Cassie was lounging, indolent on Carter's large and comfortable sofa when she heard the crunch of gravel on the driveway outside, preceding the clonk of a car door. Dropping the remote she had been using to flick through the television channels she poked her head over the back of the chair to watch her guardian enter their home.
Carter was humming under her breath, obviously happy about something. "Hi Cass!" she said, smiling at her.
"Hi Sam," Cassie returned, smiling back.
"Uh," Sam said, a troubled look crossing her countenance suddenly, "Um, Pete's asked me to go out with him this evening... You... You don't mind going over to the Gen-I mean Jack's, do you?"
Cassie smiled more broadly. "Jack's got a date," she informed Carter, "But I can always go and crash around Sofia's."
"Sofia's parents won't mind?" Carter checked, suddenly feeling guilty.
"Sam," Cassie said, almost benevolently, chiding Sam gently for not understanding the unwritten rules of being seventeen and best friends, "Of course not."
"Well, you don't have to go... I can always cancel..."
"For cryin' out loud, just go and get ready will you? Enjoy yourself for once!" Cassie returned, leaping off the sofa and thumping her way up the stairs to pack her overnight bag.
Carter stood for a moment, torn between amusement and guilt. "You're spending too much time with Jack!" she yelled up the stairs.
Cassie's reply was indistinct as Carter went into the kitchen to make herself a drink. After Janet's death she had been more than willing to take in the now twice orphaned teenager; but she was prepared to admit that suddenly entering parenthood at the age of thirty-six was unsettling, and damaging to her already almost non existent social life.
If Cassie wasn't here, well, she was sure Pete would have moved in by now. As it was, Cassie was shuffled between herself and O'Neill (named by Janet in her will as Cassie's other legal guardian) in an attempt to give the teenager some stability and still allow Carter and O'Neill a small amount of private time. It wasn't a perfect arrangement, but Cassie had made it clear she was perfectly happy with it, and with her leaving for college in a matter of months now rather than years it didn't have to be permanent.
Carter fought her way to the crowded bar as Pete attempted to bully some other unsuspecting patron of the establishment into relinquishing two seats. She ordered her drinks from the extremely harassed barman and regarded herself critically in the bar-mirror as he hurried to get them. Not too bad, she thought, scrutinising the reflection.
"A bud and a red wine," said an all too familiar, deep voice somewhere to her right.
She turned and nearly squeaked. Jack O'Neill was stood right next to her, looking away. Dressed in jeans and a white shirt she felt her stomach contract for a brief second despite herself. Scolding herself mentally she tapped him on the shoulder.
He turned, scowling, and smiled when he realised who it was. "Carter! Didn't expect to see you here."
She shrugged. "Pete and me were in the restaurant over the road and we thought... you know..."
He regarded her for a moment, his brown eyes softening. Something like regret turned down the corners of his mouth. The moment passed and he smiled again, a slightly brittle grin. "You haven't met Julia, have you?"
He leaned backwards, his hand touching the waist of his companion. She turned and Sam blinked. The woman was perhaps a little older than herself, judging by the hand that pushed the dangerously-close-to-falling strap of her top back and the fine lines around her eyes, but she was glamourous in an effortlessly natural way; the sort of woman that makes others mutter darkly when they pass. She was a brunette, her hair probably dyed but it made little difference, with liquid blue eyes very much like Carter's own. Her nails were short but brightly painted, her make up understated but carefully applied.
"Sam Carter?" Julia asked, smiling with a mouthful of extremely white teeth. She had a pleasant voice, light for a woman of her age without seeming girlish.
"Uh, pleased to meet you," Carter said, forcing a smile in return and extending her hand. They shook, Carter feeling a soft palm under her own and cursing her gun-calloused, weathered equivalent.
She'd known the General was seeing someone, sure. But, in much the same way Pete was a hastily asked and often forgotten topic of conversation when they were on base, so was Julia.
The barman had located her drinks, providing her with an escape route she craved without really knowing why. "See you Monday," she said to O'Neill who nodded his goodbye.
"Someone you know?" Pete asked as she returned to the table he'd somehow obtained. His tone was mild but underneath there was the suggestion of suspicion, maybe only in her own guilty mind but enough to make her annoyed.
"Just General O'Neill and his date. From work," she replied a little shortly.
"Oh," he said, still hatefully calm. She gave herself a mental shake. She was, she had to admit if only to herself, a little jealous of the woman now standing with O'Neill's tanned arm around her thin waist. Which was ridiculous, she told herself firmly, she had no right to be jealous when her own date was sat right here, his feet bumping against hers under their table.
She gave him a kiss, for her benefit or his, she wasn't sure. Perhaps for O'Neill's. She found herself glancing over her shoulder, just to see if he was still there.
He was pulling away from Julia, obviously having just kissed her. She looked ridiculously coy, eyelashes fluttering as she looked downwards at the floor. Blushing with a mixture of shame and anger Carter turned back to Pete, her stomach boiling with a nameless emotion.
No, not nameless.
Just an emotion she refused to put a name to because naming it would be acknowledging it and she wasn't prepared to do that.
Telling herself again that she was not going to spend an evening looking over her shoulder she took a sip of her drink.
Someone brushed against her shoulder and her head snapped round, somehow expecting it to be-
-someone other than the young man walking away from her towards another table. O'Neill and Julia were still deep in conversation.... she was looking at them again.
"So, had a good week?" Pete asked, putting down his own beer and entwining his fingers with hers. She tried to focus on the warmth engulfing her hand, watching their fingers rather than his face.
"Not too bad," she confessed, "Saved the world a few times. You know the drill."
Actually, it had been a pretty boring week. SG-1 were base-bound thanks to a shoulder injury Daniel had picked up on P6X-891and she had spent a depressingly large amount of time in the laboratory, running tests on some interesting technology she had been itching to experiment with, but had in actuality proved to be deadly dull.
In fact the highlight of her week had been General O'Neill turning up at her lab, just like he used, hand behind his back and a playful grin lingering around his mouth.
"What you ordered me to do sir."
He bought his hands around form behind his back. He was holding out a cup of blue jello and a spoon. "Saved you something from lunch," he explained, "As Teal'c told me you haven't actually left the lab since six this morning and you spent last night on base having worked till two the previous day." There was a bite of warning in his tone and she sighed. "What's so interesting, anyway?" he asked.
"Nothing," she confessed, "Just... experiments don't run nine to five..."
"Take a break," he said, "I'll make that an order. Eat the jello." His grin widened and she found herself returning it, putting her screwdriver down and picking up the spoon instead. She leaned on the edge of the table next to him. He watched her eat unashamedly, his face now impassive but eyes dancing with mirth.
"Was there something you wanted?" she asked, as she unashamedly scraped the bottom of the cup for the last scrap of blue gelatin.
He shrugged. "I haven't wandered down this way for a while," he explained, "Just though, you know..." He was starting to look uncomfortable, hands straying from his pockets to the various articles scatted on the tables.
"I wouldn't touch that one," she warned and he dropped it hurriedly. "It's delicate."
He had the decency to look slightly ashamed. "Sorry."
He gave her a look that made her smile and squirm at the same time. "You're a tease Carter."
She snapped back to reality. "Sorry Pete. Miles away."
"I can see that," he said, humour touching his eyes and mouth, "No doubt it's classified and you can't talk to me about it?"
She shrugged. "You know how it is."
He nodded, looking away and taking another swig of his drink. "So, you want to ditch this crowd and...?" His raised eyebrow asked the question he didn't voice.
She bit her lip. "I'm sorry Pete but... Cassie."
She didn't know why she lied, only that she felt nauseous with the guilt as his face softened, eyes darkening. "Of course. I understand. The poor kid..."
Pete liked Cassie and made no secret of it, something Carter was both glad of and slightly unsettled by. His reaction only compounded the misery she was feeling at having lied. She didn't know why, or rather she wasn't willing to admit why, but she needed to be alone.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw that Jack and Julia- even their names seemed to fit well together- had gone somewhere. Presumably together.
Her stomach clenched again and she downed the rest of her drink in one angry gulp.