Title: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
Season/Episode: Pretty much anywhere Season 9 or later. Wherever works for you.
Summary: "So I've been thinking about it," he says. "The establishment's clearly not set up to handle this situation. Nobody even brought me a casserole."
Genre: Fluff. Humor.
A/N: Thanks to a. loquita for the beta!
9:38 pm, Washington D.C.
Jack barely has time to register the Unknown glowing on the caller ID before he punches the button to answer the shrilling phone. "O'Neill," he barks into the receiver.
The gap that follows feels unnaturally long, the silence punctuated with rustling sounds that Jack is determined not to turn into a picture of Hank Landry shifting uncomfortably at his desk while he tries to find words.
"Here," says a voice, muted in the background, and that's Daniel. Jack's up from his armchair like a shot, tense and waiting.
"Is someone actually going to talk to me?" he says after a pause that seems to stretch out even more than the first one.
A crash issues from the phone, followed by a clatter, and Jack winces, but he keeps his ear pressed to the handset until he finally hears her say, "God. Sorry. Are you still there?"
Jack blows out an explosive breath and runs a shaking hand through his hair and is suddenly very, very glad that no one's there to see him. "Geez, Carter. Back five minutes and you're already destroying the place?"
"Apparently so, sir," she says.
"Where are you?"
"Infirmary." She rushes on to the next words before he has a chance to say more than her name. "Routine post-mission physical. There's nothing wrong."
"Routine, you say." He sits down again, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "Daniel giving you trouble? I can still kick his ass if you want."
"Daniel's fine." She sees straight through him, even when he's not there to see. "We're all fine."
"Never doubted it." Not that anyone who'd witnessed him pacing floors and having defenseless underlings for breakfast would believe it. But he didn't doubt so much as he lived the experience of waiting for them more than he'd like.
"I have to go," she says softly.
"Give Lam hell for me."
"I'll call you as soon as I can."
"I'll be here."
10:26 pm, Washington D.C.
The next time the phone rings, Jack's lying on the couch, staring up at a ceiling lit by the dim, shifting light of the muted TV.
"I've got two minutes," Sam says without preamble. "We're waiting for General Landry."
Which puts her in the briefing room, on the phone in the corner. Standing? Sitting? Leaning against the wall, completely exhausted, maybe.
"Lam clear you?" Jack asks.
"Pending labwork," she answers on a long sigh, and he's pretty sure his last guess was right. Adrenaline wears off too soon sometimes.
He pushes up to sit, grabbing the remote and clicking off the TV. "You know, I miss labwork. The needles, the tubes, the miniscule cups ..."
Her tiny huff of laughter carries over the phone line, and Jack can't help smiling in answer.
"No casualties, then?" he asks when she doesn't speak.
"Well," she says, and he can picture her plucking at the phone cord, see the slight smirk on her face. "Apparently Cam broke his toe."
Jack hears Mitchell's faint but clearly indignant protest from elsewhere in the room.
"Could be worse," Jack says. "Although I'm sure 'kicking the prison walls' was on the list I gave him. The one with the things not to do, that is."
"I'll be sure to point that out. Repeatedly."
"No sign of Landry?"
Jack leans back, propping his feet on the coffee table. "On the subject of waiting, I should tell you, Carter, that I suck at this Air Force wife bit."
"Sir." She's trying for a stern tone, but he can hear her suppressed laughter.
"No, really," he continues. "I'm crap at sitting around waiting."
"Any longer and I might have had to start remodeling my house or something. Or – you know, there's this funny banging sound in the bathroom pipes. Might have to fix that if you decide to be overdue again."
"Please don't. When you tried to fix your garbage disposal it took me an entire Saturday afternoon to undo the damage. Think what we could have been doing with the time instead."
"Well, we can't exactly be doing that sort of thing if you're off in the hands of the bad guys."
"I wasn't in the hands of the bad guys. Well, not exactly. I mean –" she breaks off, frustrated with the lack of time, or maybe his non-secure phone line, or simply that she has to explain in the first place.
"Maybe you should just let me read the report."
"Maybe I'll let you write it," she counters with a sigh. "The general's here. I need to –"
12:02 am, Washington D.C.
This time, Carter's in her lab; if Jack couldn't tell from the unguarded tone of her voice, he'd know from the hum of the machinery and the quiet beeping of the test equipment in the corner that she never remembers to shut off. It's background noise to her.
"So I've been thinking about it," he says. "The establishment's clearly not set up to handle this situation. Nobody even brought me a casserole. Aren't people supposed to feed me while I'm coping with my bereavement?"
"You weren't bereaved, you know," she responds, the roll of her eyes clear in her voice. "I wasn't dead. I was just temporarily ... misplaced."
"Three weeks is a long time to be misplaced, Carter."
"You should talk," she says softly.
Jack closes his eyes. "For example, I'm sure someone brought Angie Dixon casseroles while Dave was ...." He pauses. "Missing that one time," he finishes, lamenting the lack of punch in the words.
"I have no idea," Sam says, apparently oblivious to his sense of humor's unexpected abandonment of the conversation. "I've never even made a casserole, let alone given one to someone."
"At least I'm not the only one who sucks at this military spouse gig." That, he thinks, sounds a bit more normal.
She laughs in response. "Jack, I've got some news that may come as a shock to you. We're not married."
"Yeah, I'm thinking we should fix that."
In the pause that follows his unplanned but not-exactly-flippant remark, Jack has what feels like a very long time to consider the effect of the coffee he's been drinking all night on the filter between his brain and his mouth. While he waits, he counts the beeps issuing through the phone against his ear. He gets to eight before the sound's abruptly cut off, and if it weren't for the continuing hum of the other equipment in her lab, he'd think she'd hung up on him.
The silence stretches for several more seconds before she speaks again. "Really?"
Jack clears his throat. "Well, if that's why I'm not getting casseroles – "
"Can you be serious for a minute?"
"I'm being serious! I'm a serious guy."
"Jack! You can't just –"
"I was serious, Carter," he breaks in, because she's starting to sound genuinely upset. "Not about the casseroles, actually, because I'm not much of a fan, but ...."
"You're asking me to marry you."
"I think I meant to ask, but I admit it might have sounded more like telling." He pauses. "Would it help if it were an order?"
"Because you usually do things when I order you to, even if you don't have to."
"No," she says, drawing out the word. "What I meant was why are you asking?"
"Because I need someone to tell me not to try to fix the plumbing in the bathroom, and you're the most logical candidate."
Her chuckle is quiet, but clear. "I'm sure there's a less complicated way to deal with that," she says.
"I have more reasons."
"Other reasons. Better reasons."
"Hang on," she says; then, "Cam ...." Her voice is muffled, as if she's put her hand over the receiver.
"Taking a poll, there, Carter?"
"No, I –" she breaks off with a sound of frustration. "I'm really sorry. I have to go. I'll call you back as soon as I can."
"I'm sorry." Her fatigue is bleeding back into her voice again.
There's another long pause, more humming machines, and what might be the sound of someone tapping a pen on her lab bench. "I should –"
"Sam?" he interrupts her.
"You know why. Don't think too much."
12:49 am, Washington, D.C.
Jack's just gotten off the phone with Landry when Sam finally calls again.
"Okay," she says in answer to Jack's greeting.
"Okay, what?" he asks, raising his eyebrows even though she can't see.
Jack grins. If he were anyone else, the little he'd learned from Landry would probably have him calling a therapist; but Jack makes it a point to defy normal. Knowing that SG-1 comes back continually from technical glitches, near-death experiences, and adventures in the multiverse with barely a scratch among them never fails to put him in a good mood.
"Okay, yes, what?" he asks. He wouldn't want to presume, after all.
"Okay, yes, we can get married."
"Weren't we talking about casseroles?"
"Oh my God," she says. There's a thump, and Jack wonders what innocent object hit the floor or desk in penance for his teasing. "I take it back."
"Nope. You said yes. You can't change your mind now." And not in a million years is he planning to let her.
"Yes, I can. And I will. And I –"
"I really did miss you," he says seriously.
She breathes in sharply, exhales slowly. "I know. I missed you too."
"I'm glad you're okay."
"Yeah, I got that."
"Don't do it again." He pauses for effect. "Unless you take me with you, that is."
"Yes, sir," she says, and the desire to see her, and the cheeky grin he's sure she's wearing, is so strong it's a little painful.
He makes his way down the hall to his bedroom. "I'll be out your way tomorrow."
"I've got an appointment with a transport beam right after my daily dose of death by staff meeting."
The silence between them stretches out; as he sits down on the bed and toes off his shoes, Jack wonders why, even now, he still has such trouble saying what he wants to her. Or maybe it's simply that he doesn't want to say goodbye.
"I'm sorry about the ... worrying thing," Sam says.
He grins as he leans back on the pillows, one hand behind his head. "Make me casserole tomorrow, and all's forgiven."
"Not a chance," she responds, laughing. "You should've quit while you were ahead, General."
"Oh, I'm still way ahead, Colonel."
"I love you," she says softly.