TITLE: Stratego

AUTHOR: Little Red (mylittleredgirl at gmail dot com)

RATING: PG

CATEGORY: mini!OTP

SUMMARY: Jack has some strategies worked out.

DEDICATION: For ness. I forget how, exactly, but this was her fault.

***

One thing was certain -- Carter slammed a lot more doors now than she used to.

Jack wasn't sure if this was the fault of teenage hormones, or if she had always been this prone to property damage and had only been kept in check by the chain of command. She would be the only one who could answer that -- he noticed the patterns and she analyzed them, that was the way it was -- but it really was never a good time to ask her.

Strategy #1 for whenever Carter stormed into their apartment, threw her things down and slammed the door behind her was for him to leave. Immediately. Staying out of the way was his safest and most reliable option.

However, they were together now. In their adult lives perhaps they could have flirted with a sexual relationship for a few months before committing that they were an item, but they were fifteen years old. In the tenth grade, one kiss and the time he'd let her borrow his team jacket to walk home in the rain meant that they were going steady.

Not that anyone called it that anymore. He still did, but people thought he was being quirky and retro.

Regardless, she was his girlfriend according to the popular opinion of the Colorado Springs Veterans Memorial Senior High School, and, more and more, according to the two of them as well. This meant things. Nice things. Things like sex, and a warm Carter to sleep next to, and getting to distract her with a hand on her thigh in algebra long enough to steal a look at her pop quiz answers.

It also meant she opened up to him, a little. Occasionally. She had a fifteen-year-old liver now, too, and couldn't much hold her alcohol. That meant she said drunk, cryptic, complicated things about how she sometimes really didn't want to be alone, even when she wanted to be alone.

And so, Strategy #2 was developed, in which he would go after her, bully his way into her bedroom and hover for a while until she volunteered what was wrong or stormed out of the apartment herself, depending.

He liked Strategy #1. It was a good strategy. Carter was scary when pissed as hell, even without access to an armory full of explosives. And it wasn't like she could actually kick him onto the couch for the night; she had her own bed still, technically, but having her abandon him to sleep there felt like just as much like exile.

A dresser drawer slammed upstairs, then another. A long pause, then another.

Which meant -- he just knew it -- that she did, actually, want him to come hop into the line of fire. If she truly wanted to hide out undisturbed in a metaphorical foxhole for a few hours she would be totally silent.

Strategy #1 made one last valiant attempt to sway him. If, on the run that he suddenly very much wanted to go on, he swung by the mini-mart and picked up something chocolate-related for her, he might be able to win back some of the points he would lose for running away in fear.

#2 it was, then. He climbed the stairs to her attic bedroom slowly, giving her plenty of chances to hear his creaky approach and send him off. Nothing.

She didn't actually have a bedroom door proper -- hence the slamming of dresser drawers, he was sure -- so he tapped his knuckles on the wall next to the curtain they'd strung up for her when they'd first moved in.

"Sam?" Definitely a 'Sam' moment.

"This isn't a good time, Jack."

He wasn't quite clear on the difference between wanting to be alone and wanting to be alone, but that was pretty poor for a brush-off. "Yeah, I sorta guessed that when you blew through the apartment at mach three."

No snickering at the bad joke (that one really was too much to hope for), no invitation to come in, no yelling.

He waited three seconds and poked his head around the curtain. Invading her privacy was much less worrying now that he'd already seen all the naked skin she had to see.

She was fully clothed and sitting on her bed with a full-on scowl, glaring at the history textbook in front of her. He had a feeling it had fallen open to a completely random page when she dumped her backpack out.

"Rough day?" he guessed.

Apparently, speaking was a bad call, because now the glare was pointed at him.

"I got fired," she stated, and almost tore a chapter out of her textbook flipping pages.

"What?" He racked his brain, trying to figure out if it was possible that she'd had a job and he hadn't noticed. "Wait... you mean from the tutoring thing? At the library?"

"I quit," she amended.

"Weren't you volunteering?" Jack wasn't sure you even could be fired, or even quit, technically, something like that.

She shot him with another glare. He wasn't sure how many more of those he could take -- they had to have some sort of lethal buildup. "Yes. It was taking up too much time anyway. I have homework to do."

Like it ever took her more than half an hour to blow through the idiot busy-work their classes had to offer. Still, that sounded like a potential escape window. And even though he was curious as hell what she had done to get herself fired from at-will understaffed volunteer work, there would be less volatile times to get that information out of her. "Okay. I was gonna go for a run."

It was only because he was watching really closely that he saw a slight flash of something like hurt. Crap.

Maybe her drunken self had been serious about not wanting to be left alone. Of course, she hadn't actually volunteered any information about what he was supposed to say or do before she passed out on the couch. "Carter..."

"I yelled at my supervisor."

That was new. He'd been her supervisor for a long time, and that hadn't been part of her standard operating procedure. "For...?"

She dodged the inquiry. "It just... we got into an argument, and it pushed my buttons, and I lost my temper."

"That usually takes some doing," he pointed out, because it was true, and because it seemed like a nice thing to say.

"I overreacted," she admitted, but her voice was tense and her cheeks were... a bit red, actually.

The overprotective caveman part of his brain kicked into high gear. "What did he say to you?" He was still way under his fighting weight, but he could take a librarian.

Carter worked her jaw for a moment, frowned, and finally explained, "He called me cute."

He wasn't going to laugh. Was. Not.

He could pretty much imagine the scene in his head -- that had been a hot point for Carter even before she had a face full of youthful freckles and carried a back-to-school backpack everywhere she went.

Plus, he did understand. He really did. Seventeen year old boys gave him noogies all the time for being the baseball team rookie.

The lunch ladies always called him "charming," but he didn't mind because they always saved him Jell-o.

"And so you yelled at him."

"I explained to him how demeaning that was," Carter corrected.

"In a loud voice."

"Eventually."

"In a library."

She huffed, crossed her arms, and really did look remarkably cute as she narrowed her eyes. "It's totally inappropriate to say to someone my..." she paused, considered, and continued. "Someone my age. Someone of any age."

Jack tried to imagine the look on the seventy-something-year-old librarian as Carter in all her cloned, pint-sized glory read him the riot act, and had a hard time picturing it. It must have been good. "Well, I doubt he'll make that mistake ever again. But you can probably still get the job back if you-"

"I am not apologizing for this."

Jack shrugged. The situation wasn't totally defused yet, but he risked a few steps toward the bed. She still didn't look happy, but she kicked a book aside to clear a space.

"I thought you liked tutoring." It gave her something to do, and prompted a few of the old Carter smiles he remembered, the ones that only showed up when she was doing something useful.

She groaned and sank back against the pillows. When she didn't say anything else, he pushed up her closest pant leg a few inches to find bare skin above her ankle to touch.

That got her to look at him without glaring, at least. "I do like tutoring," she said, closing her eyes. "This is just... hard, sometimes."

She wasn't kidding about that. He squeezed her ankle and shuffled a little up the mattress, pushing one of her sweaters and a notebook off the side of the bed. He liked that her bed was covered with stuff -- tangible evidence of how rarely she slept there anymore.

"Yeah."

She quirked up half a fleeting smile, just enough to signify that the firestorm was over, and reached a hand toward him in a gesture of goodwill.

She was usually still banging things around even after he escaped the apartment for an hour, and this had only taken a few minutes to turn her back into... well, herself. Huh. Maybe there was something to Strategy #2 after all.

"How was your day?" she asked, tangling fingers with him and squeezing tighter than necessary.

"Made up that test after school. Got a ride home with a kid from baseball." He examined the skin of her hand, smooth and unscarred but still undoubtedly Carter. "Nothing as exciting as yours."

She curled onto her side facing him. "If you're still going running, I'll go with you."

"We could stay here and have sex," he offered instead. Now that she wasn't being scary, leaving the apartment wasn't quite as necessary.

She considered it. "Ask me again in a few hours?"

He slid the rest of the way up the bed enough to drop a kiss on her lips. "Sure. Running, then?"

She crawled off the bed and began to root through her dresser for workout clothes.

Jack went for the stairwell. "You sure you're okay?"

She nodded, giving him something closer to a real smile. "A little embarrassed. I'll get over it."

"Good." He waited until he was out of swiping range before he said it, because he really shouldn't. But she was. "Because this probably won't be the last time you have to deal with that."

"Oh?"

"You are pretty cute." To his surprise, she didn't even glare at him, only raised an eyebrow. "But don't worry, you can beat up anyone else who says so. I won't stop you."

"Well, you're pretty cute yourself," she said. It didn't sound totally like a compliment, but then, it wasn't totally a compliment with the strange and cruel twist their lives had taken almost a year earlier.

"Such is the cross we have to bear."

Carter grinned, shaking her head. "Go get changed. I'll be down in a minute."

He checked his watch as he left the room. Fifteen minutes from slammed door to end of severe emotional weather warning in their apartment. Had to be a new record.

Strategy #2 might be the best way to go, after all.

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