Disclaimer - MGM/Gekko/Double Secret.
This is a sequel to 'Ordinary Circumstances', which can be found here.
Set after 'Legacy' but before 'Forever In A Day'. Contains spoilers for 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Legacy'.
I sense another occasional series in the making...it really wasn't intentional.
He'd been at her house for roughly ninety minutes when he saw the letter.
A couple of weeks ago she'd revealed - in secret - that she wanted to do something 'special' for Daniel's birthday. He'd had a pretty crappy year already, what with being declared insane and all; and with no sign of Sha're on the horizon, Carter was determined to give him a night of outright fun.
She'd talked him into helping, of course, although he didn't quite know how. Clearly she'd known him too long and too well, because she knew exactly how to get him to do whatever she wanted. She'd said just the right thing, or done just the right thing, and before he knew it he was walking into her house an hour and a half ago, ready to help her make plans.
Truth be told, they hadn't actually done that much planning. They'd started out with the best of intentions...well okay, *she'd* started out of the best of intentions - he'd simply been there because for some reason he didn't say 'no'.
In any case, they'd sat in her lounge; him on the sofa, she on the floor on the opposite side of the table between them, and began planning. She'd bought a couple of 'specialist' magazines that she thought might give them some good ideas - and where did she find those things, anyway? - and began flicking through them on top of the table.
But instead of discussing balloons, banners and birthday cakes, they'd descended into general small talk. The latest goings-on on base, the recent episode of that show she liked, the crap currently occupying the music charts.
Due to the nature of their jobs he spent most of his working hours in her presence, but it was rare that he ever had the chance to just hang out with her. To just do 'normal'.
Well, he'd doubted they'd ever be able to do 'normal' - normal for them was fighting guys with snakes in their heads and being impaled to walls by large metal poles - but there was something refreshing about doing what other people did. Sitting down, drinking coffee, listening to the radio – and talking.
Not *talking* talking, of course - he wasn't someone who ever got too personal - but the kind of inconsequential conversation that was a pleasant way to pass the time.
To his own astonishment, he'd actually been enjoying himself.
It was when she left the room to use the bathroom that it happened. He'd been idly flicking through one of those magazines, not really doing anything other than looking at the pictures, when one of those crap songs came on the radio.
Disgusted that he'd even had to hear just ten seconds of the song in question, he jumped up from the sofa, intending to leap over to the radio and choose a different radio station - any radio station.
Foolishly, in his desperation to be rid of the teenybopper hell, he'd grossly overestimated how much room he had to move, and his legs connected solidly with the table.
He did have, at least, the presence of mind to grab his mug of coffee, but he'd whacked the table so hard that everything else slid off onto the carpet.
Sighing, he put his coffee back, then carefully stepped around the table and bent down. Eventually going down to his knees, he began the job of placing the unruly pile of magazines, pens, and remote controls back on the table with some kind of order.
Dammit, he was gonna have some *very* attractive bruises appearing on his legs...
And that song was still on the damn radio.
Magazine...TV Guide...remote control...letter...
Letter? He hadn't noticed it before; it must have been underneath everything else. Shrugging, he placed it face up on the table, his eyes skimming over the addressee - hell, who could blame him for being nosy?
It was in Carter's handwriting, and addressed to a 'Dr Maria Hillier'.
Something shifted uncomfortably in the back of his brain.
And then he read the next line.
And then he read the next line.
And everything faded away - the music, the feel of the letter in his hand, the rapidly blossoming bruise on his leg, the smell of coffee wafting from the table...
It was just his eyes, and the words they were looking at:
He re-read them. And re-read them. And re-read them. It had to be a mistake; his eyes were playing tricks on him. And even if they weren't, it didn't mean she actually *had*-
Moving on auto-pilot, his hand calmly placed the letter on the table, then firmly put another magazine on top of it. "Just clumsy," His voice responded entirely without his permission.
Just ask her. Just *ask*.
He didn't remember much after that; just that he left shortly after and she was frowning the entire time.
The journey was a complete blank - which should have worried him; who knew how close he came to hitting someone? - and he eventually became aware of himself, his body, his *breath* inside the truck as it sat outside his house.
He looked at the clock on the dashboard.
He'd left her house an hour ago.
And he was still sitting how he must have been sitting when he'd first parked; in the drivers seat, hand still gripping the steering wheel, seat belt still firmly on.
Shaking his head he opened the door, only to realise the seat belt was still holding him in. Fumbling for the belt release he eventually stumbled out, dragging his keys with him.
Eventually opening the door, he stayed standing in the doorway for another couple of minutes - not moving, barely breathing, as his mind finally started working.
This was nuts. He was completely over-reacting. There was no evidence that anything was wrong with her, and even if there were lots of people survived cancer these days. Plus, she would have said something by now. Right?
His eyes, which up until that point had been fixed on some fascinating piece of wall, drifted across to the phone. His first instinct was to call Fraiser, but then he could imagine how *that* conversation would go.
Him: "Hey Doc! Listen, if something was wrong with Carter you'd tell me, right?"
Her: "I'm sorry, Colonel. Doctor/patient confidentiality prevents me from telling you that she'll be dead within a month. Besides, why should you care?"
Okay, he really *was* over-reacting. The last time had been after her near miss with that idiot car driver, and even then it hadn't been...like this. Maybe it was like Jacob had said. Maybe he just wasn't used to the idea that the threat of injury or death didn't just come from off-world sources.
His body was moving, picking up the phone, and hitting the speed dial. He stood ramrod straight, still with the lights turned off, still in his jacket, still with his keys in his left hand.
The phone dialled. And rang. And-
Response. He didn't even feel relieved. "Daniel." It wouldn't come out. Nothing except Daniel's name would come out.
"Daniel." There it was again. What the hell was going on?
"Is everything all right? Has something happened at the base?"
And then it changed. "No. I..." He couldn't say it. "...just thought we should talk. We haven't talked for a while."
A deliberate silence. "You never 'talk' Jack. To anyone."
Was that true? Was he really that bad?
Daniel continued. "What do you want?"
It found a voice. "Has...Carter said anything lately?"
"About...not feeling well." His fingers clutched around the phone harder, as if they could dig into the plastic. "About being sick."
"No...why?" Daniel was most definitely confused.
What was he about to do? Admit that he'd been nosing through her stuff? "I just...had a feeling there may be something she's not telling m...us."
More silence. "Have you asked her?"
He laughed at that - a short, loud, bark of laughter. "No, no." Of course not. Ask her? How ridiculously obvious.
"Then why don't you? It's the only way to know for sure. I'm sure she's fine, Jack."
Yeah - that was what he needed. Something to push him into acting, into asking what needed to be asked. "Thanks, Daniel." Not waiting for a response he hung up and left the house, slamming the door behind him.
Climbing into his truck - the door of which was still wide open - he put the key in the ignition, started the engine, and closed the door.
His fist stopped just short of knocking on her nose. "Carter?"
Those big blue eyes were even bigger and bluer than normal. "Is everything all right?"
A perfect opening. "That's what I wanted to ask you."
"Are you all right? I mean..." Just say it. "You're not sick or anything?" Please *God*, tell him she wasn't.
She opened her door wider, stepping further out. "No. I'm fine."
He actually closed his eyes, lowered his head, and the numbness fled. He could hear everything, feel everything, and breathe everything.
And she was still talking. "Why would you think I wasn't?"
It was hard to speak, but he managed it. "I saw that letter...to, uh...Dr Whatshername." Frankly, he couldn't remember the name. All he could remember was the ominous two-word description of where she worked.
Carter's frown deepened, as she realised what he was talking about. "You mean Maria? I'm not having cancer tests sir, I'm just helping her out with a comparison of..."
He'd stopped listening somewhere around the 'not having cancer' part. God, he felt ridiculous. Behaving like some melodramatic madman just because his friend happened to have a letter addressed to an oncology department.
"...this has really bothered you, hasn't it? That's why you left so quickly earlier."
His eyes dragged up, meeting her gaze.
She was smiling - not in ridicule, but partially with friendly accusation and mostly in simple amazement.
This he could understand. It wasn't...often that he...hell, it wasn't often that he completely freaked out. He didn't like admitting it when things...bothered him. "I guess."
Tipping her head to one side, she regarded him with an expression and a tone of voice that was much too fond to be treating a superior officer with. "You can be really sweet sometimes."
If any of the boys on base heard that, he'd never hear the end of it. As it was, he just found himself smiling. "You'll ruin my reputation."
She wasn't taking the bait. She was supposed to smile, quip something back, and then he'd laugh at himself and go home.
Instead, she spoke softly. "It wasn't intentional."
His voice was just as quiet, speaking entirely without his cooperation. "I know."
Then, most amazingly of all, she hugged him. He remained absolutely still for at least five seconds, brain not quite willing to accept the bizarre change in circumstance. They'd hugged before, but usually after some particularly close brush with death. Not on the porch, outside her house.
Brain, eventually deciding "What the hell?" fired the synapses in his arms and returned the hug. Only it wasn't quite a hug anymore. His fingers moved, grabbing handfuls of the shirt she was wearing, pulling her closer, his face buried into her neck, her own arms wrapping around his neck, fingers running over the bare skin she found there.
And then it was done.
And then it was too far.
He pulled away, loosening his hold, resisting the urge to sniff. It wouldn't look manly. "I gotta go."
He was already moving away, jogging down the steps from the porch, berating himself for even going to see her. Not that he wouldn't want to know that she was okay, but...
Something was wrong with the situation.
Something wasn't right.
And he didn't know what it was.
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