Title: House Blend Café
Characters/Pairing: Sam & Jack, mostly friendship, UST if you squint
Implied apocafic, I think.
Word Count: ~1700

Summary: Three days ago they'd run out of the last of the coffee from Earth.

Three days ago they'd run out of the last of the coffee from Earth.

Not that that changed much of anything, Jack decided. At the moment, the rock poking him in the butt seemed more relevant. Or the way the cold wind periodically whipped down the ravine so fast it stung tears from the corners of his eyes. Not to mention the fact that dirt had somehow crept into in his socks and lodged permanently between his toes no matter how many cold, hard scrubbings he gave them. Given all that, it didn't make much difference whether he was sitting here cradling a tin cup of hot liquid or just plain sitting here. Either way, he was sitting here, and sitting here with nobody bothering him for the first time since … well, since the last time he'd escaped to sit here sometime back in the golden era when they still had coffee.

An old dry riverbed at the bottom of a steep, shale-covered slope wasn't much of a refuge, but on the other hand, the probability of some civilian administrator making it this far from their encampment-slash-village had to be approaching zero percent. And the chance of any of them doing so without spraining an ankle and going crying back to the makeshift infirmary was even less than that. A long walk and a sore ass were a more than fair trade for five minutes all to himself, with no one asking for everything under the far-too-alien sun.

In fact, it was the absolute highlight of Jack's week.

He still missed the coffee, though.

With a long, slow exhale, he leaned back, resting his weight on his elbows behind him. He closed his eyes, tried to ignore the smaller cousin of the rock poking his backside that was now jammed into the flesh of his arm, and for a moment, savored the blessed, blessed silence.

Then the wind kicked up, dislodging a few pebbles to rattle down the slope, and the sound was distractingly like the prodding of his guilt, far more insistent than a pointy stone; guilt at his self-indulgent escape from his responsibilities, or more profound guilt over the fact that they found themselves on this backwater planet in the first place. Useless guilt, but guilt nonetheless.

And like the guilt, the pebbles kept falling, pinging against larger stones behind him in an increasing cascade of sound that soon turned into something that wasn't caused by the wind at all.

Jack didn't bother suppressing his grimace. Even if he cared – which he didn't – whoever was the owner of those footsteps would be too busy staring at their feet and trying not to slip and break their ankle to notice Jack's distinct displeasure at the intrusion.

Briefly, he entertained the hope that his visitor would, in fact, lose their footing and fall on their presumably-officious rear end. Then he remembered that he'd have to be the one to help his guest and his guest's intruding – and now broken – ass back to the main campsite, and he decided that wishing that they'd just give up was a much, much better idea.

After all, he'd picked this rocky ravine at the bottom of a near-impassable, shale-covered incline as his weekly retreat for a very, very good reason. Location, as they say, is everything.

But when the sound of descent continued uninterrupted, without the added cacophony of slipping and falling, and Jack was forced to revise his opinion. This was obviously not some officious civilian SOB come to lobby for more resources for his pet idea for how to save humanity, or more protection for his faction of the so-called government, or just an extra portion of food because he happened to be feeling hungry. No, this was Sergeant Harris, or Lieutenant Rodriguez, perfectly capable of navigating any physical obstacle in the way of reporting on yet one more situation Jack couldn't possibly fix.

He sat up, buried his face in his hands, and groaned aloud as the footsteps reached the bottom and drew to a halt behind him.

"It's good to see you too, sir."

Well, that wasn't what he'd expected. With his face still resting against his palms, he took a moment to consider whether it was better, or worse.

Then he turned to squint up at his second.

"Carter," he said, his voice carefully neutral.

He was proud of that, actually.

But she lifted her chin, almost in challenge, as if she was daring him to tell her to go the hell away. "Mind some company?" she asked, her head cocked and one eyebrow lifting slightly. Her tone wasn't diffident, or any different from usual, really, but still, it was pretty clear to him that she'd caught that earlier grimace after all.

He sighed. "Pull up a chair," he said, gesturing to the rocky earth beside him. "It's not Martha Stewart, mind you."

"It'll do." She dropped to a crouch, then placed a hand on the ground to ease herself down to sit.

From her flinch, he thought she probably caught one of those nice, pointy rocks somewhere along the way.

"So." She drew her knees up and folded her arms across them. "Major Carmicheal's team's back from P3X-882. Sergeant Alvarez wants to send an additional hunting party down to the plains next week. And Dick Woolsey's yelling at everyone he comes across, which admittedly isn't that different from usual, but seems to have something to do with needing to find you for approval of some brilliant plan he's just hatched."

Jack raised his eyebrows. "All in the last half hour?"

She rested her chin on top of her arms. "Yep."

"Can't even get a coffee break around here," he said into his tin cup.

Carter pursed her lips. "You know, I'm pretty sure there's no actual caffeine in that stuff."

"Oh, no." He shook his head. "Uh-uh. Private Waters gave it to me, Carter. Does she secretly want me on decaf? I'm always nice to her. I'm nice to everybody."

"Yes, sir." But she pointed at his cup. "The thing is, it's made from tree bark."

Ah. "Tree bark, of course, containing a noticeable lack of caffeine."


He sighed. A dozen possible responses drifted through his head, most of them centering around how on Earth – or any unreasonable facsimile thereof – he was supposed to go about protecting the last vestiges of a free civilization from bad guys both foreign and domestic without even a little caffeine to help him. And it was tempting. Carter was one of the few people here who wouldn't begrudge him the moment of self-pity, whom he could trust to support him and hold his confidences no matter what. Who even now was looking at him over his tin cup of not-coffee like that was exactly what she'd come here to do.

But that was an even slipperier slope than the one Carter had picked her way so carefully down earlier for oh-so-many reasons. And more importantly, it was an indulgence neither one of them could afford right now. Once Jack spoke those words of self-doubt out loud, they'd be real, whether he said them to Carter or to the civilian council or to Sergeant Bryant in munitions supply. And whether she knew it or not, Carter needed him to be the guy who didn't ever falter, just like they all did. They needed him to be the one who joked irreverently even – or especially – in the face of certain destruction. She needed that the same way he needed her to be the brilliant one who solved his problems almost before he knew they needed solving.

So he took a big swig, winced dramatically, and he swiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "Cheap Starbucks bastards," he said, purposefully theatrical, and was rewarded for his trouble with a startled snort of laughter. Then he went ahead and drank the rest of it, because it was better than pouring the stuff out on the ground. That smacked a little too much of waving a little white flag at the enemy.

And who the hell needed coffee anyway?

He pushed himself up from the ground, getting yet another rock in the palm for his trouble. When he offered a hand to pull Carter up, he was a little surprised to see her accept the help, but maybe that was all part of the dance they were doing here. All the encouragement without any of the words. Nothing so different from usual, after all.

But when he moved to let go of her hand she surprised him.

"Sir," she said, clasping his fingers with her own so he couldn't withdraw.

He had to clear his throat to speak. "Yeah?"

"I'm glad it's you in charge. Calling the shots."

"But?" he prompted, because that was exactly what it sounded like was coming next.

She hesitated, and he waved his free hand in the best 'go on' gesturing he could manage, considering it was still grasping the battered tin cup.

She stared at the cup and then, finally, nodded as if she'd made up her mind. "But," she said, slanting her gaze up at him in the sort of entreaty only Carter could manage without looking weaker for it, "you don't have to do it alone, you know."

He blinked, but she held his gaze. Held it for so long, in fact, that he had to look away. But when his eyes dropped, he found himself staring down at their still-clasped hands and trying not to think about slippery slopes.

Maybe he'd been wrong about who needed who to be strong.

He drew his thumb along the back of her hand, then squeezed it and let her go. "Let's get back," he said, jerking his head in the direction of the encampment.

She nodded, slowly, and turned away, didn't press him even though it was clear she wasn't sure her message had gotten through.

As they walked toward the slope to start their climb out of the riverbed, he bumped her shoulder with his own. "Seriously, I'm going to need more coffee," he said.

And she smiled.

Prompt: Cheap Starbucks bastards.