For Emry Wild. Because NINE years is WAY too long to wait.
"Sir!" Staccato, insistent, the whisper came from his left. Jack forced his lids open and turned—only his eyeballs—in the direction of the noise.
Carter—of course it was Carter. Her eyes wide in alarm, she leaned slightly forward in her seat. Meaningfully, she looked from him to where Daniel stood at the screen on the opposite side of the briefing room, talking. Still.
Jack swallowed a groan, then stifled the latest yawn that threatened. Pulling himself upright, he shoved his sleeve back and peered at his watch. Eighteen minutes. It had been eighteen minutes since the last time he'd checked. The number blinked, and he tapped the plastic face with his finger. Nineteen minutes. His sigh must have been audible, because it was followed by another whisper from his left.
"What?" His answer was too loud, he knew, by the frown that curved her lips downward. He scrunched his mouth together, casting a look towards General Hammond's spot at the far end of the table. Next to Hammond, comfortable in the Big Chair with his arms folded across his broad, decorated chest, sat General Ryan. Two aides had positioned themselves between Hammond and Davis, who was stationed directly to O'Neill's right.
O'Neill raised a hand to cover yet another yawn. Of all the rotten, crappy luck. Coming back two days late from a rotten, crappy mission, covered in guck-crap and grime, to find that the Air Force Chief of Staff and his minions had descended on the base in full force. Jack hadn't slept in three days, his leg throbbed like a subwoofer at the Senior Prom, and he was almost certain that there was something growing in the hair just behind his left ear.
What totally sucked is that the mission had been a bust. Daniel had promised him that an overnighter would give them plenty of time to catalog some ruins on M3C-whatever. They hadn't counted on the rain. Nor had they counted on the canal running between the 'Gate and the ruins that flooded when it rained, or the insanely pesky bugs that were apparently agitated by the precipitation.
They'd tried to make it back to the 'Gate before the canal had totally flooded, only to find that the bugs really liked people. As in really liked people. As in—to eat. One in particular had thought that O'Neill was especially delicious, burrowing deep under the skin of his right calf before Teal'c had been able to snag it using the tip of his knife and drag it back out. O'Neill vaguely remembered screaming like a girl. He distinctly remembered Daniel looking like he enjoyed it.
So, back to the ruins they'd fled. Carter, in all her genius, had figured out that the beastly critters couldn't climb the stone of the buildings, and so they'd spent two days sitting on top of the wretched ruins before the storm had finally fizzled, the canal gone dry, and the carnivorous little fiends had returned back from whence they came.
O'Neill had only wanted to shower, swallow a handful of aspirin, and go to bed—but Hammond had ordered him to the Briefing Room, instead. Rotten, crappy luck.
Sighing, O'Neill ran a hand down his face. He'd shaved hurriedly, missing a few places, cutting a few others. Doc Fraiser had patched up his leg and shot him up with a needle the size of the Eiffel Tower. His boots had been destroyed by the mud, so a nurse had given him some hospital slippers once he'd finished with his shower. Boots wouldn't have fit, anyway. His right foot was swollen—most likely the aftereffects of being feasted upon by the Demon Bug from Nimdor.
He'd grabbed the only set of clean BDUs in his locker and pulled them on, then toed his feet into his slippers and limped off down the hall. Daniel had caught sight of him and forcibly turned him back around, shoving a comb into his hand. That's when he'd found the knot on his scalp behind his ear.
There'd been no time to investigate, however, because Ryan already awaited them in the Briefing Room, and Hammond's orders had been absolute. Why they'd needed Daniel's analysis of Ancient technology and its possible uses for the protection of Earth in that exact moment, Jack had no clue. But the archaeologist had been only too happy to oblige. O'Neill looked at his watch again. Twenty three minutes of his life gone—and if history was any indicator, which of course it was, Daniel was just getting warmed up.
With great care, the Colonel shifted the position of his leg. Sinking a tad in his chair, he stretched it out in front of him, and then swiveled it outward, gratified that the throbbing abated a bit. His exhale must have been audible, because the Major on his left sent another warning look in his direction.
He met her glare with one of his own. How was it possible that she could be so awake? And she looked so alert, too. Freakin' youth. His glare turned to a scowl, which he turned back towards Daniel. Still talking, his voice droning on, Daniel seemed intent upon producing as many big words as possible, all at once. Big words and translations and explanations. As Jack closed his eyes in a prolonged blink, he just managed to catch sight of Major Davis, who was absently turning a toothpick over and over in his fingers.
Toothpicks. Toothpicks would be handy right now—Jack imagined he could use them to prop his eyelids open, for starters. And if that didn't work, he could always shove them under his fingernails. That was sure to keep him awake. He wished briefly that it were dark. Then it wouldn't matter if he were awake. Oh—that was better. Dark toothpicks. Toothpicks in the dark. Neon toothpicks. That glowed. Dancing toothpicks—neon—glowing—
A jab at his leg under the table forced him awake, and Jack jerked himself upright. The toothpicks had disappeared in a blaze of awareness, replaced with the briefing room, and light, and Daniel—still talking. Something tickled at the corner of Jack's mouth, and he raised his fingers to swipe at it. He was somewhat appalled to find his fingertips rather disgustingly moist. He'd been drooling. Drooling.
Damn, he was tired. Casting an annoyed glance towards his left, he caught Carter watching him, a bemused smile playing on her lips. He lifted half an eyebrow at her, too crap-freaking-tired to lift the whole thing, and then found the wherewithal to yank himself up straighter in the chair. Bravely, he ignored the renewed throbbing in his calf—turning his leg again, trying to find a comfortable position. When rotating didn't help, he stretched it outward, and cringed, then pointed his toe upward and rested it on his heel, splayed to one side. That actually kind of helped. He folded his arms across his chest and sat back to listen.
Sighing, he tried not to roll his eyes. He was too old for this—should have retired years ago. Rolling his head from one side to the other, he considered doing it again. Retiring. Moving out to the cabin. Buying that rowboat. Sitting day after day on the dock, in his camping chair, tackle box to one side. Not a bit of bait in sight. The planks of the dock warm beneath his feet. Breeze blowing through his hair, tugging at the hem of his shirt. He'd whistle, maybe, like Andy Griffith. And the dog would nudge at his leg, asking for a treat.
Dog—where'd the dog come from? Yet there he was, nudging. A Labrador retriever. When had he gotten a yellow lab? Nudging dogs were annoying dogs, especially when the water was rippling so nicely in the breeze, the crests glinting golden in the sun. He looked down at the dog and frowned.
A gentle push against his shin. Then a harder nudge. Then a poke—what kind of dog had a pointy nose like that? Then a harder poke, and a yelp. What was the dog yelping for? But he'd recognized the yelp—
Wrenched back into awareness, he rocked forward in his chair, hitting his sternum against the edge of the briefing room table. With a muttered curse, he rubbed at his chest, then, despite ordering himself not to, he looked around.
Every eye in the room had converged on him. Daniel had stopped mid word, his lips forming a large "O". General Hammond was frowning, Teal'c's face registered more stoicism than usual, Davis had a smile hidden behind his office-soft hand, and General Ryan looked as if he were watching some incarnation of the Cirque de Briefing Room. And Carter. She had suddenly found something very interesting on her pant leg. All he could see of her was the top of her golden head.
Jack sighed. "Yes, sir?"
Hammond adjusted his posture, the overhead light caressing his shiny pate. "Are you having a problem down there?"
"No, sir." Jack's voice hadn't cracked like that since he'd discovered hair in his armpits. He frowned and tried again. "No, sir. I'm fine. Everything's just fine."
"Do you need to go back to the infirmary and get checked out again by Doctor Fraiser?"
"No, sir." Jack looked down at his hands, then wiped at his lips again, thanking every god he knew—and some he didn't—that no more drool had eked out. "I'm good, sir. Dandy. Just fine. Dandy fine. No problems here."
And then something nudged his leg again. A signal? He stopped talking, hoisting his hand in a haphazard little wave and gave his best smile in the general direction of the screen. "Carry on, Daniel."
Oh, the droning. Tablets. Pillars. Daniel's explanation of the head sucker thing. He could already feel himself glazing over again. Jack opened his eyes as wide as they would go—but that kind of hurt—it felt better to squint. It also felt better to slouch just a bit, and darned but if the warm air in the Briefing Room didn't feel really good after the days spent in the chilling rain on that crap-rotten Planet o' Bugs.
He shifted further down into the chair, stretching his long legs out underneath the table. Briefly, he gave thanks for the spaciousness down there—shouldn't that be on a greeting card? Hallmark could market it. 'Thank you, table, for leg room'. Cars could get those cards—but cars didn't get cards, did they? Cars didn't read. Except for that talking car from that TV show in the eighties—with that guy that had all that hair. Germans loved that guy. Was the car a German car? Jack didn't think so—he was fairly certain it had been from GM. No—that didn't sound right—
Joggled awake again, his foot involuntarily shot sideways, connecting soundly with Carter's leg. She coughed a bit, the sound exaggerated. At his sigh, she flared her eyes in demonstration. His nod didn't seem to convince her that he understood. That was evident in the drama with which she infused her eye-rolling.
Just to spite her, he closed his eyes tight. Her toes prodded at his shin. When he looked at her this time, she'd screwed her lips up into a pucker and one golden brow was cocked high.
Sitting hard against the backrest of his chair, he sent another sideways look at the Major. She'd raised her head, now, and had produced a pen from somewhere, and had lifted it towards her lips. Her slightly parted lips, tinted with just the tiniest hint of something glossy that had him wondering how it tasted. She ran the lid of the pen along her bottom lip—right then left, then right again, following the motion with the tip of her tongue.
And then something rested on his ankle. Something warm, and soft. O'Neill fell completely still—suddenly and completely alert. The soft touch went mobile again, tracing a little circle around his ankle bone before traveling lower—over the outer edge of his foot, over the plastic band of his infirmary slipper, and down to tickle a touch on his pinkie toe. Jack's mouth went immediately dry. Was that—
Carter looked at him, her eyes forthright, and nudged at his foot with hers again, the movement of the pen never faltering. Even when she smirked at him and widened her eyes, back and forth went the ballpoint. Back and forth. And her tongue—her tongue-
Oh. Dear. Heaven.
Jack forced himself to take a breath, certain that all the air had been sucked out of the Briefing Room. A soft digit fiddled with his pinkie toe, rounding the end, edging up over his nail, finally making its way up and over to swirl around on the knuckle above.
Wait—did toes have knuckles? Jack scowled in thought. But then that pen—in his personal opinion the luckiest pen ever—bumped a little over Carter's lower teeth, and she closed her lips around it and pulled it out. Slowly. Deliberately. The lid clearing the last of the glossy pinkness just as her big toe slipped down between two of his.
He jerked—but nothing in the world would have made him pull his foot away. Not even Daniel, when he turned and glowered at him as he diddled with the keyboard on his laptop. The screen flashed from one page to the next, full of supposedly important stuff, but O'Neill couldn't have read any of it to save his life—not with those agile feminine toes moving around down below, mapping out his foot like the Lewis and Clark of lower-extremity digits.
And soft. The toes felt like silk against his own. Dipping down into the crevasses between his own and rubbing back and forth in the hair on the tops. He grieved briefly as her foot slid upwards and caught on the band of the slipper. But then he felt the whole contingent, and some of the bottom of her foot, as she skimmed his arch and headed up towards the front of his ankle.
The ball of the Major's foot rasped slowly in the hair on his lower leg, tucking itself neatly under the hem of his pants, before skittering around and down, ending back up on the outer ankle bone. Cupping the side of his foot, they then slowly ran downwards towards his heel, slipping off the back and retreating.
Exhaling, Jack realized it was the first time he'd done so since the screen had changed pictures. He drew in a broken breath, eyes wide as he looked to his left to see the Major lean forward, place her elbows on the table, and rest her chin on her upright hand. When she smiled—well, it reeked of self-satisfaction.
Cheeky. That's what that expression conveyed. Utter smugness. O'Neill had seen that look before—like right after she'd informed him that she'd blown him up. That is—blown O'Neill. Er—The O'Neill. The ship—the one that the Asgard had made. Jack huffed a little, glancing to his left in time to see her grin. As if she'd known exactly where his mind had been wandering.
Nudge. Her toes twiddled higher. Poke. She bit her lips together and lowered her chin slightly.
Well, hell and damn. Two could play at that game. Jack shifted in his seat, pasting on an expression that he hoped made him appear interested in the presentation. He tapped at the slipper's heel until he'd dislodged it, then let it slide off onto the floor. Stealthily, he slithered his foot over towards the left. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her move, swiveling her chair over just a tidge. But he hadn't been Black Ops for nothing. He imagined where her leg would have to be and angled a strike exactly—there.
She twitched as he made contact, swiveling to one side in an attempt to dodge him, but the arm of her chair crashed against Teal'c's with a bright clank. The sound resonated through the room, and this time, the Major had the collected masses staring at her.
Daniel spoke first. "Sam? Did you have something to add?"
"Yes, Major Carter. Do you?" O'Neill turned towards her, canting his head to one side in innocent question. Behind him, he could feel the rest of the group turning to look down towards them, and he shoved himself out of the way, in order to give them a good view.
"No, Daniel. No, sir." She shook her head, scooching her chair away from Teal'c's. "Sorry—I must have just—the chair moved."
Jack's eyes widened. Glancing first down the line and then back to her, he scooted closer to the table and leaned forward to ask, "All by itself?"
"No, sir." Her toe made a mean jab into his shin and stayed to dig in a little before retreating. The pupils in her eyes dilated as she held his gaze, and her chin lowered just—that—much.
He'd seen that expression before, usually just before she'd beaten the crap out of someone. A delicious chill threaded its way through his spine, and Jack felt his jaw tighten as he turned back towards the screen. "Go on, Daniel."
The archaeologist steepled his eyebrows, his look clearly speculative. After a long, long moment, he turned back to the screen, pointing to a specific point as he restarted his presentation.
Jack wheeled his chair further under the table, until the armrests just skimmed the outer edge. Stretching his left leg out, he hurried a look at her, judging her height, the limits of her position. She'd turned in her chair, and Jack extrapolated as he prepared his strike. Sticking his big toe out, he counterbalanced painfully with his other leg as he angled his foot at his target.
She jumped slightly before looking at him, a slow grin spreading across her features.
Jack lifted the corner of his own mouth, watching as she casually modified her balance and leaned foward again. Her toe caught him in the ankle, and he immediately acted, bringing his foot down on top of hers, pinning it into the carpet. She tried to yank her foot out, but he just pressed harder. For a few seconds, she stayed still, but then her toes gave an experimental wriggle. He arched his foot over hers, trapping it even more tightly. Carter wheeled her chair inward, seemingly hoping to gain a little leverage as she tugged against the weight trapping her foot on the carpet.
Jack leaned back in his chair again, rubbing his foot brashly across hers. The top of her foot was cool, and smooth—impossibly satiny. If her foot was that smooth—Jack lapsed momentarily as he remembered other parts of Carter's skin—as she'd lain on that table in Hathor's palace—the marks left in that impeccable, smooth skin by the funky metal beds. He faltered.
Apparently, she'd sensed his weakness. Her big toe jabbed upwards, digging at the sensitive skin just under his arch. He retreated in surprise, and she took advantage of his lapse, following his foot and coming down on top, again. The sole of her foot felt warm, and she dragged it down his foot from ankle to toe, ending with another foray of her toes in between his.
He tightened his toes on hers, ensnaring them. She tugged back, but it didn't help—he had her trapped too well. Carter flattened her hands on top of the table and squinted in concentration. Before he'd realized what was happening, he felt a sharp jab at his knee. He barely kept himself seated as the toes of her other foot dug their way between his thigh and the cushion of his chair. Audaciously, she grinned, then flexed her foot and raked her toes upward, essentially poking him in the butt.
With an inhuman effort, Jack resisted leaping out of his chair. As it was, he lurched involuntarily in the opposite direction, and Major Davis gifted him with a stony glare. Loosening his grip on Carter's toes, he shifted back over and placed his entire weight on her raised extremity, then threw her a calculating smile. Sliding his leg over, his foot crept along the floor until it encountered an object. A boot. Quelling a smile, he grasped it between his big toe and his second toe, and pulled it over, dropping it near his right foot. Skimming the carpet leftwards again, he found her sock and deposited it near the boot. Reaching to his limits, he found the other boot, then headed back for the remaining sock.
But her foot found his again. The soft pads of her toes skimmed the side of his foot, moving upwards towards his ankle, tracing slow patterns on the top. Soft—feather light touches swirling on his skin. Stroking. Caressing. He hazarded a glance at her, and found her staring at him, her eyes shadowed. While he watched, she raised a hand to her face, resting her cheek on her knuckle even as her pinkie finger teased at her lower lip. She touched her tongue to the tip of her finger, as her toes wended their way up his foot and back under his pant leg.
Hot. The room was hot. Too hot. Too close. Her toes circled around within the hair on his leg, then edged around towards the back, tickling at his lower calf. And her face—that satisfied look was back, a half smile had brought out the dimple in one cheek. It was an expression that promised—more.
He'd have up and retired right then had she asked. He'd have done anything for her, in that moment. And would have, had General Hammond not suddenly pushed his chair away from the table and risen.
"Okay. Thank you, Daniel." The General stepped around the Chief's chair and indicated the archaeologist with a gesture of his upturned palm. "That was exactly what we needed."
"You're welcome, sir."
Jack swiveled his head towards the screen, where Daniel had powered down his laptop and was stepping out from the alcove. In a burst of motion, everybody seemed to stand at once, and Jack was both relieved and devastated when Carter pulled her foot out from under his thigh, sitting up in her seat.
"I hope I touched on everything you needed, sir." Daniel reached out to shake Ryan's hand. "Please let me know if I can provide any other information."
"No, son." General Ryan grinned, offering a single shake of his distinguished head. "You gave us exactly what we needed."
"There's a lot still to learn."
"Well, I'm sure that you'll figure it out." Hammond shook Daniel's hand next, clamping him on the shoulder with a sincere nod. "SG-1 seems to be able to do whatever it puts its mind to."
The toes on O'Neill's leg rasped a little, then tugged, pulling out a leg hair.
With a little yelp, Jack leapt to his feet. "Crap! I mean, yes!" He threw an accusing look at the Major behind him. "Yes, we can."
"Well then." The various and sundry aides had already gathered at the door, and Ryan raised his hand in a wave. "I'm on a tight schedule. I'll inform the President about what I've learned, here, and we'll go from there."
"You do that, sir." Jack turned, but had forgotten about his injured leg, and stopped when pain shot all the way up into his hip.
Hammond turned to him, his look kind. "Why don't you and your team go and get some rest, Jack?"
He swallowed back a curse as the pain dissipated a little. "Yes, sir."
It was like a mass exodus, and Ryan was Moses. The aides filed through the door, followed closely by Daniel. Davis trailed just behind him, with Teal'c bringing up the rear. Within seconds, only Jack and Carter were left in the Briefing Room.
He waited a moment more before turning an accusing glare at his second. "You are a bad person, you know that?"
How did she manage to look so ingenuous? "I have no idea what you mean, sir."
"How'd you get your boots off?"
She shrugged. "I have a few hidden talents."
"Yes." O'Neill carefully turned to sit down again. "Well, that's obvious." Reaching under the table, he conducted a sweep for his lost slipper.
"Where are my shoes?"
Jack shoved them back towards her with a swipe of his foot. "I should have made you get them yourself."
Her grin was expansive. "I should have let you fall asleep."
"Yeah, well." Standing, he watched as she tied up her second lace. As she finished, he offered her a hand up. "You were playing a little dirty, there."
Her hand warm in his, Sam shrugged. "Well, you know what they say."
"No, what do they say?"
Her thumb made a little sweep across Jack's knuckles as she leaned in towards him. "All's fair in love and footsie."