During the debrief, Carter won't meet his eye. When he does manage to make eye contact, she won't hold it - her eyes dart to Daniel, to whoever is speaking, or to the table. When the General dismisses them, she leaves quickly.
He hits the showers with Daniel and Teal'c. Teal'c is as stoic as always, choosing the stall against the far wall. Even Daniel is quiet, removing his filthy clothing and jumping slightly when starting his shower make the pipes squeak.
Jack stays in the shower the longest, waits until he hears the other stalls turn off, the final bang of their lockers closing. He's testing the limits of the hot water but after a life of special ops, a hot shower is a luxury, not a necessity. He kills the water and stands dripping for a while, listening. He's definitely alone. He thought maybe if he waited long enough... but Carter hadn't gotten filthy like the rest of them. She might have even gone home.
This puts some speed in him - he needs to find her. He can't let this fester between them, slowly drive a wedge into their tight-knit team. Carter has bounced back from a lot of things - all he has to do is make sure she bounces back from this. Besides, it wasn't even Carter. That woman wasn't her. Carter not in the Air Force? She may as well have been a total stranger.
He towels off and dresses with speed, running the damp towel once over his hair and dropping it to the ground.
She's not in her compound room, not in the lab, not in the gate room or the control room. He calls the mountain entrance, but they assure him she hasn't left the compound, so she's somewhere. He checks the infirmary but she's not there.
He wanders around, sticking his head in supply closets and empty rooms, a kind of aimless meandering, listening for the sound of her voice and the light tread of her boots on the concrete floor. Finally, he passes the gym and hears the sound of a fist against the punching bag and a decidedly female grunt.
Her back is to him, but he can see that she's putting a lot of energy into pummeling the bag. He almost turns around and leaves her be, but he knows she isn't angry about the mission being a success. She's angry at him.
"Major," he says. She stops punching, her shoulders tensed and hunched, but she doesn't turn to face him.
"Yes, sir," she answers dutifully. He debates ordering her to turn around. He knows she'd comply. This Carter is military through and through, after all. A much better soldier than he has ever been. It's one of the things he likes best about her. But he doesn't issue the order. Instead, he walks around her, giving her a large berth, and then, raising his arms slowly, puts a hand on either side of the bag, holding it in place for her. She still won't look at him.
"Go ahead," he says softly. She gets in a few good punches before her resolve breaks, her chin starts to wobble, and she swipes angrily at her hot, sweaty face. She didn't bother to wrap her knuckles first, so now they are raw and beginning to bleed. She turns away, wraps her arms around her middle. Her tank top is dark with sweat - her shoulders and neck glisten with it. "You're mad at me."
"Yes!" she says, spinning to face him again, but then she shakes her head. "No, no sir."
"Well which is it?"
"I'm mad at her," she says.
Jack squints, his brow furrowing. He's trying to understand what it must feel like to be mad at yourself, but then, that woman was very different than his Carter.
"She'd just lost her husband, she was confused," he offered.
"Okay, now I'm mad at you," Carter seethes. "You aren't her husband."
"No, that I agree with," Jack says. "And she wasn't my Carter."
"I know that," she says. "I haven't had hair like that since I was seventeen."
Jack has to smirk at this, at the notion of teen-aged Carter tossing her hair over her shoulder, flirting with the boys. Although, knowing Carter, it was probably teen-aged Carter, her nose stuffed in a book.
"Do you think it's strange how every alternate reality you and I..." he stops. That's certainly a stupid sentence to finish, a bad road to go down. "You should go home and get some rest, Major. We're not scheduled for departure for another 48 hours."
"Yes, sir," she says and reaches for her towel. But at the door, she stops, wringing the towel in her hands. "What was it like?"
"She just needed to be sure I wasn't him, you understand that right?" he says.
"I understand it perfectly," Carter says. He knows she does, too. "But I'd still like to know."
"It was like kissing a perfect stranger," Jack says. "Nothing there."
Her eyes fall, slightly.
"Well at least now we know," she says.
"Now we know what?" he asks before he can help himself. There is not one day he spends on this planet, or any other, that his mouth doesn't get him into trouble.
"That we aren't missing anything," she says softly.
"When I said she wasn't you I meant she wasn't you," he says, carefully. "She may have sounded like you and looked like you and, you know, scienced like you but she wasn't you. She wasn't Sam."
He walks slowly toward her but she doesn't flee or flinch or look like she wants him to keep his distance. He stops when there is only the smallest amount of space between them.
"Colonel," she says, softly.
"We don't know anything," Jack says. Warning bells are going off in the back of his mind, all screeching for him to stop, to shut up already, but he ignores all of them like always. "If and when I kiss you, Carter, it will not feel like nothing."
"Oh," she says. He can feel her soft exhalation of breath against his face. It would be so easy to lean in, to touch her lips with his, to prove his hypothesis correct but she isn't Dr. Carter. She's Major Carter and there are rules about this sort of thing.
"Go home, Major."
"Yes, sir," she says. He walks past her.
And that's the end of that.
Of course it isn't the end.
He isn't asleep. It's hard to sleep with his mind so crowded. He's stretched out across his bed in nothing but a pair of sweat pants listening to the dog snore softly.
The knock on the front door is so soft, the dog doesn't even stir. He thinks he imagines it, but there it is again, a light tapping. He gets out of bed and moves easily through the house in the darkness. He flips on the porch light before opening the door.
"You shouldn't be here," he says.
"I know," she answers. "I just... I couldn't..." She shakes her head. "To say it's been a strange week isn't really specific enough."
He steps aside, lets her in. She waits in the living room while he throws on a shirt. The dog wakes, pads out to investigate. The dog allows Carter a moment to scratch its ears and pat its head and then the dog goes back to bed. Jack buttons two buttons and then can't be bothered with the shirt anymore.
"What can I do for you, Major?" he says.
"Did I wake you up?" she asks. He shakes his head once. "Good."
"Do you want a beer?" he asks. She looks like she's going to say no but then, instead, offers him a small smile. Not the toothy grin he's familiar with, but a quick quirk of the lips.
He pulls two long necks from the fridge - the Rocky Mountain's best - and hands her one. He motions to the sofa and she sits. He takes the chair.
"You know," she says, almost conversationally, except it's three am and the only time she ever comes over to his house is when someone has died. This isn't all that different, really. "I don't really think about this very often."
"This?" he asks. She makes a halting, strange gesture with her hand where she taps her chest and then sort of strangely points to him. He interprets this to mean 'you and me'. He nods.
"But ever since Daniel came back from that first reality I just... sometimes I wonder."
"That's... natural, I think," he says.
"And then, today, it was just like..." She grits her teeth. "Can I be honest with you, sir?"
"I wish you would," he says, setting the beer on the coffee table.
"When I saw her kiss you, I wanted to reach through that mirror and put my hands around her throat."
Carter looks ashamed as she says it. Even in the dim light of the one lamp he'd managed to snap on, he can see her cheeks color. She takes a moment to peel the label on her beer bottle back with her thumb nail. She's buying a little time to compose herself and he lets her.
"She wasn't my Sam. She wasn't you," he says. This is the same sort of thing he tried to explain in the gym earlier, but this is really the heart of the matter. The woman he kissed wasn't his Samantha Carter and that's all there is to it. "And if she could have stayed, she would have never been you."
"She would have been the me you could have," Carter says and then the dam breaks. He sees several tears slip down her cheeks.
"But she never would have been the Carter I wanted," he replies.
The makes her sob, one quick, anguished noise and then she buries her face in her hands and he, against his better judgment, moves quickly to her side and wraps his arm around her shoulders.
"Hey, hey, hey," he says. She leans into him, pressing her face into the soft fabric of his shirt instead of her hands. He runs his hand up and down her back. "Listen, Sam, listen. You and I have clocked a lot of time together and we're going to clock a lot more. We've weathered worse than this."
"I know," she says against his chest. He feels it as much as hears it.
"Tomorrow is a new day," he says. "We're going to be fine."
"Yes, sir," she says. She straightens up and gives him a weak, watery, but sincere smile. She wipes her face with the back of her hands. Her eyes look dark gray in the low light. "I should go."
They stand, he walks her to the door.
He almost just lets her go.
"Carter?" The sound of his own voice betrays him again. She turns around in the open doorway and he figures he has to know, has to know if what he's been telling her is even the truth. He walks up to her quickly, takes her face in his hands, and presses his mouth to hers.
She's startled at first, he can tell, but she's an adaptable woman and soon enough she's kissing him back. Her lips are soft and when they open slightly under his, he gives them a quick swipe with his tongue.
He could kiss her forever. The tips of their tongues touch and he realizes that if he doesn't stop now, he never, ever will. She looks a little dazed when he pulls away. It takes a few moments for her eyes to regain their focus. Her tongue darts out and licks her lips, a move that makes him want to blow the whole mountain up and head for Mexico.
"Just so you know," he says in a voice he'd like to sound a little stronger, "that was not nothing."
"No, sir," she says.
"Good night, Major."
"Good night, sir," she says.
The door clicks softly shut behind her.