CATEGORY: Sam/Jack friendship, UST
SPOILERS: Season 7, including "Chimera." This either happens before "Heroes" or in my magical season 7 where "Heroes" doesn't happen at all. Pete exists, but this is totally Lisa-safe.
SUMMARY: Checking up on Carter.
"and she said, losing love is like a window in your heart.
everybody sees you're blown apart..." - Paul Simon, "Graceland"
It took Colonel Jack O'Neill all of five minutes to figure out that something was up with Carter.
Of course, being distracted at a briefing, especially one of Daniel's briefings, was hardly a capital offense. Hell, he tuned in only for about one word in twenty unless the topic of conversation was something relevant, like that the artifact / ancient text / civilization in question had the potential to blow them up, or, with the proper handling, the potential to be used to blow someone else up. Teal'c... well, it was hard to tell about Teal'c on any given day. Paying attention and not paying attention looked pretty much the same.
But this was Carter. She was always there taking notes and asking questions, giving him very much the feeling that she ought to be sitting in the front row with her hand raised while he sat in the back of the classroom drawing stick figures of people in lewd positions and rolling up bits of paper to flick at Daniel when his back was turned. Even when Daniel had gone on far too long about how this specific word grouping could either translate as this one completely random thing or this other equally irrelevant thing, she was always nodding and frowning and giving all sorts of understanding facial expressions at appropriate moments.
That Carter had been distracted for one day, coloring in the o's on the paper in front of her and not even looking at Daniel's fancy slide show, didn't have to mean anything. She could just be tired, or inventing something really really important in her head, or -- shock of all shocks -- just bored. Perhaps today's informative presentation on the cultural importance of mask-making of P8-something had finally pushed her over the edge of her Daniel tolerance. Even General Hammond had looked like he was mentally listing a hundred more important things he could be doing with those forty-five minutes.
Still. They weren't headed off-world until Thursday, but it seemed prudent to at least check that she wasn't coming down with something.
He meant to catch her right after Hammond declared lesson-time over, but she ducked out while Daniel was still talking. It took him a good twenty minutes to get away from the prattling archaeologist, and that was really his own fault -- he really never should have gotten into it about how mask-making was so not important.
When he finally got to Carter's lab, she was, not unexpectedly, hovering over something wire-y with a pair of pliers, or what looked like a pair of pliers but was probably much more expensive, in her hand.
Except she wasn't doing anything. He watched her stare blankly at the tangle of circuits in front of her for a few seconds, the red flag in his brain crawling steadily higher up the flagpole. Definitely not normal.
She blinked up at him as though wondering where he came from. "Sir. Can I help you with something?"
She looked okay. Maybe a bit tired around the eyes, but she wasn't obviously bleeding or turning colors. He was probably being over-protective, but then, it wasn't totally unwarranted. Carter didn't get colds like normal people. She was either healthy as a horse or she was in the infirmary for half a week with blunt head trauma.
She was doing that a lot this year. That was probably somewhere on the short list of things he still had to teach her before he'd let her properly take on her own team -- how to avoid getting clocked in the head. Not that he'd ever been a star student at that himself, but if he ended up with brain damage it wasn't like the average IQ of the state of Colorado was going to suffer for it.
"You feelin' okay?"
"I'm fine," she said, too quickly.
Or maybe he wasn't being over-protective. "You seemed a little out of it in the briefing just now."
Maybe it came out more like a reprimand than he'd meant, because she looked absolutely horrified. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't realize. It won't happen again."
"Hey, hey," he waved her down before she had the chance to jump to attention. "Not a problem. Don't think Daniel even noticed. Just worried."
"I'm fine, sir," she repeated. "Really."
Which meant, of course, that she wasn't. Damn. She turned back to the wires in front of her and stabbed them with the tool in her hand in a way that looked totally arbitrary.
He had a bad feeling this wasn't work-related. "Everything okay at home?"
She looked up again, eyes wide, probably as surprised as he was that he'd asked that question. Not that he didn't ask about the personal lives of his colleagues, they just didn't usually have any interesting answers for him. Up until a few months ago, the collective lives of SG-1 were fabulously boring in their off hours.
He didn't really want to know, didn't want to hear that she was having an off day at work because she'd been out late the night before or... in late... but he was talking before his better judgement could get in the way. "Things going well with the guy?"
The guy. He knew his name, of course, he just preferred not to use it. It probably wasn't an indulgence he should allow himself -- he had long worried that her workaholic tendencies would drive her certifiably bonkers one day if she didn't get herself something else to do, and it wasn't like he would never be happy for her in a relationship with another man -- but then, childish and petty were established pieces of his personality so he didn't know why he expected better of himself. It was easier to continue thinking of Pete as an annoying accessory of Carter's that had shown up three months ago and kept her away from all of the we're-lonely-and-have-nothing-better-to-do-so-let's-do-some-"team-bonding" evenings since, rather than as an actual person that he should try to start liking if he was going to become a permanent fixture in the life of one of his closest friends.
Friends. Or... whatever they were. He tried not to think about that other part.
"He's... um, not." She poked around with the pliers some more and was somehow managing to look very, very small. And pale. And not making a whole lot of sense.
"My 'guy.' Anymore. We're..." she tugged on one of the wires and it gave a little spark. "He broke up with me."
What? He broke up with her? That was just...
"He's an ass."
A surprised smile toyed with the edges of her mouth but disappeared quickly. She shook her head. "He's not."
Of course she would defend him -- Carter had always been a little too forgiving for her own good. Who did this guy think he was, anyway? What in the hell did this idiot off the street think was so wrong with her? "Trust me. The guy's a jerk."
On some level, Jack realized this was what he wanted. He wanted Carter back, selfishly missing her company at take-out-and-a-movie events with Daniel and Teal'c and sick of the weird, jealous, worried feeling he got when he thought about her with someone else, someone he didn't know and didn't trust. He should be happy. Maybe he would be, later, once he was done wanting to punch the guy's teeth in for putting that look on her face.
"You don't have to say that, sir."
He did, actually. After Cassie's first boyfriend had broken up with her and the girl had cried all over his shoulder about it while he silently panicked, he'd actually gone to her mother for emergency coaching. The Doc, who seemed to find it hilarious that the hard-as-nails commander of a front-line unit could be so completely thrown by a teary thirteen-year-old, had finally stopped laughing at him long enough to properly instruct him in consoling members of the fairer sex.
"He's wrong, and she's right," Fraiser had explained, counting off the talking points on her fingers. "He's a complete jerk, men are jerks in general, she's too good for him, and she'll do much better next time. Then take her out and buy her something."
It was amazing how well it worked. The Doc was a genius. And, given Cassie's rather tempestuous dating life over the past few years, he'd had a lot of practice.
This was different, of course. This was Carter, and she wasn't thirteen, and this didn't fall anywhere near their realm of comfortable conversation topics. If he had any brains in his head at all, he really would have invented a meeting to get out of there and spent the day hiding in his office after alerting Daniel or Fraiser, whichever he saw first, that they might want to take their emotionally tactful selves and stop by Carter's office at some point.
Except that Fraiser was off-world setting up the clinic at the new, new Alpha Site.
And Daniel was still probably going nuts about those alien masks.
And the part about having a brain in his head... well, he didn't, really. So, of course, he stayed right where he was.
"You need to... talk about it?"
The look she gave him was more than a little embarrassed, but she didn't tell him to leave.
"No. I'm all right." She awkwardly avoided his eyes. "But... thanks."
"I am an expert on stupid men," he offered.
She smiled. She was only humoring him, but at least it was something. "You really don't have to get mad at him, sir. It's not his fault."
He didn't have anything smart to say to that, so he waited her out.
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not exactly the easiest person in the world to date."
It sounded like a quote. In his pockets, his hands balled reflexively into fists. "Did Pete say that to you?"
Even before she shook her head, he knew that he hadn't. "He was very polite, I promise. I didn't really expect it to work out."
She'd come up with it herself. She really thought that, really thought that outside her uniform she was less than ordinary, actually seemed to believe that she wasn't worth an idiot like Shanahan.
It boggled his mind.
Jack looked over his confident, brilliant, utterly fearless second-in-command and saw a whole other person sitting in her place, the one he always did his best not to see when he looked at her.
A second later, he realized how dangerous that was.
"Teal'c and I are going bowling tonight," he announced. If she recognized the non-sequitur as a blatant attempt to escape their previous conversation, she didn't complain. If anything, she looked relieved. "You should come."
"Yep. He loves it. Pretty good, too. We've been thinking of joining a league. Gotta train, you know."
Completely bemused. One of his favourite Carter expressions. "You have?"
"Come on. What could be more fun on a Tuesday night?" He realized exactly why he'd extended the invitation, what he was trying to save her from, when his mind gave him a clear picture of her moping alone in her house, curled up next to the phone with a tub of ice cream like women in TV movies who had just been dumped. He dismissed it even as he thought it -- that wasn't Carter's style. "It's got to be better than hanging out here all night."
She looked undecided. And strangely guilty. Maybe she felt bad for missing out on so many team events over the past few months. "I have a lot of work to catch up on. And I don't want to get in the way of your... training."
"We can drag Daniel along. We'll play teams. I'll even let you pair up with Teal'c."
"Well, in that case..." She still wasn't smiling as she went back to the wires in front of her, but she seemed more or less okay. And she had agreed to come along on the team bowling evening that hadn't quite been arranged yet. Not that arranging it would be a problem -- what the heck else would Teal'c and Daniel have to do on a Tuesday?
He didn't know why he felt like it was so important that he keep an eye on her. She didn't look that upset. Just... off. Quiet. Resigned. She'd been like that for a while, too, if less obviously. In his head he'd been associating her odd, slightly withdrawn behaviour with her boyfriend -- probably at least half of the reason he wasn't keen on the guy -- but, if he really thought about it, it had started before that.
It was out of his mouth before he realized he was going to say anything at all. "There's nothing wrong with you, Carter."
Her head snapped up like she'd heard gunfire, and she met his eyes with laser precision. For a terrifying instant, he thought she was going to cry.
Crap. He grabbed for something, anything else to say.
"You know that me and Teal'c would kill him for you if you wanted, right?"
She swallowed and nodded, eyes retreating from his back to the table again. "I know. But, please don't, sir."
"I'm just saying. The offer is there. Heck, Daniel could probably take him by himself."
There it was: a real smile. "Thanks."
"1800? Bowling? You gonna be done here by then?" He was edging back towards the door, body having smartly decided to remove himself from the minefield before his brain decided it would be a really good idea to say something else.
"I'll be ready."
Nodding, and trying not to look like he was actually fleeing, he made it into the hallway. And almost ran smack into Teal'c.
"Hey, buddy. Lookin' for Carter?"
"I was coming to inquire after her well-being. She appeared unusually pensive in the briefing this morning."
"Yeah, well, you know Carter. Always thinking." Jack slapped Teal'c in the shoulder, trying to subtly turn him around. He wasn't sure, of course, but he had a feeling she probably wanted to be left alone. "She's fine. Don't worry. Lunch?"
Teal'c nodded and fell into step with him, apparently understanding. "I will speak with her later."
Content, Jack continued down the hallway. "So, T, you up for some bowling tonight?"
LINER NOTES: This was written as a challenge-to-self in an attempt to wake the muse up in time to finish some fics (yeah, right) before the new season starts. The idea was to turn on iTunes and write a half-hour story inspired by the first song I heard. This was not written in half an hour, but I tried. The song was Paul Simon's "Graceland."
There might be a sequel.
*send feedback to little red*
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