Title: The Friday Night Colonel's Club
Rating: Gen, PG
Summary: Even off the field, Jack thinks it's nice to know somebody's got your back.
A/N: This was written because of a certain discussion around Zero Hour and Jack not showing favoritism to SG-1. This is not exactly 'beers with the guys' fic you gals were expecting, but I hope you like it anyway.

Thank you aurora_novarum and supplyship for your research help! All other mistakes are mine alone.

The Friday Night Colonel's club wasn't always held on Friday nights, nor was it actually a club, at least not in the traditional sense. It started off as more like beers with the guys after a long day at the office. Of course, back then Ferretti was a gum-popping Major gunning for his own command, and Kawalsky was still around.

Ferretti said he knew this little place downtown, far enough away that it wasn't filled with the Academy kids on a Friday night, and not so classy that they'd have to fight the suit-and-tie crowd for a table. Jack figured it was worth a shot. And if they didn't like it, there was always that spare fridge in his garage with the twelve soldiers chilling inside.

Turned out, Monty's was exactly what they were looking for. Dark. Smokey. The kind of place where if you were drinking alone, you might want to sit with your back to the wall and keep an eye on the door. The tables are scratched and chipped and the chairs don't match, but the glasses are clean and you can still get your beer served in the bottle if that's how you like it. It's the kind of place where nobody cares what your day job is, so long as you mind your own business and pay your tab.

They go there every Friday for the first month the program is in operation, he, Kawalsky, and Ferretti. Mostly they just gripe about the team being split up, and how Jack's stuck with a bunch of greenhorns who were going to end up getting them all killed in their enthusiasm. Ferretti can't wait to get off-world with a team of his own. He reminds Jack of a new recruit just waiting to be called up for his first tour. Jack thinks he's got no idea what he's in for. Ferretti's going to be ticked when he finds out Kawalsky's up for promotion and he's not.

Kawalsky toasts Jack on the night the divorce papers are finalized because it's the thing to do, not because they feel like celebrating. Kawalsky's been a friend for a long time and he knows the history. He tells Jack that he'll check in on Sara once in a while for him because he knows Jack still cares.

A week later, Kawalsky is dead.

*

A few days after the memorial, (and it has to be a memorial because they can't turn over a body for burial. Just the brown envelope of ashes sent to his mother) Ferretti passes him in the hall and says something about going out to toast Kawalsky. Jack doesn't want to go. He doesn't want sit in a dark bar, at a wobbly table with the short leg with a matchbook stuffed under it to keep it level and a platoon of empties crowding the surface and play 'Remember When' with Ferretti. He's known Kawalsky for a long time and he'll grieve for him. He just doesn't want to do it to the strains of Hank Williams on the jukebox.

He changes his mind when he gets to the locker room.

Someone's written the address for Monty's across his locker door. Facilities is going to be pissed at the vandalism, he thinks, but the ink wipes off easily when he rubs at it. He's amused at the thought that they're going to be even more ticked that someone has been swiping the white-board markers. Jack notices the same message has been left on the door of Dixon's locker, and across the room on Makepeace's. Edwards made an attempt at wiping his clean, but Jack can still see the smear.

None of these guys knew Kawalsky before they got here and Jack figures, what the hell. Why not? He shoves the boxing gloves back on their hook and grabs his keys instead.

They've got the back room at the bar. The one that supposedly doesn't exist even though they've played a game or two of cards there already. The tables are a bit less scratched and the chairs are a bit less worn, but they don't come here for the decor. Jack's surprised at the crowd. Ferretti is the only one there who's still a Major, but he's here because he put the whole thing together. They should have been celebrating Kawalsky's promotion, not his funeral.

Dixon made it, despite always bitching about how the wife keeps him on a short leash. Makepeace too, though he's standing around looking like there's a stick up his ass. He's new to the SGC. They all are, but Jack's never served with him. He's not quite sure he trusts him just yet.

Barnes is handing Ferretti a martini, one of those blue and very girlie ones with a little paper umbrella speared through the cherries. Ferretti sees Jack and raises the glass in his direction. He's got that shit-eating grin on his face that alternately scares Jack or makes him pull a mental eye-roll at his antics. Ferretti's got more balls than brains some days, and while it makes him a good soldier in the field, he'd have probably been arrested five times over as a civilian for some of his pranks.

But this…this feels right. Fogerty is singing about a bad moon on the rise and it's turned up loud. The drinks are flowing and Monty's wife, Angie, is working the room, taking orders and keeping the tables clear of empties. Edwards is leaning back in his chair, laughing and telling Johnson dirty jokes that are making him blush a shade darker than his hair. He's waving and arm and almost upends a tray, but Angie's a pro and just sidesteps him.

This is how it's supposed to be. Kawalsky wouldn't have wanted them crying in their beer over them.

They don't talk about work at all. They can't. Not when everything they do is classified. Nobody says it, but they're all thanking their personal gods, or lucky stars, or whatever, that it wasn't them who got snaked. And there's nobody from the lower ranks around that they have to set an example. Except Ferretti, but that hardly counts because he won't remember half of it in the morning anyhow.

Monty finally kicks them out just after closing because he doesn't want to lose his liquor license. He's got a line of cabs waiting at the curb when he holds the front door open for them because he doesn't want to lose some of his new best customers.

*

Ferretti transfers out in late August. Jack doesn't remember the date exactly, but he remembers that was still warm when they got to Monty's, but he can see his breath in the air when he hauls Ferretti out of his truck and drops him at his front door sometime around midnight.

They tease him that Area 51 is for wusses. Kirkland, the new guy who'd only been off world a handful of times and only seen action once, calls him chickenshit. Dixon makes sure everyone knows that Ferretti's girlfriend is pulling the strings. Ferretti tells them both where to go and grins the whole time.

Jack doesn't say it, but he's glad Ferretti was transferring, even though he's sorry to see him go. At least he'll make it home to see his baby son or daughter at the end of each day. No amount of danger pay could top that.

Ferretti sends him baby pictures in January and Jack brings one to Monty's where it gets taped up behind the bar next to the post card from the wedding chapel in Vegas.

*

After the whole thing with Martouf and the brainwashing goes down, Jack is sitting at the bar when Reynolds pulls up a stool next to him. It's not Friday and Jack wonders if Reynolds got elected to follow him here or if the others will be filing in shortly. He wouldn't be surprised to see them arrive one by one to keep up the appearance that this wasn't planned, but Jack would know. He's not the first one they've done it for.

But Reynolds is the only one to show. He doesn't ask Jack about what went on in the room. There've been enough rumors over the years for him to piece it together himself and he probably wouldn't be that far off the mark. Asking about it would be one step short of showing Jack the door. For the teams to work the way they do off-world, you don't ask what goes on between its members once they step through the gate. Command doesn't really want to know. They just want them to accomplish the mission and maybe bring everyone back in one piece.

They talk about the truck Jack is looking at buying instead. They debate the merits of the 250 chassis versus the 150, and whether diesel is the way to go. They don't mention the bloodbath in the gate room and when Jack puts the twenty on the bar an hour later, he's still sober enough to drive home and rational enough to know it'd be dangerous to call Carter to see how's she's doing right now. Jack feels like somebody's been watching him since the Tok'ra left, just waiting for him to slip up. Reynolds has just obliquely offered himself up to be Jack's alibi if the accusations come. It's just another one of those things they do for each other that goes unsaid.

*

Jack doesn't have perfect attendance. None of them do. It's just another facet of the job. He stays away for months after Daniel dies. Ascends. Whatever. He knows Daniel rubbed some of them the wrong way and he's just not ready to be distracted from his grief yet.

By the time he makes it back there, Daniel's home and Janet is dead. Somehow it feels like they made a trade, only he knows there's no second chance for Janet.

Jack sees it right away in Dixon's slouch. The man is drowning in his fourth or fifth pint of 'if onlys' and he doesn't look like he wants the life preserver thrown at him just yet.

Nobody's condemning Dixon. Bad luck. Wrong place, wrong time. Pick your cliché. But it doesn't change the fact that they've lost one of the most valuable people in the Air Force and they did it while pulling Dixon's guy out of the fire. They're all shouldering the blame.

Jack holds his ribs as he perches on the bar stool beside him. They've got their backs to the rest of the crowd and it's a full house tonight. Not a single one of them wants to miss their private sendoff for the Doc. Dixon is watching Angie load up a tray with another round, but when she steps away from the bar, his eyes don't follow. He's staring at something on the wall behind the bar. Jack notices that somebody's already tucked a photo of Fraiser up with the postcards and baby snaps and team pictures that have accumulated over the years.

In the picture, Janet's standing in a field somewhere with Dixon and his boys a couple years back, judging by the haircuts. She looks tiny, like she's playing dress-up in the TAC vest and the helmet, but somehow Jack doesn't remember her being that small. He raises his glass towards the photo and after a second Dixon does the same. There aren't any fitting words, so they clink the rims together and toss back their shots. Jack thinks Janet would have approved.

*

Jack hates to admit that there comes a time to move on.

As much as he'd like to be out in the field every week kicking ass, he's not twenty-five anymore. Hell, he's not even thirty. It's time to make way for the next generation, even though in some ways, he feels like he's been holding them back a bit.

Holding her back, if he's going to be honest with himself. Carter should've had her own team a couple of years ago, though it wouldn't have been SG-1 and it wouldn't have been as a colonel. Keeping Carter on SG-1 had been a gamble.

One that looks like it was going to pay off.

SG-1 is going to be in good hands. That takes a bit of the sting out of watching them go through the gate without him.

Edwards and Dixon are waiting in the back room. So are Reynolds and Barnes and Raimi. A couple others who aren't off-world at the moment. The SGC's gotten so big Jack hardly know all the team leads now, but this little party is still reserved for the guys who wear the birds on their shoulders. The guys who've earned their seats at this table.

Jack's sitting at the bar when she walks in looking like she's the victim of a snipe hunt. He raises his glass in her direction and she spots the movement. Stuffing a pair of leather gloves into her motorcycle helmet, she threads her way over to him and greets him with a 'Sir' and a puzzled smile. It's not every day he asks her to meet him after-hours and alone at an out-of-the-way bar.

As Jack signals Monty, Carter's looking around and taking in the details. Monty uncaps a Bud and slides it down the bar. Jack reaches to pass the beer to Carter, but she's not paying attention. She's staring at the collage of photos and postcards and the odd medal pinned up behind the bar. He watches her brow crease slightly, then the corner of her mouth twitches with a passing smile as she recognizes the people in the pictures and he knows he won't have to explain what tonight is all about. Carter's been around the Air Force longer than she's been commissioned and she's heard the stories. She gets it.

He calls her name and she turns to him, hesitating like she's waiting for the punch line, but he just slides off the bar stool and hands her the bottle. Jack nudges her with his elbow on his way by and she follows him down the hall, past the washrooms, to that back room that doesn't officially exist.

Jack opens the door for her and when she turns to him to ask him if he's sticking around he gives her a lazy salute and leaves her standing in the doorway.

He's a little disappointed that he's won't be there for her welcoming party, but he's not part of this group any more. Carter's earned that spot. And he's not worried because he knows that when she needs it, there will always be somebody here covering her ass.

Jack leaves a couple twenties on the bar to cover his Coke and Carter's beer and a nice tip for Angie. He waves to Monty for the last time and steps out into the night.

.fin