When Jack opens the door to find Cassie standing on his front porch, loaded down with a cat and an outlandish amount of stuff, his first thought is something like What the hell? Followed closely by Crap, this can't be good.
He manages to fake his way through pretty well, or at least he thinks he does. He takes the empty cat carrier (padded and adorned with polka dots), the box filled with cans of food (organic, bearing names like Grandma's Chicken Stew), and the list of instructions (typed and somehow taking up most of an entire page), and he doesn't let on that he has no clue what's going on. He doesn't even raise an eyebrow when she waves a little bottle in his face, says, "Don't forget to give her this – the directions are on the sheet," and sticks the bottle into the refrigerator.
Jack's particularly proud of that last bit of poker face action.
But while Cassie heads further into the house with her cat in her arms, scanning the tops of bookcases and craning her neck to look under chairs and tables as she calls out for Sam's cat (codename: Jack's most recent arch-nemesis), Jack pulls his phone out of pocket, brings up a text message thread, and starts typing.
He has to cover when Cassie walks back into the living room, sans cat this time, because he's not quite finished with his message. "What's your flight number again?" he says, switching over to the flight tracking app before she has a chance to start reading over his shoulder.
"228," she answers. "The cats aren't killing each other, so I think you'll be okay."
He shrugs as he taps on the keyboard. "One can only hope. Your flight's on time, at least."
"Small miracles." As predicted, she makes a beeline to his side and stares down at the screen. Then she makes herself even more at home and tugs the phone out of his hand, switching over to the weather app like she doesn't have her own perfectly good phone sticking out of her pocket. "You know, Daniel and Teal'c think you don't know how to use this thing," she says as she brings up the weather for London and starts zooming around on the radar map.
Jack snatches his phone back and points a finger at her. "Don't give me up, kid."
"Sure thing. I'll keep your secrets." She grins in that smug way that's never going to stop reminding him of Janet. "Right up until I need some leverage, anyway."
"I thought you were on my side," he says. "But you're no better than Carter and that alien furball."
Her grin goes from smug to Cheshire Cat. "That shouldn't be a surprise." Then she looks over her shoulder at the door, and her smile fades a little.
Jack grabs his keys from the table. "C'mon. We should get you to the airport."
"I've got a cab waiting outside," she protests.
"I know." Jack opens the door and starts herding her out. She can go ahead and protest all she likes. Even if she weren't trying to cover up the hopeful expression on her face that makes her look years younger, there's no way on this earth or any other she's taking a taxi to the airport to fly off to Europe. It's not happening. "But where's the benefit to this whole 'semi-retired' gig if I can't annoy you all the way to the airport?"
"Well, you get to take care of my cat, right?" Cassie says, batting her eyelashes in accompaniment to the smile that's now firmly back in place.
Jack makes a face. "Cute wears off at around age twelve, Cass. You might have missed that memo."
"Still seems to work on the guys I meet."
Jack sticks his fingers in his ears. "I'm not listening. And I'm going to not listen all the way to the airport. Let's go."
Jack finishes his text to Carter in between paying the cabbie and shooing him off – over Cassie's protests, of course – and hopping behind the wheel to drive her to BWI. And he does listen on the way to the airport, even to the mercifully short part of the conversation that's about the boy she's currently seeing. It may not be much distance in the intergalactic grand scheme of things, but going overseas to work for a year is kind of a big deal for her.
It's kind of a big deal for Jack, too, truth be told. Cassie's been kicking around the D.C. area for the last several years, dropping in on him for the occasional Sunday afternoon visit or weekday evening meal, fitting him in between school and work and her ever-growing circle of friends. With SG-1 most of the way across the country – when they're not most of the way across the galaxy trying like crazy to get themselves killed, that is – having someone close by who understands their weird lives might just have been what kept both of them sane.
But Carter's home with him a whole lot more now, even if her job sometimes looks a bit more like 'based in Colorado and Nevada with frequent visits to D.C.' rather than the other way around. And Cassie's got to leave the nest eventually, because that's the sort of thing grownup humans are supposed to do.
Plus, Jack's apparently got not one but two cats to keep him company for the next little while, more's the pity.
He parks in the airport garage to the tune of Cassie's, "You remember the part where I'm not twelve, right?" He waves his hands around, blames Sam, and hauls one of Cassie's ridiculously large suitcases behind him to check-in, ignoring her scowl.
Scowl or not, she gets a little weepy-eyed when he finally leaves her at the back of the security line, hanging onto their hug for longer than she has since she really was about twelve.
"Tell Sam I love her," she says when she lets him go.
"Like you're not going to be waking her up with texts in the middle of the night," he says, pretending annoyance that he knows she'll see through. "Or more to the point, waking me up. Remember there are these things called time zones. No texting at six in the morning."
She laughs, wiping at the corner of one eye. "I will. And tell her anyway." He nods, and she shoves at his shoulders. "Now go away, before I decide I don't really want to leave."
"Yes, ma'am," Jack says, executing a half-ass mock-salute of the sort that would make every officer he ever served under cringe. "Going now."
Jack pulls his phone out of his pocket as he crosses the terminal back to the exit. Turning around to check and make sure Cassie's okay isn't going to help her much, and the phone gives him something else to do.
Besides, the thing's been buzzing like crazy in his pocket for the last five minutes.
It had taken Sam something north of an hour to answer the slightly panicked Why do we have an extra alien living in our house?? that Jack had texted her from their front yard. Since she's probably been stuck in meetings all morning, he's not inclined to take it personally, especially since her replies read like she's still trying to have several conversations at once. He's not laughing at her, really. It's just that one of the nicer parts of the semi-retired gig is freedom from spending half his waking hours jailed in conference rooms. Carter, on the other hand, now suffers through more meetings per day than she ever has in her entire life.
We're keeping the cat, she'd sent, followed by, while she's gone, and Cassie, I mean.
Okay, maybe he is laughing. Just a little.
Thanks, but I already figured that out, he thinks to himself, but what he texts back is, For the whole year?
Jack figures there's a better than 98 percent chance she's already vanished back into some meeting or other, so he's about to pocket the phone again when her Yes? reply pops up.
So was someone gonna tell me? He squeezes between a family with a couple of toddlers and a cluster of suit-and-tie types on his way to the exit.
Cassie asked. She texted us last week. I said yes. You didn't see?
Jack can only imagine the exasperated look on Carter's face. Though he's pretty sure he's not imagining the exasperated look that the airport security officer manning the crosswalk is giving him for the offense of texting while crossing the hotel shuttle lane, so he waits to reply until he's safely out of sight in the stairwell of the parking garage on the far side of the street. On that thread with all three of us?
My screen runs out of space! I have no idea what you two said 250 messages ago.
Because loading the messages you missed is so much more complicated than flying an aircraft. Just for example.
Jack's pretty sure her exasperated look would have turned to a glare by now, were he there to experience it in person. Which, fortunately, he's not.
He reaches his truck and is standing next to the door, trying to decide how to respond, when Cassie interrupts – probably on that self-same chatty group text thread. I'm gonna be in security purgatory until the world ends.
Yes, Jack sends back to Sam. IT IS. Or it's more trouble, even it it's not more complicated, and he's semi-retired and therefore allowed to be lazy if he chooses.
He considers swapping threads and offering Cassie his services in arranging the apocalypse to shorten her wait time, but he decides not to bother. Sam will just get there before him and steal his punchline. She types way too fast even on the tiny little on-screen phone keyboard, and it kind of cramps Jack's style. It's hard to be the annoying smartass in the conversation when Carter's constantly three paragraphs ahead of him.
Jack shoves the phone into his pocket again, climbs in the truck, and heads for home.
There aren't any cats in sight when he walks in the door.
Maybe they've opened up an inter-dimensional portal to return back to the alternate universe from whence they must have originally come. Stranger things have happened, after all. In fact, stranger things still happen to Jack on a regular basis, despite his official semi-retired status.
Then again, the stranger things that happen to him don't as a rule result in positive outcomes like a cat-free home. So probably not. He scans the living room one last time for any signs of life, shrugs his shoulders, and heads for the kitchen to heat up lunch.
The signs of life, Jack discovers, are in the refrigerator, in the form of last night's leftovers sitting half-eaten on the previously-undisturbed but now-uncovered plate.
Tempted as he is to blame wormholes and otherworldly powers, Jack's pretty sure Cassie must have left the door ajar when she stuck her little bottle of cat vitamins into the fridge earlier. Said vitamins are sitting on the shelf untouched, but there's no half-frozen cat in sight, more's the pity. A quick recon reveals the culprit lurking under the breakfast table and cleaning the last of the tomato sauce off her paw.
"Carter owes me lunch," he says to Alien Enemy Number One, "since I doubt you're going to replace what you stole. And don't think either you or your new buddy are getting any of Granny's chicken stew tonight, since you already ate my spaghetti."
He fixes himself a ham sandwich instead and heads into the living room to see what's on TV. On the way, he makes the sort of rookie mistake that anyone who's been living with Carter's cat for more than a day should know better than to make.
Never, ever pass by a bookcase taller than your head without first checking for feline occupants.
Jack should have figured that Alien Enemy Number One's brand new partner in domestic crime and galactic domination would be a fast learner. It definitely should have occurred to him before a screeching ball of cat fluff dropped onto his head and what felt like about fifteen clawed paws used his shoulder as a springboard to launch the attached cat up the hallway at top speed.
"Ow." Jack claps a hand over the brand-new scratch on his neck. "Yeah, I deserved that one," he calls after the fleeing cat, "but you'd better not get used to it."
He's starting to wonder if this whole semi-retired thing might not have been a huge strategic error, and meanwhile, his phone is buzzing in his pocket again. He looks at the screen as he takes the last few steps to the couch.
How's it going?
Sam must have escaped the conference room circuit again. Jack rolls his eyes heavenward, takes a bite of his sandwich, and sits down to compose his reply.
Well, Thing 1 stole my lunch out of the fridge, and Thing 2 dive-bombed me from a bookcase. I suspect telekinesis and possible feline special forces training. How's your day?
He takes another bite of his sandwich and waits for her response.
The phone buzzes twice more in rapid succession; Are there pictures? beats out They have names, you know by just a breath. It takes a Jack a furrowed brow and a few blinks to process that the first message came from Daniel.
Oops. That's Sam again. Wrong thread. Sorry.
I'm about to get on an airplane, people. Jack, don't pick on my cat. And that one's Cassie.
In his head, Jack composes a court-martial-inducing text about how much more complicated it is to choose the correct message thread than it is to build naqadah reactors, upgrade hyperdrives, and run a fleet of spaceships, but all he types into the phone is argh.
Carter's just lucky he's been stupid in love with her for years.
He shuts off the screen and is about to set the phone down on the coffee table when one last message pops up.
I'm sorry about the cats. I love you.
He assumes Sam sent that one on a more sparsely populated thread, because if she's saying that in front of Daniel and Cassie and the rest of the known universe, Jack's just going to find a way to delete them all off his phone permanently, even if he has to ask some alien or other for help doing it.
For now, though, he puts down the phone and walks away. He's got plans to make. With friends like these, Jack needs to find some more loyal and reliably terrestrial allies.
Tomorrow, he's going to go out and get a dog.