With SG-1 briefly out of commission to give Daniel a chance to come back to life, at least from a paperwork standpoint, Jack takes the opportunity to stop at the Air Force Academy. One of the fitness advisors is an old friend, and he might hate wearing the stiff, pressed dress uniform, but it’s worth it in this case.
There are a decent number of SGC personnel who stop in at the academy from time to time, and Jack’s seen more than a few from Cheyenne Mountain around the campus grounds so far today.
As the afternoon winds down, Jack waves goodbye to TJ and heads for parking. If he’s lucky, he might beat the afternoon rush.
“Excuse me, Colonel O’Neill?”
He turns to find one of the SGC’s techs jogging towards him. “Yes, Peterson?”
“Are you heading back to Cheyenne Mountain?”
“Oh, good. I don’t know if you knew, but Captain Carter’s here, sir. She’s subbing for one of the math professors today. Could I possibly ask you to give her a ride back? I was supposed to, but my wife called, and our youngest is throwing up at soccer practice, and she’s stuck at work -” the man waves a hand helplessly.
“Sure. No problem.”
“Thank you, sir. I really owe you one.” Peterson glances at his watch, relief evident on his face. “I think her last class gets out in half an hour, if that’s all right with you.”
The man hurries off with one last, harried thank you, leaving Jack to shove his keys back in his pocket and amble towards the classrooms.
Captain Doctor Samantha Carter is the ultimate scientific brainpower on the frontline off-world team of the most top-secret project on the planet, but she’s still coming back to lecture cadets?
It’s a big enough lecture hall that no one notices when Jack slips in the back. He leans back against the wall, folding his arms, content to watch silently.
According to the schedule outside the door, this is Calculus III. She probably aced it before she could drive.
His 2IC stands at the front, her clear, bright voice ringing across the room as she outlines whatever it is she’s teaching. She pauses, turning around to write another line onto the closest whiteboard behind her; all three boards are filled with her handwriting, numbers and symbols in long lines, arrows, circles, asterisks.
It’s a train of thought, not just a math problem. Whatever it is, she sees connections, and if his math wasn’t so way, way past rusty, he wonders if this might show him how she thinks. How she relates concepts. How her brain works.
This is her turf, after all. He’s heard plenty of folks at the SGC wax eloquent over just how brilliant she is, how the Stargate would never have worked without her. The word genius gets tossed around a lot when people mention Samantha Carter. And now, seeing the fluid, easy grace with which she explains these abstract, complex concepts, he thinks he might understand it.
She says something about logarithms that draws a laugh from the students.
This is a different side of her, something he hasn’t really seen. She’s animated. Bright. Her smile is luminous. For the first time since she walked into a briefing room and immediately had to defend her right to be there, she looks completely at ease. Everything about her is tidy and precise, from the crisp lines of her uniform to the cadence of her speech to the gestures she makes, dry erase marker in hand.
He has the fleeting thought that he likes her like this, unguarded and enthusiastic.
Maybe he should stop giving her shit over the science thing.
Rather than draw attention to himself, Jack stays tucked away in the back while the students leave and Carter takes an eraser to the whiteboards.
Maybe he’s just getting soft in his old age, but wow, those cadets look young. He’s fairly sure he was never actually that young himself. Carter, on the other hand, could probably still blend in if she wanted to.
As she shifts the strap of a messenger bag over her shoulder and picks up a stack of textbooks, he decides, oh, maybe he should stop lurking up in the shadows.
She looks up to find him coming down the steps to her level, and the surprise on her face is evident. “Sir?”
He waves a hand; her arms are full, and he’s not looking for her to drop everything and spring into a salute. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to startle you.”
“It’s fine, sir.” She shifts the load of books in her arms absently. “I just didn’t realize you were here.”
“I snuck in the back. Didn’t want to interrupt.”
She nods slowly, like she’s not sure what to make of it. He’s pretty sure she’s considering how odd it looks for her brand-new CO to be hovering in the back of a lecture hall, watching her talk about calculus. “Well - I’m supposed to meet Captain Peterson and head back to base now, sir, so if you don’t mind -”
“Actually, that’s why I’m here. Peterson had to pick up his kid at school. Asked if I could give you a ride.”
She’s still holding the books like a barrier between them, but he can’t blame her. Sure, they’ve been mincing from “outright hostility” to “productive professional relationship,” but he’s not sure they’re at the “hitch a casual ride back to work” phase. Of course, unless she wants to walk, she doesn’t have much of a choice.
He holds out a hand to help with her books, and it’s not until he sees her hesitation that he remembers how their first interaction culminated in her threatening to arm-wrestle him just to prove her mettle.
“This isn’t a test, you know,” he adds. “I just - thought you might like an extra hand.”
Her eyes meet his. She probably wasn’t expecting that level of frankness. Or maybe she’d thought no one realized how deliberately she kept up her front.
I’m not that dense, Carter.
“Oh. Uh - thank you, sir. That would be nice.”
She hands over two of the books. He’s not surprised to see that she’s kept three for herself.
“These are pretty heavy.” He hefts them experimentally. “Probably double as weights if you need to do some quick bicep curls.”
It’s not particularly funny, but it earns him a half-smile.
“It’s the weight of knowledge, sir.”
It’s a smart-ass response, but damn, if she doesn’t say it with the kind of impish sparkle in her eyes that he’s long been suspecting might be hiding in there.
She follows him out to the lot, and to her credit, she doesn’t bat an eyelash when he points her towards his truck, which is easily the oldest, worst-looking vehicle there.
The remote unlock isn’t working - hasn’t worked in, oh, four months? - so he has to climb in first, then lean over to manually unlock the door from the inside. She climbs in gracefully, like getting into a battered old pickup in a pencil skirt and heels is something she does on a daily basis.
The silence lasts as he pulls out of the parking lot and into traffic, when finally it occurs to him that he could try breaking it.
“So you teach classes?”
She nods. “Dr. Fletcher is an old professor of mine. He’s been asking me to sub for him since I moved back to Colorado Springs, and he’s at a conference this week.”
Carter shrugs. “I enjoy it. It’s nice to get back to basics, you know?”
“Calculus isn’t really ‘the basics,’ Carter. Not outside your level of brain trust, anyway.”
He steals a glance to see her pursing her lips, and it’s strange. He’s said worse things, for sure, but there’s definitely something bothering her.
“Did I say something?”
“It’s nothing, sir.”
He’s not keen on having a 2IC who deflects so quickly. In his experience, a bit more honesty is worth the discomfort, especially if they’re supposed to work together on a daily basis.
“The ‘brain trust’ thing? I didn’t mean anything by it.” He comes to a stop as the light ahead of them turns red.
She lets out a soft hmm. “No one ever does.”
He still doesn’t get it, but it’s better then not talking. “Why would you feel uncomfortable about being smart?”
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Because of people like you.”
The quiet words catch him so off-guard, he doesn’t realize the light’s turned green until someone behind him taps on the horn.
“Respectfully, sir, you’re not the first person to assume I’m useless outside a lab.”
After a long moment, Jack swings the pickup into a little parking lot, stopping in front of a laundromat. He shuts off the ignition and turns to face her.
“Spit it out, Captain.”
She’s got the same fire in her eyes he saw the first time they met, but rather than adamant, she just looks frustrated now. Like she’s tired of fighting the same battle.
“I can make the ‘Gate work when no one else can. There are maybe a handful of people on Earth who understand it as well as I do. But that still wasn’t enough to convince you I belonged on the team. And with all due respect, sir, if that’s not enough -” she sighs - “then I have no idea how to change your mind.”
Jack nods slowly.
There’s a long moment as she eyes him hesitantly. “Sir?”
“You’re right. I didn’t give you a chance. And I’m sorry.” Her eyes go wide at that, and he wonders just how easy it was for her to write him off as some jaded, cynical asshole. Not that he hasn’t earned it. “You know, I’m starting to realize just how much science it takes to make this whole thing work. And maybe I should get my head out of my ass.”
Carter’s expression goes from surprised to smiling, and she ducks her head self-consciously, like she’s been caught laughing at her CO. “I know my first reaction was a little...overly-defensive. I would like to apologize for being insubordinate.”
“Given my own conduct, I’m gonna say that’s unnecessary. But I appreciate the thought,” he adds. “Besides, I value honesty. And I want you to be able to tell me things, even if you think I might not want to hear them.” He offers a hand. “Deal?”
After a moment, she reaches out to clasp it. Her hand is smaller than his, but her grip is strong and warm and unflinching. “Deal.”
“Glad to hear it.” Jack turns the truck back on. “For the record? I’m glad I was wrong.”
He pulls back onto the street, and he can already feel the tension in the cab dissolving. Carter still sits up straight - he’s yet to see anything but perfect posture from her - but her shoulders are more relaxed, her face content.
“So what brought you out to the academy today, sir?”
“Teaching needlepoint?” He can feel the eye-roll she’s probably too polite to give him. “Visiting my buddy TJ.”
“TJ?” She blinks. “You mean - Colonel Thomas Javenson?”
Jack laughs. “Well, yeah. I guess that’s - anyway. We served together - long, long time ago - and he likes me to stop in and meet cadets sometimes. I just glare at ‘em until they run faster.”
She’s definitely biting back a smile now, and not quite succeeding. “I’m sure your presence is excellent motivation.”
Jack huffs. “I’ll have you know that I’m very intimidating.”
“For what it’s worth, sir, I’d run from you.”
“Thank you, Captain. That means a lot.”
He pulls into the parking complex at Cheyenne Mountain. It’s later than he’d thought; the lot is already more deserted than it was this morning.
“You need me to pull around somewhere?”
“It’s fine, sir.” She’s already unclipping her seat belt. “My car is just over there.”
Jack picks up the stack of textbooks - geez, these damn things really are heavy - and follows her over to her immaculately-kept car. And he absolutely does not appreciate the sway of her hips in that form-fitting skirt, the long, smooth lines of her legs as she clips along in her black heels.
As if he’d needed the reminder that she is, in fact, a woman. And he’s always been a sucker for long legs that -
Nope. No. Not going there. She’s a brilliant scientist, a competent soldier, and a respected officer.
She’s also off-limits, no matter how attractive he finds her. Which is why he should really stop.
Oblivious to his internal battle, she unlocks her car and sets her bag in the backseat, taking the books from him to set beside it. “Thanks for the ride, sir.”
She flashes him a breathtaking smile, that bright, open, genuine beam that hits him square in the chest. Her eyes are mesmerizing, deep and blue and endlessly soulful, and she may put up a flinty exterior, but her smile is utterly disarming.
Gotta stop that, Carter.
She drives off, and Jack shoves his hands in his pockets, strolling slowly back to his truck.
He doesn’t know how, but he gets the distinct feeling this is the start of something truly remarkable.