Jack heard the door of SG-1's gear-up room open behind him.
He didn't need to look, he just knew. Just like he would have known if it had been Teal'c or Jonas. Funny how he could tell just by certain noises. The way a person walked. Even the way a person opened a door. He knew his team. Moods. Looks. Sounds. Okay, so Jonas was a bit of a mystery yet, but given time...
Oh right. Carter.
She sat down next to him on the bench. "Are you..." She paused. "Do you need..." She stopped again.
Something unwelcome inside of him came to the surface before he had a chance to push it down again. "It's just..." What? How could he put it *all* into words? Too young. Really gone. Pissed off!
"Dammit!" He chucked his vest to the floor. He leaned forward, putting his head in his hands.
His breathing was the only sound he could hear. If he hadn't seen Carter come in, he wouldn't have known she was even there. No, strike that. She just shifted on the bench. Jack sighed. He should probably...
Arms went around him. Carter's arms.
What surprised him the most was that he wasn't, well, surprised. He should have jumped or something, right? Because it was wrong...right? It had been so long since he had been held like this. Comforted like this. He straightened up and pulled her to him.
Her face so close to his, arms still around him. And then her lips on his cheek. It wasn't lingering, but rather soft, comforting, fleeting...and right then, not near enough.
She leaned back away from him, but Jack caught her face with his hand. He looked into Carter's eyes, part of him hoping to find shock or something to tell him no. But there was just concern for him. And things he shouldn't be seeing.
His lips quickly found hers. Tension seemed to fly from his body as he let go, which was not exactly what he had imagined. The last time was so different. Strangely enough, passion didn't seem to be playing a role at the moment. But just being with her right now, touching her was for some strange reason giving him stability. And made him feel connected in the middle of...what? Loss?
He knew they had to stop. They always had to stop. Whether it was this or the possibility of this. But even as he pulled back he couldn't completely sever the connection. The hand that had somehow found its way to the back of her neck stayed there.
She gave him that quirky smile that he knew so well. Unfortunately knew so well. It was the one that he was pretty sure he mirrored a lot - the one she gave whenever they got into that territory. The one that had that damned hint of embarrassment.
She looked away first, turning to stare at his vest - a streak of dirt on it. Abydos dirt.
A twinge of panic began to tug at Jack. Should he say something? "That was..."
"Do we need to..."
Good. He was glad they were clear on that.
He watched Carter get up and head for the door, not saying another word, and continued to look at the door after she had closed it behind her.
Thinking about *that* was something better left to later. Or not at all. He was pretty damn good at 'not at all' now. Just one more thing to shove into that cramped corner in his mind.
Jack stowed the rest of his gear and headed towards the locker room on autopilot.
Jack knocked then opened the door to Teal'c's quarters. The shower had been great, but he still was feeling jittery. Well, not exactly jittery. More like restless.
The empty room stared back at him. Jack walked over to the dresser decorated with unlit candles and fingered a wick.
Odds were pretty good that Jonas had cornered Teal'c already in the locker room. No doubt grilling him with yet more questions about Abydos, Daniel and Skaara.
Jack *could* go find them, most likely in the mess, but the thought of all those questions made him tired for some reason. As strange as the thought was, he wanted to be around someone who already knew, which was probably why he had headed towards Teal'c's room in the first place. No, he thought as he stopped picking away at the candle's wick, he wasn't in the mood for Jonas' questions.
Of course, there was always...
Well, why not?
As if his mind had only ever needed a 'why not?' he found himself outside of Carter's lab. Funny. He hadn't even remembered making the trip from Teal'c's.
Jack came to a halt just inside her doorway. To think, less than an hour ago...
Nope. Not gonna to go there.
He watched her fiddle with some square box-like thing for a moment. He was pretty sure it wasn't actually a box. Well, it could have been a box, but then Carter wouldn't have been so interested in it. No doubt it held the key to saving the universe. Either that or it was an intergalactic pencil sharpener.
Of course she was so absorbed in the intergalactic pencil sharpener that she hadn't noticed him. Or his mental corner jamming.
He strolled up to her desk. "Hey."
"Sir!" Carter looked up, startled.
Jack couldn't help but smirk. "I think I just realized why the klaxons are so loud. You'd never notice otherwise."
She gave him a half-grin and a small chuckle. "Yes, sir."
"Wondering if you wanted to go get something to eat." He poked at the desk with his access card.
She hesitated - as if she was quickly trying to find a reason not to, but failed. "Okay, sir."
His hands went into his pockets. "Off base."
Carter froze. Her mouth opened and then closed.
"Just wanted to get my mind off stuff that happened earlier..."
Her eyes got bigger.
Crap! Jack instantly realized his mistake.
"*Way* earlier...offworld." The hands came out of the pockets. "Much, *much* earlier." He was pretty sure he was doing a very good impression of a deer caught in the headlights. "Really. That's all." He waived his arms. "Nothing else."
That quirky smile. But this time it all but made Jack sigh in relief.
"Come on, Carter. We've got three hours before the meeting. I need to get outta here."
"Okay. I've got a couple of things I need to finish up..."
Jack reached for a shiny square something-or-other on her desk.
"Sir? How about I meet you there?"
Jack stood in the entryway of the restaurant - one of those big national chains. The food wasn't anything special, but the portions were big and it was close to base, which made it a natural hangout for SGC and NORAD types.
Jack quickly scanned the dining area and didn't spot any familiar faces, then instantly kicked himself for doing it. He knew exactly why he did it - as if being out with Carter was somehow wrong. Not that they were going "out" his mind quickly added. Just two teammates getting something to eat. Of course, teammates didn't usually end up k...
Jack quickly glanced outside at Carter parking her car. "Two. She'll be here in a sec."
His last unfinished thought taunted him when Carter came in the door, when they said 'hi' and most definitely when she brushed past him on the way to their table. If ever there was a time when he wanted to grab her, just even to touch her again, this was it.
It wasn't often he felt that way in the middle of a Denny's.
He slid into the booth, beating back the thoughts about Carter. Which had to be one of the hardest things he had ever done considering that he was staring at her.
"So..." he started, picking up a menu.
She grinned at him.
He put the menu down. "What?"
"Nothing," she said, smiling into her menu.
Yeah, this was off to a great start. "So what was that box thing you were playing with?"
"Well..." she trailed off, looking around the room.
"Uh, never mind," he said quickly. Good one, Jack. Just start talking about top secret alien devices off base, why don't ya? Well, what could they talk about besides work? Had they ever talked about anything besides work? Hmm. Safe topic. Safe topic. Sports? The weather? How about how pathetic it was that he couldn't talk to a person he had known for six years?
At least conversation with the waitress proved that they were still capable of speech. But then the waitress disappeared and they were left staring at each other again, so to speak. Or not speak...
Carter absently tapped her fingers against her cheek while he focused his attention on the destruction of a sugar packet. He was just reaching for a second sugar packet when she finally broke the silence.
"So, did you ever get that tree planted in your yard?"
Yes! Trees! He had no idea how she knew about the tree, but he didn't care. "Yeah. Got that in last week. Looks pretty nice in the corner. You should see it." Right. Like that would happen.
"Yeah. I'll have to stop by sometime," she said, sounding as convinced as he felt. "What kind is it again?"
Crap. She would have to ask that. He had finally gone with the recommendation of the guy at the nursery, but couldn't remember what it was. "Green."
"A green tree."
"Well, I hear those are the best kind."
"You can never have too many green trees." What the hell was he saying?! Fortunately, the waitress came back with their food, putting an end to the tree conversation.
Jack's burger was about halfway to his mouth when he heard a familiar sniff. He put his sandwich back down and pushed his plate towards Carter's. She quickly skewered the offensive tomatoes with her fork and piled them on his plate.
"So, looks like we're in for some nice weather," he commented, pulling back his plate.
"Really?" she asked absently, starting to eat her now tomato-free sandwich.
"Jonas said something yesterday. Not that we'll get to enjoy it or anything."
They drifted back into silence. As they ate, Jack snuck a few glances in Carter's direction, giving her a small smile whenever she happened to be looking back at him. It really wasn't like her. Normally he'd be scrambling for a way to get her to *stop* talking.
So...what? She had nothing to say to him if it wasn't about work?
Jack jabbed a french-fry into a puddle of ketchup and racked his brain for something...anything to talk about. It wasn't as if he felt uncomfortable sitting and not talking, it was just that he was starting to get annoyed with the fact that he couldn't think of anything for them to talk about. Carter at least had somehow known about his tree. He must have mentioned it sometime.
The truth was he had no idea what she was into or how she spent her time away from the base. Jack shoved the last piece of burger in his mouth. Well, why the hell didn't he know?
"Carter," he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, "what do you do?"
"I mean when you're not working. What do you do in your spare time?"
She wiped her mouth with her napkin before answering. "I read a lot."
"Oh yeah?" A bookworm. Not surprising. "Anything interesting?"
"Mmm...scientific journals." She glanced at him and quickly added, "They're interesting to me."
Boring. "So no trashy romance novels?"
"None that I'd tell you about. Sir."
"Interesting," he smirked at her. It really wasn't, but any excuse to tease Carter. "So, I'm guessing I'd find some exciting reading in your bookshelf. Stuff about lusty pirate wenches?"
Carter chuckled then smirked back at him. "Well, you know me and pirates, sir."
"Yeah, I've been meaning to talk to you about your pirate problem, Carter," he said, taking a drink of his Coke. He could do inane. "It's the peg leg, right?
"I'm more of an eye patch person."
"I should have guessed. Of course, you can't forget the parrot."
"Right," she said smiling before they fell into silence once again. She looked at her watch. "Sir, we should probably think about heading back."
"Tired of intelligent, sparkling conversation already?"
He caught a twinkle in her eye. "I'll just explain to the General that we couldn't attend the meeting because we were discussing pirates. And parrots."
Jack grinned. Had she always been this sarcastic? Or was he just noticing? "Okay, Carter. Back to reality it is."
He offered to pay for the meal, but Carter insisted on paying her share and he didn't press it. Walking back towards the door, Jack did another automatic sweep of the dining room. And mentally kicked himself again.
They stood outside the restaurant, a chill in the air. Leaves were turning and even in the city, life seemed serene - a sharp contrast to most of the stuff they went through - and like what they just had gone through. This was the way it had to stay no matter what. Even if some things...one thing didn't seem fair.
"Carter, I'm sorry," he said jamming his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
She looked at him, frowning. "For what, sir?"
"Yeah, lots of stuff."
That familiar smile came back. This time he was positive he was doing it too.
"Yeah, I know. But way of the warrior, right?" Carter squeezed his arm as she passed by.
The old 'buck up, soldier' attitude. It wasn't what he was expecting. Not from her, but then what *did* he expect? "Yeah."
She opened up her car door. "Tomorrow's another day. Every cloud has a silver lining. If at first you don't succeed..."
Oh yeah. She was messing with him. Cool.
She looked at him a little too innocently. "Yes, sir?"
She grinned. "Yes, sir. See you back at the base, sir."
He smiled back. "Yes, you will."
Carter climbed into her car. He gave a small wave as she pulled out, then headed over and got into his truck.
Yep, he thought as he started up his truck. Back to going twenty- eight floors underground where everything was, and seemed always would be, buried. Back to what had to be.
At least for now.
He pulled out of the parking lot and pointed his truck in the direction of the Mountain.