It’s one of those inconsequential details that niggles in the back of his brain: I talk to my plants, sir.
That was years ago, but Jack can’t help but think it every time he sees Sam amongst the planet-of-the-week’s local fauna. Framed by lush green fronds and tall grass and blooming flowers, he wonders if she was a woodland nymph in a previous life, bouncing from open field to open field, free and wild and perfectly happy talking to the plants and looking up at the stars.
In her lab, there are small jars filled with succulents and cacti--low maintenance plants that make sense for her life of extended stretches of time away. He remembers arching an eyebrow at the prickly garden and Sam shrugging. “To keep McKay away, sir.”
But the tiny, dull succulents--simple and hardy--aren’t what he imagines when Sam talks to her plants. He expects broad leaves reaching and curling for the sun, blooming flowers, and twisting stems that all bear the secrets that Samantha Carter have whispered to them.
Perhaps it’s the incongruity that unsettles him. He’s not a complex guy; he likes it when the puzzle pieces slot together and these pieces aren’t working for him. That’s all it is.
(He refuses to think that it’s maybe because Carter has had a rough few months and she’s looking paler than normal and he just wants to bring her some form of happiness.)
Taking advantage of his position as base commander has never felt so good. He requisitions lumber and dirt and seeds and UV bulbs and a tiny watering can with the USAF logo and Carter imprinted on it. The supply request raises eyebrows from the higher ups, but it’s SGC and they have definitely requested stranger things.
The last item is ordered online through a specialty crafting store (and he will kill Daniel if he ever tells Sam that Jack spent an extra thirty minutes exploring The Simpsons merchandise available on the same site). The tiny can is the perfect accompaniment to his gift to her.
(He refuses to acknowledge that this is way outside the normal bounds of a CO and subordinate officer, but they’ve never been normal; not really, not when they’ve shredded the spirit of the fraternization rules. And, really, after I care about her, more than I’m supposed to and a dozen timelines in which they’re destined to be together and the sound of his name on her lips, what’s a little garden between friends?)
It feels good to clear a space in Carter’s lab that he is claiming for his own. He settles on a counter adjacent to her desk so it’s always within her line of vision. It feels even better to rev up the drill and steadily slap together cuts of wood, slathering glue in the corners to seal the edges. Nails and screws glide into the timber and he can’t help but grin as the raised box comes together.
The feel of dirt through his hands feels good. It’s wet and damp and there’s something primal and relaxing about the smell--earthy and musky and dark. It’s the basis of life that will bring Carter a little happiness.
Sweat pools at the small of his back and beads at his temples and he watches it drip into the dirt beneath him, oddly pleased that a part of him is going into the earth.
The UV bulb screws into her desk lamp easily and he aims the head of the lamp so its rays will touch everything in the small garden he has built for her.
Settling the flowers into the dirt, bright begonias and curling vines and sweet daisies, Jack thinks he’s starting to understand the appeal. His hands are used to handling P90s and dragging bodies and punching faces and he’s got more blood on his hands than he’s comfortable with. But this? Handling lush green life and gently untangling roots and tucking them into the dirt, sending them on their way to life, he feels some of the blood washing away.
(He will never tell Sam that when all was said and done, when the flowers were planted and the seeds sown, he had leaned down and whispered to the swaying plants, “Look after her, alright?”)
Jack finishes and stretches and wipes his face with his sleeve, checking his watch. It had only taken a few hours, start to finish. He should shower before he calls Carter in to reveal the surprise; should get cleaned up and presentable. He’s the base commander, after all. But he’s too excited, too proud. He wants to see her face now.
He clears his throat and practically bounces to the lab phone to summon her over the PA system. Jack hasn’t felt this happy, this proud, this excited in so long and he finds himself wanting to do more things for Carter.
(There’s a brief foray into the future in which he imagines trying to fix pipes and broken toasters and busted lights at their house. Carter may be able to tell him how toasters work and circuits pass around electricity, but Jack has always been good--great--with his hands and it’s something he could do to make her happy.)
When Carter shows up to her lab, she looks wide-eyed and concerned. He is never in her lab without her and he smothers a grin as she takes careful stock of her lab, wondering what he’s touched and moved without her supervision.
“Oh, relax, Carter. I didn’t touch your science experiments. I, uh, started an experiment of my own.”
Alarm registers across her face and before she can have a heart attack, he steps to the side to reveal the small garden he has built for her, the tiny watering can labeled Carter stands proudly beside it.
He will never forget her face in this moment: The gentle parting of her lips into a soft Oh. Her eyes, suddenly sparkling suspiciously with tears of shock and happiness and gratitude, wide and appreciative. The creeping flush of pink across her cheeks. And his favorite part, the whispered, “Jack...”
It’s a rare use of his name and he commits the sound of it to memory. In fifteen minutes, they will return to being Sir and Colonel, but for now, he’s content to be Jack to her.
She shuffles forward and fingers the green leaves and bright petals. He watches as she takes in the watering can and UV bulbs, nodding appreciatively.
He’s happy to stay silent and watch the awe--the joy--on her face. It’s something else he will commit to memory. He, Jack O’Neill, made Samantha Carter happy. If nothing else goes right in his life, he will at least have this to hold onto; a candle in the darkness.
She turns to him, one hand still trailing through the dirt, reaching up and caressing the stems and flowers. “Sir, thank you. I didn’t know we could even have something like this down here.”
(He doesn’t bother telling her that they absolutely cannot have something like this down here, but hey, he’s the commanding officer and he can do whatever he wants. He’s The Man.)
“But why?” She blushes, looking down and suddenly shy. “Why did you do this for me?”
He clenches his hand at his side, presses a finger into a newly formed blister in his palm. I wanted to make you happy. You said you missed the sun under this mountain and I wanted to bring the sun to you. You love plants and I love you, so it was a no-brainer. I wanted to make you happy.
He doesn’t say this though. Instead, “You’re a crazy plant lady, Carter, and your plants were looking a little lackluster. You needed to up your game.”
A smile curls at the edges of her lips and she doesn’t say anything, just looks at him, her fingers still flicking dirt absentmindedly. He shifts his weight from foot to foot under her gaze and whines, “Carter, what? It’s nothing. It was just--”
But she’s shuffling closer to him and his heart is beating fast and it feels like she’s about to breakdown the barriers they have so firmly established around their feelings and her eyes flick to his mouth and he can’t make himself move away and--
Her lips graze against his cheek, burns its way into his body. He inhales shakily and she smells like earth and strawberries and something clean and Carter. Another press of his finger into the blister of his palm shakes him of the urge to curl his hands into the fabric of her hips and haul her to him.
“Thank you, sir.”
Her voice is low and husky and in the same way that he knows without a doubt that she heard all the things he didn’t say, he now hears what she cannot say. Thank you. This makes me happy. You make me happy.
He shrugs, a smile playing about his own mouth, before stepping away and picking up his toolbox. “My pleasure, Carter.”
Jack is just outside the door when her voice filters into the hallway, gentle and warm. “Hi guys, I’m Sam. And I promise I’m going to take real good care of you...”
When Samantha Carter loves you, promises to take care of you, it’s something she honors with vehemence. It’s something Jack O’Neill knows first hand.