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Sooner

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Almost immediately after Sam ran, literally ran, out of his backyard, Jack’s cell phone rang too.

“O’Neill,” he answered, without checking the caller ID. He knew who was calling, and he knew why.

Walter blustered through a report on Jacob Carter, his collapse at the base just minutes before and his current condition in the infirmary. “I’ve already contacted Colonel Carter,” Walter finished. “I just thought you’d want to know.” Jack wondered absently what Walter would think if he knew that Carter had been standing in his backyard when the call had come for her, that she’d been just about to say… something… when she’d been interrupted, first by his new CIA girlfriend, and then by this phone call.

“Alright,” Jack said. “Thank you, Sergeant.” He snapped his phone shut and stared at it for a moment, suppressing a sigh. Eventually he looked up and was almost surprised to see Kerry standing there. Of course she was standing there. She had come over for a cook out. He’d invited her yesterday. It had seemed like such an innocuous idea at the time. He looked back down at his phone searchingly. If the last few minutes had been this disorienting for him, he could only imagine how Sam was feeling.

“Jacob Carter,” he managed, by way of explanation, still studying his phone.

“The Tok’ra,” Kerry supplied. “Colonel Carter’s father.”

“Yeah.” Jack said, grateful he didn’t have to come up with anything more eloquent at the moment. He liked Kerry, he really did. Her ability to fill in the blanks and connect the dots when needed was one of the things he liked about her.

“Look, I really should get back to the mountain,” he said. It made sense, right? He wasn’t ditching Kerry to chase after Sam. He was simply rescheduling with Kerry because Earth’s most important liaison to one of Earth’s most tenuous allies was apparently at death’s door, and as base commander, he should be there. No, not ditching Kerry. Certainly not chasing after Sam. And this definitely had nothing at all to do with whatever Carter had come to talk to him about.

“Sure,” she said, “of course.”

Jack waved his beer around in another failed attempt at appearing casual, though this time he at least managed not to spill it everywhere. “You’re welcome to stay and… enjoy this fine day… in my backyard.” He gave her his best attempt at a smile, as if to confirm that he meant it.

The smile she gave him in return was tight. “Thanks, but if you’re leaving, I think I will too.”

“It’s no problem,” he shrugged, turning back to the grill. “I don’t usually lock my doors anyway.”

He felt Kerry watching him as he collected the charred meat from the grill and turned off the gas. At least he had the wherewithal to remember that. It certainly would’ve have helped him believe he was not chasing after Sam if he’d managed to start a small fire in his backyard because he forgot the very basic step of turning off the grill. Because he wasn’t chasing her, he was calmly heading back to the base. He picked up the plates and turned to the house, to see Kerry, still watching him, her eyes slightly narrowed in thought.

“Jack, is there something going on here that I should know about?” It was another one of the things he liked about her, really, her direct approach. Everything was very straightforward with her. It was casual, it was uncomplicated, and he never had to wonder what was on her mind. It was how he usually liked to operate. Usually.

“Well I don’t really know any more than you do,” he said, looking at the plate of meat in his hands and trying to convince himself he wasn’t being an evasive asshole. “I don’t think anyone knew Jacob was sick and right now they’re just -“

“That’s not what I’m talking about.” Kerry sighed and considered him for a beat longer. She didn’t push. Yet another thing he really did like about her. Then she turned and picked up the bowl she’d brought out in the hand not holding her beer and carried both items back into the house. She spent a couple minutes helping Jack clean up the kitchen, and then made her way to the door, leaving her beer open and otherwise untouched on the counter.

“I’m sorry about this,” Jack said as he held the door for her, not totally sure what he was apologizing for. He was even less sure what she thought he was apologizing for. “We’ll reschedule.”

“Sure,” she said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. He did his best not to flinch, but suddenly it all seemed so strange, so absurd, almost, so far from what he wanted to be happening. She cocked her head a bit to the side and give him a probing look. “I’m not an idiot, Jack. And I didn’t make it this far in the CIA without being good at reading people and figuring out what’s going on.”

Ok, so now she was pushing a little. Which probably meant this was important to her. But what could he say? I’ve been in love with an officer under my command for years and I’ve done my best to ignore it and she got engaged but just now she came by and it sounded like she was going to say… something… and now her father is apparently very sick and I really wish you’d leave so I didn’t have to factor you into the equation right now because this is all a little too much for me? He didn’t think that, or some variation of that, would go over very well. He really didn’t think he could manage to string all those words together. And besides, it was probably written all over his face. And she was filling in the blanks, like he knew she could. Connecting the dots.

So he said nothing, and neither did she. She just gave him a small, resigned smile, and walked through the open door to her car.

Finally alone, Jack allowed himself a moment to drop his head and run his hands over his face. Then he grabbed his car keys and made his way back to the SGC.