Title: Time, Space, and the Cadence of Everyday
Characters/Pairing: Jack; Sam/Jack
Summary: It's not the sort of place he'd usually stop in and visit.
A/N: Thanks to the always-fabulous a-loquita for the beta!
It's not the sort of place he'd usually stop in and visit.
Jack, after all, would be more comfortable in a joint that smells like burgers and fries and boasts a bartop riddled with customers' idle carvings, the once-jagged grooves in the wood polished smooth by wet rags and fingertips tracing the lines over and over again. Or some days, a venue outfitted with big-screen TVs, each showing the contest of the week in one of at least four completely different sports. And every once in a while, a quiet little neighborhood dive serving cuisine that reminds him of half a dozen foreign tours of duty – except when it reminds him of that feast in SG-1's honor given on P82-479.
Some things bear remembering even if they weren't that great at the time.
So yeah. Jack O'Neill belongs in any of those, or in countless other places, but definitely not in this clean-cut, shined up, dimly-lit den of thieves that's best described as a piano bar.
But it's been a long Saturday afternoon, spent with legal documents and powers of attorney, settling the sort of things one settles while looking after someone else's affairs; and when he'd walked out of the bank, he'd had it. This had been the first opportunity that presented itself to get out of the crowds of tourists and the jungle of concrete and the cheerful damn blue sky and sun.
Jack taps the bottle in his hand against the dark, polished surface of the bar and swivels on the seat to survey the room.
It could be worse, he decides, because at least there's no one in here that he knows. This looks like the sort of place that politicians go to smoke cigars and drink sophisticated drinks and tell each other how very clever they are, so he's lucky that it's early, and the two people sitting at the little table in the back are just a couple of kids holding hands.
Jack squints at them for a long moment before he leans back and takes a pull of his beer.
Right. Lucky. Because he's not likely to be accosted by someone who thinks this is the perfect opportunity to get something from him. Strike when the enemy's weak and alone, and all that.
A soft rustle and a flash of white at the corner of his eye have Jack turning back to the bar; he's just in time to see the bartender deposit a basket of peanuts in front of him.
Jack raises an eyebrow.
"I keep 'em around for your type," bar guy explains.
Jack's other eyebrow heads up to join the first. "I have a type?" he asks, leaning back on the stool and drumming his fingers on his beer bottle.
The other man shrugs as he moves a few feet away, unlocking a cabinet and pulling out a sheaf of paper. "You waiting for someone?"
Jack's fingers stop drumming. "Just taking up space," he says with a small shake of his head. Casual, except for the flinch he'd managed to keep off his face.
"In from out of town?"
"Okay. Let's see." Annoying bar man drops his pile of paper on the surface in front of him and picks up a pen. "Local guy hanging out in a bar on a Saturday afternoon in June. By himself." He signs the top page with a flourish and sets it to the side. "I say you got a type. And if the shoe fits, well…."
"Yeah." A 'ten years ago I'd've kicked your ass' type, maybe. Too bad Air Force General Officer Beats Local Barman makes such bad press. Jack pokes the basket in front of him before he pops a peanut into his mouth.
He's left wondering why anyone bothers to try for 'sophisticated spice' on a peanut.
"So," he says after an attempt to clear his palate with beer, "are you real, or some sort of NSA plant to get information from the politicos?"
Bar guy looks up from his scribbling with a laugh and a look of surprise. "That's a new one. I look like a spy?"
No, he looks like a thirty-something yuppie bartender who needs a haircut and a better razor. "Budding novelist, maybe?" Jack asks. "Journalist on the make? Future blackmailer?"
"What, I'm a little too textbook?"
Jack waves a finger at him. "If the shoe … you know, goes on your foot."
That gets Jack an honest laugh and a nod for the turnaround. "Then I'm Cinderella, and I've already got my ticket out of here."
Jack sets down his beer and picks up his cocktail napkin, twisting it in his fingers.
Bar guy shrugs. "Just bored, man. I am a very bored man."
Jack grunts, and bar guy goes back to his receipts while Jack starts shredding the napkin one tiny square at a time. When he's reduced it to a little pile of fuzzy white bits, he beats his fingers on the counter in time to the music, shifting around in his seat.
Bar guy moves off down the counter to talk to one of the waiters.
A discreet wooden stand sits on the counter one seat over; Jack plucks out a flyer advertising tonight's special performance, several paragraphs of text that Jack doesn't bother reading. Setting the paper flat on the bar, he folds one corner and then the other, creasing the folds and continuing on until he's holding a compact paper airplane.
Right about now is when Carter would've taken the thing out of his hands.
Of course, she'd've been doing that all along: the flyer, the napkin, and the basket of peanuts that he's eyeing right now, considering unraveling that loose bit of wicker. She'd have leaned over and tugged each one from his fingers, grinning at his increasingly restless annoyance. She's evil like that.
But the plane, well, that she would've started in on herself, adding a crimp here and a bend there, explaining finer nuances of aerodynamics than he'd ever cared to know, with a light in her eye and that lift to her voice that made it all seem like the most important thing in the world.
God damn, he misses her.
He wonders what she'd think of a place like this; she'd probably be talking about acoustics or the construction of the ceiling. Maybe both. Carter found something to be fascinated with everywhere she went. All Jack seems to find on his own these days is annoyances.
Bar guy heads back along the counter, stopping to rearrange some glasses and throw a dirty spoon into a tub. When he reaches his stack of papers, he picks up his pen and starts in again.
"How long you been married?" he asks, gesturing at the ring on Jack's left hand.
Annoyance isn't a strong enough word.
"I've never been," bar guy offers as he signs another page.
Jack flexes his fingers, opening and closing them slowly, as though the gesture takes more effort than it should. He squints down at the ring as it catches the light from the dim fixtures above. "Six weeks," he says. His closed fist thumps softly down onto the bar. Six weeks, give or take ten years.
Bar guy's oblivious. "Six weeks?" he asks, cocking his head. "Aren't you supposed to be inseparable? Like them." He gestures over at the table in back.
Jack doesn't bother turning to look again.
As if he and Carter had ever been, could ever be, like them, sitting there for all the world to see without the fate of galaxies resting on their shoulders and the honor of their oaths echoing in their ears. Weaving love in between distance and an inescapable higher obligation posed a technical challenge even Carter couldn't work out with ease; and they'd needed an awful lot of private space to forget that they'd spent most of a decade falling in love in the most public way possible.
Only when they put the rest of the world away could they figure out how to forgive themselves for that; how to forget that in their universe, duty's intended to trump love every single time. He's always been able to believe there's room for both when they're finally together, alone: standing in his kitchen, her breath catching as his fingers slowly comb her hair off her neck; curled together on her couch, relaxed and content, laughing at Cassie's latest e-mail; sharing a bed in a hotel or two that, come to think of it, had probably also housed joints a lot like this one.
At the time, he'd been too busy losing himself in her to notice.
Jack hauls himself back to here and now. Those memories aren't the sort of thing he's inclined to dwell on while some random upscale barkeep's looking at him with what he's pretty sure is pity.
The guy's got no idea.
"She's overseas," Jack says shortly. "Air Force."
"That so?" The guy at least has the decency to look impressed, but there's that glint in his eye again. Doesn't matter if they're here to save the world or buy it; everyone in this town's writing a damn book someday. He leans forward, resting his elbow on the bar. "Where at?"
"Here and there." Jack doesn't bother to hide his evasion, doesn't recite her official cover or make it sound boring like he's probably supposed to. Let the guy fill in whatever details his overactive imagination wants.
Jack doesn't miss the speculative look. "She's … younger than me."
"Lucky you." Bar guy sticks out his hand. "Carl," he says.
Carl jerks his thumb toward the door. "Customers," he says, heading off to the other end of the bar.
A thin strip of light shows at the bottom of the black window shades, still summer-evening bright, but it's getting later; here and there are people trickling in, stopping by for a cocktail and a chat before doing whatever they plan to do with their Saturday nights in DC. A group of older folks he's sure are tourists; a gaggle of giggling twenty-something girls; and more than a few copies of the cute pair at the table in the back.
Jack remembers sitting with Carter by the window of a little deli and watching the suits and khaki shorts walk by; she'd said something about the crowds, and he'd explained his classification system for the denizens of this fine, fine town, going through types and subtypes to the tune of her laughter and the tempo of her fingers tapping on his arm.
Then she leaned on the table and asked him where she fell, since she was here and all; he didn't bother to answer her with anything other than a shake of his head and half a smile.
Jack tips his bottle up, finishing the rest of the beer in a single swallow. Yeah. Carl the barman's got no idea at all.
She's unique, unclassifiable; and Jack would rather be here, rather be waiting for her and taking his troubles out on a bunch of annoying politicians than any other option he could've had.
And he sure as hell would rather be Jack O'Neill than be a bored, lonely guy in a piano bar.
He fishes out his wallet, ready at last to head out down the road to the metro and home, where he'll check in with his far-too-industrious office and make sure that the world's not ending again. He's tossing bills on the counter when Carl slides back his way.
He holds up another bottle of beer. "One more?"
Jack shakes his head. "Gotta hurry home, you know. Might miss something." His voice is light, pitch-perfect, always going for the laugh; everything else he keeps for himself.
"On the house," says Carl the barkeep. "For your wife. Since she's not here to have it herself."
Though he's poised to turn away, Jack hesitates. It's not the sort of thing he'd usually do; but amidst the intrusive questions and the overdone persona, he's surprised to detect a hidden note of sincerity.
"Look, I got about a billion of these damn papers to sign, or they stop delivering things."
Well, why the hell not. It's hard not to feel bad for a guy who's stuck with the civilian equivalent of a pile of requisitions. Jack grabs the beer and takes a swig.
It's age-old ritual, a celebration out of cadence with the world going by outside; not so unlike them, after all. Besides, some things are worth remembering in every way possible.
Carl's pen taps on the counter. "So can she kick your ass?" he asks.
"Oh, yeah." Jack looks over at the piano, up at the beams of the ceiling. "Smarter than anyone you ever met, too."
"That'll kick your ass all by itself."
Jack laughs. "You have no idea."