Jack splashed cold water on his face before gripping the edges of his bathroom sink. The water dripped slowly down, splashing into the basin. He looked up at his mirror. Seeing his wet face was not what he needed. He quickly grabbed a towel and dried it off, but it was too late. The image of Carter's sweat-drenched face flashed into his mind. Again.
He had been on a seesaw of emotions since they had gotten back. Right now he was on the fear side. The side where he relived the helpless feeling as he watched Carter slowly dying. It was only a matter of time before he went to the other side. The rage side. The side where he was angry at Nurrti, or even the universe, for doing something like that to her. It was all nicely packaged together with images of her sick, tired face.
He would go back to Ba'al with a smile on his lips and a song in his heart before ever having her go through that again.
Jack shoved the towel on the rack.
He needed to get back in control. Otherwise he'd be talking to MacKenzie about his mother.
Maybe a drive would help. Yep. Mindless driving would help. He quickly got dressed and hopped in his truck.
He really shouldn't have been surprised as he found himself driving down her street. He knew she was at home. Surprisingly she took leave this time and Jack had convinced Hammond to give the rest of the team some time as well. He had to see her. Maybe if he went and got her some coffee - that would at least give him an excuse. Or maybe...
Why did he need an excuse to see her? Forget it. He was just going to go, he thought as he parked in front of her house.
He rang her doorbell, noticing the flowers she had planted near the door. Was she into gardening?
He shifted uncomfortably as he waited. He really needed this. He needed to see her face.
And there it was.
"Hey, Carter." He smiled at her.
"Something wrong?" she asked, her eyes wide.
"No, no," he said, putting his hands in his pockets while staring at the healthy Carter.
"I'm sorry, come in."
He followed her into her living room. Carter. Living. Breathing. Walking.
"Thought you might need to get some fresh air or something." So much for not making up an excuse to see her. Old habits died so very hard.
She looked at him with a strange expression. "Sir, I suppose that if I was ordered to take part in an activity because of concern over my mental health and well-being, I couldn't say no."
He looked at her and almost shook his head. This was the woman he cared for...aw hell, he loved. All of her. Even the part that was so incredibly ridged it sometimes made him want to kick something. Really, really hard. Well, if that's what she needed. Hell, he would put a pink bow on his head if that's what it took to be around her right now.
He smiled a bit. "Yes, Major. You are being ordered to get some fresh air."
"I just need a few minutes."
Jack nodded and started wandering. He had been here once before, but hadn't taken the time to really look around. This was Carter's life. Everything here was her. In this environment the horrific image was starting to fade.
But he wondered if she would let him touch her face. Just for a minute. Just to be sure.
"So, what did you have in mind?"
Jack practically jumped, thinking for a second she had some of those mind-reading abilities. "What?"
"What are we going to do?"
That's right, they were actually going to do something. Together. "Well, we could go see a movie. I hear nothing but good things about...okay, so I have no idea what's even playing right now."
She grinned at him. "A movie. That definitely falls under the category of fresh air."
"Hey!" He grinned back. "I didn't really have a plan. Can you blame me?" Jack could have kicked himself. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel bad, even in a small way. He was just so taken aback by her playful teasing. Fortunately, she seemed to ignore it.
"The zoo? Furry little critters running around? Throwing food at ducks?" he asked as he started to relax.
"Mmm, I don't know." She wrinkled her nose at him.
"Got it!" Jack clapped his hands together. "It's not far and it'll be great for a little fresh air. Haven't been there in a while either."
Carter raised her eyebrows questioningly at him, but he just smiled.
Jack had a pretty good idea Carter would like his plan. It gave them an activity with the chance for some casual conversation. Jack looked at her, trying to read her face for approval as maneuvered his truck into a space at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center.
"Great idea, Sir."
Score. "Hey, it happens occasionally."
Jack spotted the gift shop as they walked into the building. Crap. Shopping. Why did women like it so much? Carter would probably want to go look. After all, she was a woman. Oh yeah. Most definitely a woman. "I suppose you're gonna have to go look in the gift shop or something."
"I suppose so," she said with a mischievous grin.
He watched her take off for the store. If he was rolling his eyes, why was he smiling?
Jack held back a little and watched Carter browse around. It was so outrageously normal. Part of him wanted to yell out to anyone that would listen that the woman who had just picked up an I LOVE Colorado mug regularly saved the planet and had almost just died a horrible death at the hands of one of Earth's enemies.
Safe now. And fine. She was fine.
He moved further into the shop, bumping into a rack. He grabbed it to steady it.
He took one of the little Roswell-type alien keychains off the rack and brought it over to Carter.
"Think Thor would like this?" he asked.
She laughed. God! That sound that was music to his soul!
"Carter, I can't remember the last time I heard you laugh." There he went again. Good one, Jack. Again, she didn't seem to pay attention to his quicker-than-brain tongue.
She took the keychain from him. "This has 'intergalactic incident' written all over it," she said in a low voice.
Laughing? Teasing? He smiled broadly. "Next treaty negotiation." He grabbed it back and took it up to the counter to pay for it.
Jack heard her laugh again as she walked up to him. That alone was worth the $6.50 he was shelling out for the piece of junk. His mind was happily storing away that sound as he turned to her. "Okay, enough of this shopping crap. Time for the fresh air!"
"Yes, Sir!" she said enthusiastically.
They picked up a map, bought a couple of bottles of water and headed for the trail, deciding to take the longest one. The weather for it was perfect. Not too warm with a slight cool breeze, and the sky couldn't have been any bluer. Occasionally they would pass another party on the trail, nodding and saying a quick "hi" to them.
At a high point on the path they stopped and sat on a large rock, taking in their surroundings.
"You know, I never get out in nature anymore," she said. "I mean here. We're always outdoors on other...places. I just forget how beautiful it is here."
For once Jack held his tongue. He could have started talking about her work habits, but he held it in. "Yeah. I know."
They sat there for a while, the wind every so often brushing against their faces.
Jack looked up as he heard rumbling in the distance. "Looks like rain."
"Suppose we better get going," he said, standing up. He offered her his hand.
She took it and stood up.
Jack couldn't help but feel disappointed as she pulled her hand away and started walking down the path. But she was probably right. She almost always was.
Before he knew it they were back on the highway heading to her place, the outing having gone by way too quickly. They hadn't said much once they got back in the truck, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence.
Jack snuck a glance at Carter who was staring out the window. She deserved so much more than life was giving her. A home. A family. Someone who loved her so much that he would do everything in his power to give her what she wanted...
"Hey, ice cream," he heard her say.
Jack, spotting the restaurant, yanked the steering wheel over and pointed the truck in the direction of the offramp. So what if they had to cut across most of the highway to get there?
"Yeah, you too buddy," he muttered at the outraged honks he was getting.
For the third time that day he heard her laugh. Although this time it sounded like she might be losing it a bit. "What?"
"I didn't know I was riding with an insane person!"
Did she just call him insane? With no hint of a "sir?" He grinned at her. "Insane? Carter..." How come an insult felt like the best thing he had ever heard in his life? "I'm hurt."
"Okay, maybe not insane. How about lunatic?" She was actually crying she was laughing so hard. "Nuts? Crackers?"
"Mmm...crackers." He couldn't help it. He started to laugh. He hadn't felt this good in a really, really long time.
The quick ice cream detour lengthened their time together a bit, but not by much, and soon they were parked in front of her house.
"Thanks for this, Sir."
"Anytime, Carter." They smiled at each other as she got out.
He stayed in the truck. He knew she didn't want it any other way.
Jack smiled as she waved at him by the door and waited until she was no longer in sight before he drove away.
Jack paced around his kitchen. Today he had a new problem. He had liked being with Carter way too much. Like some sort of addiction, he knew that yesterday couldn't be the last time. Not if he had anything to do about it.
He circled his phone one more time before finally picking it up and dialing.
Jack swore as he got her machine. He hated the things.
"Carter, I got a couple of tickets to a basketball game Friday night. Hey it's not hockey, but what is? Wondering if you wanted to go. Come on. Beer? Nachos? Beer? Give me a call when you get in."
Beer, nachos, beer? Jack groaned internally. Yep, he still hated answering machines.
He hit the "off" button.
Maybe they were heading towards dangerous waters. Maybe. He knew he would never do anything intentionally to hurt Carter's career. His own, on the other hand, he could give a rat's ass about. But if they couldn't handle going out just to watch a game... It was harmless!
The hour that Jack waited for her to call was one of the longest in his life. He tried to watch tv, balancing the phone on his chest.
The phone rang and in a moment of great dexterity he hit the "on" button before fumbling and sending it flying.
"Damn it!" He lunged for the phone and pulled it up to his ear.
"Sir? You okay?"
"Yeah, don't mind me." Smooth, Jack. Really, really smooth.
There was silence on both ends, neither quite sure how to start.
"So basketball?" she asked.
She paused. "Sounds good."