by Suz firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer – MGM/Gekko/Double secret own them.
Spoilers for ‘Cold Lazarus’, ‘Seth’, ‘Shades of Gray’, ‘Nemesis’, ‘Small Victories’, ‘Window of Opportunity’, ‘The Curse’, ‘Proving Ground’, ‘Meridian’, and ‘Abyss’. General knowledge of the show. Set in season six, sometime after ‘Abyss’.
He was, without a doubt, the last person Jack O’Neill ever expected to receive a phone call from.
Jack was in the kitchen, cooking some burgers, when the phone rang. Giving the burgers a quick flip and still holding the spatula, he grabbed the phone extension on the wall next to the fridge with his free hand. “O’Neill.” His eyes moved back to the frying pan, keeping a wary eye on his dinner. He hated it when they overcooked.
“Is that Colonel Jack O’Neill?”
Frowning, Jack focused his attention on the voice at the other end of the line. He didn’t recognise it at all. “Yeah, I’m Colonel Jack O’Neill.”
“Ah, good. Good.”
Oookay. “Who’s this?”
“Oh, sorry.” A slightly self-derogatory chuckle. “Mark.”
The frown increased. He didn’t know any Mark’s...well, apart from the guy who worked at the one-hour photo place and unless he’d suddenly found that roll of film he’d lost three years ago...
The voice continued.
The burgers were completely forgotten. “Mark Carter? As in *Carter* Carter? As in Carter’s brother?”
What the hell was he calling him for? “What the hell are you calling me for?” Jack winced as the words came out, and immediately apologised. “Sorry, I don’t mean...I’m just *really* surprised.” Carter’s brother? What the hell was going on?
“Don’t worry about it – I’d be surprised if you *weren’t* surprised, given the fact that we’ve never actually met.”
“Good point,” Jack found himself nodding in agreement, pointless as it was. “So, uh, how ya doing?” The truth was, there wasn’t much Jack knew about Carter’s brother. She didn’t really talk about him a lot. Although...given what he did know of their past relationship and how he’d treated Jacob, Jack had enough preconceptions about the guy.
“Oh good, good. You?”
“Fine. Good. Great, in fact.” His gaze roaming around the kitchen, Jack suddenly remembered his dinner. Swearing, he thumped over to the frying pan and flipped over the meat again from many years experience. “So,” He dodged a piece of sizzling fat that was going for his eye. “What can I do for you?” Why the hell was he calling?
“Sam gave me your number a couple of years ago. Said that if anything ever happened to her while she was visiting that you should be the first person I call.”
Terrified, Jack lost his grip on the spatula. It thumped off the side of the frying pan and landed on the counter, spreading fat everywhere. Oh God...she hadn’t said anything about going to visit her brother, but maybe...his voice barely made it out. “Is she okay?”
Another laugh. “She’s fine – sorry! I didn’t mean to worry you or anything...as far as I know, she’s still in Colorado.”
More relieved that he should have been, Jack jammed the phone between his face and his shoulder as both hands grabbed paper towels and anything else they could reach to clean up the fat. “Glad to hear it.” Man, how could it be stuck already?
“The reason I’m calling *you* is...well, as you were the person she told me to call in an emergency as well as being her superior officer, I figured you have to be pretty good friends.”
Friends? Him and Carter? Carter and him? He stopped scrubbing. The fat kept congealing. “Okay...if you say so.” He couldn’t exactly argue with that statement...but he wasn’t really sure he could agree with it, either.
“And if you don’t mind, I need your help.”
Help? A Carter needing help? That was a first. “What’s the problem?”
He lied to Carter. He actually told a full, outright lie to Carter. Sure, he might have told a couple of little white lies when he didn’t want her to know the real reason for why he’d done something or other (usually because it involved regulation-threatening feelings on his part), or he might have been forced to lie to her under orders...but never of his own free will.
But he stood there, in the briefing room, as Hammond confirmed that they were now on downtime – just as Jack had known he would. He said his farewells to his team and left the room, hoping to get off base before anyone-
Damn. Forcing a grin – which really wasn’t hard work when she was around – he paused his traipse along the corridor and turned back to face her until she caught up with him. When she had, they kept walking together. “Carter,”
“Where you headed on your time off, sir?” She seemed incessantly curious. Even for her.
“Oh, you know. The usual.” His hands, having already been shoved into the pockets of his pants, clenched shut.
Electing not to respond verbally, he settled for smiling and nodding. That way he hadn’t actually said anything. She’d simply assumed, and he just hadn’t corrected her.
She nodded too. “From what Teal’c says it must be beautiful this time of year.”
Now that was something he didn’t have to lie about. “It’s beautiful any time of year.” The start of her sentence finally caught up with him. Wait a... “Teal’c said something nice about the cabin?”
She smiled as they turned a corner. “Don’t sound so surprised, Colonel. Teal’c can appreciate beauty as much as anyone else. Frankly, I think it was just a little slow for his tastes.”
“You know those crazy Jaffa. Never happy unless they’re killing Goa’uld’s or Gods or *us* on occasion. I really think they should get some new interests...how ‘bout you?”
“I already have lots of interests.”
Jack rolled his eyes, as they automatically diverted into the commissary. “Ha ha.”
“Well,” She responded grabbing a tray and getting in line. “Killing Goa’uld’s and Gods is an interest we probably *want* them to keep.”
“True,” He conceded, lifting up the little window in the side of the ‘dessert fridge’ – did that thing have a real name anyway? – and pulling two glasses of jello out. “As long as they stay away from the ‘us’ part, I have no problem with that.”
Waiting until he’d placed both glasses on the tray, she then pushed it along until they reached the drinks. It was a serve yourself area, so she picked up two mugs and poured coffee into one, and then the other. “Most of them seem to be sticking to that lately. Well...apart from Anubis’ Jaffa.”
“Oh, the joy it brings my heart when it hears the sound of that name.”
Grinning, she returned the coffee pot to its holder, and made sure the mugs were carefully balanced before moving towards a table.
Jack settled up, then grabbed their cutlery and enough sugar and cream for the both of them.
By the time he sat in the seat opposite hers, the tray was gone and a delicious looking glass of red jello and a hot mug of coffee were staring up at him. “You know, something just occurred to me.”
“What’s that?” She queried, plucking her cutlery, sugar and cream from the unruly pile he’d left at the edge of the table.
“Jello and coffee is a really *weird* combination.”
Chuckling, but not looking at him as she concentrated on stirring in her cream, she spoke. “What around here isn’t?”
He guessed she was right. This place seemed to thrive on the weird and outright bizarre. “All right, I’m coming up empty.” He began pouring in his sugar.
“In regards to what?” She’d finished now, and was looking at him.
“Thinking of something around here that isn’t weird.”
“I’m not surprised,” She picked up her fork – then sent him a glance as if she’d only just realised that it *was* a fork – and dug into her jello. “It’s easier to list all the things that are strange.”
“Jonas,” He responded immediately.
She nearly choked on her first forkful. “That was fast,” She mumbled around her ‘food’.
“It happens to be true.” Jack started on his own jello. “So, what are you doing on your downtime, Carter?”
“Nothing much,” She replied, almost seeming evasive, her gaze dropping down towards the glass she was eating from. “I was gonna go and visit Mark and the kids, but he had to cancel. Rebecca’s ill.”
Jack knew this already. He also knew Rebecca didn’t even have a slight temperature. “Sorry to hear that. Maybe next time.” He was lying so much his teeth were hurting. Or maybe that was the jello... “Just make sure you don’t actually do any work this time around. Take some time off.” He pointed his fork towards her, only half-joking. “I’ll have my spies watching you, Carter. They’ll let me know.”
“Actually, for once I’m not going to argue with you,” She surprised him by saying. “I would like to get away from it all...as it were. Been kind of a crappy year with Daniel going, and Ba’al...”
That name. That hated, detested, despised name. “Using my chest for target practice? Literally?”
“Carter, you gotta laugh about it.”
“No. I don’t.”
“All right; *I’ve* gotta laugh about it.” Because if he didn’t...if he didn’t he’d spend another night in the dark, terrified that the light would come and he’d be forced to face the man that he wasn’t.
*She* broke the moment, *she* cleared her throat. “Anyway, I was thinking of someplace remote, isolated, miles from anything...just getting back to nature. Any ideas?”
It was just as well that his fork was rammed into his jello, because otherwise he probably would have dropped it. Was she fishing for a...? Her hesitant smile left him in no doubt – she *was*. She was fishing for a fishing invitation!
Oh of all the stinking, no-good, rotten and just plain bad timing in the entire universe, her brother had the worst.
That was all he could manage for the moment. He was still stunned that she’d asked, and he was doubly stunned by the fact that he had to say no.
Why on Earth was she asking? Maybe it was what she’d said about Daniel, about it being a crappy year, about all this bad stuff happening already...maybe she wanted some good stuff.
Not *that* good – nothing like that was going to happen, but he knew her well enough and could say without ego that she enjoyed being in his company. Just his company.
Just as she could say the same thing about him.
Not that they ever had.
“I, uh,” He really had to speak in words of more than one syllable. “I’d suggest you come up to the cabin, but I really think I need some, er...alone time, at the moment. You know.”
“Oh sure, sure, of course.” Her head bent back down towards the jello.
He should have been feeling happy that she felt she could ask at all. They’d been a little...distant, last year, and it felt as if they’d both silently agreed to try and get things back on track. They could never be as back on track as they had been the year before *that*...but at least it was something.
So yeah, he should have been feeling happy that she’d asked, and that she’d seemed disappointed when he’d had to say no.
All he could think was that Mark owed him, big time.
Gratefully handing the cab driver his cash, Jack climbed out of the car, dragging his travel bag with him. Slamming the door shut, he stood on the sidewalk and slipped on his shades as the cab screeched away.
He just stood there, looking at the house. It seemed...normal. Average. A typical American home.
He didn’t know what he’d expected. Maybe a skull and crossbones on the mailbox...nah. Even from the phone conversations that they’d had, he’d discovered Mark wasn’t quite what he thought he’d be.
Exhaling, deciding to get this over with, he grabbed the handles of his bag firmly and walked towards the house. Following the short path that made its way through the front yard, he soon stepped up onto the porch and rang the bell.
Here he was: Jack O’Neill, arriving at Carter’s brothers house. Alone.
The door opened, and no one was there. At least, no one was there at eye level. Lowering his gaze he encountered a pair of bright blue eyes at about waist level. Damn, she was cute. Did it run in the family? “You must be Rebecca.”
The eyes widened, amazed.
He tapped the side of his head. “I’m psychic, you know.”
“Rebecca!” The now familiar voice reached his ears – hell, screeched into his ears. “How many times have I told you not to open the door yourself?” The man doing the shouting and worrying soon came into view, bending down to rub her head affectionately. Pushing himself up (Jack couldn’t help but notice with some satisfaction that he wasn’t the only one with a knee problem), the man held her hand and then turned to face him. “Hi. Sorry about that.”
“Not a problem,” Jack responded. “Kids will be kids.” He held out his hand. “Jack O’Neill.”
Swapping hands with Rebecca, Mark held out his in return and they shook firmly. “Mark Carter. Pleased to meet you in person – finally.” Releasing Jack’s hand, he stepped aside. “Please, come in.”
Doing just that, Jack walked in as Mark made his way further into the house, heading to a room on the right. Shutting the door behind him and letting his bag fall to the ground, Jack took the opportunity to investigate with his eyes as Mark spoke to him from another room.
“Make yourself at home. Sorry I couldn’t come and pick you up – Elise had to work, and someone had to stay with the kids.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jack responded automatically, pulling his jacket off and hanging it up with what seemed like five hundred others. Tugging off his shades he hooked one of the arms over the top of his shirt and let them hang there.
Even from the inside, the house seemed normal.
Following Mark’s tracks, he made his way towards what turned out to be the living room. The sound of some action-heavy cartoon reached his ears, and a few moments later he could actually see it on the television. A few feet from the television sat a boy who was just hitting puberty – and from the resemblance he was definitely his father’s son.
“Colonel,” Mark announced, trying to clean up a wide array of children’s toys as if embarrassed by them. “You’ve already met Rebecca.” She was sitting happily on the sofa. “This is Tom.”
“Nice to meet ya,” Jack greeted, then looked towards Mark. “And it’s Jack, by the way.”
Tom merely grunted, and didn’t even look away from the television screen.
Oh yeah. Definitely hitting puberty.
“Well,” the father sighed. “What say I give you the fifty cent tour and show you where you’ll be sleeping? Maybe by the time we come back my son will have actually grown some manners.”
“Hard to say,” Jack replied. “I still don’t got any.”
Mark grinned, and for the first time Jack was struck by the similarity to his sister. Had he just seen him on the street he never would have guessed they were related...until that moment. “Come on.”
As Mark led the way around the house and the back yard, he made small talk. The inevitable question came up first: “How was your journey?”
Jack debated whether or not to tell him the truth – that he’d been trapped next to the passenger from hell, that he couldn’t rest at all, that he arrived in San Diego feeling like a scrunched up piece of newspaper, and that he’d spent almost the entire journey cursing the very man he was going to see.
If Mark sensed anything was amiss, he didn’t acknowledge it. “I figured you’d probably want a relatively early night tonight, so we can start discussing and making plans tomorrow. Elise should be home in a couple of hours; we’ll have dinner then, unless you’re hungry at the moment...?” After Jack shook his head, Mark nodded. “You need anything to drink?”
Just the mention of liquid seemed to suck all the moisture out of his mouth. “Water would be good.”
“Sure. Back in a minute.” He turned to go and then...turned back. “Colonel...Jack...”
“Thanks for doing this. We really appreciate you helping us out, and spending your free time here when you could be doing something else.”
“Hell,” Jack waved him off. “I’d just be fishing for fish that don’t exist anyway. Besides, I’d do anything for...” Woo, ooo, change the subject “...any member of my team.”
Oops. Was that too much information? Best not to risk it. “Military thing.”
“All right. I’ll bring you that water.”
When he was gone, Jack let himself sit on the edge of the bed. He had to admit his motivation for coming here wasn’t entirely innocent. Though it kinda bugged him that all Mark had to do was mention the name ‘Sam’ and he’d come running, there was a kind of elicit enjoyment to be had from meeting and getting to know her family while she wasn’t around.
Quite frankly, he was looking forward to all those ‘young Carter’ stories.
Wet. There was something wet rolling down the side...
Oh. It was drool. And it was coming from him.
Opening his eyes he automatically wiped at his face, even as he realised it was night time. Shifting on the bed he’d obviously fallen asleep on – kinda embarrassing – he sat on the edge and continued his face rubbing. Getting rid of the sleep in his eyes, and running his hands over his hair as he yawned, he soon stood up and stumbled about in the semi-darkness.
Finding the glass of water that Mark must have put on the bedside table he quickly drained the contents, then almost tripped over his bag. Who the hell had moved that?
Eventually finding the bathroom he used the facilities, and made his way downstairs.
Following the main source of light that was in the living room, he realised Mark was sitting on the sofa next to a woman he’d never seen before.
Announcing his presence with a simple “Hey,” Jack suspected that having just woken up, he either looked really, really old or really, really adorable. He kind of hoped he looked something in-between.
As if he’d just been talking about him, Mark looked up with a grin. “And there he is.” Standing, he pulled what had to be his wife up with him. “Elise, this is Colonel Jack O’Neill. Jack, this is my wife, Elise.”
“Pleased to meet you Ma’am.” As they shook hands, he couldn’t help but think how striking she was. She wasn’t exactly beautiful, but she certainly wasn’t ugly, either. Maybe it was the extremely red hair that he couldn’t stop staring at...
“It’s not real,” She told him.
“What isn’t?” Jack + unexpected statement = confused.
“My hair colour. It’s dyed.”
“Oh. I see.” Actually, he was somewhat disappointed. “Look, I’m sorry for conking out on you like that...”
“Forget it,” Mark insisted, before grinning as Jack’s stomach rumbled noisily. “But something tells me you could do with something to eat now.”
“What gave it away?” Jack patted his stomach, trying to hide his unease. This was just a strange place to be in. He didn’t really socialise with anyone outside of work anymore; had pretty much stopped going out at all after Charlie died. He certainly didn’t stay over at his second in command’s brother’s house.
And married couples? With kids? Nothing even remotely like that since that time, oh so long ago, when he and Sara had been happy.
As he meandered into the kitchen after them, he finally noticed it was just the two of them. “Where’re the kids?”
“Well it’s after ten o’clock,” Elise pointed out, causing Jack to look at the clock on the wall in amazement. “We put Rebecca to bed a couple of hours ago. Tom’s in his bedroom, but I’d be amazed if he was actually asleep.”
“I swear,” Mark muttered, digging something out of the enormously huge fridge. “That boy seems to operate on no sleep whatsoever.”
Stifling another yawn, Jack leant against one of the kitchen counters. “How old’s Rebecca?”
Huh. “Is it me, or does she seem...”
“...a little quiet?” Elise finished, smiling. “Don’t worry, it’s just the way she seems. When she does open her mouth, it’s really quite something.”
“Yeah,” Mark continued, closing the fridge door with his backside as he placed a plate of something covered in foil on the table. “Sam used to be just the same.”
Finally: Carter gossip. He suddenly felt quite alert. “Carter *is* just the same.”
“That’s our Sam,” He agreed fondly, pulling the foil off to reveal a mouth-wateringly good-looking sandwich. Not to mention the salad on the side. “Never use a one syllable word when you could use one that has four.”
“Or five,” Jack argued, wondering if Mark would consider it rude if he just shoved him out of the way and inhaled the sandwich in one breath.
“You *do* know her well,” Elise said approvingly. “Well, I’ll leave you two here to do your guy talk thing. I’m going to have a shower and collapse into bed. Goodnight, Jack. Nice to meet you.”
“Thanks,” He remembered to tear his gaze away from the food. “You too.”
“Goodnight, honey.” She and Mark drifted towards each other, hugging, murmuring and sharing a couple of kisses.
Jack was so sapped out that he momentarily forgot about the hole in his stomach, but even he had to admit... “You look good together,” He told Mark when she was gone.
“Thanks. We are.” He seemed decidedly proud. “Well go on, dig in. Don’t pretend you haven’t been eyeing that sandwich as if your life depended on it.”
There was no need in keeping up the charade any longer: Jack pounced. Decorum was no longer an issue.
Pouring two glasses of juice, Mark kept one for himself and placed the other in front of Jack.
“Thanks,” Jack mumbled around chunks of bread. The sandwich could have been filled with earwax and he probably would have still eaten it. As it was it was pretty damn tasty anyway. They’d probably had beef for dinner, and had put what was left over in the sandwich...man he felt bad about dozing off. The guest sleeping through their first dinner while he was visiting...he shook his head.
“So what about you?”
Surprised, Jack lifted his head. He’d forgotten anyone was there. “Sorry?”
“I think Sam mentioned something about you getting divorced. Any chance of a reconciliation?”
He laughed once, hard, and took another gulp of the juice. “Uh...no. We keep in contact, but...we’re not who we were, you know?” Geez, why was he telling him this stuff?
Carter’s brother nodded. “No one else?”
“Not really.” Vague answers were goooood. Normally he liked things nice and simple, but when it came to his personal life, vague answers were a definite preference. “But then I’m not really looking.”
“That’s good,” Mark nodded. “I think some people get a little fixated with the idea that they *have* to be in a relationship. Going searching for it usually ends up being more trouble that it’s worth.”
Yeah. He hadn’t even been looking and he was in trouble so deep he couldn’t even see the surface. “I guess. I take it you weren’t ‘searching’ when you met Elise?”
“Hardly. I was working in her local coffee shop. Some klutz spilt his coffee all over her, didn’t even stop to say sorry. I helped her out, and the rest is history.”
Jack lifted up his glass. “God bless that klutz, huh?”
“Amen to that,” Mark lifted up his own drink, and clinked the glasses together.
He gave up trying to sleep at 0530. That earlier snooze may have been good for him at the time, but it had completely thrown his internal clock out of whack; he managed to doze off on occasion but never for longer than half an hour. After getting changed into his jeans and a shirt, he quietly made his way downstairs and decided to thoroughly investigate the lower level of the house.
He’d had a bit of a glance yesterday, but he hadn’t been able to have the really good look his curiosity wanted him to have while the family were hanging around. Right now they were all in bed, and their selection of photo albums on the top shelf of that bookcase were all his.
Jack’s conscience did bother him a little, but before going to bed last night Mark had told him to make himself at home, treat their house like his. So he was doing just that.
Most of the albums contained pictures of just the four of them. He had a quick look through and raised a few smiles, but as nice as they were it wasn’t what he was interested in.
It was when he opened the fourth album that he saw it. At the very front, a picture of a girl who was barely a teenager. She had long, blonde hair, was laughing at something – maybe the person taking the picture – and seemed to be in a back yard.
It was Carter. He was absolutely sure.
Realising that he’d hit the jackpot, he began flicking. There were various different pictures of her at various different ages. Each one elicited a smile as he tried to figure out how old she was and what she was doing (there was actually a description next to each photograph explaining just that, but he covered those up as he looked. Where was the fun in already knowing?), but his favourite picture turned out to be one he’d seen before at Carter’s house: a young Carter and her dad, standing next to each other.
Jacob was wearing a hat, and Jack never failed to wonder if he’d been trying to hide a bald spot already.
Suddenly aware that someone else was in the room, he lifted his head and turned towards the doorway.
Caught. Tom was standing there.
Wondering if he minded this complete stranger going through the pictures, Jack proceeded with caution. “Hey.”
Jack glanced at his watch; surprised to see it was already closing in on 0630. “You’re up early.”
“So are you.” Tom’s gaze fell towards the photo.
“Good picture of Jacob,” Jack offered by way of explanation. It seemed easier to say that he’d been more interested in seeing pictures of Carter’s dad, rather than Carter herself.
Tom still hadn’t moved, but at least he had an actual expression on his face: frowning. He and Teal’c would get along great. “You know Grandpa?”
“Sure. Great guy. We get along swell.” Relaxing, just a little, Jack let go of the metaphorical breath he’d been holding.
The boy slowly shifted towards him. “We don’t get to see him much.”
Damn. He wished he could explain why it was so important that they didn’t get to see him much. Saving the universe was just about the only good reason for not spending time with your family – and even then, it still sucked. “He cares about you all. A lot.”
Suddenly uninterested, Tom pulled away and walked into the kitchen. “What do I care?”
Rolling his eyes, Jack sighed. He swore he’d never been that bad when-
Jack jumped as Mark walked in the room. “Do you *all* get up this early on a Sunday?” Did he have to be so happy this early on a Sunday?
“No,” He responded brightly. “Did you sleep well?”
Hmm. Did he mean aside from the chronic insomnia, or the hosts who didn’t seem to think or weren’t bothered by the fact that their guest could hear *everything* that happened in their bedroom? “Great, thanks. That bed’s really comfortable.” The room he was staying in was essentially a storage space, but there was more than enough room for him to spread out on the bed.
Only just realising that Mark was appraising the photo albums spread out across the sofa, the coffee table and even the floor, Jack cleared his throat. “I, uh, woke up. Didn’t want to turn on the TV in case it was too loud, so...hope you don’t mind.”
“Nah. Give me ten minutes and I’ll go through them with you.” Plodding past him, still in his pyjamas, Mark followed his son into the kitchen and started carting about laundry baskets.
Feeling useless, Jack tried to offer a helping hand, but every time he even hinted at the fact that he could help out Mark would immediately tell him to sit down and keeping looking at the pictures.
Appropriately chastised, Jack stayed on the sofa, a photo album across his lap. Seemed just about any Carter could order him about and he’d feel compelled to obey – whether or not they were a superior officer.
Some fifteen minutes later Mark finally came back into the living room. Jack had already cleared a space on the sofa so he flopped down next to him and grabbed the first album his hands found; which happened to be the one Jack was holding.
“Okay: here we have one Samantha Carter deciding that pink would be a really good hair colour...”
What felt like no time at all but was actually hours later, they flicked to a picture. It was a woman, young, attractive, with long blonde hair. Jack knew immediately.
“Now there’s a smile I recognise.”
Faintly amused, Mark held tightly onto the side of the album. “Mom.”
These situations were always difficult to handle. People dealt with them in different ways. “She’s beautiful.”
“Yeah. She is.” He seemed grateful that someone agreed.
Jack knew he was pushing his luck, but he couldn’t shut up. “I was surprised I hadn’t seen a picture of her until now.”
Mark’s attention still hadn’t lifted from her photo. “When it happened, Dad kinda lost it for a while. Anything that had her on it was just...gone.” He sighed. “Guess I kinda lost it for a while longer, but at least I kept this.”
“I’m glad you two get along now. Your dad’s a good guy – and so are you.”
“You work with him, don’t you?”
Ohhh. “Kind of. I can’t really talk about-”
“I know,” He understood, or at least he was trying to show that he understood. “It just seems he’s harder to get a hold of now than he ever was before. The only way I can get a message to him is through Sam. It’s like he doesn’t even exist anymore.”
That was more telling than anything he’d said so far. “All I can say is that the work he’s doing now is incredibly important. And it’s all for you.” That was something military kids never seemed to understand – their parents may have been gone for long periods of time, but it was always to protect their children, and others like them.
“Well,” Mark closed the album, and lifted his head. “Look at me. You’d never think I was mature enough to have two kids, would you?”
“Please,” Jack moaned. “If I can have a kid, you certainly can.”
“Sam told me about your son,” He paused as if realising he’d said too much. “She wasn’t gossiping or anything, it just came up-”
Jack interrupted. “It’s okay. I’m glad I didn’t have to break the news to another person I’d just met. It doesn’t get any easier.”
“I can’t imagine that it would.” Placing the album on top of the pile on the coffee table, he pushed himself up. “I’m gonna fix some breakfast, get dressed, and then we can get started.”
According to Mark, Elise was a big name in ‘retail’. Though generally retail didn’t mean anything particularly impressive to Jack, in her case it often meant she had to work weekends.
So, shortly after 0900 she zoomed out of the family home and off to work – wearing the kind of suit Jack had only seen on television.
Minutes later, Mark had proudly informed him that he was a full-time househusband.
After ensuring that the kids weren’t doing anything frightening, and that the laundry and dishwasher were going, the two men settled themselves in the living room to start working.
And promptly hit a wall.
“She’s not gonna like that.”
“Look, she loved it when we growing up, Jack!”
“Yeah, but she’s all grown up now buddy. She’s not your little sister anymore. Okay...” That didn’t really make any sense. “She *is* your little sister, but not your *little* little sister. You know what I mean?”
“God,” Mark complained. “This is like realising for the first time that she was having sex all over again.”
Jack spat out the drink he’d just taken a huge gulp of. Gasping for breath, he tried to clear up the mess with the edge of a sleeve. “Sorry, sorry, wrong hole...” Any excuse would do at that point.
Mark appeared from somewhere with paper towels and began clearing up. “Didn’t mean to shock you.”
“Didn’t,” Jack insisted, still struggling for breath. “It just...doesn’t compare. They’re two completely unrelated things.”
“That’s not true, actually. Sam had sex for the first time at her eighteenth-”
“Too much information!”
Laughing, Mark finished mopping up the spillage.
Ooh, the man was evil. “I work with the woman. I don’t need to know about her sex life, thank you very much.” Once he’d helped Mark dispose of the soggy mess of papers, he sat back down on the sofa. “Don’t know why you need me anyway. You should have asked Fraiser – she’s probably closer to Carter than I am.”
“I did,” Mark replied absently, checking for any remaining dampness on the coffee table, unaware of the wide-eyed man now staring at him. “She suggested I go to you.”
Why that sneaky little...ooo, needles were too good for her. “Did she now.” It wasn’t a question. “How interesting.” When he got back, there was *so* gonna be some payback.
“And anyway, if you thought you weren’t going to be of any use, why did you come?”
Jack couldn’t decide whether to meet his gaze or ignore it entirely. Which would look the most incriminating...? He settled for something in-between, occasionally looking away. “Oh, had nothing else to do. You know.” He faked a shrug, and then sat forward. “So balloons...”
“You’re really not what I expected.”
It was somewhere after midnight, and the living room was a disaster area – had Jack not known better, he probably would have assumed they’d been hit by a hurricane. Empty mugs, dishes, and paperwork covered every conceivable surface; and some that were less conceivable. Balancing that plastic tumbler on top of the lamp had been something he was particularly proud of, although in the end they’d had to remove it before it melted.
They’d spent the last fourteen...fifteen...uh, a lot of hours more or less confined to the living room, only leaving to pee, eat, or check on the kids. There had been a couple of distractions – the most obvious being when Rebecca decided that throwing her toys at Jack’s head was a really good idea – but for the most part they’d been left alone.
Two guys, trying to plan Sam Carter’s Birthday party.
Jack wasn’t surprised to discover it wasn’t as easy as he’d thought it’d be, but at least they’d accomplished something. Pretty much everything was planned out (though no doubt when Elise looked over their ideas she’d point out something blindingly obvious that they’d missed), and tomorrow they’d start making phone calls.
Right now everyone else was asleep, Mark was stretched out on the recliner, and Jack was lying across the sofa, trying to focus on the beige ceiling. Just staying awake was an uphill battle – so maybe it was his drowsiness that forced the statement out of him. He almost felt drunk, but he hadn’t touched a drop.
“What did you expect?” Mark asked, sounding just as tired.
Realising lying on his back wasn’t conducive to staying awake, Jack moved until he was at least partially propped up by the arm of the sofa. “I guess...given what Carter told me about how distant you and Jacob had been and your general dislike for the military...well, I thought you’d never even be interested in meeting me. But then I did kind of think maybe you weren’t what I thought you were when you first called.” Wha...? Did that even make any sense? His eyelids were drooping again...
Mark mumbled his response: “I *don’t* like the military.”
Jack’s eyelids snapped open. “Then what am I doing here?”
“I like my sister. And you like my sister. And...”
Jack was choosing not to take all this ‘like’ stuff too seriously. “And?”
“And I need you to contact my Dad and get him to the party without her knowing.”
Ahhhh. “So that’s the *real* reason you wanted me involved?” He wasn’t offended. Not really.
“It’s been obvious from the times Dad’s visited these last couple of years that he knows you, and that he works with you sometimes.”
Jack’s fuzzy brain was intrigued by the comment. “Jacob talks about me?”
Cool. Or maybe not, when he thought about it. “Nice things?”
*Generally*? That couldn’t be good. “Let me guess – I’m a pain in the ass, right?” Silence. Loooong silence. “Mark?”
“He’s not sure about the way you treat Sam.”
Huh? Now his eyes definitely were wide open. “*What* way I treat Carter? I treat her just the same as anyone else. She’s a friend, a pal a-”
“Carter. She’s a Carter. I’ve noticed that myself ever since I first called you.”
He sighed. “You never call her Sam.”
Jack couldn’t believe this. “*This* is the reason I’m getting the third degree? Because I don’t use her first name? Here: Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam. Happy?” He knew he was being a jerk, but he was tired and pissed, and his mouth wouldn’t stop moving.
“Dad was right,” Mark groaned as he moved, closing the recliner and standing up. “You *are* a pain in the ass. I’m going to bed.”
Growling internally, Jack spoke up. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be so grumpy. I’m just tired.”
“Yeah,” A half-chuckle emerged as he yawned and turned away. “I was warned about the grumpy part.”
Hey! “By whom?”
He wasn’t surprised that he didn’t get an answer – and he felt that some payback was in order. He was building up quite a list... “Seriously. I’m sorry. And...”
Mark still hadn’t reached the doorway yet, hovering just a few feet away. “Yeah?”
“Though you seem tired enough as it is, could you guys try and keep it down tonight? Not only am I jealous, but I need a decent nights sleep.”
Jack was beginning to remember why he didn’t spend any significant length of time at anyone’s house: the arguing. At the moment it sounded like Mark and Elise were going at it about something or other – and unless it was about him, he was steering well clear.
He’d ended up falling asleep on the couch last night. Someone had placed a blanket over top of him and as nice of them as it was, he wasn’t quite ready to move and find out who’d done so. Right now he was still only half-awake. When he moved, he just knew his body was going to start moaning and complaining about the fact that not only did it not get to sleep in a proper bed, but that it had been subjected to being scrunched against the side of a sofa.
“Thomas Carter, you get back here RIGHT now!”
Surprised, Jack jerked up out of his coma. Ow, oh, back twinge...
THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!
Ah, the melodic stomp of an angry child.
Apparently Tom was involved too. Or maybe he’d instigated the whole thing, pitting the parents against each other. Kids could be good at that.
Feeling every year of his age, Jack groaned as his knee slapped him about the face. Man, it hadn’t even been at a funny angle and it was torturing him...
Now sitting on the sofa the way it was meant to be sat on he shook his head and-
Rebecca was staring at him. A few feet away, she observed silently.
Did *every* member of this family feel they had to start their day by freaking him out?
“Hey.” Jack wasn’t expecting a response, so wasn’t surprised when he didn’t receive one. He was, however, relieved to see that she wasn’t carrying anything to lob at him. Grabbing the blanket that had fallen off of his body, he pointed it towards her. “Did you put this on me?”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” He put the blanket back down.
“Elise! I really think-”
“Don’t START with me Mark! Tom, get your butt out of that room!”
Definitely feeling uncomfortable, Jack attempted to drag her attention away from the screaming match upstairs. “So you going to school today?” She was obviously dressed already.
Finally, finally, she spoke. “Yes. Daddy’ll drive me to school soon. On the way we’ll pick up Kathy, and Robbie, and Johnny, and Stevie.”
Jack found himself grinning. Did all of her friend’s names end with that ‘ee’ sound? “That’s nice of your Dad.”
She shrugged, as if it were nothing special. “It’s his turn.” Actually having something she wanted to talk about for once, she stepped towards him. “Do you work with Auntie Sam?”
How *cute* was this kid? “Sure do.”
By now she was sitting next to him, and leaning forward to whisper. “What does she do? Daddy says it’s a secret.”
“Your Daddy’s...uh, your Dad’s right. It’s top secret.”
“Like James Bond?”
Jack laughed. Actually laughed. It was rare. “Pretty much – although without the balding, overweight villain.”
THUMP! THUMP! SLAM!
Jack stared up at the ceiling.
“You don’t have to worry about it, Jack.”
Frowning, he looked at the little girl who’d just read his mind. It was almost creepy. “I don’t?”
She shrugged, apparently used to it. “Don’t your family ever argue?”
His family... “Sometimes.” One thing was sure – she certainly wasn’t bothered by it. And if she wasn’t bothered, then he wouldn’t be either. Finally taking in a good visual image of the room he’d fallen asleep in, he had to acknowledge the fact that their mess from the previous day was still there. “Well, I should probably start getting this lot cleaned up. You wanna give me a hand?”
She held out a hand.
Groaning, he took it anyway and they walked to the kitchen together. “Okay: number one, that’s not funny. Number two, stop stealing my material. Number three...do you have fruit loops?”
By the time Mark got back from driving Rebecca to school, it was just the two of them. Tom had already stomped out of the house – presumably going to his school, too – and Elise had headed off to work again. Barely giving anyone a glance.
Jack had already conceded defeat in trying to find the dishwasher powder, so was now sitting at the kitchen table, eating the fruit loops Rebecca had guided him too.
Sighing, Mark all but collapsed into the chair at the end of the table. “Sorry about that.” He was definitely looking embarrassed.
Shrugging, Jack swallowed his latest spoonful. “Had enough arguments myself when I was married.”
“I guess. Thanks for clearing up the living room.” Standing again, he pulled a bowl out of the cupboard and began arranging his own breakfast.
“Glad to do it.”
“I’m surprised you found the fruit loops. You probably noticed they weren’t kept with the rest of the cereal.”
He had at that. “Rebecca showed me where they were hiding. She said it wouldn’t be a problem if I had any-”
“It’s not,” Mark assured him, sitting down at the table and beginning to work on his bowl of own brand cornflakes. “They’re just Sam’s. No one else eats them; she has them whenever she visits.”
Jack stopped chewing. And swallowed. “She does?”
“It was the weirdest thing. I don’t remember her ever eating them before, and then suddenly about two years ago she couldn’t get enough of the things.”
“Odd.” If the grin he was directing towards his bowl got much bigger, his face was gonna explode.
“No accounting for taste, I guess.”
The glare Jack was silently sending Mark actually went to his bowl, so it was just as well it didn’t have any feelings that could be hurt.
The rest of breakfast passed silently, if a little awkwardly. Jack suspected that both of them were still far too aware of the earlier screaming, and their own little ‘argument’ the previous night.
When they were finished Mark put the bowls and spoons in the dishwasher, and pulled the dishwasher powder out of a cupboard Jack had already searched through (leaving Jack to conclude that there must have been some kind of wormhole in there leading to a dishwasher powder dimension that only Mark could access).
When the machine was going, Mark pulled a list off the front of the fridge. “I have to go get the shopping. Why don’t you start calling, get a few quotes, make a few orders, and we’ll see how far you’ve got when I get back?”
“Sure. See you later.”
Grabbing his keys off the small wall hooks in the kitchen, Mark left the house.
Jack was relieved to finally be *alone*. His comment to Carter hadn’t been totally off base – alone time sound really, *really* good at the moment. He just wasn’t used to so many people buzzing around him in such close quarters all the time. He’d grown accustomed to living on his own again.
Still, Mark *had* gone for now, and Jack was determined to enjoy the quality silence for all it was worth. For the first half an hour he did absolutely nothing but sit at the kitchen table and think.
In some ways the ‘family feud’ had been a relief. Mark’s family had seemed a little too perfectly clichéd. The easy-going, always smiling father, the successful hard working mother, the stereotypical monosyllabic teenage son; and his favourite – the oddball daughter.
He really did like all of them and as a whole enjoyed their company...it was simply reassuring to discover they had faults, just like the rest of the world.
After pondering over nothing in particular for a while longer, he eventually picked up the pile of papers he’d moved to the kitchen counter, and headed towards the phone in the living room. He had no idea how long Mark would be, and he figured he should at least have *something* done by the time he returned.
The next twenty-four hours were a stress-free blur, apart from one freak out moment when his cell phone rang. There was nothing he could do – he had to take it with him, in case there was an emergency at the SGC. So it was with regret that he’d had to get up from the first meal they’d actually all eaten together.
As they conversed in the background, the earlier hostility all but forgotten, he flipped it open: stupidly not checking if the caller’s ID had come up. “O’Neill.”
She didn’t need to say her name for him to recognise who it was. “Carter!” Yes, he was shouting. Yes, all four Carter’s were turning to stare at him from the table. Yes, he was overreacting. He began pacing, as he tried to coax his voice back to something normal. “What can I do for you?”
“Sorry to bother you on your time off, but I wanted to ask...” And off she went, asking questions and presenting theories as Jack’s eyes rolled back so far they nearly popped out of his ears.
“-so I...yes sir?”
“*This* is why you called me? On my vacation? You interrupted fishing for *this*?”
“I understand there are no actual fish there.”
Clever little... “That’s not the point. And anyway...this sounds suspiciously like work. You wouldn’t be working on your downtime, would you Carter?”
“Of course not. I was just...wondering.”
“Uh huh.” Yeah, *right*. “Well, if I happen to discover that you’ve been writing, typing or *etching* anything longer than a shopping list there’s gonna be trouble, okay?”
“Yes sir.” She was definitely amused.
“Good. Now go do something relaxing.”
“I’ll try. Sorry for interrupting, sir.” She really didn’t sound it.
That was when he made his mistake. He’d relaxed considerably since answering the phone; she’d bought the cover story, he didn’t have to keep lying, and he’d completely forgotten that he had an audience. So it came out: “Sure you are. If you were that desperate to hear the sound of my voice, all you had to do was call my machine at home.”
She was surprised; she must have been. He was surprised that he said it.
But she recovered quickly. “What makes you think I haven’t already?”
And before he could say anything at all, she hung up. *She* hung up on *him*. Unsure if she’d been flirting, teasing, or just making fun of him, he finally decided he was just glad she’d called at all and turned back around-
Four pairs of eyes were still staring at him.
Carter’s family. Having just witnessed a decidedly unprofessional telephone conversation. Sure, it wasn’t of the “I love you snookums” variety, but it still wouldn’t look good.
Well, sound good.
Closing his cell and shoving it back in a pocket, he quickly re-took his seat. “Think she bought it,” was all he offered, before rapidly shoving food into his mouth, hoping that would be the end of it.
They were still staring at him. Although...even as he tried to keep his gaze lowered, he couldn’t help but notice that Mark and Elise seemed amused.
Eventually Rebecca broke the silence, probably thinking she was helping. “I like the sound of your voice, too.”
Damn. “Thanks kid.”
Just after 1100 the next day, Jack stepped out of the house. It was his first real breath of air of three days.
He’d already said goodbye to the rest of the family earlier as they went on their various ways. A goodbye wave to Elise as she zoomed out of the door, an insistent hug from Rebecca who thumped something on his head just for old times sake, and the usual complete willingness to forget he even existed from Tom as he went to school.
Now, almost three hours later, he was on his own way home.
He was getting a cab again, although his host was insisting on paying. Being the househusband that he was, Mark had stuff to do and take care of. Still, he at least walked him to the cab.
Opening the door behind the driver, Jack threw his bag inside and slid his shades on. Too much sun for his liking. “Well, it was good meeting you. It was...an experience.” Definitely the best term for it.
“Likewise,” Mark responded, as they shook hands. “I’m glad you came.”
“So am I.” Heck – if he hadn’t come he’d never have seen all those cute Carter pictures. But...but, but, but...his mind wouldn’t leave it alone. He should have just climbed into the cab and sped away...but he couldn’t. “Why am I here, Mark?”
Carter’s brother released his hand, his lips quirking up at the edge. “Why did you come?”
“You asked me to.”
“And that’s not a good enough explanation?”
Seemed both Rebecca *and* Mark were psychologists in their spare time. “You didn’t need me here for this – we could have done it all over the phone. Heck, you didn’t even really need me to help at *all*.”
“Yet you came anyway. Besides,” He grinned, briefly. “That’s not entirely true. I did need you. You work with Sam everyday. I get to see her every few months if I’m lucky. You know my own sister better than I do.”
“And anyway...I wanted to meet you.”
Jack’s tongue felt like it was tied in knots; he didn’t know what to say first. “You did?”
“Of course. Having heard nothing but the ‘great Colonel O’Neill’ for the last three years, I decided it was finally time to see you.”
He wasn’t buying it. Entirely. “You sure you’re not just playing to my ego?”
“Maybe a little,” Mark admitted. “Is it working?”
“Always, my friend. Always.”
He hadn’t had anything else he’d wanted to or been able to say then, so Jack had quietly slipped into the back of the car and been driven away.
Most of the trip back was spent pondering over that last conversation with Mark, trying to decide and decipher what did and didn’t have a hidden meaning. Did he know about the ‘thing’ between him and Carter, or was it just a cranky old Jack O’Neill being paranoid? It’d been known to happen before.
He soon had his answer when, growing increasingly bored during the journey, he pulled the book he’d brought with him out of his bag – only to notice something sticking out of it.
Intrigued, he plucked free from between the pages what turned out to be a photograph.
His favourite photograph. Of Carter and her dad.
And he hadn’t put it there.
Relieved to finally be home, Jack stumbled onto the path that led to his front door. He was gonna need the next four days off just to recuperate from meeting her family.
Of course, his mind couldn’t relax completely; not when there were still preparations for her Birthday to be made. Yeah, it was still two months away but to do something really impressive you needed that extra time. They had it mostly planned out by now, but he was going to have to persuade Hammond to let him send a message through the gate to Jacob without Carter finding out about it.
He didn’t really foresee a problem with getting permission; it was keeping Carter out of the way that was worrying him. Digging out his keys he unlocked the door, figuring he was gonna have to find something really fascinating to keep her occupi-
Stunned, with his arm still raised and his bag still slung over his shoulder, he froze as just about everyone he’d ever met jumped out at him.
Well, they didn’t all jump. Some rose with dignity; but for the most part they were jumping around like fools.
Still unable to move, brain not quite accepting this yet, he managed a blink as someone pulled off his bag, someone else pulled off his jacket, then a third person plucked his keys from his hand and quickly replaced them with a drink.
Finally moving he stumbled further into the house, barely aware of the conversation now flowing around him, or the hands patting his arms and shoulders.
What. The hell. Was going. On?
And then she was in front of him, smiling impishly. “Happy Birthday, Colonel.”
HUH? “It’s not my Birthday for another three weeks.” Hell, he’d almost forgotten it was coming himself.
That smile again, accompanied by a too-innocent shrug. “It’s not any fun if you’re expecting it.”
Oh, oh, *oh*. His drink hand pointed at her, almost losing its grip on the drink. “*You* did this.” He couldn’t believe it! *Everything* had been a set up?
“With a little help from my family.”
“Jack! Phone call! Heads up!”
He spun around, coughing as the phone impacted against his chest, just managing to keep a grip on it as he stared at the person who’d thrown it towards him.
Jacob? *Jacob* was here?
Wondering if he was still travelling and this was some weird ass dream, he lifted the phone to his ear – really quite frightened. What was coming next? “Yeah?”
“Ah good, you made it.”
“Happy Birthday, Jack.”
Only the voice didn’t just come through the device he held against his ear. There, in the doorway, stood Mark, speaking into a cell phone. Surrounded by his family.
Grinning, he hung up.
It was all too much for Jack. He gulped down the drink he’d been given, not caring what it was, and added Carter’s name to the very top of the list of people he had to punish.
Two hours after Jack’s arrival, the shock began to wear off.
He was able to drink, eat, smile, even converse when the situation dictated that he should say something, but fortunately most of the talking seemed to be *about* him rather than *at* him.
So, it was with a large amount of relief that three hours after his arrival, he escaped up on to the roof. Of course in the process he had to get rid of the couple he found making out up there, but he figured he had the right – if he wasn’t making out on his roof, then no one else was going to either.
He ended up leaning against the wooden railing in the dark, staring down at his own faintly illuminated back yard. Watching the people milling amongst each other: laughing, talking, simply existing.
Music thumped quietly out of the house – there were some perks to advancing years, the lack of loud music being one of them – so he could hear the murmurs of conversation as well as the other usual party noises; scraping chairs, clinking bottles, laughter as someone made a complete idiot out of themselves on the dance floor...
Speaking of which, he did find himself heartily amused at Jonas’ attempts to dance, while Teal’c insisted, “It is not a good idea, Jonas Quinn.”
Not that he could actually hear what they were saying. But he could see them, and he could imagine, and that was good enough.
Sighing, he tried to see the face of everyone there – some familiar, some not so familiar. She’d really gone to a lot of troub-
She was here. A few feet behind him. He didn’t need to turn to know.
“I’ve never met half of the people at my party, Carter.”
She moved until she was next to him, hesitantly leaning against the railing until she was sure it would hold their combined weight. Once convinced it wouldn’t break, she relaxed. “Sure you do.” She began pointing. “Teal’c, Jonas, Janet, Cassie, General Hammond...”
“That’s five,” He argued, trying to sound annoyed but unable to stop his grin from forming. “That’s not even a third.” Heck, it wasn’t even a fifth.
Apparently Carter wasn’t finished yet. “Dad, Mark, Elise, Tom, Rebecca, Siler, Feretti, Griff, Sergeant Davis-”
“Is there *anyone* left at the SGC?”
Grinning, she finally stopped her own little show and tell, lowering her arm. “Bra’tac couldn’t make it.”
“You actually asked him?”
She shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I?”
She needed to ask? “Well for one thing Teal’c would have to lend him a hat...although I guess he has a large enough collection by now.” *There* was that grin. That grin he’d seen so many times in person, and now, in photographs. “It’s just...it’s not as if they’re all my closest friends. I mean obviously SG-1, and Fraiser and Cassie and Hammond...I’m surprised Dad could make it...”
“He almost didn’t. He knew about it for a while, but with everything that’s been going on with the Tok’ra lately-”
“How long have you been planning this?” Had to be a while. Had to be.
And she confirmed it, turning away. “A while.”
“Why?” He immediately held up a hand, stopping the obvious answer that would have been forthcoming. “And don’t just say because it’s my Birthday. My Birthday is no more significant than anyone else’s, and we never do anything this big for *anyone*.”
Uncomfortable, she seemed fascinated with her hands. “I meant what I said before. It’s been a crappy year. I think we all just needed the excuse to celebrate something good: the fact that although we’ve lost so many, there are a lot of us still here. It’s pretty amazing odds when you think about it.”
She was getting maudlin. Time to change that.
“So...we’re having a big blow out because I haven’t croaked yet?”
Carter chuckled, turning her head towards him, completely unaware of how absolutely *stunning* she looked as she smiled with the glow from the back yard highlighting her face. “What’s the point in a Birthday party if you’re already dead? You wouldn’t be here to enjoy it.”
“Good point.” Stop staring at her; he really had to stop staring at her.
Silence resumed but it was actually kind of comfortable, just spending his time standing next to her when there wasn’t a Goa’uld breathing down their necks.
It was nice.
He spied Mark in the middle of the crowd. “I like your brother.”
“He likes you, too.”
“I was...surprised.” Heh. Recurring theme. “I guess I expected the anti-military spiel to be more obvious.”
Carter nodded in understanding, searching for her sibling. “You weren’t what he expected either.”
Definite attention grabber. “I wasn’t?”
Oh, she just *knew* he was hanging on her every word. “His exact words were ‘He’s different.’”
Different? *Different*? *That* was all Mark Carter had to say about him? “Oh.”
“Given how severe Dad was at your age, he probably expected you to be uptight.”
At lease he wasn’t uptight then. “Oh.” Different. Huh. Wait...Carter was comparing him to her Dad? “You know, your Dad *is* quite a bit older than me. Just because he looks good for his age – and don’t think the snake doesn’t help out in that department-”
“I didn’t mean...” She smiled again. “I meant the whole military thing. It has nothing to do with age. Besides,” Carter glanced towards him. “You’re not *that* old.”
The silence descended again, and Jack would have been quite happy to spend the rest of the night up there with her, staring across the sky.
Until she spoke again.
“Ask you a question?”
“Okay...” *That* question always instilled just a little fear whenever it was uttered. He psychologically braced himself for what was coming.
His second in command was staring at her hands again. “Do you mind that I did this?”
Relieved, he exhaled.
She kept going. “I know it’s unexpected, but it is a party for *you*, and I couldn’t help but notice that instead of being down there you’re up here alone and-”
“I don’t mind at all.”
Ceasing her babbling, she tore her gaze away from her hands. “You don’t?”
Jack shrugged. “It’s just...a lot of people, Carter. And as nice as your family are, after being stuck in a house with them for the last few days and then encountering this...I just needed air for a while. Some alone time.”
Seeming to think he was hinting at something, she leant away from the railing. “I’m sorry, I’ll go. I’ll see you-”
What the hell was she doing? “Carter,”
He pointed at the railing. “Stay. That’s an order. I wasn’t telling you to leave.”
Not saying anything, she resumed her earlier position.
Feeling guilty and figuring he owed her an explanation, he lowered his head. “Charlie used to love surprise parties.” He didn’t look up, but could imagine her reaction. “As each Birthday approached it’d get harder and harder to come up with something that’d surprise him. I’ve been avoiding them for other people ever since...well,” Jack cleared the lump in his throat, the agony that never went away – and realised her left hand had wrapped around his right one on top of the railing. He focused on them, concentrating. “I guess I should get used to them again anyway. Something tells me we’ll be having one for Cassie’s twenty-first in a few years.”
“I think Janet has it planned out already.”
He was glad she went with the humour first. “Not bad. Only...what? Five, six years early? She’s getting better.”
Carter’s hand squeezed his gently. “I’m sorry.”
Shaking his head he finally looked up from the hands to look at her. His palm turned upwards, tangling their fingers together. “You weren’t to know, Carter. Even you’re not psychic.”
And then, for the first time in what felt like years, he just looked at her. Unabashed, unashamed, uninterrupte-
He recognised the voice of course: Jacob. But he didn’t want to be found yet. Why go down there with all his friends, and the laughter, and the drink, and the food when he could be up here, holding hands with Carter, watching her smile, and pretending to be anyone other than Jack O’Neill?
So he jerked backwards, still holding her hand and bringing her with him – unfortunately failing to remember that someone had set up his telescope. Colliding with it he swiftly turned and just managed to keep it upright (those things were expensive), but losing his footing at the same time.
With a complete lack of finesse not seen since the time he actually fell out bed in the infirmary, he managed to flop into the wooden chair behind the telescope, dragging the Major with him.
Landing with an “Oof,” he was surprised to discover that he made it in one piece, and he was pretty much sitting normally. Carter, of course, got the raw end of the deal; she was half-leaning, half-sitting, the wooden arm of the chair digging into her butt-don’tthinkaboutherbutt, don’tthinkaboutherbutt.
Carter’s butt was forgotten, as they ridiculously scrunched up closer together, as if lowering their body mass would make them less easier to spot should someone come up there.
No doubt thinking the same thing, Carter began to laugh in the most feminine way possible – snorting.
“Shh,” Jack instructed, lifting his free hand to press his index finger against her lips.
He didn’t think it was doing much good, but eventually she seemed to regain control herself. He moved his hand, and she began whispering.
“They probably want to bring out the cake.”
Cake? It probably would have seemed obvious to anyone who’d taken the time to think about it, but...he looked at her. “You got me a cake?”
Carter smiled, and oo boy, was he in trouble. She was smiling, her butt wasn’t so much on the arm anymore as it was on him, her face was mere inches from his, she still looked gorgeous as hell, and she was smiling.
“Of course I-”
She moved even closer. How was that possible? Her mouth was practically on top of his ear. “They’ll probably come up here soon.”
“Uh huh.” Look at that skin. Pale, perfect skin. It wasn’t flawless like the airbrushed stuff so prevalent in glossy magazines, but that made it all the more appealing. He took the opportunity to study every little line, every little bump that he never really had the chance to see.
And the eyes. The big, blue, beautiful things staring right at him.
Right at him. Barely a breath away.
His voice began speaking, completely without consulting his brain. “Something occurred to me earlier.”
Somebody’s hand was playing with his hair. He hoped it was hers, but there was no way in hell he was moving to investigate. “The last time we spoke before I went away, you knew where I was going.”
His hand moved, resting on her shoulder, his thumb brushing against her face, her neck. “And you invited yourself to the cabin anyway.”
“I...” Oh God, a sigh. “...did.”
Jack was having a hard time forming a coherent sentence, especially when that sigh went right into his ear. “I could only come to one conclusion.”
“You could?” A big movement; separating their hands so she could wrap an arm around his neck. It brought her closer still.
The slightest movement, either way, would bring them together.
“You’re evil,” He murmured, the words long since having lost all meaning as their lips met moments later.
He sighed into it, careful at first as they adjusted to each other, becoming increasingly confident with every passing second. It wasn’t long before he broke away, gasping for breath, only to return again for more of the delightful torture. Rubbing and breathing and sliding and tasting...God, *moaning*...
Let Jacob find them, he thought as Carter nipped at his neck. He didn’t care.
He was on his roof, and he was making out.
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