Title: The Fine Art of Diplomacy
Episode/Season: Post-season 8
Summary: Sometimes the best laid plans get ... sidetracked.
A/N: Thanks to ziparumpazoo and a-loquita for beta duty!
"So." Jack shifted around in the hard commissary chair. "Nevada."
Carter nodded slowly.
"Nevada," he repeated. "Really?"
"Yes, sir." She gave him a half-smile. "Nevada."
"Well. You know what they say about Nevada." He slid the plate in front of him back and forth. "It's ..." He paused, spinning the plate in slow circles.
Reaching across the table, she grabbed the plate to still it. "It's what? Sir."
"Hot," he finished lamely.
She bit her lip, but didn't manage to stifle her snort of amusement.
Hell if he knew why she always laughed, but he hoped she never stopped.
Jack stared across the desk. "Tonight?"
"What?" the President asked. "Don't I look like a spontaneous sort of guy?"
Jack cleared his throat. "I didn't think Presidents were allowed to be, sir. You know." He waved a hand around. "That whole checks and balances thing."
Hayes raised an eyebrow. "You might be interested to know that several people warned me about your sense of humor, Jack."
Of course they had. "Well. It's a very ..." Jack paused, shifting from one foot to the other as he considered his words. "Dry wit. Sir," he finished finally.
The President nodded. "Consider investing in some water."
Ah. "I'll take that under advisement."
Hayes reached out and plucked a post-it – handed to him by an aide moments before – from the cover of the report he and Jack had just finished reviewing. "You see, it's like this," he said. "I was supposed to have dinner with my wife. Alone. My wife who, it seems, is stuck in Iowa. I don't know how that's possible, but it says so right here on this note," he waved the little piece of paper in the air, "so it must be true."
"I'm sorry to hear that, sir."
Hayes set the note down and tapped it, sticking it to the surface of the desk. "They run my life with little scraps of paper," he said with a sigh. "I think I might start having nightmares about them."
Jack thought wistfully of a similar note he'd stuck to Carter's schedule when they'd crossed paths in the Pentagon earlier that morning.
"And this was the one night this week my schedule allowed for that sort of extravagance."
What were the chances that the leader of the free world was pulling his leg? "What's in Iowa?" Jack asked.
"Farmers," the President said. "Among other things. They're very important."
Jack shrugged. "I'm not all that fond of corn."
"Coincidentally, neither is my wife. So I can safely promise you no corn at dinner."
Damn. Not kidding, apparently.
"Don't think you'll like it?"
"Oh, no, Mr. President. I love formal dinners. They're exactly my style. Except for the fancy food, the fine wine, and the stiff, itchy conversation."
The chair creaked as Hayes leaned back, folding his hands. The chair behind the desk, Jack reminded himself, and the desk in the Oval Office.
Chair. Desk. Oval Office. He cleared his throat. "Clothes. Stiff, itchy clothes. Sir."
"The trappings of power." Hayes rolled his eyes. "You'll get used to them eventually."
Jack thought better of pointing out that in his recent experience, the trappings of power came along with a staff weapon pointed at his throat far more often than not.
"Come for dinner. It's my dining room, not a state function. I eat dinner like a normal person."
"Give or take a secret service agent or ten and the Ambassador from Bulgaria."
"Now, I've never had dinner with the Bulgarian Ambassador. I can invite her, if you like."
Staff weapon to the throat. Or, better yet, the possibility of reassignment to the remotest possible outpost the USAF had to offer – which, courtesy of the Stargate, could prove far worse than McMurdo or its equally unappetizing cousins. "No need to disturb the Ambassador, sir. I'm sure you'll be fascinating company."
"Tell you what." Hayes laced his hands behind his head. "We'll invite George. And hey, isn't Colonel Carter in town this week? Bring her."
Jack winced. "That'll go over well."
"Oh, she'll love it." He gestured around the room. "Women appreciate this historic stuff. Me, I'm always afraid I'll break something."
"In that case, maybe I should bring Daniel."
"Ah, Dr. Jackson." Hayes leaned forward, elbows on the desk, and did what Jack decided was a good impression of a teenage girl who'd been told her crush was going to invite her to the prom. "Is he here?"
"No." Jack's eyes narrowed. "Is this going to happen every time I tell a joke around here?"
Hayes made a show of his mock-consideration. "You know, I think it might."
It caught him off guard.
Across the pond, Carter turned, smiled at Teal'c, the Minnesota sun glinting on her hair. Jack held his breath, waiting for reality to catch up with him.
Reality had always been pretty good at catching up with Jack O'Neill.
And then he remembered that he didn't have to hold his breath much longer.
Jack didn't really enjoy the weird reverse déjà vu he was experiencing as Carter stared at him across his desk.
"We have to do what?"
He winced. He'd known this wouldn't go well. "It wasn't my idea!" he protested.
She raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips. Her very shiny, very red, very distracting lips, which he'd probably have taken the time to stare at for a minute had he not been so concerned that this whole situation was going to put back his seduce-Samantha-Carter timeline a good three months.
So he forced his gaze away from the puckered lips and cast wildly about for some sort of damage control. "It wasn't!" he repeated, louder than he'd meant to. "I said I didn't want to have dinner with the Bulgarian Ambassador, and all of a sudden you and Hammond were invited, too."
"I –" She paused. "Wait. Why are we having dinner with the Bulgarian Ambassador?"
Stupid distracting Carter-lips. "We're not!"
"But you just said –"
He waved his hands, cutting her off. "I said Hammond was coming."
She gaped at him, then gave a tiny shake of her head. "Okay," she said, drawing out the syllables as though she were trying to pacify a crazy man.
Jack sat back, pressing his palms carefully down onto the desk. This wasn't at all how he'd hoped this particular conversation would go.
He'd gone to a lot of effort to invent an excuse to get on her schedule for today. It was, after all, the first time they'd been in the same city since they'd left the SGC for their new postings. That ought to count for something, right?
But apparently head of R&D at Area 51 also meant very important and popular, or at least she of the many, many meetings. General Jack O'Neill didn't get to talk to Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter until Monday, said the gatekeepers, and no amount of throwing around his apparently non-existent weight seemed to change that fact. A fact which really didn't work for him.
Hence the impulsive act of dropping by in time to catch her before her first meeting, shoving a note on top of the briefing booklet she'd been juggling along with her bagel. He'd tried to block what he'd written out of his mind, but unfortunately he was still pretty sure it went something like I have a proposition for you in addition to a suggestion that she drop by his office during her 15 minute coffee break that afternoon. And considering the distance from her meetings to the far corner of Pentagon-nowhere in which his office was currently located, that left her approximately two minutes to talk to him, thirty seconds to pee, and no time at all for coffee.
Judging by the way she was blinking at him right now, she could've used the coffee.
Jack sighed. Maybe three additional months was too conservative an estimate. Six? Nine? The rest of his natural life, more likely. Which really wasn't fair, considering how long he'd waited to have a seduce-Carter plan in the first place.
"Let me get this straight, sir," Carter way saying now; Jack wasn't sure what to think about the fact that this was the first sir to pop up in this particular exchange. "You gave me a note in the hall to tell me I had to have dinner with the President?"
No, Jack had given her a note in the hall to tell her that she had to have dinner with him; unfortunately, the President had messed that little part of the plan up. But the situation was complicated enough without voicing that thought. "Apparently," he said instead, "our President is a strange, lonely man who'd rather dine with a bunch of people he can literally order to jump off a cliff than spend five minutes to himself."
Carter opened her mouth, then shut it without speaking. Jack resolutely avoided looking at those lips again.
"Also," he continued, "I think he's hiding from his Chief of Staff."
She stifled a laugh. "I don't have anything to wear to dinner at the White House," she said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
Jack was so unprepared for the abrupt conversational right turn and the completely un-Carter-like statement that, despite his best efforts, the corners of his mouth twitched up into a grin.
She rolled her eyes in exasperation.
"Wear your uniform," he offered.
"To the White House?"
"Why not? He is the commander-in-chief."
She bit her lip. Her lip at which he wasn't looking. "Even the secret service agents will laugh," she said.
"No, they'll be too busy watching the Bulgarian Ambassador."
The half-groan, half-growl that escaped her then had him out from behind his desk and ushering her through the door of his office out of pure self-defense.
His timeline would definitely need some adjusting.
"Hi, sir," Carter said from somewhere behind him, and Jack closed his eyes.
He probably needed to start over. Right after he tore the note in his hand into little bits.
I think we need to have dinner, he'd written, and then hastily scrawled, And by we, I mean SG-1, followed by, and me, obviously.
He'd realized exactly how much trouble he was in when he'd nearly added Not that there's anything wrong with we meaning you and me.
Reminding himself that there was absolutely nothing untoward about the base commander scribbling notes in a subordinate's lab, he slowly turned to face her, shoving the offending piece of paper into his pocket as he did so.
Her eyes followed the motion, her eyebrow lifting slightly.
"So," he said, "what are you doing tonight?"
Her eyebrow climbed higher.
In the end, Carter wore the uniform; and while nobody laughed at her, President Hayes did spend a considerable amount of the evening laughing at Jack.
Jack thought both Carter and Hammond enjoyed it a bit too much.
But it seemed even Jack could provide only so much fodder for the President's apparently unlimited quest for entertainment, because when the staff cleared the soup course, Hayes turned his attention elsewhere.
"So," he said, "Colonel Carter. I understand you once lived in our fair city."
"Yes, sir," she said, only the ever-so-slight widening of her eyes betraying what she was thinking. Jack found he had to agree with her unspoken thought – the President was a bit of an alarming sight, leaning on the table with his hands folded and looking like nothing so much as Jack's old Aunt Edna at Thanksgiving Dinner, poised to interrogate Jack in hopes of finding something worthy of a good scolding.
"Boyfriends take you out to eat much?" the President asked, tapping his thumbs together.
"Um," Carter said in reply.
There wasn't any other way to respond to that. Or any of the questions that followed, really.
Jack tried very hard not to look as smug as Carter had mere moments before. Or at least he tried for about five seconds, at which point he decided that inhuman efforts to do the impossible should be saved strictly for cases of impending apocalypse.
Carter being tormented by a long list of fancy restaurants that Hayes seemed aghast she'd never frequented during her time in D.C. was many things, but in all likelihood it wasn't the harbinger of doom.
"I'm sure those were all a little above a Captain's pay grade," Carter was saying in response to the President's latest foray. After all those years of dealing with aliens – and obnoxious-but-charming COs, Jack was forced to admit – Carter had carefully polite down to a science. "And I was working fairly long hours at the time."
Hayes nodded slowly, then turned to look sternly at Jack and Hammond. "You should make this woman get out more."
Well, that was what he got for enjoying Carter's discomfort so much. Though Hayes' statement itself was more than a little ironic. Why yes, Mr. President, Jack pretended to answer in the relative safety of his own mind. I've been trying for years. In fact I had very specific plans to do exactly that tonight before you hijacked my evening.
Hayes, meanwhile, was still speaking. "She works long hours in defense of me. And you, for that matter." He pinned Jack with his gaze. "Though in your case, only God knows why."
Hammond smirked at his plate. Sam blushed, and Jack squirmed.
"But that's all right," Hayes continued. He whapped the table with his palm and sat back in his chair. "You see, I have a plan."
Oh, goody. The President had a plan. Jack knew he was going to be in trouble for this later.
He was also certain that the timeline for his own plan had just gone from infinity to infinity plus one.
Jack cleared his throat. "I'd like to be very clear about one thing, Mr. President," he said.
"What's that, General?"
"I didn't vote for you."
"Oh, I know that, Jack."
Jack made his plan during his third-to-last briefing as head of the SGC. He sat there, half-listening to Teal'c, Daniel, and Carter as they debated the merits of some obscure new post-Goa'uld field protocol, and he planned.
His plan wasn't very detailed, really. It started with the two of them sitting in public places like normal human beings, doing the sorts of things normal human beings did. Eating. Talking. Laughing.
There was a lot of making Carter laugh in Jack's not-very-detailed plan.
It ended – where? Maybe at the part where he explained all the things he'd always wanted to know about her.
He was willing to let events go their own way after that.
Wandering around D.C. following Hayes's surprisingly bad directions to an Italian bakery was definitely not on the list of things Jack wanted to be doing on a Friday night; then again, being hazed by the President for being the new guy hadn't exactly been on Jack's agenda for this morning – or ever, really.
Didn't the man have better things to do? He needed a good war to fight. A scandal to overcome, maybe. At least a political quagmire to get stuck in for a few weeks. Months. Years.
Yes, years would be good. Especially if the President had regular torture-Jack-O'Neill sessions written into his strategic plan for the Stargate program.
Still, having Carter walking at his side made up for a multitude of unspeakable crap. Jack sneaked a glance in her direction and couldn't stop the smile that quirked the corner of his mouth. In his opinion, Carter's shiny red top – not to mention her jeans, dear God – would have been just fine to wear to dinner at the White House. The secret service agents would definitely not have been laughing. On the other hand, Jack might have had to slug one or two of them, and that wasn't the sort of thing that ended well.
"Oh, here it is," she said, and Jack jerked his eyes up to see the name of the bakery etched on the window in front of him.
It was possible that staring at Carter in those jeans was even more distracting than staring at her lips. Jack wasn't sure. He considered the question as he followed her in the door, up to the counter, and back out to a little sidewalk table that barely managed to hold their plates and coffee. He considered it – very seriously – right up until she sat down and smiled at him, at which point he wondered why it had ever been a question at all.
"So," she said.
If he were some other man, or if she were anyone but Carter, he might be able to muster up some sort of BS about the moon or the stars or her hair or, God, that smile. As it was, all he could do was stare.
"So." The corner of her mouth twitched. "Do you plan to make a habit of letting the President send you out for dessert with unsuspecting women?"
"Only if they're you."
He was pretty sure that hadn't been what he'd meant to say.
She blinked at him for a moment, then she looked away. And maybe she was embarrassed, but she was still smiling, so he leaned in and kissed her.
It wasn't a whim, he told himself. More of a tactical adjustment. And anyway, plans and timelines didn't seem all that important right now. Especially not with her hand resting against his face and his sliding up her neck and that little humming sound she'd made vibrating through her sweet lips against his mouth.
Carter kissed like she laughed, warm and alive. Just for him, and completely perfect.
With a great deal of reluctance, he pulled away; one more swift press of his lips against hers and he sat back, watching her. She watched him, too, with slightly messy hair and soft eyes that he'd never seen on her before, and God, was she breathtaking.
He'd just learned about a dozen of those things he'd always wanted to know.
For lack of anything else to do, he picked up a fork and took a bite of the pastry in front of him; and suddenly she was laughing and blotting at his face with a napkin while he batted her away.
"Couldn't we just have a normal dinner date sometime?" she asked. "Wouldn't that count?"
"He's the President. And he's going to ask me about the damn eclairs. He likes to torture me."
"Don't boys always do that to the people they like?"
Jack said something in protest. He wasn't sure what. Her hand was on his arm, her fingers at the inside of his wrist, and he was fairly certain he'd never be able to concentrate again.
"Sometimes," she continued, "they even pass notes."
"Oh, please, please don't."
They shared a final goodbye in his soon-to-be-ex office at the SGC; even if she'd wanted to, Carter couldn't exactly see him off at the airport like she was sending her sweetheart off to war. And Jack couldn't give her that kiss to remember him by, even though he did want to, so badly it made him ache. That one kiss that would keep her from ever forgetting him.
"Well," he said instead, forcing that old note of humor into his voice. "What's a couple thousand miles between friends when they've got aliens on their side?"
She shook her head, and she rolled her eyes, and she made a sound that was half a laugh and half something else entirely.
He pulled her in and held her close.
"It's nothing," he said softly against her hair.
Jack resisted the urge to tap his foot as he waited for the President to get around to talking to him. Especially considering what had resulted last time from the simple act of breathing.
Foot tapping, bad. Waiting patiently, good. Even if he did think he'd already had his lifetime's quota of waiting patiently.
"So, Jack," Hayes said at last, still reading from the document his aide held in front of him. "How were the eclairs?"
"Best I've ever had, sir." And Jack had so seen that coming.
"There, you see?" Hayes shoved the paper away and shooed the aide out the door. "Just like I told you."
"We went home and changed first, though," Jack offered.
"That's your rebellion? Changing out of your uniform? I expected more from you, Jack."
And the President, Jack thought, recalling some of the finer points of his weekend, could just keep expecting.
Though it might be better not to call up those particular memories while standing in the Oval Office.
Jack cleared his throat. "I'm saving it for the Joint Chiefs."
"Now that," Hayes said, "is an idea I can get behind."
"But just for the record, Mr. President, I don't like éclairs any more than I like corn."
"Right." Leaning across his desk, Hayes tapped one of the stacks of paper his aide had left behind. "I'll make sure that gets noted in your Secret Service file."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Jack asked.
The other man shrugged. "You'll find I'm still getting over the power trip of this whole Presidency thing."
"You do realize, sir, that it's been over a year since your inauguration."
"And you've been a constant pain in my ass that entire time, General, let's be clear."
Right. The No Foot Tapping rule should probably be expanded a bit. At the least, it ought to include a No Eye Rolling clause. And probably a section on how not to sass your President.
"Yes, sir," Jack said. "Enjoy your revenge, sir."
"I think I will." Hayes leaned back in his chair and waved Jack to sit. "Now, why don't you tell me what the hell is going on at the SGC? I thought Landry was the sane one."
Somewhere over West Virginia, the aircraft began its gradual descent back to Earth. Jack shifted, kicking his bag sideways, and the carefully folded square of yellow paper finally tumbled out onto the floor.
When he opened it, he found himself staring down at handwriting that was almost as familiar to him as his own.
Jack might have liked to find Carter's note sooner. In his office, maybe, or at his house while he finished packing. During liftoff from Peterson. Sometime before the moment about a half-hour into his flight when he had found himself suddenly, inexplicably certain that no plan of his stood a snowball's chance in hell – or in the kawoosh of a wormhole – of success.
Self-doubt made itself known in strange places. For Jack O'Neill, it seemed, that place had been the vast blue skies above a giant wheat field otherwise known as Kansas.
He fingered the paper for a minute before he began to fold it back along the creases.
It's nothing, she'd penned in neat, precise letters, as long as you don't forget to write.
Jack shoved the paper into his pocket.
He'd never liked Kansas anyway.