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Rating: PG-13

Some sexual references!

Revision Notes
Changes made in the revision:

– POV Change/Adjustment
– made the bar and pool-game scenes more visceral
– general style refinement

Thank you so much, Raven Clark, for editing this chapter with me line by line.

 

“Well, this was an intergalactic waste of time.” Jack trudged through the high grass of the uninhabited planet.

“Um, Jack…” Once again, Daniel seemed to be in disagreement with his evaluation of the day. Carter released an audible sigh and quickened her step. He couldn’t blame her. He and Daniel had argued all day.

“Yeah, yeah, except for those ruins you found so fascinating.” He ran his P-90 across some of the blades of grass. “Even though I really don’t see the merit in those.”

He picked one of the bright pink orchids growing everywhere and twirled it between his fingers. In the distance, the Stargate came into sight, promising the end to an unbelievably boring mission.

“Jack, we talked about this. With our knowledge of the ancients, technology isn’t our only priority anymore. Those inscriptions in the ruins—”

“I know, the more information we gather about the ancients, the greater our chances of understanding their technology.” As though Daniel hadn’t mentioned that in every one of his reports recently. Twice. At least.

Jack hurried to catch up with Carter and handed the flower to her. She looked up at him, eyes wide. When he smirked, she gave him a reluctant smile in return. Her fingers grazed his as she took the flower. She lifted it to her nose and inhaled deeply.

Jack turned to Daniel. “I still don’t see why that means we gotta waste twelve hours sitting around on a deserted planet. Just take pictures of the damn inscriptions or copy them into your notebook and do the research back at camp.”

His stomach lurched when he glanced at Carter, who turned the delicate flower between her fingers with an absent-minded smile. That smile alone had been worth the trip to this planet, he decided. His spirits lifted. Judging from the expression on her face, she wasn’t even listening to their discussion anymore.

There was definitely something between them. It’d started the day that he had taken her out for steak at O’Malley’s. He just wasn’t sure what exactly it was yet, so he was cautious with his advances towards her. The last thing they needed was another setback.

“It’s not the same, Jack. I need to look at the inscriptions. There’s just certain things that might get lost in a photo. Just think of…”

Jack tuned Daniel out. When Carter glanced at him, he grimaced, indicating Daniel’s long-winded explanations. She stifled a chortle.

“Alright.” Jack half-smirked when he turned to Daniel to put an end to his rant. Not that he’d listened. “Just… next time, try to hurry it up a bit.”

The archeologist rolled his eyes, but relaxed. “So, Sam, are you going to join us tomorrow for bar night at O’Malley’s?”

Right, their celebration night was coming up. It would be the first one after seven months and the long polar night. Jack turned to Carter.

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. Not with all the research in the ancient’s underground structure, and the reports I still have to finish.”

He groaned. “Come on, Carter. Once every blue moon, remember?”

“Sir, I really have a lot of work piling up. Besides, McKay’s staying at camp as well.”

“He’s a lost cause, you aren’t. Don’t make me make it an order.”

She cocked her head, shooting him a half-amused glance. “I hardly think you can give me orders about how to spend my free time. Sir.”

“No, I can’t, can I?” He nudged her. “But you’re part of the team. Besides, without you I’ll have to listen to Daniel’s drunken science lectures all night.”

He focused his attention on the Stargate in front of them. How would she react if he asked her out? After she’d almost freaked out on him during their last evening together at the beach, he should let her take the initiative.

Sam looked around the crowded bar and took a sip from her beer. Most soldiers were drunk already.

Last time they’d had one of these parties she’d still been a stranger to most of them. Now most were like family. She had even learned to handle the attempts at flirtation without getting awkward.

At her table, Janet raised her brows at Vala. “So, did you make up with Daniel?”

Vala shrugged. “I tried, but I think he’s still kinda mad at me.”

Sam chuckled. “Vala, you stole the vase of Amshalla from his desk and sold it on the black market behind his back. You know he loved that thing.”

Vala flinched. “Yeah, it was stupid. I did get it back, though.”

“So what about you?” Janet looked at Sam.

“What about me?”

“Well…” Janet scrunched her brows. “Are you finally going to resolve your issues with O’Neill tonight?”

Sam rolled her eyes. “There are no issues between us anymore. We’re friends.”

“Oh please.” Vala snorted. “The sexual tension between you is so thick you could cut it with a knife.” When Janet frowned at her, Vala glanced from her to Sam, then back to her. “What? It’s true. Come on, everybody’s talking about it.”

“What?” Sam stared at her and leaned forward. “Everybody’s talking about what?”

Janet cleared her throat. “You two are flirting a lot recently.”

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“We’re not flirting.” She held her breath. God, people at camp were talking about her and O’Neill already?

Janet smirked. “Then there was the date that lasted almost half the night.”

“Nothing happened. We were talking about work.” At least most of the time they had. She swallowed hard.

“See, I actually believe you.” Janet sighed. “And I don’t understand it. You’d have to be blind not to realize the man has game. If he looked at me the way he looks at you, and then took me out to dinner… He’s definitely into you.”

She felt herself blush.

Janet grinned. “And you’re into him. You’ve been out together on a date, but you haven’t even tried to become more than friends.”

“It’s not that simple. And it wasn’t a date.” It wasn’t, was it? Their dinner at O’Malley’s had been very professional. They’d talked about missions and science while they ate. But later on at the beach?

Maybe it had become a date. Her stomach fluttered and an odd sense of happiness spread through her. If it had been a date, it had been a rather good one. Until she’d messed up and accused him of trying to coerce her into their marriage by advancing her career.

Sam flinched at the memory. “I don’t want to put the contract back on the table. We only agreed to ignore it on the premise that I didn’t want to have a relationship with him. If I change that now…”

Janet groaned. “You know, you’re blowing the significance of the contract completely out of proportion. O’Neill doesn’t treat you any different. On the contrary, he’s encouraging you to get into command, and he’s making sure you receive the necessary training.”

“So, what are you saying?” Sam frowned at her. “That I should be thankful?”

“No.” Janet put her glass down on the table. “Hell, no. If thankfulness were all you feel, I wouldn’t even be wasting my time talking to you about this. It’s not his fault the Aschen system’s the way it is. The way I see it, he was trying to do the right thing by signing the contract. He’s just as much a victim of it as you are, but he’

s trying to make the best out of a bad situation.”

Sam leaned back in her chair with a sigh. “Janet, this really isn’t about me being mad at him. It’s about all or nothing. I don’t want to start a relationship with him unless I’m sure it’s gonna work out. I have to know I’m not making a mistake.”

“If it’s absolute certainty you’re after, you won’t get it. No matter how long you wait. It’ll either work out or it won’t, but you’ll never know unless you try.”

Sam stared at her and swallowed hard. Damn, she couldn’t deny the truth to that statement. As long as she didn’t take the last step, her relationship with O’Neill would always be undetermined—both successful and unsuccessful at the same time. Like one of the quantum mechanics theories of an Aschen physicist she’d once read about.

If she took the first step though… What if she messed things up? She liked him and if they didn’t work out…

“You’re scared,” Janet said and emptied the last of her glass. “That won’t go away, no matter how long you wait. You as a soldier should know facing your fears is the way to go, not running away from them.” She stretched and then got up from her chair. “Your choice. I’m gonna get something stronger than beer. You girls want something?”

“Yes, get me a tequila. Double… or better yet, bring glasses and the entire bottle.” Vala grinned at her and Janet rolled her eyes. Then she looked at Sam.

“Thanks, I still have mine.”

Janet left for the bar. Sam stared at the table. Was it true? Was she really that scared? Yes she was concerned about what would happen to their professional relationship if they started dating. But scared?

Her throat constricted. How would dating him affect her position in the resistance, on his team? Would he become overprotective of her? Would he pull her out of missions? What were his expectations?

She’d never been in a serious relationship. What if she disappointed him? What if he disappointed her? What if it didn’t work out at all, and she’d be stuck in a marriage she couldn’t get out of anymore?

Oh God, Janet’s right. I am scared.

A warm hand on her shoulder pulled her out of her thoughts. “Carter.”

Sam turned her head. O’Neill and Daniel grinned at her.

“Hey.” She smiled warmly when her gaze locked with O’Neill’s. “Where have you two been?”

“Little trouble up at camp, so we left a bit late.” O’Neill pulled one of the chairs from a neighboring table to sit down next to Sam.

“Anything serious?”

“Nah.” Daniel smirked. “Somebody stole some food from the storage tent, and Siler got into a fight with McKay over it. Jack had to step in before McKay could shoot him with the lightning gun.”

Sam’s eyes widened. She turned to stare at O’Neill, who shrugged. “Yeah, well. Just your daily dose of wackiness in the egghead camp.”

She almost choked on her beer at his statement. Egghead camp?

O’Neill swallowed visibly, then cleared his throat. “Not that you are an egghead. I mean… you are… but in the best possible way.”

Sam bit her lower lip when a laugh bubbled up. He was cute when he tried to save his neck, rare as the occasion was.

O’Neill smirked at her, then leaned back. “So what’ve you guys been up to?”

“Well.” Vala pulled Daniel towards her. The archeologist sighed, but ran his fingers through her hair. Apparently, he’d forgiven his girlfriend for her unauthorized sale of the vase. “Sam and Janet were just busy discussing—” When Sam glared at her and cleared her throat, Vala grinned. “—things.”

“Oh, don’t let us interrupt.” O’Neill leaned back in his chair.

“Janet went to get more drinks, sir. I think that put an end to our conversation.”

Vala’s eyes sparkled. “I think Janet’s intention wasn’t to put an end to anything, but rather to inspire the beginning of… what was it again?”

Sam’s cheeks burned. “It doesn’t matter. Can we move on please?”

Vala snickered and pulled Daniel down for a kiss.

Sam’s fingers tightened around her bottle when she felt O’Neill study her intensely. Damn, he had to suspect something was up with Vala’s insinuations. His gaze nearly burned into her. She swallowed hard and got up, leaving her half-full bottle on the table. “I’m gonna get another beer.”

“Can you grab me one too?” O’Neill’s eyes gleamed.

Nodding, Sam turned to make her way to the bar. When she returned a few minutes later with two bottles of beer in her hand and Janet following her, she’d regained her composure.

She handed one of the bottles to O’Neill. When his fingers grazed hers as he took it, his hot touch sent an electrifying buzz through her. She took a sip of cold beer as she sat down. Oh, she was in so much trouble.

They engaged in light small talk and teasing banter for a while, taunting each other about missions that had gone wrong, and telling amusing anecdotes about the adventures they’d experienced together off world.

As the evening progressed, so did the level of alcohol consumption. The atmosphere was a lot more frisky and relaxed than it had been last time. Or maybe that was just her perception because she knew everyone and didn’t feel new to the group anymore. They had become her family.

At some point, O’Neill left the table to get a new beer. Janet told some story about a man she used to date a few years back. Sam only half-listened. Janet’s words from before still floated through her thoughts. Afraid. Was her fear really all that kept her from taking it a step further with O’Neill? No, Jack… She turned her head, looking for him near the bar.

When she finally found him, her stomach clenched. O’Neill stood near the door, close to a red-haired woman. He smiled when she leaned up to his ear.

Sam swallowed against the sudden tightness in her throat. The woman’s long, curly hair shimmered in the dim light, her soft tan providing an intriguing contrast to the mint-green, low-cut dress she wore like a second skin. Her movements exuded a kind of sensual maturity. Damn, she was beautiful. And very feminine. Everything she herself wasn’t.

“…and you wouldn’t believe what he told me then.” Janet grinned.

Sam forced a smile. “Um, what?”

“Sam, did you even listen to me?”

She flinched. “I’m sorry.” She reached for Janet’s glass of tequila, then took a sip. The alcohol burnt its way into her stomach. Strong. Just what she needed now. Who cared about the hangover next morning?

Janet glanced at the bar and Sam followed her gaze.

O’Neill was still talking to the woman who made no secret out of her sexual interest in him. And he didn’t seem to mind her flirtations.

“Who is that?” Pain stabbed at her heart. She turned away.

Janet released a sigh and refilled her tequila glass. “Kerry Johnson.”

“You know her?”

“In a way.”

What was with the ambiguity in Janet’s statement? And why did she become so secretive? “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He used to have an affair with her. If you can call two one-night-stands an affair.”

Janet’s words felt like a punch to the stomach. The woman was an old flame of his? Was that why he was so open to her advances? Her breath lodged in her throat. She reached for her beer and gulped some of it down.

Janet shook her head and frowned at the couple. “Kerry has quite a reputation in town. She’s only in it for the fun and so is he, usually. I’m a little surprised he’s still so into her, though.”

Still so into her… Great. Sam put her bottle down and forced a smile. “Well, it doesn’t matter.” Marriage contract or not, maybe she’d misunderstood his advances towards her. Maybe he’d only flirted with her because he wanted to have fun. Or maybe he hadn’t flirted at all and she’d just misread the signals.

Janet looked at her. “I’m pretty sure O’Neill isn’t serious about her.”

“I don’t care. Can we talk about something else?” Sam flinched at the snippiness in her own voice. After all that had happened, she didn’t have a right to be snippy. She’d rejected him. Janet had warned her he’d go for another woman sooner or later.

Wasn’t this what she’d wanted? Now she’d be able to find closure and regard him as a friend. No more issues, no more marriage contract…

“Sam, what did you expect? You made clear to him you didn’t wanna have a relationship. He took you out on a date and nothing came of it. Granted, I don’t like Kerry very much, but I couldn’t blame him if he wanted to be with her tonight, all things considered.”

“I know.” Sam shifted. “It shouldn’t bother me.”

“No, it shouldn’t.” Janet leaned in and gentled her tone. “But if it does, get your ass over there now and make that clear to him.”

Sam turned again. Kerry touched Jack’s arm and said something that made him laugh. Her long, elegant neck arched as she held his gaze.

“I can’t interrupt them. That would be awkward.”

Janet released a frustrated sound. “Sam—”

Daniel and Vala rushed up to their table. “Hey guys, we managed to secure the pool table upstairs in the lounge. You wanna join us?”

“Now that’s great news.” Grinning, Janet grabbed her drink and got up. “Sam, you coming?”

Sam turned to look at O’Neill again. Jack. What if he hooked up with Kerry tonight? If she just went upstairs with the guys to play pool… What if they…? She shuddered and closed her eyes.

“Sam.” Janet touched her shoulder.

“Yeah.” Sam smiled at her, then at Daniel and Vala. “Why don’t you go ahead and I’ll join you in a moment?”

Janet smiled and leaned in. “Good luck.” Then she straightened. “Come on guys, let’s go.”

When they were gone, Sam took a deep breath and got up. How was she supposed to do this? What should she say or do? She had no right to be possessive, and yet everything she could come up with sounded that way.

So what if Jack wanted to be with Kerry? He’d offered to ignore the contract if she wasn’t interested in him and he’d kept his promise. What if he’d decided that she wasn’t worth the hassle?

She closed her eyes. She’d actually accused him of wanting to bribe her into his bed by promoting her. God, if only she could turn back time. Biting her lower lip, she faltered in her steps. She’d make a fool out of herself if she interrupted them now. Where would an intimate relationship with Jack go anyway? As long as she hadn’t made up her mind about what she wanted, she had no right to demand he be faithful in any way.

Even if Jack hooked up with that woman, it didn’t mean anything. Janet had said whatever they had was only for fun. He didn’t have relationships. No big deal, it’d just be one night.

Sam stopped and half-turned to walk back to the stairs. It wouldn’t mean a thing if they hooked up. Or would it? What if it developed into something more serious after all? What if she lost Jack to that woman just because she was too much of a coward?

She straightened. Enough with the fear, and the insecurity. She crossed the distance and placed her hand on Jack’s arm.

“Sir.” Great way to start. She flinched inwardly.

Eyebrows raised, Jack turned. “Carter.”

“I…” Her stomach knotted, when Kerry eyed her, her hand touching Jack’s waist. Possessive. He didn’t seemed to mind. Sam lifted her gaze to his. Right, she was supposed to say something. But what? She should’ve come up with a strategy beforehand.  “Um… I…we…we have the pool table upstairs, and I thought maybe you want to…” Helplessly she looked at the stairs leading up to the lounge.

“Jack?” Kerry gave him a sparkling smile when he turned to look at her. “I was going to ask you if you want to go somewhere quieter.”

Sam’s cheeks flared. Stupid. Why the hell had she been so stupid? She shouldn’t even have tried this. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” Why was her throat so dry? “I’ll just… Sorry.” God she had to get away. She should’ve listened to her instinct. She faked a smile. “I’m sorry I interrupted. Have fun.”

She’d already turned away to walk toward the stairs when a warm palm touched her wrist.

“Sam, wait a minute.”

Jack looked at her back and saw her tense up. He’d been right. She was jealous. Not the outright catty and aggressive kind of jealousy other women displayed, but then again, she wasn’t like any other woman he’d ever met.

She turned hesitantly and avoided looking him in the eyes. Awkwardness. She never became awkward unless there were personal feelings involved. His heart quickened.

“Jack?” Kerry’s voice snapped him back to reality. He raised his eyebrows at her. She’d asked him a question, hadn’t she? “What do you say?”

“Say to what?”

Kerry withdrew her hand from him and folded her arms. “I asked you if you wanna take this somewhere else.”

She had? Crap. No doubt Carter’d heard that too. He scanned her face. Carter looked even more awkward than before. Jack didn’t let go of her hand when he turned to Kerry. “Not really into that anymore. I thought we were just talking.”

“Oh.” Kerry dropped her arms. Had she actually misunderstood his friendly conversation for flirtation? Damn, he’d have to be careful. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know.” Chin lifted, Kerry turned and walked over to the bar.

Well, that’s that then. Jack turned back to Carter. With her flushed cheeks, she was an epitome of embarrassment. Affection flooded him.

“Sir, you didn’t have to…I didn’t mean to…If you want to be with her…”

“Sam.” He drew her closer. Her eyes widened as her gaze darted up to his. “I don’t. She and I used to…” He cleared his throat. Too much information. “We were together for two team nights a while back. It didn’t mean anything. And I have no intention of repeating it.”

She released a shaky breath. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“Don’t I?”

“No, sir. I made my position on our relationship clear and I have no right to complain when you’re interested in other women.”

“Oh for crying out loud. Sam.” He made her name a drawl and inched closer. “She isn’t the one I’m interested in. Besides, do you want to complain? If so, maybe we should talk about that.” He looked deeply into her blue eyes.

She swallowed visibly and opened her mouth as though she wanted to say something. For a long moment, she held his gaze without a word.

A slow smirk pulled across his lips. Maybe he should put her out of her misery. She’d essentially admitted she was jealous—a huge step forward for them. No need to push her for anything she wasn’t ready for. “You said something about pool?”

“Oh, yes.” Her face lit up. “Upstairs in the lounge.”

“Sounds great.”

She gave him a bright smile, and his stomach tingled. Her smile always made him feel as though the sun was rising. Jack followed her through the room toward the stairs.

The lounge upstairs was small. One side allowed for a look down into the main bar room. Couches lined the walls, now filled with teammates from camp. Daniel and Vala played a game in the middle of the room.

Sam walked over to a stool near the banister and glanced down into the bar room before she sat. Jack studied her. He strolled over to stand at the other side of the room where he exchanged a few words with Sheppard before he focused on the game.

Every now and then, he glanced up and his gaze locked with Sam’s. He swallowed hard. Her behavior tonight had been surprising, and her gentle, almost shy smiles now made his stomach flip-flop. God, could it be…?

The game ended, although he didn’t pay attention to who won. Daniel walked over to Sam, and she drew her eyes away from Jack’s. Too bad.

“Wanna play a game?” Daniel’s audible slur made Jack wince. Damn, that guy had the worst tolerance for alcohol he’d ever seen.

Carter chuckled and nodded. “Sure, why not. I have to warn you, though. My dad has a pool table in the basement, and I played with my brothers all the time when we were younger.”

Jack smirked. This ought to be interesting. Folding his arms, he leaned against the wall.

Daniel straightened. “Yeah, well, not even Vala or Jack can beat me, so…”

Oh, if only he knew. Jack chuckled.

Next to Jack, Sheppard grinned. “Woo hoo. Sounds like wagers are in order. I’m putting five coins on Jackson. No offense, Carter, but he seems to be on a winning streak.”

“None taken.” Sam smiled and took the pool cue.

Daniel pulled a silver coin out of his pocket. “Let’s make this interesting. Winner gets to keep the silver.”

“Fine by me.” Sam reached into her pocket and placed one of her own coins on the table next to his.

Jack closed his eyes. Oh, Danny boy. He’d worked with Carter for almost nine months now. He should recognize that expression in her eyes. One of the things that he valued about her was, that she never overestimated her abilities. Her self-confidence about pool said she was gonna have his ass.

“I’ll let you start.” Daniel took a step back and graciously waved at the table.

Carter grinned and leaned against the table while she chalked the cue. “See, Daniel, there’s something you forgot. Playing pool is actually all about physics.” She turned and eyed the white ball with concentration. “If you know the size of the balls, and you know where you want them…” She angled the stick carefully. “…you can actually calculate, within a reasonable margin of error, at what angle and with which velocity you have to hit the white one in order to make it do exactly what you want.”

Damn, but she could be hot talking science. Raw heat shot through Jack as he watched her bend forward. He’d been disappointed at first to find her wearing pants instead of a skirt, but now he was glad she did. No way would a skirt allow for such a nice view of her rear.

She made her shot. Three colored balls vanished into different pockets.

Daniel raised his eyebrows and pushed his glasses up on his nose. Jack chuckled and walked over to him to slap his shoulder. “Ah, you should’ve seen that one coming, Daniel.”

“Yeah, I guess I should have.” The archeologist released a tortured sigh and handed his beer over to Jack. “Hold this for me, will you? I have my honor to defend.”

Carter missed her next shot, but she didn’t have anything to worry about. Daniel was too drunk to be a match for her. Despite all of his efforts, he lost the game and a rematch after that.

When Sam picked up her silver and put it in her pocket, Jack grinned at Daniel. “You’re not gonna win against her, you know.”

“How about you try then, sir?” She glanced at him, her flirtatious smile challenging him.

He chuckled. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Carter. I don’t wanna ruin your winning streak.” Her eyes flared. Hot. Sometimes, she was so predictable.

“That’s some pretty big talk.” She inched closer. “Hopefully you can back it up with action, sir.”

Damn, but she could be alluring when she got playful and flirty. And what a temptation to show her exactly what kind of action he wanted to give her. He narrowed his eyes and studied her. “Are you drunk?”

Sam shook her head. “No, sir. Are you?”

“Nope.” So she wanted action, huh? He took the cue she offered him, grazing her hand with his fingers.

“Oh, this should be interesting.” Vala clapped her hands and jumped up from the couch. “You two should up the stakes.”

“Any suggestions?” Jack didn’t take his eyes off Sam as he stepped into her personal space. Did she know she was playing with fire?

Vala grinned. “If you win, Sam kisses you.”

That seemed to break the spell. Carter swallowed visibly and averted her gaze to look at her friend. “Vala.”

Jack chuckled. “I like the idea. What’s the matter, Carter? I thought you were so sure of winning. Getting cold feet?”

She cocked her head at him. “Fine, sir. But if I win, you’ll have to take over my next shift of kitchen duty.”

Jack held the cue out to her. “Ladies first.”

“Oh, please.” She smiled at him while she placed the balls back on the table. “We both know I’m a soldier, not a lady. I certainly don’t need a head start.”

Jack chuckled and watched her movements. She bent over to sort the balls in the rack on the table. Her black leather pants hugged her legs and hips like a second skin, and when she leaned down, he caught a glimpse of her cleavage. He suppressed a groan.

When he’d first met her she’d been stunning, but since then she’d changed. Everything about her was irresistible, and she didn’t even seem to be aware of her effect on the men around her. Damn, he wanted to grab her, throw her down on the damn pool table, and use it for an entirely different game.

Sam leaned forward, carefully aiming the cue. Jack’s gaze trailed down her back, and then back to her face. She’d caught him staring. Well, so what.

She bit her lower lip and hesitated for a moment. He straightened and scrunched his brows.

Sam swallowed hard. His darkening eyes sent pleasant shivers through her and fogged her mind.

Physics. It was all about physics. She needed to concentrate on the game. She trembled as the cue made contact with the white ball. Crap. The angle was slightly off, no doubt thanks to her lost focus. Not one ball pocketed. She closed her eyes and blew out a breath, then straightened.

“Your turn.” She looked at O’Neill from under her lashes. No doubt he’d tried to make her nervous on purpose, but two could play that game. Her fingertips grazed his hand when he took the cue. Breasts grazing his chest, she leaned in to his ear. His breath caught and she bit back a smile. Mission accomplished. “Watch the blue four.”

He held her gaze when she moved out of his way, her back against the table, her hands resting on it. Apparently unaffected by her efforts, he pocketed the first two balls.

Sam turned her full attention to the game. Damn, he was good. He stalked around the table, a dark smirk on his face.

“Blue four, left corner at the back.”

The blue four vanished into the corner pocket. Sam swallowed. That’d been a hard shot, yet he’d completed it as though it was child’s play. And he didn’t even break a sweat. At this rate, she wouldn’t even get to play one more shot.

One ball after the next shot into the pockets at the sides. When the last ball sunk, O’Neill placed the cue on the table.

Sam strolled to her stool at the banister, and looked down into the bar room. Shivers tingled down her spine when his hot breath washed down her nape.

“It’s all about physics, Carter.”

She turned, for a moment taken aback by his height and his closeness. His warm hands touched her waist and her head swam with his scent. “You know, you could’ve given me a warning about how good you were.”

Her heart pounded when his gaze dropped to her lips. “Told you I didn’t wanna ruin your winning streak.”

“Daniel said you’ve never won against him.” The warmth that radiated from him made her skin flush and her pulse race.

Jack shrugged. “Have you seen him lose? He gets whiny and competitive. It’s easier to let him win.”

Sam placed her hand against his chest, right over his heart. His skin burned hot through his shirt. “Why didn’t you let me win then?”

“You’d have my ass for it.” He lifted his hand, traced his finger along her jawline. His touch made her stomach flip flop, and her breath quickened. He leaned in to her ear. “Besides, I was after the prize.”

The prize. Right, a kiss. Heat jolted through her. Her eyes widened when he inched closer. She parted her lips and their breaths mingled.

Why was it so quiet around them all of a sudden? Her eyes shifted to the pool table. Almost every single person in the room stared at them. Oh God. Cheeks burning, she stepped back from him and leaned against the wall to look down into the bar room.

Jack straightened and scowled. Everybody went a little too quickly back to the pool table where Sheppard and Janet started a game. Sam brushed a few strands of hair behind her ear when Jack closed the distance between them again.

“Where were we?”

Her fingers touched his arm, drawing him closer. “I lost a bet. We were at the point where I pay up.”

He smirked, his eyes pooling like dark gemstones in the dim light. “I gotta admit, I kinda expected you to try and get out of it.”

“Well, sir.” Sam drew her mouth closer to his. Her stomach tingled with anticipation. His breath carried a hint of freshness. Her lips lingered close. “You never actually specified the nature of the kiss. Or the place.”

“True.” His hands trailed down her sides to the small of her back, pressing her closer. She bit her lip against a sigh. So close… His gaze intensified. “I’ll leave that little detail up to you.”

“I might opt for a kiss on the cheek.” She brushed his clean-shaven cheek with her fingers.

“Careful with the teasing, Sam.” He let out a throaty chuckle. “Two can play this game, and I’m a lot more experienced than you are.”

“More words without actions to back them up?” The phrase ‘playing with fire’ flashed through her mind.

His eyes blazed. He leaned in and his lips brushed hers. The touch jolted through her like fire that pooled in her abdomen. Breaths quickening, she jerked her head back from the touch. Smiling, he followed, but she kept their lips at an inch’s distance.

“Are you gonna pay up now?” His nose brushed hers.

Heart pounding, she leaned in and grazed her lips across his neck, right over his jugular. He groaned and nuzzled her hair. His hands moved along her waist, her hips, and then back up. Heat radiated from him. What if he pushed her up against this wall now, just like he’d done the last time they were at O’Malley’s? With a soft whimper, she pressed herself against him, her fingers clasping his shirt at his sides.

Her tongue flicked out, tasting the skin of his neck. He trembled against her, his breath washing hot against her temple. Sam grazed her lips across his throat, up to his jaw and clean-shaven cheek. She took a shaky breath.

God, how much she wanted to kiss him. She withdrew slightly, keeping his lips a hair’s breadth away from hers. Her eyes shifted up to his.

“I believe my debt to you is paid. Sir.”

Jack studied her, then his lips tugged into a slow smirk. “You just started a dangerous game.”

“You know me. I don’t back away from danger.”

“Yeah.” Fire flashed in his eyes.

Sam pressed herself against the wall behind her. Her skin buzzed with his nearness, goosebumps sneaking along her arms.

He took a step forward, pinning her against the wall. Then his lips found the spot right under her ear, and drew a hot trail along her sensitive skin. Her breath hitched as heat shot through her and almost made her legs buckle. Her fingers clutched the fabric of his shirt. She turned her head, offering more of her neck and closed her eyes.

“S-sir.” She didn’t know if she was begging for more, or for him to stop. His mouth worked its way along her jawline, then lingered close to her mouth.

Sam swallowed hard. Her body felt as though it were burning up from the inside. She needed his touch on her lips, her skin…between her legs.

O’Malley’s. They were in the middle of O’Malley’s. This kind of spontaneous interlude had gotten them in trouble before.

Sam dropped her gaze to his lips, then leaned her forehead against his chin. He placed a warm kiss just below her hairline and took a step back, releasing her.

“I’m gonna get another beer. You want anything?” His fingers grazed hers, played with them briefly before he withdrew.

She shook her head, her voice hoarse. “No, thanks. Are you gonna come back?”

When he smiled at her, she drowned in his gaze. “Yeah, sure, ya betcha.”

She took a deep breath as he walked away. Damn, he was dangerous when he tried to seduce her that openly. Maybe he’d been right when he’d said she was in way over her head.

Still dazed by his caresses, she strolled over to the couch and sat down in the corner spot. She slipped out of her heels and pulled her legs up.

Apparently, Daniel was finally winning a game. Or maybe Janet let him win. It was hard to tell. She watched without really paying attention.

A gentle nudge from the side made her turn her head.

Vala grinned at her. “You’re welcome.” Then she looked down to count some coins in her hands.

Sam raised her eyebrows. “Are you taking bets on the game?”

“Hey, I gotta make money somehow. Care to make a wager?”

“Oh, no way.” Sam chuckled. “I’ve lost enough games for tonight.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call kissing O’Neill losing, but then, that’s just me.”

“There’s that.” Sam’s cheeks heated. They hadn’t really kissed. Although kissing him probably couldn’t have left her more flustered. Thank God, it was relatively dark. She felt Vala’s gaze rest on her. “What?”

“How was it?”

Her cheeks blazed hotter. “I really don’t want to talk about it.” Damn, why was everybody always so nosy?

Vala chuckled and shifted to get up with a sparkle in her eyes. “I’m gonna collect my loot from the bets. You have fun.”

Before Sam could apologize for her curt answer, Vala was gone. Jack plopped down on the couch next to her. She swallowed and straightened. Her senses tingled with his unexpected closeness.

“Who’s winning?” He took a sip of beer.

She looked at the game. Good question. “I, um, I’m not sure.”

He gazed at her, a slow smirk tugging at his lips. Then he handed his bottle of beer over to her. Sam faltered at first, but then she took a swig.

“I think Daniel is finally ahead.” She smiled and handed his bottle back.

Jack shifted to the side, facing her, his arm resting against the back of the couch. “You could just play another game with him. Let him win.”

“Oh, please.” She gave a laugh. “Like he wouldn’t know.” She leaned her elbow on the couch back as well, her hand resting only an inch from his. If she reached out…

The game ended. She turned her head. Daniel had won, but from how Janet graciously admitted her defeat, Sam knew she’d most certainly let him win. The archeologist walked over to Vala, who drew him into a deep kiss, and then pulled him out of the room.

“Maybe we shouldn’t leave him in Vala’s care.” Jack took a sip from the bottle. “She might get them both into trouble. Again.”

“She’s a good person.” Sam inched closer.

“Have you heard, she sold one of our artifacts recently.” Jack raised his brows at her.

She nodded with a laugh. “I did. But it wasn’t any technology, and she didn’t do any real damage. She just made some money. Which, if you think about it, is pretty smart considering how badly the resistance needs it.”

Blood drained from her face. Damn, he was still her camp commander. Maybe she shouldn’t so openly endorse the insubordination of a camp member. She fidgeted under his intense gaze, then cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

“It’s fine. Go on.” His eyes gleamed as he leaned in. “I am intrigued by your criminal tendencies, Carter.”

She gave a soft laugh and reached for his beer. He handed it to her.

Finally, when she’d swallowed, she made herself look at him. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” He stared at her, tensing. Sam winced. That had sounded so much less sexual in her head. “Criminal tendencies, sir?”

Throat dry, she took another sip of beer. Damn, she was bad at this. She held the bottle out to him, but didn’t let go. His fingers landed on hers.

He tightened his hold on the bottle, capturing her hand and leaning in. “You don’t wanna see mine.”

“I’ve already seen some.” She held his gaze.

“And if I remember correctly, you weren’t exactly thrilled.”

“Who ever said that?”

He gave her a slow, lopsided smile. She returned it. When he drew his eyes away from her to look at the pool table again, Sam’s heart dropped a little. She swallowed and turned her head to the game, too. She wanted to be closer to him.

Hadn’t she given him enough signals? Was she doing something wrong? There’d been so many instances that evening already where it looked like he was going to kiss her. Yet, he’d never taken the step.

What if she took the initiative? After all, her hesitation had been the only thing preventing her from initiating previous kisses. But why had he withdrawn? Would he welcome her advances? How was she supposed to initiate a kiss anyway? She couldn’t just lean over and press her lips to his, least of all in front of the entire camp. Talk about starting rumors. Surely he wouldn’t appreciate that.

She almost groaned in frustration. If only she’d had more alcohol to compensate for her lack of experience. That’d worked out pretty well last time, at least when it came to lowering her inhibitions.

She shifted against the growing pressure in her abdomen, her hand dropping to her side, in between their bodies where Jack’s arm rested. Her fingers grazed his warm skin. She froze. It’d was just a casual move. So insignificant that people watching wouldn’t even have noticed. Yet his head jerked and he looked at her.

She swallowed and placed her hand on his arm, feeling the soft hair curling there. Electrifying. And he didn’t pull away from her touch. She trailed her fingers down, then cupped his hand with hers. God, if he pulled away from her now, she’d die of embarrassment.

Her cheeks burned. She’d almost lost her courage when his palm turned upwards. His fingers grazed along hers, entangling with them.

Sam held her breath and then enlaced their fingers in a tender grip. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. His callous thumb brushed across her skin, drawing lazy circles and sending a thrill through her. Sam shifted closer and leaned her head against his shoulder.

Time stopped. Neither of them said a word. The air between them slowly charged with something akin electricity that, every now and then, sent a jolt of heat through her. Their hands never stopped touching, caressing, teasing. How is being with him suddenly so simple?

Game after game finished and the lounge cleared as people went back to drinking downstairs. Jack never pushed for more than what she gave him.

“Alright guys, we’re gonna move back up to camp.” Janet peeked into the room. “Anybody wanna join us?”

Sam glanced at Jack’s watch. God, almost midnight. She hesitated. Leaving would mean losing his touch, his closeness. She turned her head and gave his hand a soft squeeze.

“You wanna go with them?” His voice was gentle.

“I have to. I have an experiment scheduled with McKay tomorrow morning, and it’ll take two hours to get back up to camp.”

Damn, why hadn’t she talked McKay out of the experiment? Maybe she should take a day off. That way she could stay here with him. No, impossible. Two other experiments were planned for the day after tomorrow, and the day after that she’d go on an off-world mission. She couldn’t cancel on McKay. Nor could she forego sleep.

Next to her, Jack got up, letting go of her hand. Sam’s stomach tightened. Why did she feel so empty all of a sudden? What was wrong with her?

“Come on.” He held a hand out to her, smiling.

“You can stay if you want.” The look he gave her made her wince. Of course, he could stay if he wanted. Way to state the obvious. “What I meant was you don’t have to feel obligated—”

“Sam.” He leaned down, his nose brushing her cheek. Her breath hitched when he placed a warm kiss right under her ear. He took her hand and gave her a little tug. “Come on. Let’s go home.”

Home. Warmth spread through her. How weird to think of a large group of tents in the middle of nowhere as home. It was home, though. He was home.

She got up and stepped close, then cast a glance around. The lounge was almost empty. Her gaze met Jack’s, then dropped to his lips. So close. Was she ready for this? She wanted to kiss him, but what then? She inched closer. Her breasts grazed the hard planes of his chest. A shaky sigh escaped her.

He wrapped his arms around her and leaned in to bury his face in her neck. She tangled her fingers in his hair.

“Damn, Wong, I don’t know where your jacket is.” The spell broke. One of the soldiers burst into the lounge and picked up a piece of clothing in a corner. “Is this it?”

Jack let go of her and Sam took a step back at the same time. Flushed and shaky, she brushed her hand through her hair. She wasn’t keen on everybody starting rumors about her and O’Neill again.

They made their way down the stairs through the crowded bar toward the exit. Jack held it open for her and his hand grazed the small of her back as she passed him by. His fingers barely touched, yet waves of heat rolled through her.

Once outside, Sam hugged herself. The chill of the night provided a stark contrast to the warm air inside O’Malley’s. She looked around the dark, deserted marketplace. Water splashed in the fountain at its center, but other than that, the town lay quiet.

Stars sparkled above, the milky way stretching across the sky to the horizon. No aurora, she noticed with a faint sense of disappointment.

Jack stepped up behind her, his chest warm against her back. She leaned into him.

“Found a new constellation, by the way.” His deep voice reverberated against her ear.

Her breath hitched. “Oh?”

“Over there.” He pointed to the horizon. “That bright one’s Alpha Centauri. And the ones surrounding it form Centaurus.”

Sam tilted her head to the side. “What’s that one? Over to the left?”

A low sound rumbled from his throat. “Not sure.”

She wanted to say more, but before she had a chance, his mouth brushed along her neck. “Oh… God…” Her voice came out barely a whisper.

He intensified the touch, kissing and nibbling across her sensitive skin. He wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her close.

Sam bit her lower lip and a groan escaped her. She reached up behind her and buried her hand in his short, coarse hair. When he trembled against her, she turned her head, her nose brushing his cheek.

Behind them, the door to the bar opened. Jack loosened his hold on her and turned. Breathless and head swimming from his touch, Sam watched as he strolled up to the group of soldiers who would be going up to camp with them. Was he trying to drive her crazy? Then again, wasn’t she the one who had started this teasing game?

He’d been right. She was in way over her head. On the other hand, the secrecy of their interlude thrilled her.

When they started walking along the road, Jack fell into a slow step next to her. He kept his distance, but occasionally his hand brushed hers in an almost-but-not-quite-accidental touch.

Did he even know what effect he had on her? He had to, at least judging by his smug expression and heated glances. Sam swallowed, restless. He made her tense, nervous, and every one of his caresses increased her need to pull him close.

It was long past midnight, when the clearing with their tents came into view in the distance. When they walked toward the line of personal tents, Jack’s hand closed around her wrist.

She nearly groaned at the touch. When she turned, his face was only inches from hers, his gaze intense.

“Good night.”

She trembled and tried to cover it up by clearing her throat. “Good night. Sir.” Sir? She bit her lower lip in confusion and released a shaky breath. What now?

God, she wanted to kiss him. But what would happen after that? She still hadn’t found a solution for how to deal with the contract. Marriage… Her stomach tightened. She wasn’t ready for such a big step. She wasn’t ready to let him go, either.

He drew her closer, and she stepped into his warmth, placed her hands against his chest. His heart beat rapidly under her touch. Her breath caught when his mouth brushed her ear. “You could come with me.”

She tensed. She wanted to. And yet, didn’t. Fear constricted her throat and she closed her eyes. Why couldn’t things be easier between them? She wasn’t ready to face the questions that would inevitably follow her agreement to his proposal. Where would they go from here?

“I can’t.” She pressed her palms against his chest. He took a step back and studied her. “I’m sorry. I’m just… This kind of heat of the moment decision didn’t turn out well last time.”

“Sam.” His fingers played with hers. “I didn’t mean sex.”

Right. Cheeks flushed, she shook her head. “Still.” The same questions would stand between them. Was she willing to date him? How would that affect their agreement about the contract? “I… I should go. You know, sleep in my own tent.”

He studied her, then nodded with a warm smile. “Alright.”

“The evening was nice, though.” Nice? She flinched. Could she sound more platonic? “I mean, great. I liked it.” She wanted to leave, but somehow her legs wouldn’t comply.

His palm brushed along her arm. “So did I.”

She eyed him, thoughtful. He deserved more than the ‘It was nice, sleep well’ routine. She wanted to give more. Hands trembling, she touched his sides and leaned in to place a kiss on his cheek. He turned his head to her at the same time.

Her lips made contact with the corners of his mouth. Okay, that didn’t go as planned. His breath caught audibly, and her pulse raced. He smelled like smoke and crisp forest air. Warmth flooded her when he didn’t attempt to deepen the kiss.

She placed her palm against his cheek and withdrew from the kiss, then brushed her thumb over his mouth. “Sleep well.”

When he responded, he sounded hoarse and a tad breathless. “Yeah. You too.”

Jack looked after her as she walked up the hill towards the tent she shared with Janet and Vala. Tonight they’d made incredible progress. He shifted. Damn he needed a shower. A cold one.

He’d taken a bit of a chance asking her not to leave him, though he’d expected her to decline his invitation. True, when he’d asked her, he’d imagined her writhing and moaning under him in pleasure. But even just sleeping with her in his arms tonight would have been enough.

Still, the ice between them was broken. They’d be able to move forward from now on. Happiness surged through him.

He resisted the urge to start whistling when he turned around and strolled towards the bathhouse at the edge of the forest. One cold shower probably wouldn’t suffice.

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