So today I wrote a song for you
Cause a day can get so long
And I know its hard to make it through
When you say there's something wrong
So I'm trying to put it right
Cause I want to love you with my heart
All this trying has made me tight
And I don't know even where to start
- Song For You, Alexi Murdoch
Jack swings by Sam's house to borrow a power tool. He already doesn't like it, having to ask someone to borrow something like that, let alone someone on his team, let alone Samantha Carter, but she has one and he doesn't and he's not in the mood to shell out money to buy a new one when she's perfectly happy to loan hers to him.
Her garage is a thing of beauty, well stocked and immaculately kept. He can tell the things she purchased for herself, the things she'd inherited from her father but they're all in amazing condition. When he gets to her house, the garage door is open, so he doesn't bother with the front door. He can see her car on the street, her Indian in the garage, covered with a cloth. It's warm enough for her to go riding now. Winter had broken not so long ago, but he understands as well as she does that even if the weather cooperates, their schedules rarely do. This is the first day off SG-1 has had in a while.
She comes out of the house and into the garage to see him standing at her work bench, gazing up at the tools she has hanging on a pegboard on the wall.
"Hey, sir," she says. "Didn't hear you pull up."
She's in black pants and her denim jacket. He doesn't see her like this all that often and it takes a moment for him to adjust. She has on earrings and lip gloss and her sunglasses are pushed up onto her head. He turns back to the workbench where the drill press he'd requested is waiting and ready for him.
It's a nice piece, large and expensive. It's gonna be heavy, but he'd left the bed of the truck open.
"Hi," he says. "Headed out?"
"I was just going to go to the hardware store," she says. "Once you'd picked this up."
"Ah," he says. "Well I don't mean to keep you."
"No," she says. "No, it's fine."
She smiles at him while they stand there awkwardly.
"Thanks again," he says.
"You need help?" she asks. "I have a cart somewhere. You probably shouldn't carry it that far, sir."
"I'm perfectly capable of carrying a drill press to my truck, Carter," he says.
"At least back your truck into the driveway, please," she requests.
"Sure," he says.
He does back his truck in and she's already got the press in the truck by the time he gets out to help her.
"Show off," he mutters. She just grins. "So, the hardware store you say?"
"Yes, sir," she says.
"What are you picking up?" he asks.
"I ordered a new faucet for the guest bathroom and I'm going to install it today," she says.
"What's wrong with the old one?" he asks.
"It got into a fight with Teal'c," she says. "And lost."
"That'll happen," he says. "You know Carter, I was just about to go myself. Want to come along?"
She hesitates for a moment. "I need to go to Beacon Hill," she says. "It's not quite Lowes or Home Depot."
"Always support the local guy," he says. "That's fine."
"All right," she says. "If you're sure."
It's not that far to the little hardware store and while he's been here a time or two, the selection isn't as wide as at a larger hardware chain store. When they walk in, the girl behind the cash register calls, "Hey, Sam!"
"Hi, Jennifer," Carter says.
He can see why she favors Beacon Hill. It's small, but warm and friendly. The floors are wooden and worn down smooth with time. Home Depot might have everything under the sun but a huge concrete warehouse can't compete with a family-owned business like this one.
"Go and get what you need," she tells him. "I have to go pick up my order."
He wanders around and looks over the shelves. The truth of the matter is the only thing he really needs is in the back of his truck. The only thing he really wants is over at customer service, picking up a faucet.
When he sees her heading for the register, he grabs what's on the shelf right next to him - a socket that won't even fit the wrench set he owns - and gets in line behind her.
On the drive home, he says, "Can I help you with your install?"
"I thought you had your own project," she says.
"It'll keep," he says. "Unless you need your drill press back soon."
"You can have it for as long as you need it," she assures him.
He knows she doesn't need any help installing a bathroom faucet and in fact, two people might actually slow the process down, but she accepts his help anyway. He's been to Sam's house a number of times, but he doesn't often hang out there and when he does, there's usually the rest of the team there to serve as buffer.
"Park in the driveway," she says, when they get back to the house, so he does.
She offers him a beverage when they get in and he accepts. She has water, orange juice, and diet soda. "I may have some hard liquor over the refrigerator if none of that seems appealing."
"It's 10:30 on a Saturday, Carter," he says. "What exactly do you think of me?"
She grins and he takes a glass of juice.
She slips off her coat and has on a t-shirt with little cap sleeves that really show off her long, tan arms. Not that he looks.
The guest bathroom is small. She's already got the old faucet out and sitting in an old box. He picks up the destroyed knob that once turned on the cold water. The plastic is broken and jagged.
"This was never going to outlast T," he says.
"Yeah, I wasn't attached to the 70s look of it anyway," she says. "The new one is nice."
She points to the paper sack that she'd carried back from Beacon Hill. He pulls it out and inspects the picture on the box.
"Polished chrome," he says. "Fancy."
"Only the best for me," she says.
She opens her tool box and he's about to comment on how beautiful it is when his hip starts to vibrate. She looks up from where she's crouched and watches him fish the phone out of his pocket.
"O'Neill," he says.
"What are you doing?" Daniel asks.
Carter busies herself with her tools.
"Fixing a faucet, what are you doing?" he asks.
"Oh, did Teal'c get to you, too?" Daniel asks. "Because last week, he totally destroyed Sam's guest bathroom and..."
"Daniel?" Jack says, because he just stops.
"Are you at Sam's?" Daniel asks.
"In fact, I am," he says. "What of it?"
"Oh," Daniel says. "Well I was just bored and... but never mind."
"Daniel we see each other every day and you want to hang out?" Jack asks. "Isn't that a little sad?"
"You're at Sam's!" Daniel says.
Carter reaches up, extends her hand expectantly. Jack gives her the phone.
"You want to come over, Daniel?" she asks.
Jack knows he shouldn't be disappointed, and yet.
"I'm not totally incapable," Carter insists. "I can do it."
"I'm sure you could, Major," Jack says. "But Dr. Frasier was pretty clear and though she is small, she is mighty and I don't think we should cross her."
"I'm fine," she says.
"You sprained your ankle and fractured your wrist," Jack says. "I've seen you be more fine than this."
"Well," she says.
They're in the elevator, heading toward the surface.
"It's not a special favor," Jack says. "You're a member of my team. It's my job to make sure you're okay."
"Just doing your job," she says. "Got it. What about Daniel?"
"When Frasier gives him the green light, I'll drive his sorry butt home, too," Jack says.
"Daniel will get to go back to work way before I do," Carter complains. Jack rolls his eyes. They bicker like brother and sister half the time, those two. The other half, they're either on some intellectual level he can't hope to achieve or they're ganging up against him.
"Daniel is the one still in the infirmary."
"He bumped his head," Carter says.
"He has a concussion," Jack says. "You think he's the lucky one?"
"I'm the lucky one," Jack says. "I could have lost two team members and you're both going to recover fully." He can see his truck and uses the fob to unlock it. "I'm lucky."
"Yes, sir," she says.
She's on crutches, though she has a walking boot and she won't need them for long. Getting into the truck is awkward for her, but he lets her use his shoulder as leverage. In the cab she extends her aching foot and cradles her damaged arm close to her chest.
"You have anything at home?" he asks as he pulls out past the security gate.
"Food?" he asks. "We've been off-world for a week."
"I'm sure it's fine," she says.
But when he passes a grocery store he pulls in.
She doesn't let him help her out of the truck, though he can see her wince when she gets to the ground, leaning on her crutches for a second before straightening up. She does let him push the cart.
"Just some staples," he says, trying to sound friendly and positive without sounding sarcastic and it's a challenge. This is probably why he gets shot at so often. "You know - milk, beer, mac and cheese."
"Maybe a vegetable in there," she says.
"If there's time," he says. It's his idea to get a few microwavable dinners for the first couple days. She agrees to the Lean Cuisines and inspects the nutritional information for a while, frowning. It makes a little line appear between her eyebrows.
"You eat base food. This can't be too much worse," he says finally.
"Better, probably," she says and tosses the boxes into their cart.
Jack cheerfully steers them down the refrigerated beer aisle and she consents easily enough, saying, "Your choice, sir."
She pays for everything. He wants to offer but he doesn't - he's afraid she'll deck him and even with her injured, it'd be a little too fair of a fight if it came down to hand-to-hand between them.
But he loads the bags into the truck and carries them in when they arrive at her house. She's still getting used to the crutches so it seems only right. She lets him put everything away, too. She takes a pain pill and sits on the couch.
"You don't have to stay, sir," she says.
"I know," he replies. Still, he makes her a sandwich and cracks them both open a beer and they watch the news together until the pain pill makes her drowsy enough that she nods off beside him. He thinks that if she slept with her head against his shoulder, it wouldn't be so bad, but she never moves and eventually, he lets himself out and goes home.
Carter brings Daniel by in the morning to get his car. Daniel looks completely miserable - gray-skinned and shaky. He doesn't take off his sunglasses, even when he comes into the house to get his keys.
"On a scale of one to ten, how hungover was he, exactly?" Jack asks as they watch him drive away.
"Seven," she decides. "I made him ride with a big mixing bowl on his lap but he didn't actually puke in my car."
"That's my boy," Jack says. "You look right as rain, however, Major."
"My constitution is not so delicate." She grins.
"You and your constitution about to go run a marathon?" he asks. She's all decked out in exercise clothes - soft pants that stop just below her knees and a tanktop, both of which cling.
"Yoga, actually. It's why I made him come get the car so early. My class starts at nine."
"Hippie exercise, Carter? I'm disappointed in you!"
"No, sir," she says. "It can be quite the workout."
"Poppycock," he says, dismissively.
"Come with me," she challenges. She looks a little unsure right after she says it, but doesn't take the offer back.
"I don't know," he says. With Carter, he usually trusts his instinct to backpedal.
"If you're too scared..." she says nonchalantly. He narrows his eyes. "Teal'c came with me once but Teal'c is pretty brave, so..."
"Oh can it," he snaps.
She smiles brightly.
"What do I wear?" he asks.
"Just something that doesn't restrict your movement," she says. "I even have Cassie's mat in my trunk. It's your lucky day, sir."
"Can I bring my gun?" he calls as he heads up the stairs to exchange his blue jeans for sweats.
"Not at this particular studio," she says.
The studio is in a little strip mall only a few miles from his house. When they park, Carter pulls a deep purple mat out for herself and hands him a bright pink one.
"What?" he manages but she seems not to hear him. "This feels like a trap," he mutters.
She talks to the young, fit woman behind the counter and instructs him toward the room full of cubbies. He deposits his shoes in an empty square.
Inside the main studio, the urge to flee only intensifies. The room is fairly full and it is overwhelmingly populated with women. Jack spots one other man and they nod at each other in solemn solidarity.
Carter walks confidently to the far end of the open room where there is still empty space on the floor. She rolls out her mat in one practiced movement close to the mirror. She points to the place behind her, closer to the brown wall. Everyone in the room is quiet. He puts the mat down at kicks at the roll with a bare toe. Carter's mat had unfurled quietly; his makes a loud, sticky noise of disuse that makes a few heads turn. He unrolls it as quick as he can, like a band-aid.
Carter goes back toward the door where there are shelves of... things. She seems to be doubling up on what she takes, so he stays put and watches her step lightly through the maze of bodies. She makes a pile between their mats and then sits on hers to sort them. He gets a small white towel, a long, flat length of rope, and a purple, light-weight block. He stares at his new acquisitions with some disdain.
Carter breaks what is obviously protocol to say softly, "Just relax and follow directions."
A middle-aged woman two mats from Sam gives them both a dirty look.
Jack sits with his legs extended on his pink mat and thinks about hockey. About beer cold in the bottle. About how secure he is in his masculinity.
What happens in the next hour, Jack doesn't care to speak about. The first inkling that it's all about to turn sour is when Jack finds he can't even sit cross-legged very well. People around him seem to flow gracefully into the pose and he has to beg his body to comply and even when it does, there's about six inches between his knees and the floor. His thighs burn. Downward Dog seems like an intense punishment.
All around him, people bound up onto their hands and feet and he can barely push up off of his aching knees. He's in good physical shape - he has to be to go through the gate - but he doesn't ever bend his body in just this way.
By halfway through, sweat drips from his forehead onto his mat.
What saves him is the upside of watching Carter's ass under the guise of mimicking her movements. There is a moment when their eyes meet and she looks like she's on to him, but then she shifts her focus back to balancing on the ball of her left foot and seemingly nothing else and he takes a break from staring at her ass to look at her chest for a while.
The instructor has some pity and leaves them on their mats to relax. The class parrots him when he leaves on a "namaste" but Jack can't bring himself to say it back. He just lies on his back and thinks about death. How he thought it would be light years away, at the hands of some enemy soldier or even old in bed, but never on a tiny pink rectangle with Carter looking on pityingly.
Around him, people start to move. To put their instruments of torture back on the torture shelf and roll up their inexplicably quiet and not at all sticky mats and leave the room. He continues to lie there.
Finally, Carter crouches by him and puts a warm hand on his shoulder. He opens one eye. She's got a little sheen across her forehead and between her collarbones but she's not quite drenched in sweat like he is. She gives him a little smile, but it's genuine and not meant to poke fun.
"Are you ready to go home?" she asks, softly.
"Yes, please," he says.
Jack is so distraught over the loss of Daniel that it takes him some time to notice that Carter is aching as well. She still shows up to work and outshines them all, still pushes for Jonas to join SG-1 and seems happy enough when Jack relents and lets Jonas onto the team, but when Jack finally notices that Carter is not quite herself, he can't seem to unnotice it.
She's been skipping meals and when he does see her in the commissary, she takes her tray back to her lab and eats alone. He checks up on her overtime and while she has clocked some, she's actually been going home and staying there.
She has a Saturday off and he fully expects to see her - instructs the gate to call him when she checks in, but she never does.
"I'm gonna go check on Carter," Jack tells Teal'c when he's finally off duty. They're in Daniel's office. Jonas is on the computer, reading the database. For fun.
"I will accompany you," says Teal'c. Jack has no reason to say no to him, so he nods.
"Is she sick?" Jonas asks, looking away from the screen.
"Nah," says Jack, but he can't figure out what to say next, so he just lets it hang. Teal'c picks it up.
"Major Carter has not been herself for some time." Teal'c had noticed it too, noticed it first but had been waiting for a signal from his team leader to proceed. Jack had finally signaled.
"Can I come?" Jonas asks.
"Yeah," Jack says. "Maybe we can get her to do something fun. Something normal."
Normal is relative, even Jack knows that. What is normal for him might not even be normal for Carter, let alone two aliens, but he's going to offer her some old-fashioned fun and just hope that she bites.
It takes her too long to answer her door. Her car is in the drive and he'd peeked through the narrow window in the garage to see the Indian still covered up, but she doesn't answer and so he turns to Teal'c.
"Gimme your key," he says.
"I did not bring it," Teal'c says.
"What?" he asks. "Why not?"
"I did not think I would need it," Teal'c says. Jack takes his keys everywhere whether he needs them or not (except off-world - lesson learned), but Teal'c doesn't drive and has no house keys, so Jack can maybe understand.
"Why don't you have a key?" Jonas asks. He seems innocent enough, but then it's never totally easy to tell with him.
Jack and Teal'c exchange a glance. Teal'c understands.
"Do not ask so many questions," Teal'c says.
Jack knocks again. She doesn't answer.
"What if she's hurt?" he asks. "You don't think she'd... hurt herself, do you?"
"I do not," Teal'c says. "Perhaps she does not wish to have company at this time."
"CARTER!" he calls. Nothing. "Well, I don't think she'd just sit in there and let us worry."
"Maybe a friend came and picked her up," Jonas suggests.
"Everyone she knows is on her porch," Jack says.
"Dr. Frasier?" Jonas suggests.
"She was on base when we left," Jack says.
"Maybe she's got a secret boyfriend," Jonas says with a grin.
Jack actually has to stop himself from punching Jonas for even bringing such a thing up.
"Teal'c," he manages.
"Jonas Quinn, I suggest you refrain from speaking," he says.
"Okay, screw this," Jack says and walks off the porch. The side gate is latched but he can reach over the top to open it. Her backyard is small, but manicured. The back door is locked and the window right next to it has a screen but the window above the square hedge doesn't and he can see that, in this warmer weather, it is slightly cracked.
He shoves it open, awkwardly. He doesn't have a lot of leverage reaching over the hedge. He drags one of her metal chairs over and uses it to launch himself through the open window. It takes some wriggling and some painful scraping and then he falls in, landing hard on the floor and for a moment everything hurts.
When he opens his eyes, breathing again, he sees he's in the office and missed hitting his head on the corner of her desk by a ridiculously small margin.
He picks himself up and calls out "Carter?"
She's not in the kitchen or the front room, so he goes down the hall and is about to push open the bedroom door when he hears it - water running. And then, because he's got terrible timing, the sound of the faucets squeaking off.
"Crap," he mutters, and hauls ass to the front door to open it and slip out again. "She was in the shower."
"Did you close the window?" Jonas asks.
"Okay," Jack says. "New plan. Lying." He goes back in and hollers "CARTER!" at the top of his lungs. There's the sound of movement and then a door opening.
"Sir?" she calls.
"You, uh, didn't answer the door so we let ourselves in with Teal'c's key."
"Gimme a minute," she says.
Jack closes the window and sends Jonas through the back door to drag the chair back in place.
Carter comes out in jeans and a t-shirt with wet hair and no make-up just as Jonas comes back in.
"Nice yard," he says, when she gives him a weird look. "People don't have... yards... on Kelowna."
"Uh huh," says Carter. "What's up, guys?"
"Movie night," Jack says.
"Sure," she says. "What did you bring."
"Nope," he says. "We're going out, Major."
"Sir, I don't..."
"Trust me," he says.
She nods. "Okay."
While she's finishing getting ready, they take a few blankets and pillows from her linen closet and Jonas takes them out to the truck.
When they pass downtown and head for the interstate, she says, "Sir?"
"We're going to Pueblo," he says.
"Good God, why?" she asks.
"Because there is one of the very last drive-in movie theaters in the state of Colorado," he says. He watches her in the mirror and she smiles a little bit.
"I haven't been to a drive-in in years," she says. "What's playing?"
"Does it matter?" he asks.
At the theater, they back the truck up and fill the bed with blankets. Jack sends Teal'c and Jonas off for provisions and Carter climbs in, tucks a pillow behind her back, and settles in.
And though he knows he shouldn't, he claims the seat next to her and hopes the guys take a while to come back.
Daniel and Teal'c are supposed to meet them at the restaurant but instead, when he and Carter are standing by their cars in the parking lot, Daniel calls.
"Lockdown?" Jack says. "What about steaks?"
"What?" Carter asks. "Do we need to go back?"
"No," Jack says. "We can't on account of the lockdown."
"Keep me posted," he says into the phone and hangs up.
"What if they need me?" she says. He raises an eyebrow. "And also you, sir."
"Daniel says SG-5 brought back some weirdo contraption and now everyone has a rash, Frasier's on it," he says.
"What else did Daniel say?" she asks.
"That we should eat without them," Jack says.
She crosses her arms against the cold. The tip of her nose is red.
"Should we?" she asks.
"Well it's twenty degrees out here and people gotta eat, Carter," he says. "Nothing untoward. It'll be completely toward."
She tries not to smile, but her face breaks a little.
"Well if it's toward..."
The hostess puts them at a cozy little booth off to the side. There's a little candle that flickers between them.
"Nice," he comments because he's a guy and doesn't know what else to say.
"Yeah, it's warm in here at least," she says, shimmying out of her coat and hanging it on the little hook by their table. He buries his face in the menu.
The girl who comes by to offer them the wine list doesn't look old enough to drink it herself. He orders a beer. Carter hesitates a moment.
"Off-duty," he reminds her. "Knock yourself out."
She gets a glass of white wine.
She frets over menu even though he knows, and so does she, that they're just going to get two steaks.
"This place is popular," Carter says.
"We didn't have to wait for the table," he says. "It's Tuesday night."
"No, I mean... I heard Captain Ramos talking about it last week," Carter says. "And Janet had a date here last month."
"Frasier is dating?" Jack asks.
"Not seriously. He was a optometrist, but she said he was totally... well that isn't my point."
"What is your point?" he asks, but she stays silent. Just looks at him. Looks at him meaningfully. "I see that you're trying to get your point across with your brain alone, but..."
"What if someone sees us here?" she says, her voice dropping.
"So?" he asks.
"So? Candle light. Atmosphere." She pokes at the candle and scoots it ever so slightly in his direction. "Ambiance."
"We got banned from the only other decent steakhouse in town," he says. "We eat together all the time."
"On base," she says.
"You're embarrassed to be seen with me," he says. "That hurts, Carter."
"I'm being serious," she says.
"You're being paranoid," he says.
"It's different for me," she replies. "I have a whole other layer of things to worry about."
"You're the smartest person on that base, hell, in the entire Air Force and everyone we work with knows it. One day, you're going to run that place. If someone has a problem with two teammates having dinner together, you have my permission to zat 'em," he says.
The waitress comes back with his beer and her wine.
"Besides," he says, after they've ordered. "If this was a date I would have taken you to the Cliff House."
"Oh my, that is fancy," she says. "And are you the type of date to book a room also and hope for the best?"
"Generally, no," he says. "But for you I might take my chances." He grins, gives her a nice and charming smile and she smirks back for a moment before it sort of slides off her face.
"That was probably... I'm sorry, sir, that was inappropriate," she says.
"We were just... talking," he says. "There's nothing wrong with just talking."
"Maybe lockdown is over," she says, abruptly steering them away from the topic. "Did Daniel call back?"
He looks at his phone more for her benefit than anything else. "No. But no call from Hammond either."
"I hope they're okay," she says.
"You know how these things go," he says. "Probably just a precaution."
He asks about Cassie and it takes it through until their food comes and then the eating makes the silence not weird. But at some point, he begins to realize that she's holding something back.
"What?" he says.
"Nothing," she answers. She swirls her fork through her mashed potatoes.
"Carter," he says.
She fingers the stem of her wine glass.
"Sam," he says softly. This makes her gaze jerk up to meet his.
"I'm sorry I couldn't just enjoy it," she says softly. "I know things like this don't happen very often and I didn't mean to make it feel wrong because I shouldn't want it."
"But you do?" he asks. "Want it?"
She opens her mouth to answer but then, his phone rings.
Probably for the best.
Jack strolls into Daniel's office because he's bored. Daniel is working, hunched over a huge book and it takes him a couple moments to notice Jack.
"I'm working," Daniel says.
"Yeah, but I'm bored."
"I don't have time to entertain you," Daniel says. "Go away."
"I'm your boss," Jack says, "Make time."
"You're the leader of our team, not my boss, so scram," Daniel says.
"Nothing is happening around here, we could go top side," Jack offers.
"Something is happening!" Daniel says. "I'm working!"
"Well what the hell am I supposed to do, then?" Jack complains.
"I don't know, go have one of your little dates with Sam," Daniel says.
"Huh?" Jack asks.
"Oh, okay, play dumb," Daniel snorts.
"I'm actually dumb," Jack says. "Carter and I don't have dates. That's crazy not to mention against regs."
"Okay go have one of your little non-dates then," he says. "Let me be."
"What are you talking about?" Jack says.
"Oh, how about when you go to the movies? Or to dinner? Or yoga?"
"We don't... you were supposed to come to dinner! You skipped it! And we go to the movies as a team!"
"Sometimes," Daniel says mildly. "You two went bowling last week."
"Doc Frasier and Cassie canceled on us," Jack says.
"What about when you went with her to that wedding?" Daniel asks.
"It was her cousin and you were off-world and it's a little hard to explain Teal'c," Jack says. "Besides, that wasn't even fun. There was no booze."
"Ah," Daniel says.
"They aren't dates," he reiterates. "It's always circumstantial. It's never untoward."
"You're trying to say that every time you and Sam go on a date it's some crazy set of circumstances and mishaps that led you there."
"Yes," Jack says. "Exactly."
"Can you help me create a scenario now that lets you go out with Sam and me get some work done?" Daniel asks. "Can we compromise?"
"It's not like I want to date Carter," Jack says.
Daniel snorts. "Yeah, okay."
"If you don't want to date her it's because you want to marry her," Daniel says.
"Shut up, Daniel. I'm warning you."
"All the Jacks and Sams in the other universes end up together, I don't know why you two crazy kids can't make it work," he says, teasingly.
"I'm gonna zat you in your face," Jack says. "Maybe twice."
"Empty threats," Daniel says and looks back at his book. "Now go away."
"But I'm bored! And now I'm kind of pissed off too."
"Go to the gym," Daniel says. "Our physicals are coming up and... oh hey! Go as Sam to go to the gym with you."
"I CAN'T DATE CARTER!" Jack bellows. Daniel stares at him, looking away only to glance at the open door.
"I just meant that you could say we're all having a workout and then when Teal'c and I don't show up, just play dumb," Daniel says. "Or actually be dumb. Whichever works for you."
"Jesus," Jack says, finally relenting and settling into a chair. "Do people think we're dating?"
"It's obviously against the rules, so no, I don't think people think that you're actively dating."
"Actively," Jack repeats.
"Maybe, I don't know, Jack, but just maybe people think that you're dating but you don't know it." Daniel winces.
"Okay me," Daniel says. "I think you and Sam are dating but don't know it."
"That's crazy," Jack says. "And wrong."
"All right," Daniel says.
"And if you say anything about this to Carter, I'm going to do something drastic," Jack threatens vaguely.
"Understood," Daniel says. "Drastic, check."
"I hate you," Jack says.
Daniel goes back to his work. Jack picks up a long, intricately carved rod and inspects it.
They both look up to see Carter in the doorway.
"Hey Sam," Daniel says evenly. Too evenly. Jack shoots him a glare.
"Teal'c wants ice cream," Sam says. "I was going to go up top and go to Baskin Robbins and bring it back. You guys want to come?"
"I'm working," Daniel says.
"Sir?" she asks.
"Oh go on, Jack," Daniel says. "Keep the poor woman company."
"I don't know," Jack says.
"You were just complaining about being bored," Daniel says. "Go get ice cream. With Sam."
"I can go alone," Carter says. She's starting to suspect something fishy is happening.
"All right," Jack says. "Let's go. But we're not bringing any back for Daniel."
"Whatever," Daniel says.
"What was that about?" Carter asks when they're in the elevator.
"Just Daniel and his whack-job theories," Jack says.
"About P4F-991?" she asks.
"Not exactly," he says. She frowns, but doesn't push it. They're in the car before he talks again. "Carter?"
"Yes?" she asks.
"Do we spend too much time together?" he asks.
"Not every job requires the work hours that this one does," she concedes.
"I didn't mean work," he says.
"And not every team is like SG-1 but we clock a lot of field hours together. The science teams don't really have the same experience and you know how the jarheads are," she continues. "But I don't think there's some sort of limit of time a team should spend together, no."
"I don't... I don't mean SG-1," he says.
She glances at him briefly. They are heading down the mountain and the road is too curvy for her to pull her focus away but he sees her bite at the side of her mouth in thought.
"You mean you and me," she says.
"Yeah," he says. "You and me."
"Daniel is just trying to get your goat, sir," she says.
"He got me thinking," Jack says.
"If you'd like your free time back, I understand sir. We work a lot of hours and spending what off-time you have with your subordinates can be counterproductive," she says.
"Carter, it isn't..."
"We didn't do anything wrong," she says.
"No one is saying that we did," he says.
"So let me have this reason," she says. "Let it be this."
"Alone time," he says. "Is what got us into this mess in the first place."
"Now I'm a mess?"
"No," he defends. "I didn't mean..."
"Team members eat food, you said." She slows down as they approach the bottom of the hill and she eases into town. "We're already here, you said, we should just bowl."
"I was following your lead, sir, even against my better judgement," she admits.
"I take any and all blame," he says. "I do."
She sighs, rolls her eyes. "I knew better," she says, softer now. "I ignored it."
"Me too," he says. "That little feeling in my guts that said danger."
"We didn't do anything wrong."
"We're gonna keep it that way, is all," he says.
He waits in the car while she picks up a few pints of ice cream. He holds the paper bag on his lap, cool against his leg. They stay quiet on the return trip.
When she shuts off the car, they both sit for a moment.
"I'm not unhappy," she says. "My life is good."
"Mine, too," he says.
"What did Daniel say?" she asks.
"Carter..." But she looks a little like she's getting left behind and he can't do that to her. "He said we were dating but we didn't know it."
She laughs. Not a nervous, hollow laughter but a real guffaw, straight from her belly.
"What?" he says.
"He was right," she says. "We didn't know."
Jack opens the car door and gets out.
"Come on," he says. "Before it melts."
They're supposed to help Carter paint her bedroom. They'd been detained off-world for a while and when she'd finally gotten home, her roof had leaked and the water had damaged the drywall.
Daniel had offered up the services of SG-1 and she had accepted. Jack isn't sure why - Carter certainly is capable of slapping some paint over the newly repaired wall. After all, she's the one who repaired it after the roofers came. But he suspects that spending several weeks in an alien prison has made her a little more hungry for good company. There are generally two types of people at the SCG. After a traumatic event, there are those who want to be left alone and those who want constant company and while Carter tries to be the first one, she has always been one of the latter.
So the paint is an excuse, but Daniel will take any port in a storm and drag the rest of SG-1 along with him.
Jack isn't complaining. He sees less of Carter now, ever since they realized that spending so much time together wasn't helping to keep anything in any room. That's inaccurate - he sees a lot of Carter, just not as much off the base and on the planet.
He's looking forward to painting.
He arrives at her house with a 12-pack of beer and a couple extra rollers. Daniel's car is already parked in front of the house and Teal'c answers the door just before he knocks.
"Hello," Jack says uneasily, his fist still in the air.
"Major Carter is asleep," Teal'c says.
It's early enough, but it's after 9:00 and that isn't like Carter. They're on a standard seven day stand down but even on days off, it's not like her not to be up with the sun.
"What's the matter?" Jack asks.
"Apparently she did not sleep. Daniel Jackson has just gotten her to rest," Teal'c says and steps aside. Inside, he can see Carter in the living room, stretched out on the sofa. She's asleep with a blanket pulled over her. Behind her, in the dining area, all of her bedroom furniture is shoved in.
Teal'c leads Jack down the hall to the bedroom. He just brings the beer along.
"Hey," Daniel says. "You ready?"
"She's okay, right?" Jack asks.
"Oh yeah, just... you know, Sam. Up all night worrying about what she should have done to get us out sooner. She was just a little tense when we got here," Daniel says. "But no reason we shouldn't get started, right? Just let her sleep."
It'll go fast, Jack thinks. Though, for the relatively small size of Carter's house, the master suite is big and has vaulted ceilings which will be a challenge. She could've just painted over the repaired wall but apparently she had felt it was time for a change, because the cans of new paint are marked on the lids with a sample of a soft, earthy green.
Daniel cracks open a can of primer. Teal'c sets up the ladder on the highest wall while Jack busies himself with opening the cardboard box and finding himself a cold beer.
"It's a little early for that, don't you think?" Daniel asks.
"Nope," Jack says.
They break for an early lunch once the first coat of primer is on. The old paint color had gone all the way into both her bathroom and her closet so it had taken longer than usual. She'd cleaned out most of her clothes but they'd still had to carry some shoes and odds and ends into the other room. Jack had stuck his head out into the living room - Carter had turned so her face was pressed into the cushions of the couch but she was still sleeping.
Daniel offers to go pick up lunch, looking meaningfully at the three empty bottles Jack has collected and Teal'c goes with him. They go out the backdoor and around the house so their comings and goings don't have a chance to wake her. Jack stays in the back of the house, surveying what they've done.
It's not a great time to paint. The rain that had caused the damages has stopped for the last day and a half, but the sky is ominously gray and the window they have open so the fumes don't fill up the house lets in cold air. Halloween is just around the corner.
Charlie had been a Power Ranger for his last halloween.
Jack looks around for a screwdriver to crack open the first can of green paint. He stirs it up with a wooden stirrer and finds he really likes the soft green that emerges. It reminds him of stepping through the gate and finding a planet ripe with spring, with new grass and budding trees and life flourishing.
He should probably let the primer dry a little longer, but he can do some detail work easily enough, so he sits himself down carefully at the corner by the window, takes a narrow brush, and starts going along the taped up baseboard. The paint goes on well - she didn't buy the cheap stuff - and the painting is sort of therapeutic in a way that rolling on paint just isn't. The bristles of the brush make a soft noise against the wall - Jack is no artist, but for the first time in his life, he can see the quiet allure of that life. A whole life centered around giving instead of taking away.
He hears her feet on the carpet coming down the hall, of course he does, but he doesn't react until she settles down next to him, cross-legged and disheveled from her nap. She doesn't say anything, just picks up another clean brush and dips it into the paint. She starts working the other direction.
It's like if they don't say anything, it won't be like before when they had to stop.
He looks at her, she looks at him and offers him a little smile.
Sometimes he misses her in a way he has no right to miss her. He misses something that he's never had - quiet nights and early mornings, rainy afternoons in the muted gray light of the house. The sound of the heater kicking on as she settles down next to him on the couch. The kitchen steamy and warm from dinner being made while he sets the table. Birthdays and anniversaries and milestones and mundane everyday living and green paint in a can.
She's moved so far away that she can't reach the paint anymore without getting up, so she sets her brush down and she watches him paint. Finally, he sets his brush down across the top of the paint can and spins to look at her.
"You did good, Carter," he says. "Nothing to lose sleep over."
"Thank you," she says.
Outside, the first raindrops start to fall.
"This paint is never going to dry," she says.
"So we'll come back tomorrow," he says.
She smiles, that smile that lights up her whole face, that makes his eyes prickle like he's looking at the sun.
Outside, a car door slams. Daniel and Teal'c with lunch.
"Come on," she says. She stands up and walks over to him. She offers him a hand and he takes it. Together, they haul him to his feet. He lets a hand rest on her back for a moment.
"Hi," he says, their faces close.
"Hi," she says.
Maybe nothing had been wrong before. Maybe they can figure out a way to get this back.
Daniel calls, "Pizza!" from the living room, but they just keep standing there, just keep looking across the small space between them.
It's different when he doesn't go through the gate with them. On the one hand, it's easier because they aren't shoulder to shoulder so much anymore, but on the other hand it's much worse because SG-1 is gone a lot and he's not there to keep them safe and oh yeah, he's the boss now.
He tells himself he's in a better position to to look out for them, to take care of them, but as life goes on, all he finds is that he's in a position to not see them very often.
The first time he calls Carter is legitimate. He calls her cell phone because she doesn't answer in her lab and she answers from her car - he can hear the background noise.
"Never mind," he says. "I'll ask you tomorrow." It's an unsecured line and he probably shouldn't be asking her classified questions over it. "At work."
"Gotcha," she says. But she doesn't make any move to hang up and it's sort of exhilarating having her attention. He doesn't want to let it go.
"Whatcha doing, Carter?" he says.
"Driving," she says. "To the mall, of all places."
"A little girly time?" he asks.
"Well," she says. "It's not like shopping is a secret pleasure of mine, sir."
"Wedding plans," he says.
"Yeah," she says.
He's happy for her. Pete's a nice guy and he wants her to have that kind of life. Jack knew what he'd be giving up when he became the boss. He knew making General would keep him further away from retirement, would only increase the time between... well, he's happy enough for Carter.
"You should hire a planner," he says.
"Sir, we don't have to talk about this," she offers.
"Okay," he says.
"I mean, I have wedding things to get," she says. "But actually I need new running shoes."
"You don't work out in your combat boots?" he asks.
"Those are the shoes I run the most in," she relents. "But no."
"What happened to your old ones?" he asks, leaning back in his chair. The chair creaks and he wonders if she can hear it.
"They're worn out," she says. "I nearly twisted my ankle running through the park the other day."
"I can't believe that with your job, you choose running for exercise," he mutters.
"I do a lot of things," she says.
"Weight lifting, yoga, running," he says. "What's next? Trapeze?"
She laughs. "The next time the circus comes to town, maybe I'll ask."
"We are the circus," he says with a smile.
"Yes we are," she says. "Oh hey, I'm about to pull into the parking structure so I could lose you."
"Nah," he says. "Go on, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah," she says. "Talk to you later."
He's at home a week later when she calls him from the base.
"Did you give Daniel next Thursday off?" she demands.
"Uh," he says. "Hi, Carter."
"Daniel says he submitted for the time off and you granted it," she says.
"Then I probably did," he says. "What of it?"
"We're scheduled for a mission!" she says.
"Oh," he says. "Well go without him."
"We're already a three person team, I can't just go without him," she says.
"Say, Carter, did you call up Hammond and yell at him about paperwork?" Jack asks casually.
"I'm sorry, sir," she says, automatically. He gets it, she's still defensive about her new command and uneven team and Jack is one of them, SG-1 and it's different.
"It's fine," he says. "I'm still new to all the... work that I'm required to do now." The truth of the matter was that it was Daniel and he probably would have said yes no matter what Daniel had asked for. Jack hadn't even consulted the mission list.
"What are you doing?" she asks.
"Watching SportsCenter, you?" he asks.
"Lab time," she sighs. "It feels like I have less and less time for my lab."
"It's late," he says. "Why don't you go on home?"
"I can't get any work done when-"
She doesn't say it, but he can hear Pete's name in the sentence anyway.
"Never mind," she says.
"You can always come watch SportsCenter," he says. "You love sports."
"G'night," she says.
They hang up.
He calls her from Target on a Sunday evening.
"What's the lowest acceptable thread count for bed sheets for a man my age to buy?" he asks.
"Uh, 300?" she says.
"That seems low," he answers.
"Well, thread count is kind of a marketing ploy," she says. "There are a lot of different variables like what fibers are used in construction and whether or not the thread has been mercerized."
"I don't... blue or green?" he asks.
"Where are you?" she asks, sounding amused.
"Target," he says. "Nay, Super Target."
"On Bloomington?" she asks.
"Yeah," he says. "I find the Target by the base is just not super enough."
"Get out of here," she says. "Me too. Stay right there, I'm gonna come find you."
The line goes dead.
He stares at the wall of sheets and tries to decide if he is incredibly lucky or unlucky. When she rounds the corner, he knows absolutely which one it is.
She has a little basket with a few things in it - deodorant, socks, make-up.
He has a cart with nothing inside.
"Hello, stranger," he says.
"Hello," she says. "I heard you needed a woman to rescue you yet again?"
"Always," he says. "Whether it's thread count or exploding suns or bad guys of any ilk, you are my first call."
"How flattering," she says. She stands next to him, their shoulders just brushing. "I like the green."
He picks up the green set for a king. That had been his little gift to himself - get a divorce and buy a king sized bed. The whole bed would always be his.
"Really, the best thing to do is unzip the packaging a little and feel the sheets. If they feel scratchy, don't get them." He holds the sheets and she unzips it a little ways and sticks her finger in. "Feels nice."
When she takes her hand back, he slips a finger in and she's right, they feel plenty soft.
"Disaster averted," he says and tosses them in his cart. He's about to ask her casually about her plans for the rest of the evening when Pete appears in their aisle.
"There you are," he says. "You just disappeared... oh. General."
"Shanahan," Jack says.
"Sam, you can't just take off like that," Pete says.
"Sorry," she says.
"Yeah, Carter, you know how dangerous the Target can be," Jack says. She catches his sarcasm; Pete does not.
"I was worried," Pete says.
"It's a Super Target," Jack says. "So that's like... doubly dangerous."
"Sir," Carter scolds.
Jack just winces a little.
"We should get going," Pete says.
"Yes, I, too, am very busy and important," Jack says before Carter can get upset at Pete's complete lack of subtlety. "See ya tomorrow, Colonel."
"See you tomorrow, General," Carter says.
He buys the sheets and goes home. He doesn't put them on his bed right away though. He leaves them in their plastic case and sticks his finger inside to feel their softness for just a couple more days.
"I've literally been waiting my entire life for this moment," Jack says. Teal'c says nothing, just looks at him and waits for an explanation. "My three favorite people at my favorite place in the world at the same time," he says. "I can die happy."
"I would prefer you not die at all," Teal'c says.
"Thanks, T," he says. "That's touching."
They are unpacking the big cooler into the old refrigerator in the cabin. They'll have to drive into town in the morning and pick a few more things up, but they've brought food enough for dinner and breakfast.
"My only hope is that Colonel Carter will be able to share your joy," Teal'c says.
Daniel and Carter are outside, unpacking the rest of the truck and looking around. Teal'c has been here before, after all, and declined their invitation to stretch their legs.
"She's doing okay, it seems," Jack says.
"Indeed," Teal'c says. "I had feared that in her haste to do the 'right thing' she would give herself to the wrong man."
"Pete was a nice enough guy," Jack says, though he has no idea why he's defending the guy. In Jack's head, they were sworn enemies.
"But not Colonel Carter's match," Teal'c says.
There is the sound of feet on the deck and then Daniel and Carter come in through the slider with the last of the bags.
"What do you think?" Jack asks.
"It's nice," Daniel says. "In a remote sort of way."
"Carter?" Jack says when she doesn't say anything.
"I'm glad to be here, sir," she says.
He gives Carter his room and Daniel and Teal'c take the spare room. There's a twin bed that used to be Charlie's and a cot that he'll let Daniel and Teal'c fight over.
Jack will take the couch. It's not great, but it's also not the worst place he's ever slept by far and the fireplace will keep him warm, anyway.
Sam goes to bed first, quiet and withdrawn but Teal'c and Daniel follow soon after. Jack usually sleeps like a baby at the cabin, but something keeps him up. It's as if they are off-world and he is on watch to keep them safe.
Carter is the first one awake. He's dozing on the sofa as the first early signs of light start to creep through the windows. The floorboards in the hallway squeak and wake him and he sits up as she comes out of the dark hallway. When she sees that he's awake, she pauses.
"Coffee?" she asks.
"Sure," he says.
When the coffee is going, she comes over to the sofa and sits on the edge. He has to move his feet to make space for her. She doesn't say much, just looks sleepy and a little disheveled.
"What's up, Carter?" he asks.
She takes a deep breath, like she's about to say something important. She fidgets a little, pulling her sleeves down over her hands and fingering the edge of his blanket.
"All I ever wanted," she says finally, "is to go fishing with you."
It takes a moment for her words to sink in, but when they do, he feels like something wrong has been made right.
"Let's go," he says. "Let's go fishing."
"Yeah?" she says.
"Yeah," he nods.
By the time Daniel and Teal'c wake up, they are already long gone.
Cam drops by her house. He's new to the team, but the team is SG-1 and from what he understands, SG-1 takes liberties that other teams might not take. He's got the patch; he figures, why beat around the bush?
She's home - he can see the lights on. He takes his six-pack of beer from the passenger seat and wastes no time getting to her front door and knocking.
When the door opens, he grins.
"Hiya Sam, how about..." But he stops because she's wearing a skirt and little dangling earrings and pink lip gloss and though she opened the door with a grin, it faded pretty fast upon seeing him. "Whoa."
"Cam? What are you doing here?" she asks.
"Uh, well, I had some questions about team building and Jackson suggested I swing by here tonight to get your take on the matter," Cam says.
"Daniel sent you?" Sam asks.
"Tonight?" she asks.
"Yeah," he says.
"That son of a bitch," she says. "Cam, look it's not... of course you're always welcome but..."
"Great," Cam says and walks past her into the house. Warm beer is no one's friend and he just wants to get it into the refrigerator. "Want one?"
"Cam," she says helplessly. "I'm kind of busy tonight."
"Hot date?" Cam asks.
"Actually, yes," she says.
"Look," he says. "This doesn't need to take all night."
She grimaces, sighs, rolls her eyes. "Okay, you get ten minutes."
"It's just that, General O'Neill is in town and I really want him to think that I'm capable of leading SG-1!" Cam says.
She grins. "This is about Jack O'Neill?"
"A little," he says.
"He wouldn't have given you SG-1 if he didn't think you were capable," she says. "And I wouldn't have stayed if I didn't agree."
"It's just - he's so hard to read and I..." Her doorbell cut him off.
"Ooh," she says. "Sorry. Out of time."
"You weren't kidding about that date thing?" he asks.
"Nope." She abandons him for the front door. When she comes back, General O'Neill is trailing her.
"Mitchell," he says. "What the hell are you doing here?" He says it nicely enough.
"Cam dropped by to tell me that he's afraid of you, but he's leaving now," Sam says and makes a little 'shoo' motion with her hands.
"That's not... what happened, sir," Cam says. "And anyway, she's about to kick us both out because apparently she has a date." He puts the word date in air quotes.
Sam closes her eyes briefly, as if she doesn't quite want to witness something horrible. O'Neill turns to look at her and then glances back at Cam and gives him an indulgent, somehow patronizing little smirk.
"We sure he's smart enough to lead SG-1?" O'Neill asks out of the corner of his mouth like Cam isn't standing six feet from him.
"I'm not really sure of anything," Sam says.
Cam tries not to let the realization smacking him in the face physically move him. "Oh."
"Yeah," Sam says.
"I thought that was just a rumor," Cam says.
"Golly son, you really are hell bent on digging yourself deeper," O'Neill says.
"Yeah, it would appear that way, sir," Cam says. "Well, I think it's time I mosied on."
"Please," Sam says. "Please mosey."
In his car, headed home, Cam calls Daniel from his cell phone.
Daniel answers, already laughing.
"I think we should do something really normal," Jack says.
It's Sam's last night in Washington. Tomorrow, she will return to the mountain in Colorado and then step through the gate to Atlantis.
"I don't know what you mean by that," Sam says. "You want to spend my last night buying stamps?"
"Don't be silly," Jack says. "There's no post office open this late."
She frowns at him. "I thought we'd just stay in and... you know."
"Well, yes," he says. "I'm all for you knowing, but we gotta eat first."
"Sure," she says. "Normal dinner. Sounds manageable."
They go out and get hamburgers. Not the thin, pathetic ones served at fast food restaurants across the nation, but big, juicy dripping ones that require a whole pile of napkins. They sit in a booth under florescent lights with music from the 50s playing in the background. They split a milkshake.
He tries to burn the image of her laughing with ketchup on the corner of her open mouth into his memory for all time. Her hair is down and golden and it keeps seizing at him, a horrible pressure in his chest every time he remembers that she'll be so far away that he can't even call.
Either she doesn't notice or she doesn't care to bring the evening down. Instead she reaches across the formica table and touches his hand.
"You want to go for a walk?" she asks.
They hold hands and amble down the sidewalk. It's a cool night and leaves crunch under their feet. She's wearing the tall boots that he likes. She squeezes his fingers.
"It's gonna be okay," she says when they start getting close to his house.
"I'm not worried," he says. It's a partial truth. He's worried about things, sure, like the state of two galaxies instead of one, bureaucracy in his everyday life, and whether or not he's gonna have to go to Atlantis to thump Rodney McKay, but he doesn't worry about her.
"Okay," she says.
Much later, he wakes up to find she is not in the bed with him anymore. For a fleeting moment he has the irrational fear that she's already left and he missed his chance to say goodbye but then he spots her, sitting in his grandmother's old rocking chair by the window. Her arms are crossed against the window ledge and she's gazing up, up, up.
"Whatcha doin'?" he asks.
"Thinking about the stars," she says.
There's too much light pollution to properly stargaze in the city but he doesn't question her methods, why she can't think about them from the warm bed. She's Samantha Carter and they are her stars.
"I won't recognize them in Pegasus," she says.
"You'll learn those, too," he assures her.
She crawls back in bed and snuggles up to him and, eventually, sleeps.
The ride to the airport is long and slow. Jack's driver takes them and the three of them are silent, insulated in the shiny black car. They are an island in a city which is an island on a planet which is an island and suddenly Jack feels so remote and alone.
Stop and go traffic all the way to Ronald Reagan. She'd wanted to just catch a transport, but sitting between cargo crates from Colorado to Nevada is one thing. Cross-country, it's misery. He'd made the reservation for her.
When they finally get there, she's worried about getting through security in time and so they don't linger on the curb.
They kiss, briefly, unused to displays of affection in public.
"Hey Carter," he says when it seems like she's about to walk away. "You want to go on a date some time? Get some ice cream or something?"
"Jack," she laughs. "We've been dating for ten years."
"Yeah," he says. "Maybe."
"Leave a light on for me," she says.
"You betcha," he replies.
And then she's gone, disappearing into the crowd. He follows the back of her legs and the hem of her navy skirt until he can't anymore.
When he gets home, he cracks a beer and changes into jeans and a flannel shirt. He rolls up his sleeves and goes out to the storage unit behind his house. It's D.C. so there's no garage to speak of, but there's this little shed of extra space.
He hauls open the door and peers inside. It's packed full with boxes and one carefully covered motorcycle - an Indian. Carter's stuff - everything she didn't sell from her house in Colorado, all transported here for his safe keeping. He pulls the first box down from the stack and inspects it.
It's labeled Office and he thinks that's as good of a place to start as any. On the day she leaves, he carries the box inside and starts the long, arduous task of moving her in for good.