Relief flooded him at the sight of her. Whatever was going on, at least her presence meant that she didn’t want him out of her life.
He pulled off his shirt and pants, and slipped into the sleeping bag next to her. She didn’t make any move to cuddle up to him as she usually did. Why would she possibly be mad at him? He’d done nothing wrong.
If this was about him snapping at her, he sure as hell wasn’t gonna apologize for that. They’d agreed she’d treat him as her commanding officer in the field.
Her breathing told him she was still awake. His jaw clenched. Fine, if she wanted him to think she was asleep, he’d leave her in peace. Why was she even here though? She could have slept in her own tent to keep her distance.
He turned and looked at the back of her head. Okay, this was ridiculous. Whatever it was, they needed to talk about it so they could fix it. Jack turned over on his side and pulled her against his chest. No reluctance on her part. He wrapped one arm around her waist.
“I know you’re not asleep.”
She remained quiet. Her fingers brushed over his arm, tenderly caressing.
He held his breath. Her touch didn’t indicate she was mad at him. What the hell was going on?
“Can we talk about what happened, or are you gonna snap at me again?” He smirked against her cheek and placed a gentle kiss right under her ear.
She shook against him, and her breath hitched. His heart froze. She was crying.
Okay. That was new. And frightening. Carter didn’t cry. Not even the whole marriage contract fiasco had made her do that. She acted her pain out in hostility or aggression. But not tears.
He swallowed hard and dropped a kiss on her shoulder. She leaned back into him. At least she accepted the comfort he offered. It was a start. Her fingers enlaced with his.
He kept his voice gentle. “What’s going on?”
For the longest time she didn’t answer him. At last, her weak, trembling voice broke the silence. “I’m sorry.”
He stared at her. She was sorry. Alright. He could accept that. No need for such an extreme reaction, though. This had to be about more than their argument in the ship. Her voice had been layered with something that went beyond their petty fight from the day before.
At least, she was talking to him. Progress that he didn’t want to interrupt.
“I want to stop feeling weak, and I don’t know how. I’m so fixated on proving I can be strong on my own that I don’t allow myself to rely on anybody.” Her voice shook.
“Sam.” Jack nuzzled her neck. Damn, he hadn’t meant to hurt her. How the hell had that even happened? “We were on edge and we both overreacted. What I said…I didn’t mean that.”
“No.” She shook her head. “You were right.”
He raised his eyebrows. He was right?
“I am scared of making a mistake or doing something else that would cause you to take me out of the field. I didn’t mean to start a fight yesterday. I just…” She trailed off.
Jack released a long sigh and placed a gentle kiss on her neck, inhaling her sweet scent. Shower soap. Fresh and feminine. Her body started shaking. God. His heart wrenched.
“C’mere.” He turned her and pulled her against his chest.
Holding her against him, he buried his face in her neck and listened to the occasional hitch in her breath. She was breaking apart. His stomach clenched. I want to stop feeling weak, and I don’t know how, she’d said. But why?
He withdrew and brushed his thumb over her cheek, then buried his fingers in her hair and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “You wanna tell me what made you feel so weak?”
She closed her eyes. His eyebrows climbed. Shame? Disgust? When she tried to hide her face against his shoulder, his stomach knotted. Had she lied to him about…?
“What happened between you and Ba’al?” She went rigid in his arms. Damn, he was onto something there. He held his breath. “Sam?”
“I kissed him and I let him…”
“Let him what?” He didn’t dare move.
“Touch me. I asked for his touch. And I reacted to him. I swear I didn’t want him. I don’t know why… how… I didn’t mean to…” Her arms tightened around him. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Sam dug her nails into her palms, blood rushing in her ears. She’d lose him, wouldn’t she? The secret was out. Throat tight, she pressed her face against the hollow of his collarbone.
“It’s okay.” His words washed warm over her head as he placed a kiss against her hair. “You don’t have to apologize.”
“Yes, I do.” She swallowed hard and lifted her head. “I responded to him. My body…I…I…”
Jack leaned in, his forehead touching hers as his fingers brushed through her hair with a tenderness that staggered her.
“Why?” His hand brushed the hair away from her face. She raised her eyebrows. “Why did you let him touch you?”
“He chained me down and threatened to kill you and Daniel.” She closed her eyes when the scene flashed through her mind again. So vivid. So real. “I thought if I played along and did it convincingly, I might get him to release me.” Her stomach roiled as embarrassment threatened to overwhelm her. “I asked for his touch.”
Jack didn’t allow her to pull away. “To me it sounds like you made the best out of a very bad situation. You came up with a strategy to free yourself. And us, I might add. You did what was necessary given the situation.”
“I’d hardly call anything that happened with him voluntary. Least of all your participation in it. I’ll make sure to give the guy a good old ass-kicking next time we meet him.”
She lifted her head. Grim darkness filled his eyes.
His thumb brushed over the wet trails on her cheek. “Why didn’t you talk to me?”
“I…” She shook her head and swallowed hard. “I didn’t know… When you looked at me yesterday, I thought…”
Jack brushed a strand of hair away from her forehead. “What?”
“I’m a soldier. Something like that shouldn’t happen to me. I shouldn’t feel so helpless, so exposed after what he did. I was scared that once you learned, you’d take me off the team. It wouldn’t have happened in the first place if I were a man. If I can’t even keep it together in a situation like that…” She inhaled deeply. “I thought, you wouldn’t want to be with me anymore.”
Jack’s eyebrows climbed, his hands brushing up and down her sides. “Carter, for cryin’ out loud.” His mutter tingled her hairline. “You don’t have to prove yourself anymore. You’ve been part of the team for over half a year now. So what, some jackass defeated you for a moment. Which he needed restraints for, by the way.”
Sam chuckled at the wryness in his tone. He was a good man. Much better than she deserved.
Jack’s lips twitched into a smirk. “It doesn’t change my opinion of you in any way. And for the record, I’m glad you’re a woman. And by that I mean really, really glad.”
A laugh bubbled up, and she smiled against his lips when he took her mouth in a sweet kiss. Her hands cupped his cheeks to hold him close.
“We gotta work on your trust issues.” Jack brushed the tip of his nose against hers. “You gotta rely on your team, and that includes confiding in us. Stop fighting on two fronts, ‘cause otherwise you’ll lose both fights. Or worse, get yourself, and maybe someone else, killed out there.”
He nuzzled the short hair near her ear and then buried his face against her neck. Sam brushed her fingers through his hair. Warmth. Tenderness. Heat flooded her when his hands ran across her back.
Jack pressed a kiss to her neck, then looked into her eyes. “Rely on me. In the field, I depend on you to have my back, so if I screw up, you’ll step in. I need you to let me do the same for you. Don’t get hostile when I try to protect you.”
“You’re right.” Her lips met his, trembling. “I didn’t mean to snap at you back in the ship. I need you.”
He stared at her as if entirely thrown back by her admission. Fear returned and she swallowed hard.
“I need you so much.” She closed her eyes. “I joined the resistance to become independent and strong. Now I’m dependent on you, and that’s scary.”
Jack released a deep breath, and ran his hand through her hair. Then he buried his face in her neck again, holding her and allowing her to fall against him. If only he didn’t make relying on him so easy. If only he didn’t feel so safe and strong.
“Carter, you’re one of the most creative, resilient soldiers I’ve ever worked with. Depending on someone doesn’t make you weak. It shows you’re strong enough to acknowledge you can’t make it on your own. It makes you stronger.” When she shifted to look at him, Jack shrugged. “You think I’m weak?”
“No.” She shook her head. “But that’s different.”
“Why?” His eyebrows rose.
“Well, you’re a… I’m a…” She faltered.
“A woman?” He scrunched his brows.
“Now who’s discriminating?” He released a chuckle. “I’ve never considered you weaker or less capable because you’re a woman. But apparently you do.”
She stared at him.
His lips tugged into a smirk again. “Daniel would call that internalized…something.”
He was right. God, all this time she’d been so fixated on never appearing weak. He’d never treated her different from the guys, but she’d assumed he would. Still…
“But what happened with Ba’al on the last mission would’ve never happened to you. Or Colonel Sheppard, or Daniel.”
“No, you’re right. It wouldn’t have. If I’d had Sheppard on SG-1 instead of you, we’d probably still be rotting in that cell.” He cleared his throat. “That doesn’t mean I’m happy about what happened.”
She widened her eyes. He had a point. Because she was a woman they’d gotten out. Not in spite of it.
“Carter, if you hadn’t opened our cell and found a way out, he’d have probably killed us. You made use of the enemy’s weakness. If that’s not the mindset of a soldier, I don’t know what is.”
The mindset of a soldier. She winced and closed her eyes. If she actually had that, surely she’d have been able to shoot Ba’al when she had the chance. “I let him get to me. I had the opportunity…” She swallowed hard. “I could’ve killed him. He was unconscious, and all it would’ve taken was a second shot with the lightening gun, but I couldn’t do it. What kind of soldier can’t kill an enemy when faced with such an opportunity?”
“Being able to kill an unarmed, defenseless man doesn’t classify you as a good soldier. You should know that by now. There’s no honor, and definitely no courage in killing.”
“You wouldn’t have hesitated.”
“No, but I also said killing comes easier to me than it does to most people. Which doesn’t necessarily speak for my character.” His thumb brushed over her cheek. “Next time we run into Ba’al, I’ll hold him for you and you can take your anger out on him. Before I shoot him.”
The tension inside her evaporated in a burst of laughter. She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. “Well, I beat him up before I shot him with the Zat’nik’tel, so hopefully he’ll think twice about touching me again.”
“Zat… what?” He gave her a blank stare.
“Oh, Zat’nik’tel. That’s the actual name for the lightening gun. Ba’al used it. I’ll put it in my report.” She brushed her thumb over his cheek in a tender caress.
“Oh. McKay’s gonna be disappointed after he fought so hard with Sheppard over naming it lightning gun.” He smirked. “Zat…what? You know, we gotta find a shorter version for that. How about zat-gun?”
She laughed. “That’ll work.”
“I’m gonna have to put you on a day of sanitary duty for the insubordination in the ship. If you want to yell at me, fine. But not on duty, and definitely not in front of another team member in the field.”
She nodded with a smile. “Yes, sir. I know it was out of line going off on you like that.”
His hand moved across her waist and traced the outline of her hips, his fingers tickling her gently. Heat shot through her abdomen. His eyes darkened. Smiling, Sam pushed him on his back and leaned over him. “There’s one thing I was scared of when I was with Ba’al.”
“What’s that?” Jack’s hands kept trailing lazy paths over her skin, outlining her curves.
“I…” Well, this was awkward. Her cheeks warmed. How the hell should she phrase this without it coming across as odd? She bit her lower lip, not daring to look at him. “This is stupid really.”
“Sam.” He nuzzled her neck and placed a ticklish kiss on her sensitive skin. “Spill it.”
She raked her fingers through his hair, holding him close. “I kept thinking that…I didn’t want him to be my first. I didn’t want him at all, but that made it worse. I want to have that with you.” He stilled against her, and she took a shaky breath. His eyes darkened when he leaned back, his gaze grazing along her lips and further down.
When he leaned up to take her lips, his tongue flicked out to tease them before darting into her mouth. She opened for him. His kiss created an undeniable need, and the ease with which her body responded amazed and unsettled her at the same time. So different from the day before…
She arched her neck when he trailed searing kisses down along her chin and throat. His hot breath left goose bumps all across her skin.
At last, Jack turned her so she was lying on her back by his side. “Show me where he touched you.”
She stared up at him.
His face gentled. He traced her arm with his fingers until he reached her hand. “With your hand. Show me what he did. No words, okay?”
Her cheeks flared, but she nodded. No talking… That should be fine, although touching herself in front of another person was equally unsettling. She grazed her fingertips down along the valley between her breasts, over her ribcage, following the same path Ba’al had taken. Images washed over her as she remembered his warm, somewhat slippery hands.
Her breath hitched and her eyes snapped open when a warm hand followed hers. Warm, ticklish, almost electrifying. So different. She held Jack’s gaze, then smiled when he grazed a ticklish spot at her waist.
His fingers followed hers down to her belly button, never faltering or touching anywhere else than where she indicated. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. His touch offered such a sweet redemption, her shame and disgust melted in the sheer heat of arousal.
She rested her hand above the hem of her panties and cleared her throat. “Then he—”
He put his finger against her mouth. “Shhh. Show me.”
Shifting slightly, she ran her now trembling fingers under the waistband of her panties, then further down in between her legs. Her breath caught when his hand followed the same path. She brushed her fingers along her folds. Her cheeks warmed and she couldn’t help turning her head to hide her face against his shoulder. “This is awkward.”
Chuckling, he leaned in to nibble her earlobe. She sighed when need coiled in her belly. His calloused fingers brushed her mound, lingered, caressed ever so lightly, before he dropped them lower.
She clutched his arm. “Oh, God.”
“Did it feel like this?” His deep rasp made her quiver. Before she could answer, he captured her mouth with his in a quick kiss and repeated the move, swallowing her moan.
“No.” Sam cupped his cheek, staring up into his deep, dark eyes. “He was rough and…oh, God.” His thumb slid directly over her clit, then began rubbing in circles. Her fingers dug into his arm. “Jack.”
God, how could he know her body so well? Within moments, she was hovering at the brink of intense pleasure. Was her arousal coming too easy?
Pressure built. Built. And then fireworks exploded in her core and washed over her in waves. So quick. So unexpected.
Sam sighed against his chin, her hips writhing in perfect sync with the movements of his hand. She let her head drop to the pillow and stared up into his eyes. She wanted to drown in their dark depths.
“Did he make you feel like this?”
His voice reached her through a haze of passion, and she shook her head, panting. “No, not even close.”
“You know why?” He kissed a warm trail from her ear, down along the curve of her neck and shoulder. “He was the one who lost control, not you. You controlled how far you let him in. He never got past that. Not even when you faked participation.”
She froze. He was right. It’d been her decision to participate for the sake of tricking Ba’al, but she’d never really wanted to sleep with him. She hadn’t enjoyed him, she’d enjoyed the brief illusion of Jack. Ba’al hadn’t aroused her. Her own thoughts had.
She covered her eyes and gave a breathless laugh. The answer had been so easy. She should have seen it.
Jack smirked against her cheek. “Better now?”
She turned her head and captured his lips in a deep, warm kiss. She allowed herself to savor his lips, trail her tongue across his. Minty. Fresh. Like him. So addictive.
His eyes gleamed when he broke contact. “You know, I was wondering…” His expression remained blank except for that impish sparkle in his eyes. “Next time we’re in town, we should get you one of those little bikini outfits. Like the one you were wearing before.”
She raised her eyebrows, then let her lips graze along his chin. He groaned. Encouraged by his reaction, she pushed him on his back and straddled his hips. “Jack, are you telling me you liked it when I looked like a slave?”
“Like it?” His voice did a little hitch. “That was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. Just the outfit. Not the slave part.” His hands wandered down her back to her behind, and then he pressed her hot core against him.
Her breath caught when she felt the unmistakable evidence of his arousal. Well, she’d asked him to be her first, so why wait? When she trailed her fingers down along his abdomen, his hands caught her wrists.
“Jack.” She leaned down, but when he lifted his head to claim her mouth, she kept her lips an inch away, never touching. “Take me. Please.”
He groaned again, more urgently. When he pulled her close and rolled them over, she brought her knees up to his hips, caressing his sides with her inner thighs. He kissed her hard and deep, his thumb brushing across her cheek. “Not here. Not tonight. Why don’t we get out of here for a few days?”
“What?” She rocked her hips against his, his heat searing through their clothing.
“Let’s go to my cabin. Just the two of us. Two, maybe three days.”
Sam scrunched her brows. “But what about work and camp? What about the missions? I have a few experiments scheduled with—”
“Mitchell and Sheppard can take over for a few days. And I’m sure McKay can handle the experiments without you, or postpone them if necessary. You worked throughout most of the polar night when all the others took time off to be with their families. You’re way behind on vacation time.”
She tilted her head. He made it sound so simple. She could already picture the annoyed expression on McKay’s face if she backed out of their scheduled experiments now.
A playful, seductive twinkle touched Jack’s eyes. “Come on, Carter, do you really wanna miss out on the lake, the fishing, the star-gazing.” He leaned in to her ear. “The sex.”
Her pulse sped up. Definitely more exciting than her experiments. “That does sound intriguing.”
He gave her a crooked smile. Her stomach flip-flopped. He had the sexiest smile she’d ever seen. “We’ll leave first thing in the morning. Pack whatever you need for three days. I’ll take care of food and everything else.”
He pecked a kiss on her nose and rolled over to lie on his back, then pulled her close. Sam snuggled up to him, content. Three days alone with him in his cabin. That did sound good.
“Jack, thank you.”
“Not letting me pull away.” She nuzzled his neck, and he buried his face in her hair.
The door of the ‘puddle jumper’—as they’d named their new ship after much discussion between McKay and Sheppard—lowered with a hum. Sam stared at the field that opened up in front of her. Tall grass, lush deciduous trees, and in the middle of it all a little wood cabin with small windows.
“Oh my God.” Inhaling the grassy, warm air, she left the ship.
Jack stepped up behind her, and wrapped his arms around her waist to rest his chin on her shoulder. “Like it?”
“This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”
He chuckled and kissed her neck. “Told you. You should have come with during polar night.”
Behind them, Sheppard stepped out of the jumper, a box in his hand. “Where do you want me to put these?”
“Just leave them in front of the door. I’ll take them in later.”
Sam raised her eyebrows at the boxes. “You sure you didn’t over-pack?”
Smirking, Jack released her. “Food, beer, water, blankets. Just basic stuff we need. I keep little up here. Most of it would spoil.” He opened one of the boxes and held a cold beer out to her.
“Trying to get me drunk?”
He glanced up, an amused sparkle in his eyes. “Oh, don’t get your hopes up, Carter. I plan on you being fully sober throughout everything we do.”
Her heart jumped. Warmth spread in her abdomen, while at the same time, her stomach tightened. Sex. She’d actually do it. She took the beer from him.
Jack handed another bottle to Sheppard when he returned, but the other colonel refused.
“No thanks. I wanna get back as soon as possible. You know how badly Rodney wants this ship back to play with its internal circuits. Since only you or I can fly it, I’ll have a long day ahead of me.”
Sam smiled and took a sip of beer. The bitter liquid prickled cool down her throat. That morning, when Jack had announced he’d borrow their new ship, he’d nearly started a revolt at the science camp. McKay had been unwilling to let the ship go for three days.
Luckily for Jack, the first examination from the day before had revealed Sheppard could also pilot the vessel. More than that, he seemed to have a natural talent for the technology.
“You can look around, you know?”
Sam looked up with raised brows.
Jack waved towards the forest. “About a hundred meters through those trees is a little lake. And there’s a pond behind the cabin.”
“Can I go inside?”
Smirking, he fumbled around in his pockets to pull out the keys. She caught them as he threw them to her.
“The large key in the middle. Leave the boxes where they are. I’ll take care of them.”
“Yessir.” She gave him a cheeky grin when he scrunched his brows.
She walked towards the front door and unlocked it. When she entered the cabin, amazement flooded her. This was so much more comfortable than she’d imagined. Well, Jack had said that this was his home away from camp, so she had expected more than just basics. She took a deep breath and inhaled the wooden and cool scent. The typical smell of a house that’s been vacated for some time.
The living area offered a large comfortable couch, a bookshelf and a fireplace in the corner. A few steps led up into a small kitchen that held the basics. A stove. A fridge. A table. All powered by a generator, that much Jack had told her on their way here.
Apparently he paid an older woman from a nearby town to keep everything in order and come by every two weeks to clean the house of dust.
She strolled along a small corridor, barely two meters long and opened the smaller door at the end. Wow! A small bathroom with a tiled shower installation, and even glass walls surrounding it. Compared to their showers at camp, this was the height of luxury.
When she heard footsteps behind her, she turned. “Does this shower have warm water?”
Jack put the box he carried down in the kitchen. “Yeah, but you’ll have to wait an hour or two. I just turned on the generator. It takes a while for the water to heat up.”
Sheppard peeked in the door. “All right, that’s all. I’ll take off if you don’t need anything else.”
“No, we’ll be fine.” Jack clapped his shoulder. “Just remember to pick us up in three days. I’d hate to travel all the way back to camp the conventional way.”
Sheppard grinned. “I’ll probably have to fight McKay for the jumper. You two have fun.” He winked at Sam.
Her cheeks flushed. God, he knew exactly what they were gonna do, didn’t he? Probably everybody at camp did. She flinched.
Jack raised his eyebrows. “You okay?”
“Yeah. They know, don’t they? Why we came up here?”
He smirked and pulled her close against the hard planes of his chest. “Why do you think I wanted to get away? I want you to be as relaxed as possible, without schedules, gossip, and thin tent walls to worry about.”
“Tent walls?” She frowned. What did the tents have to do with it?
“I fully intend to make you scream for me.” His deep rasp sent pleasant shivers down her spine. Right. Thin tent walls would be bad for that. Wait, what? Scream? She swallowed when need stabbed at her.
A low hum from outside told her Sheppard was taking off in the puddle jumper.
“Come on.” Jack enlaced their fingers. “I’m sure you haven’t seen the best part yet.”
He led her down the stairs to the living area, then to the corner behind the bookshelf. Another door. She hadn’t even seen that. He opened it.
Sam held her breath as she entered. A king sized bed. A real bed, covered with dark blue and black sheets. Matching curtains framed the two windows, one right above the head of the bed, the other one on the wall to its left. A large wardrobe with a mirror stood against the wall opposite the windows.
The room was small, and yet much more luxurious than the outside of the cabin indicated. This was way better than she’d imagined. How long had it been since she slept in a real bed, with an actual mattress under her?
“Wow. This is great.”
Jack brushed his mouth against her neck. “Are you hungry?” He nodded towards the kitchen. “Cause I brought steaks…”
She gave him a bright smile. “I’d love that.” Steaks. After months of eating the rationed and limited choice of food at camp, that sounded like a feast. “Last time I had steak was at O’Malley’s over a month ago.”
“Wait until you taste mine.” He turned with a grin. “There’s a special secret ingredient.”
“In steaks?” She laughed and followed him.
“Wait and see.”
“It’s beer, isn’t it?” She picked up one of the boxes from outside and took them into the kitchen without ever getting an answer from him.
When Jack fired up a small grill out on the porch, Sam plopped down on the couch and looked around. Three days. Alone. With Jack. In this cozy, comfortable little cabin. This had to be heaven on Earth.