Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
By: Charli Booker
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He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and nave incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which. Douglas Adams
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Friday 2005-06-24 8:43PM MST
Jack O'Neill sat on the sidelines and studied the crowded room. The faces were as familiar to him as his own, perhaps more so. There were only a few he didn't recognize - spouses and children he'd met and promptly forgotten. Remembering names had never been his strong suit, and unfortunately, he'd soon be experiencing the problem on an all too frequent basis, at least for a while. That was only one of the many drawbacks to accepting the Washington assignment.
After over eight years at the SGC, he'd grown comfortable, and comfortable was dangerous. That was something he'd learned long ago, but apparently, it was something else he'd forgotten along the way.
Setting his lukewarm, full bottle of beer on the nearest table, Jack pressed a finger to his temple and tried not to think about the myriad reasons he had for staying in Colorado Springs. Even more importantly, he tried not to think about the few reasons that had instead sent him packing.
"Hey, Jack." Daniel dropped into the seat next to him. As usual, his friend came bearing a broad smile, but it was a forced one. The same one he'd had plastered on his face every time Jack had seen him for the last week - ever since Jack had announced that he was being transferred.
"Daniel," he acknowledged.
"Some party, huh?"
Jack once again glanced at the group crowded into the back room of one of the local barbecue joints. "Yeah, it's nice."
"How does it feel to be a major general?"
"About the same as it felt to be a brigadier general, just a couple more accessories to polish."
"You polish your own stuff? I figured generals had people to do that for them."
"Are you volunteering, Doctor Jackson?"
Daniel chuckled, but his mirth quickly faded. "So, when do you leave?"
Pushing a barely touched plate of brisket and cold fries out of reach, Jack snagged the warm beer. "Tomorrow afternoon."
"Damn," Daniel muttered, and Jack questioned him with a glance. Daniel shrugged. "It's just...everything's changing. First Hammond, now you."
"No," he replied, and forced down a swig of beer he didn't want just to fill the void. "Frasier was first."
Daniel frowned then nodded. "Yeah. You're right."
If Janet Frasier were still alive, Daniel Jackson would be a lot younger, and Jack might still be leading the flagship team through the gate. After all, only the good Lord - and possibly General Hammond - knew that if it hadn't been for Doc, Jack would have been removed from active gate duty immediately after his extended vacation at Ba'al's Bed & Breakfast.
"It's not going to be the same around here, Jack."
"It hasn't been the same around here for quite a while." Like his old friend, Jack forced a smile. "But, maybe that's a good thing."
Daniel shook his head. "I don't think so." Something caught his eye and he glanced away then looked back at Jack. "Sam looks...worse." When Jack frowned, Daniel raised a hand. "I know, I know. You said to leave her alone, but honestly, I'm worried about her. I suppose you know she wants to transfer."
Jack lowered his gaze. "To Area 51."
"You already approved it, didn't you?"
Looking up at the accusation, Jack gave a single nod. "Yeah." He looked over at the object of their discussion. Carter was sitting at a crowded table surrounded by people, but she looked alone and her mind was obviously on anything but celebrating. "It's what she wants, Daniel. It's for the best."
"For the best," Daniel repeated, disbelief punctuating the simple statement. "Maybe you staying here would be for the best. Maybe it wouldn't be the best thing for some of the suits back in Washington, but maybe it'd be the best for us - for me and Sam and Teal'c. And, you." Daniel paused before adding, "And, maybe Sam talking about whatever it is she's not talking about would be for the best."
Jack stared at Carter and toyed with his beer bottle. Maybe Daniel was right. There was no going back, no stopping what had been set in motion, but at the very least, he should talk to Carter. He owed her that. And, with Jack headed east and Carter headed west, it was now or never.
With a frustrated grunt, Jack stood and shoved his way through the crowd toward her before he could change his mind. She saw him coming and her already pale face blanched further. He stopped next to her chair. "Carter." He waved a hand at her, urging her to follow him, but she merely blinked then looked away. Aware of the table's other inhabitants growing quiet, Jack leaned down until his mouth brushed her ear. "Please," he whispered. Gently, he wrapped his fingers around her thin wrist and tugged. Finally, she glanced at him. "Let's take a little stroll."
The tiny smile that lifted the corners of her mouth made his chest ache.
* * * * *
Thursday 2005-06-16 11:12AM MST
Sitting at his desk, Jack stared out at the group of people settling themselves around the briefing room table. He looked back down at the orders on his desk and took a deep breath, summoning his courage. He was startled by a soft tap on his open door.
"General," a young woman said, "SG-1 is here, sir."
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
He waited until she'd left before standing. Covering his trepidation with a stern expression and a stiff gait, Jack walked into the briefing room and settled himself in his chair at the head of the table. He took a moment to glance at his former team members. Teal'c seemed as relaxed as always, but there was a hint of prescience in the way his hands were resting on the tabletop, as if he were prepared for battle. Carter had an odd look on her face which he didn't immediately recognize then he realized it was confusion - something he was unaccustomed to seeing on her. As usual, Daniel appeared open to any possibility.
"What's going on, Jack?"
Jack placed his hands on the waxed surface of the table and wished he'd brought a pen or something with which to occupy his restless hands. "I wanted to talk to you before an official announcement is made."
Teal'c stared down at his hands, Carter's forehead puckered under the weight of worry, and Daniel leaned closer to the table before speaking for all of them. "What official announcement?"
Steeling himself, Jack looked Daniel in the eye. "I'm being re-assed. To D.C.," he added, and in his peripheral vision, he was aware of Carter sitting up straighter and looking his way.
"Wha-" Daniel glanced at Carter and Teal'c as if for support, but neither one moved or spoke. He looked back, his concerned gaze settling on Jack. "I don't believe this. Why?"
Jack rested his hands on the briefing room table and laced his fingers together. It was going about like he'd anticipated. "It's the military, Daniel. Orders are issued. People are transferred." He shrugged. "Simple."
"Simple?" Daniel huffed. "Right. Nothing's simple any more. I don't understand - why Washington? Why you?"
He forced a crooked grin. "A more sensitive person might take that as an insult, Doctor Jackson."
"You know what I mean, Jack."
He conceded the point with a brief nod then shrugged. "It's a...promotion. You're looking at the soon-to-be Major General Jack O'Neill, Head of Homeworld Security."
"But," Carter said, her voice sounding frail and slightly foreign after such a lengthy silence, "what about General Hammond?"
He found her gaze too damning and, disappointed in himself, Jack looked away. "He's moving on. Like me."
"I don't believe this," Daniel repeated softly.
Jack grimaced then forced himself to look Carter in the eye. "Yes, Colonel?"
"I'd-" She stopped to clear her throat, and he hated the hesitancy, the uncertainty with which she'd cloaked herself. "Did you request a transfer, sir?"
He felt her words like a physical blow, but they weren't unexpected. Nor were they uncalled for. Like her, he straightened in his seat and cleared his throat before giving her a firm, "No, Colonel. I did not request the transfer."
"Have you talked to anyone, tried to get out of it?" Daniel's question bore the sucker punch, and Jack held Carter's gaze for a moment before turning and latching onto Daniel's, but he didn't answer and Daniel simply continued. "Orders can be changed, Jack. You know that. And, Hayes likes you. Maybe he can pull some strings."
"Leave it, Daniel," Carter muttered.
"What? Why? I mean, why should Jack just-"
"Forget it. Don't you see - he doesn't want your help. He doesn't want his orders changed." She glared at Jack. Everything about her - eyes, voice, posture - screamed anger, bitterness, disappointment, and so much more. "He's not fighting it, because it's a good excuse to leave. An escape route. Am I right?" She waited and incredibly, her countenance hardened until Jack feared she would snap. "Tell me I'm wrong."
But, he wouldn't. Instead, he looked to Teal'c for support, but his friend merely stared down at the table with eyes that were old and tired. Jack flinched when he saw sudden movement out of the corner of his eye. Carter shot out of her chair and without waiting to be dismissed, she stormed from the room.
"Let her go, Daniel."
"Just leave her alone."
* * * * *
Monday 2005-06-13 11:52PM MST
"I fucked up, old buddy."
Teal'c sighed and leaned back in an oversized, leather chair. While his apartment was just as neat as Jack had imagined, he'd been surprised by the furnishings which were homey and old-fashioned. The rooms were filled with overstuffed chairs, pine tables, Norman Rockwell-ish paintings, a plethora of lamps in every size and shape, and an assortment of oriental rugs that decreased the space between floor and ceiling by at least an inch.
"It is the alcohol clouding your vision."
"Nope. I'm screwed. I screwed up," he declared, and barked hateful laughter.
"You are merely drunk."
"Maybe." Jack held up the nearly empty bottle, swinging it so that the half-inch of amber liquid caught and refracted the lamplight. The movement left him slightly nauseated. Leaning forward awkwardly in his chair, he meticulously placed the bottle on the floor next to its five empty counterparts. Together, they formed a tight circle. "Guess I shouldn't have had that wine with dinner, huh?"
Frowning, Jack fell limply back in his chair and rubbed a hand through his hair. "I should go."
He pressed his palms against his eyes, shutting out the world for a brief, painful moment. "I have a meeting at oh-eight-hundred."
Jack lowered his hands, opened his eyes, and blinked away a swirling field of stars. The Jaffa had moved and was standing in front of him. "Teal'c."
"You made a mistake, my friend. You are human."
"Boy, ain't that the truth," Jack sighed. Forcing a tight smile, he glanced up at his host. "It was stupid. It was thoughtless and risky and...stupid. And, I know better."
Teal'c dipped his head in acknowledgement. "But, you care for her."
"Well, of course, I do," Jack asserted, anger adding force to his words, "and that makes it even worse. If I didn't care, it wouldn't matter much, now would it?"
"Perhaps you are too hard on yourself."
"And, perhaps you're getting soft in your old age." When Teal'c didn't react, Jack struggled upward until he was sitting on the edge of his seat. With numbed fingers, he searched for and retrieved the bottle that contained a few remaining swigs of intoxicating brew. He lifted the bottle to his lips then lowered it without drinking. "I'm leaving, Teal'c," he announced as if he'd just reached his decision. But, it was a decision he'd known about for weeks, albeit one he'd refused to acknowledge aloud until now. He looked his friend in the eyes. "I'm being transferred to Washington. And, I'm getting a promotion." He grinned sloppily and took an unwanted sip of lukewarm beer. "You should congratulate me."
Instead, the Jaffa silently wilted onto a large footstool within arm's reach of Jack. Teal'c sat like the drunk that Jack was, maintaining his balance with hands sprawled across upholstery depicting the scene of an English foxhunt. Despite the fact that his friend had never been a man of many words, it was strange to see Teal'c rendered speechless, and Jack felt a wave of embarrassment for his friend.
"It's okay, Teal'c. You don't have to congratulate me if you don't want to."
"Colonel Carter does not know this," Teal'c mumbled with certainty.
"No." Jack glanced down at the beer bottle. "You're the first person I've told."
"You must speak with her. She would not want this. She would ask you to stay. You must talk to her. Daniel Jackson also would-"
He glanced up at the desperation in the Jaffa's voice and laid a comforting hand on Teal'c's arm. "Stop. This isn't about Carter, Teal'c. It's not about what happened. It's not about Daniel or Carter or even you. It's about me. It's about getting old. It's about pissing off the wrong people...or the right ones, depending on your point of view. It's about having a fucking alien encyclopedia downloaded into your brain then being considered suspect." Jack removed his hand from Teal'c's arm and offered him a smile instead. "Believe it or not, Teal'c, some people think I know too much. That I'm too smart for my own good and that it's too dangerous to leave a loose old canon like me in charge of something as important as the Stargate."
"I will keep my word, O'Neill," the other man uttered softly.
Once upon a time, a grateful Jaffa had pledged his allegiance to the man who had offered him his freedom. That man had coerced the Jaffa to vow that he would not quit the battle just because the man lost the fight. Feeling an odd sense of deja vu, Jack briefly touched Teal'c's cheek then stood and walked across the room to look out the single window at a night lit only from below. The moon was tucked behind a thick blanket of clouds.
"As will I, my friend," Jack said.
"You fulfilled your vow to your country long ago, O'Neill. Stay here. Make your amends. Remain with us."
Clutching the bottle like a lifeline, Jack turned to face the man over twice his age. Teal'c was standing, too, and his dark eyes glittered with unshed tears. "But, who'd watch your back?"
* * * * *
Thursday 2005-06-09 1:02PM MST
Jack was startled when a tray was dropped in front of him. He lowered his coffee cup and the report he'd been reading and glanced across the table at Daniel, who was settling himself into a chair. His friend's face was slightly red and his features were strung as tight as piano wire. Sensing that proceeding with caution was the better part of valor at the moment, he lifted his USAF mug and sipped his coffee.
Daniel shook a napkin onto his lap with unnecessary vigor. "Salt, please," he demanded without looking up.
Dropping the report, Jack grabbed the shaker and placed it in Daniel's hand. The man then proceeded to salt everything on his tray, including his fruit salad.
Okay, there was caution then there was caution. "Uh, Daniel..."
"Where the hell does she get off?" Daniel stated, slamming the shaker onto the table with a bang and glaring over at Jack.
Jack shot a look at the nearby tables, a glance that contained equal parts apology and none-of-your-damned-business. Everyone within eyeshot went back to what they were doing. "Okay."
"I mean, yeah, she's important. She's got a lot on her plate right now."
"But, I have deadlines, too, you know."
"Yes. Yes, I do know," Jack agreed with a hearty smile.
"She thinks just because she's military and I'm not that I can just drop everything and rush to do her bidding."
"Yeah, I've noticed that about her."
"Well, it doesn't work that way."
Jack nodded. "Who exactly are we talking about?"
"What?" Daniel looked genuinely perplexed. "What do you mean? We're talking about Sam, of course."
"Oh. Of course." Jack frowned and retrieved his report.
"What is up with her lately anyway?"
Jack grunted and focused on SG-22's report on a small planet that was, in his studied opinion, an unmitigated waste of time and money.
"I'm serious, Jack. Have you noticed?"
"Hmm? Noticed what?" He flipped to page four and took another sip of coffee.
"Sam. The woman is seriously...perky."
Jack frowned and looked at Daniel over the top of the report. "Perky?"
Daniel nodded and shoved a spoonful of mashed potatoes and corn into his mouth. "She's driving everyone crazy. I've never seen her like this." He started to dig into what had been advertised as Swiss steak then stopped and looked over at Jack. "Oh, God."
"I nearly forgot. I have seen her like this. We all have."
"Daniel, you have the most amazing linguistic gift of totally intertwining your topics. You are aware of that, right?"
"Ah, yes. Pete." Jack shook his head in confusion and went back to pretending to read.
Daniel sawed at a piece of suspect beef covered in suspicious sauce. "She was just like this when Pete first showed up. All perky and annoying. God, she's in love." He stopped sawing momentarily. "I mean, you know, I'm happy for her." He resumed sawing. "It's just, she's so...so-"
Jack set his mug and report on the table and scrubbed at his face with both hands. "So you said," he mumbled into his palms.
"What? What's wrong?"
When Jack peeked out through his splayed fingers, Daniel was frowning at him in concern.
"What's the-" Then a light seemed to dawn, and Daniel nodded then resumed sawing. "That's right. You had that meeting this morning with the guys from the Pentagon. So, how'd that go?" He tossed Jack a look. "Not well, I take it."
Jack lowered his hands to the table. "Actually, Daniel, it was fine. It was just...just fine."
"That good, huh? Feel like sharing?"
Jack gave him an 'are you serious' squint then, deciding Daniel in all likelihood truly was serious, he forced a tight smile. "Sorry, buddy, not an option. Besides, you really don't want to know what Washington has been up to. Trust me."
"Okay." Daniel shrugged then glanced around the room before gracing Jack with a wide grin. "So, who do you think is the lucky guy?"
* * * * *
Sunday 2005-05-29 4:42AM MST
Brigadier General Jack O'Neill wasn't exactly sure what awakened him, but he opened his eyes, stared up at a strange ceiling, and felt a heaviness in his abdomen that had nothing to do with his throbbing bladder or a dinner comprised of leftover Chinese and two insufficiently cooked, generic, frozen burritos. He'd survived all of those before. Many times. This new thing, however...he suspected he'd suffered a mortal blow dealt by none other than his own hand.
Confused, he lay there without moving, the only signs of life the meager rise and fall of his bare chest and the slight movement of his eyes as he studied the random pattern of a handful of tiny brown spots on an otherwise white ceiling. Whether he honestly didn't know where he was or had merely blocked it from his mind, he wasn't sure. He suspected it was the latter, but the mere thought of thinking about it, of trying to recall what had brought him here, made the pain in his gut harden into an unforgiving knot. So, he set it aside - not entirely content with the simple act of lying here prostrate and ignorant, but afraid of what he suspected he'd find if he moved.
When a smooth arm draped itself gently across his stomach, directly over his knotted insides, his only response was to blink.
Surprise! He'd known all along after all. And, it was every bit as bad as he'd feared. Worse even.
Strangely numb, Jack wearily rolled his head on a pillow that wasn't his and stared at the tousled blonde locks of a sated and sleeping Colonel Samantha Carter.
* * * * *
Friday 2005-06-24 8:59PM MST
Jack leaned back against the gritty boulder that sprang up just beyond the perimeter of the parking lot, and he stared up at the sky. Despite the sun still clinging to the western fringe, the stars in the east were popping out in force.
"So," she murmured, and he was reminded of her presence.
Jack looked over at Carter's profile. She was a beautiful woman. He'd thought so the moment he'd met her - despite her mouthy assertions regarding the placement of her genitalia - and he highly suspected she would age with a grace few people were fortunate enough to enjoy.
"So," he agreed.
She glanced down at her hands. "You've been avoiding me, and now you're leaving."
"You said you had feelings for me."
Jack frowned and thought back. "Yes. I did." When she glanced at him, he quickly added, "I mean, I do. I did say that," he stumbled, "and I do have feelings for you, Carter, but I think-"
"I don't think I want to hear this."
He sighed heavily. "You don't dread hearing it half as much as I dread saying it."
"Don't bet on it."
He flinched at the catch in her voice. "Yeah. Okay." Feeling stupendously ignorant and cowardly, he turned to face her. "Listen, it - what we did - it was a mistake."
"It didn't feel like a mistake."
"It did to me."
She frowned at him. "How can you say that? How can you say that making love to me felt wrong?"
"That's just it, Carter." He started to reach out and touch her arm then thought better of it and instead, he shoved his hands into his pockets. "It was sex, Carter. That's all it was." When she looked at him, he could see tears building in her blue eyes. "That's all it ever was."
"And, saying you cared for me?"
"Wasn't a lie. I do care for you. You're a beautiful person. You're smart, you're young, you've got your whole life in front of you. You're also in my chain of command."
Jack hung his head and stared down at his shoes. "I was angry. I'd just been told I was being promoted to D.C. Promoted my ass!" he growled. "I may be a bastard, but I'm not stupid. They aren't promoting me because I'm the man for the job. In fact, they can take their damned promotion and shove it up-" He stopped and took a deep, steadying breath. "I have no choice. I either take it and maybe have a say in keeping you and Teal'c and Daniel and everybody else here alive and well, or I turn it down, retire and leave you to the mercy of someone else."
This time he did reach out and he clutched her cold hand. "I guess I needed to feel human." He gave her a tight smile.
Without warning, her other hand came up and she slapped him. "Like that?"
He wanted to flex his jaw, check with his tongue to see if any teeth had been knocked loose, but he didn't dare. "Yeah. Kinda like that."
"I could report you."
"Yeah," he nodded, "and you probably should."
She slapped him again, harder this time. His ears were ringing and the skin of his left cheek went from burning to nearly numb from pain. "I loved you," she declared.
"No. You didn't." He let go of her hand and before she could make a move to escape, he clutched her shoulders in his calloused hands. "Listen, Carter, I'm not asking for your forgiveness here. I don't expect that. I'm an ass, and I know it. It's just...I guess I thought you knew. I mean, at the time, I thought you knew it was just a fling. I never thought you-"
"I loved you," she repeated.
Finally, he nodded. "Okay. Maybe you did. And I - I'm sorry. I'm sorry for that. Really I am. I didn't know. If I had, I would never have...." He felt her shoulders relax ever so slightly and, taking a chance, he pulled her closer and wrapped his arms around her. As gentle, silent sobs consumed her, he wrapped her in a protective embrace, tucked her face into his neck, and cradled the back of her head with his hand. She was a good kid, and she deserved better. "I'm sorry, Carter."
He planted a chaste kiss on her head and she drew back, pushing him away with a half-hearted shove. "You're a jerk."
His cheek stinging, he smiled. "Yeah. I know."
"And, you're way too old for me."
He nodded. "Absolutely."
"And, you snore anyway."
"Uh...no. I do not snore."
She swiped at her tears with her hands. "And, your knees are bad and for your information, you weren't nearly the best I've ever had."
He pressed a hand to his chest. "You're killing me here."
Tears drying on her cheeks, she gave him a hesitant smile and lifted a hand to his face. He flinched before he realized she wasn't getting ready to slap him again. "But, I guess you weren't nearly the worst, either."
He clutched her fingers then pressed a kiss into her forgiving palm.
"Go to Washington, sir."
"Yes, ma'am." He let go of her hand and turned back to the restaurant.
He stopped and looked back at her. The new moon was sitting on her left shoulder.
"You don't have to be a stranger on my account."
He smiled. "Thanks, Carter. And, I've still got your six, Colonel. I swear."