The clock blinked four in the morning when the irritating chirp of Jack's cell phone, the one that meant he had voice-mail, pulled him out of sleep. Stumbling out of bed, he searched the room (pants, his drawer in the dresser, under the pile of fishing magazines on the nightstand). When he had no luck there he fumbled though the bathroom, and ended up in the kitchen, rummaging through Carter's meticulously arranged cupboards and even the refrigerator before he found it - under the empty box of taquitos he'd bought for last night's dinner, since everything in Carter's fridge required more preparation than he'd been in the mood for managing.
Carter's cordless phone sat in its base, which blinked a little red "3" over and over. Jack hit play on it as he punched in the code for voice-mail on his phone. Daniel's number popped up and Jack sighed. Why couldn't Daniel text him like a normal person? Even Jack texted, so really, Daniel had no excuse. Cell tucked against his shoulder, he rummaged for one of the big plastic tumblers in the cupboard above the sink as Daniel's voice, worn and edged with concern, sounded on both Carter's machine and in his ear. Both were the same message from just after midnight: short, terse and slightly out-of-sync. "We're back. Sam's in the infirmary. Call me."
The tumbler clattered into the sink as the answering machine continued on. "12:45 a.m.," it announced, and then Daniel again. "Jack?" A pause, and then a sigh. And then a click. "1:20 a.m." the machine said, but it was just the click of a hangup that time.
He called Daniel as he blew through two red lights. Voice-mail, of course. Teal'c, too. The SGC switchboard was next, but the Gateroom tech on duty had just come on shift and had only heard that a gate team had come through with injuries on the previous shift and didn't have details, and he was already pulling through the main gate by the time he was connected through to the infirmary so he hung up and tore through Security. It can't be bad bad, he told himself in the elevator. It'd been almost three hours since Daniel's last attempt at contacting him, so it must be minor. Unless Daniel wasn't okay. And Teal'c too. Teal'c would have called him. Unless Teal'c wasn't okay. So it was okay. Or something had gone catastrophically wrong.
Given it was SG-1's last official mission, it was pretty much even odds, given their luck. He jabbed the infirmary level button half a dozen times. It didn't really help.
Jogging down the hall, his knee twinging hard, Jack caught sight of a reassuring monolith outside the infirmary. "Teal'c!" Jack skidded to a stop. "Daniel left messages… Is Carter-"
Teal'c held up a forestalling hand. "Colonel Carter will be fine. She sustained a mild concussion and some contusions."
He grabbed the wall as his knees went a little weak. Jesus, he was too old for this shit. Barely a year away from combat duty, barely a month away from the SGC, and here he was swooning like some chick in a corset in those historical costume dramas Cassie liked so much. "What happened?"
Teal’c ushered him through the infirmary doors. "I will let Daniel Jackson explain."
Daniel sat slumped in a chair near Lam’s office, holding an icepack to his right eye. The purpling skin Jack could see around it spoke of a spectacular shiner come morning.
"Jack!" Daniel straightened up, or tried to; mostly he listed to one side, wincing, and sort of curled around his ribs.
"Daniel." Jack let it drawl out. "You called? A lot? Implying a horrible accident without giving me any helpful information? Can I say that I really don't miss that?"
"Uh right." Daniel weakly waved his ice pack in what Jack supposed was a conciliatory gesture. "Sorry. You weren't answering, and it wasn't serious so I just..." Daniel trailed off. "So yeah. That was bad. Sorry. Again. But Sam’s okay, just a little banged up. And maybe has a concussion. Again. Sorry. I probably should have clarified. On the phone. Before you drove out here."
"Yes." Jack wan't going to let on how much he enjoyed watching Daniel squirm. That he did miss. "You should have. But since I woke up at four in the morning and just decided to swing by, why don’t you clarify now?"
Daniel's eyes flicked to Teal'c, to the curtained off bed at the end of the room and eventually back to Jack, starting to get that mulish look that meant he was feeling both guilty and cornered. "Well, Sam can-"
"No, go right ahead, Daniel. Really. I'm sure this will be fascinating. Like old times." There would be paybacks eventually, Jack was sure of that, but he hadn't had a chance to really torment Daniel for weeks. So he just stared at Daniel until Daniel sighed and said, "Um… there was a brawl."
"Yes, Jack. A brawl." Daniel glared at him out of his good eye. "A fight. Fisticuffs. A fracas, a fuss, a fray. A free-for-"
Teal'c all but rolled his eyes and interrupted with, "Colonel Carter was forced to engage in battle in a drinking establishment. We obviously came to her aid, but she was unsurprisingly victorious."
Jack jabbed a finger at Teal’c. "Fun ruiner." Teal'c gave him the tiniest of shrugs, and Jack turned back to Daniel. "So Carter got beat up in a bar fight, and you what, threw your face at someone to help out?"
Daniel pulled a face and immediately winced in regret. "I was trying to keep Sam from getting hit with a chair," Daniel said.
"With a chair," Jack repeated, then caught Teal'c crossing his arms, eyebrow on the rise and said, "Sooo, tell me more."
"Well, to be fair, she punched him first."
"Oh my god, Daniel!" came from behind the curtain and Daniel forced a sheepish cough and pushed out of his seat.
"I, uh, think I'll let Sam tell you the rest."
After Daniel left, followed by Teal'c, Jack sauntered back and ducked through the curtain. Carter was propped up in her bed, tablet on her lap, glaring at Jack. "Was that necessary?"
"Absolutely." He grinned and leaned against the bed. She looked like shit. One eye almost swollen shut, like Daniel's. A split lip, a nasty abrasion on one cheek. Bruised ribs too, he'd bet, given how she was sitting. The hand holding the tablet was bandaged. But she was okay, really okay, sitting there working, just like his Carter and Jack felt the knot in his chest ease away. "So, last trip out as CO and you get everyone in a bar fight."
Sam put down the tablet and crossed her arms in an uncanny mirror of Teal'c. "Someone pinched my ass and I was understandably startled."
"So you just punched guy."
"Are you questioning my reflex, Mr. Shoot First and then shoot again just to be sure?"
"That's General Shoot First, Colonel." He poked her to make her scoot over, and hitched one hip up on the edge of the bed to take pressure off his knee. Maybe he should pay more attention to the exercises his PT always harangued him about. "I am questioning why you didn't duck the chair."
"Oh." Her forehead furrowed, and he could tell she was replaying the whole thing in her head, probably diagramming it out from every angle. "The chair was later. He tried tackling me first. And then I punched him again," she said, before adding, after a telling pause, "A few times."
Jack was a little sad he'd missed it. Carter thinking and Carter fighting were two of his favorite spectator sports. "So do we need to worry about an imminent invasion?"
"We're good, thanks," Carter said, rolling her eyes. "The local mayor equivalent was quite understanding and rather embarrassed." From the red that suddenly flushed the top of her cheeks, that guy wasn't the only one. "Great way to cap off my short career as SG-1 lead, huh."
"Hey, you didn't die, break anything important, lose Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum, and the universe didn't end." He glanced around, posture casual, before bending down to press a kiss to her temple. "So I'd say good work, Colonel."
She humphed and pulled the blanket over her head.
"I bet if you let Daniel and Teal'c write the report, they'll make it good. Landry will never know."
"SG-8 was with us." Carter let the blanket fall away, resigned to her fate. "They've already given their report. Literally blow by blow. They were very complimentary, especially after I broke the guy's nose and dropped him with a sleeper hold. Apparently Major Dempsey thinks I fight like Anderson Silva."
"So no big discoveries, no snakes defeated, but not so bad for your last time out after all."
She shrugged. "Maybe." But he saw the smile lurking in the corner of her mouth.
"Admit it, Carter, it felt good."
"Okay," she dragged it out, faux-petulant. "Maybe a little."
Jack gently traced over her bruised and bandaged knuckles. "You okay? About all this?"
"My new career path in mixed martial arts?"
"Smart ass." Jack toyed with the edge of the medical tape around one of her fingers. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah." She flicked his fingers away from the tape he picked at, and immediately started worrying at it herself. "Change is good." He wondered how many times she'd been repeating that to herself. "I like change."
"Uh huh. Which is why you beat the snot out of some poor dude."
"Hey, weren't you just trying to get to admit I liked it?"
"Hey, not knocking it. But maybe you're holding in a little unresolved anger, some tension about the impending change you like so much?" Not that Jack had any idea how that felt,. no, not at all.
Carter clearly was not falling for it, either. "Thank you for your analysis, Dr. O'Neill."
"General Doctor. Hey, I already had to process this shit. It's nice to see someone else suffer."
She shook a bandaged finger at him. "You're a jerk, Jack."
Man, did he love how quickly the "sir" had vanished outside of work after he took the Homeworld Security post. Especially since it came with a whole new level of sass, like eight-years-worth she’d saved up. "I'm your favorite jerk." He eased off the bed. Between his knee and back, and her, well, everything, it was shaping up to be a quiet weekend before he had to head back to D.C. "Want me to see if I can spring you early? Go home, order pizza, hang out Daniel and Teal'c for a bit, like old times?"
"Jack, it's like five thirty in the morning."
"Okay, so go home, take a nap, and then times."
"Yeah, sure." She caught his hand before he got too far away. "And hey, not so old, you know," she said with a soft smile and Jack clamped his mouth shut on the defensive retort that just popped up and okay yeah, maybe he was still processing, too. Change sucked. Leaving his team behind sucked, even though he got a chance with Carter out of all of it.
"Are you trying to tell me something, Carter? Implying, perchance, that I am elderly, positively antiquated, even? I will have you know that I am hip with the youth of today. I mean, I text, Carter. Daniel can't even figure out how to text."
"Daniel can't text because he gets frustrated that his messages always get cut off for being too long, and I think the general doth protest too much." Her grin took any sting from the words. "I was just sharing the suffering." She squeezed his fingers before letting go. "Nap and pizza and hang out sounds great. Now go get me out of here."
"Yes, ma'am, Colonel." Jack sketched her a salute before leaning in to whisper. "Try not to punch anyone before I get back."
He took three pillows to the head before he escaped, but her delighted laugh followed him into the hall, and yeah, change sucked, blah, blah, but it was totally worth that.