. If it had been you ... or that's what I started thinking."
She felt slightly embarrassed by that confession. In Sam's eyes, what had happened with Pete was evidence of her immaturity. She had hurt two men because she was unable to cope with reality, and she continued unable to cope with it for way too long, tearing apart her friendship with Jack O'Neill and perhaps any chance at an adult and meaningful relationship with him.
"But when we finally made it on a few dates," she continued, "I knew I was wrong to want that. I wasn't ready for it, even with you. I realised I needed to find myself, that I couldn't define myself through this man I had known and worked with and loved for so many years. I needed to find the real Sam Carter. I deserved to know who she was, and so did you. Back then I probably could never have said all of this to you, but now that I've found out more about what sort of person I really am, I can. So it was important to me that I find out, Jack, don't you see? I guess I was hoping it might be important to you too."
After that she was silent, hardly able to remember her own words and praying that they made sense and meant something to Jack; that she hadn't simply sounded foolish. Jack stared at her silently, heart rate sky high, unsure how to react.
"So help me out here, Sam," he said eventually, reverting to the even tone that belied his conflicted feelings, "what exactly are you trying to say to me? What do you want from me?"
"I want you to give us another chance."
He gawked at her open mouthed and speechless. Another chance? He wasn't sure that would be possible. Sam saw that thought in his eyes and some of her hope died. She didn't know what to do now except throw herself on his mercy and beg, and that would be even more humiliating than what she had done and said already. Her stomach churned as she waited for a verbal response, wishing she might find some hope in that.
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