Plan C

The Johnnie Walker Red sat untouched inside its striped box. Jack casually hefted it back and forth between his hands, the interred bottle gurgling in a way that Jack's fuzzy mind interpreted as melancholy.

But maybe he was just projecting.

On a bottle of booze.

Jack snorted and tossed the box, watching it twist on its axis. By some miracle his mostly numb fingers saved the liquor from an undignified end on the hard deck below. For the hundredth time tonight (he'd never been good at numbers), he read the small note attached to the box with a big garish red bow. He wondered if Walter had been the one to affix it.

Happy Retirement. Again. –Hammond

It was a rather nice bottle of scotch. Single malt. Aged ten years.

But considering the occasion, it wasn't that nice.

Jack couldn't help but think that seven years of being shot at by aliens earned him at least a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. But maybe just 'good' scotch was simply another not so subtle hint that Hammond doubted this retirement would stick.

He was wrong.

And all Jack had to show for his seven years at the SGC was a pretty good bottle of scotch and a three inch piece of shrapnel in his hip.

Jack carefully set the unopened box on the ground and splashed himself another shot of super generic, no brand tequila. Seemed more fitting somehow.

"Happy retirement, Jack," he said to his empty backyard. He raised his shot in a mock toast and threw it back, wincing as it burned down his throat. Rubbing alcohol. He'd be better off drinking pure rubbing alcohol, he thought churlishly.

"Nice to see you've spared no expense," observed a voice from behind Jack.

Great. Just what Jack needed, Carter showing up to babysit her old, crippled, ex-commanding officer. He was in no mood for any more people asking him if he was in pain, or how he felt about forced medical retirement. Or yet another attempt on Hammond's part to convince him to stay at the SGC, to take a desk job. Sending Carter was a low blow.

"You can tell Hammond that I'm not changing my mind," he growled.

"He knows," she replied, moving to sit in the chair next to him.

"I'm not meant to sit behind a desk or be somebody's lapdog," he continued belligerently, as if she hadn't spoken.

Carter just made a vague sound of agreement and sniffed tentatively at the nasty tequila.

Jack stared at her in surprise. Was that it? Was that the only reaction he was going to get out of her? Was she…ignoring him?

Jack was disappointed to realize that he'd been hoping for one more fight. When she looked up at him and smirked, he knew she'd realized the same thing. And she wasn't going to give it to him.

Jack sighed. If he was denied the pleasure of being a grumpy old ass, what joy could possibly be left in life?

"At the very least, tell me you aren't going to let an old man drink alone," he said.

Carter looked dubiously at the bottle of tequila, but magnanimously got up and retrieved another glass from inside.

By the time she returned, Jack was feeling deflated again. Anger had been so much more appealing than melancholy.

"I'm not getting all philosophical about this, Carter…," he stated as she settled back down, trying to somehow explain. "It's just…we both know that only thing I was ever good at was killing people."

Luckily for both of them, Carter had never been one for empty platitudes. She didn't try to feed him some bullshit about taking up golf or taking time to smell the fucking roses. Instead she leaned across Jack's lounge chair, nearly upsetting it in the process. She bypassed the crap tequila and reached for the Johnnie Walker Red, glancing briefly at the attached note.

"Only red, huh?" she commented before popping the box open.

As serious of a turn as this conversation had taken, Jack couldn't help but smile. As usual, she managed to make him feel a little less crazy without even trying.

She splashed some scotch into her glass, swirling it gently.

"So far, I've only come up with three plans." She took a small sip and rolled the liquid around her mouth, before swallowing it. "We can try to track down Thor and see if there is anything he can do. Or we can get our hands on a sarcophagus."

It was probably the last thing he expected to hear from her, although it shouldn't have been. That was his Carter, the planner, the miracle worker. Her words made him feel both immensely grateful and immensely foolish. He knew it wasn't an idle offer. She meant it. She would bully the Asgard Council into seeing Jack, whether Hammond objected or not. She would lead SG-1 on a batshit crazy mission to track down a sarcophagus, just so Jack O'Neill could get back to doing what he did best. So he could stop sitting on his back porch drinking lighter fluid because he felt useless.

But for some reason, Jack didn't automatically jump at the chance she was offering him.

Instead he sat there and watched her drink his pretty good retirement scotch and wondered if he would ever really be able to let go. Had he somehow convinced himself that he would die doing this job? Did he want to end it that way? He'd never let himself consider life after the SGC. Maybe he should be grateful that he made it out of there at all. It was more than he had ever expected. More than maybe he deserved.

Carter's eyes were on him and he had the not unfamiliar feeling that she could read his entire thought process.

"You said you had three plans," Jack said.

She finished off her glass of scotch in one smooth gulp, setting the glass down on the deck with a thump. "The last one is sort of up to you," she said, her eyes not quite meeting his.

Then she tipped the bottle of Johnnie Walker towards him, offering him some.

Jack might have been careening rapidly towards inebriety, but he wasn't dense enough not to realize that this wasn't about the damn scotch. This whole discussion had just taken an unspoken, but abrupt turn. And suddenly spending the rest of his life on this damn porch in a drunken stupor didn't seem so appealing.

"Hammond did offer me a place at the training academy," Jack offered, his mind slamming into motion as the importance of this conversation began to sink in.

Carter leaned back in her chair, looking up at the night sky. "You'd have a lot to offer a program like that. But would you want to do that?"

Jack shrugged, his eyes still intent on her face. "I honestly hadn't thought it was a real possibility," he said carefully.

She visibly absorbed that information, considering it before nodding. "It might be nice," she observed mildly. "That is, if…if you wanted to stay in the area."

Her hesitation was like a swift kick to his chest.

"Not too much paperwork, I think," he said inanely, trying to think quickly.

Carter nodded, making another soft sound at the back of her throat. She'd said her piece, he knew. The rest was up to him. Jack glanced down at the half-empty plastic bottle of tequila and he knew there really was no question.

Jack held his glass out to her.

"I think I'm going to have to go with Plan C. That always turns out to be the best one, doesn't it?"

There was a flash of something luminous in her eyes and after the briefest hesitation she poured him some of the amber liquid. He swirled it, watching the scotch catch snippets of moonlight. He held a small sip on his tongue and let the mellow, smoky flavor fill his mouth.

"Not a bad bottle of scotch," he observed.

"No," she agreed with a beguiling smile. "Not bad at all."

Jack sat back next to Carter and felt warmth begin to spread throughout his body.

"I could develop quite the taste for this," Jack said.

Carter chuckled softly and poured herself a refill, her shoulder bumping his in the darkness.

Maybe life after the SGC was going to be pretty great after all.