'When did her hair go brown?' was the first thing that ran through Jack's mind. Actually, it was the only thing running through his mind. He realized the absurdity of a three-star general staring open-mouthed at one of his ship commanders and promptly slammed his jaw shut. That got him the 'look' from said commander.
Carter frowned. "Sir?"
Jack shook his head. "Sorry, Colonel, I didn't catch that last part." Damn, he sounded like a moron.
"I said, we just hit the solar system, permission to enter Earth's orbit?"
Jack licked his lips. The color was kind of a chestnut, auburn maybe with a hint of red and the shine of her natural blond. It had taken him forever to get used to the length when she finally decided to grow it out and now this. Not that it didn't look good. Hell, Carter would look hot sporting the Sinead O'Connor look.
"Uh, sir?" she asked again, her mask faltering as the sides of her mouth quirked upwards.
Jack realized that not only was Carter staring at him but her entire command crew and half the people in the room with him... only the fresh out of the academy LTs and a couple airmen without enough brain cells combined to know better.
Jack cleared his throat and everyone suddenly found work to do. Carter grinned earnestly. "So?"
"Oh, right," he said, jerking slightly as his brain finally started functioning again. "Come on home, Hammond. It's good to have you back."
"Thank you, sir. It's good to be back."
Jack was sure the last part sounded a little too seductive coming from one of his Colonels but her image blinked out before he could get a read on her. He rubbed his hand over his tired face. God, he just made a complete fool out of himself in front of half of his staff. They, well most of them, had the good sense to avoid eye contact and keep extra busy.
Jack retreated to his office and waited for his assistant to inform him the Hammond was safely in orbit. He tried to concentrate on the myriad of paperwork threatening to overtake his desk. It was only a matter of minutes before his mind wandered from deep space safety reports to the rich color of his wood desk peeking out from under a teetering stack of papers. 'Why brown?' he wondered. 'Why not red?'
A shiver rippled through his body as an image of Carter with long red hair sauntered into his office. Jack licked his lips slowly.
"Brown is better," he mumbled.
"Sir?" came a confused, all be it amused, voice from the door.
He looked up at his assistant. "Lawler?"
The young airman blinked at him a moment before he was able to wipe the grin from his face. "You said to inform you as soon as the Hammond was in orbit."
"Colonel Carter said she'll be ready for her debriefing in fifteen minutes."
Jack stared at the report in his hand as his brain fought to comprehend the airman's statement. It was currently stuck on the words "Carter" and "debriefing" as another image, this one with brown hair and significantly less clothing stretched across his desk.
Lawler cleared his throat. "General O'Neill?" he asked in an all too forced innocent voice.
Jack shook his head, trying to snap out of it.
"Should I tell the colonel you're ready to debrief her?"
Jack finally got control of his senses and glared up at his assistant. Either Jack was overly sensitive and paranoid today or imagining things because he was sure Lawler was choosing those words to purposefully screw with him. He watched the kid for a moment, his eyes narrowed and focused, looking for any tells. To his credit the airman stood his ground—face blank, body at ease and not so much as a flinch of discomfort under Jack's scrutiny. The only movement he gave was a slight raised eyebrow in question.
Jack sighed in defeat. He must be losing his touch. "Fine. Tell her to come down in 45 minutes while I gather up the Joint Chiefs. They wanted a full briefing on the Lucian Alliance situation."
"Yes, sir," Lawler said as he turned crisply. Jack's hand was halfway to his ear, phone clutched tightly in his fingers when the kid turned back slightly. "Should I tell her you think her hair looks nice in its current color?"
The phone stopped it's upward movement as Jack started, his mouth falling open. Lawler smiled at him—a devilish, conniving smile that reminded him of Daniel but before a reprimand could even form coherently in his brain Lawler was gone. He really was losing his touch.
An hour later Jack was seated across a conference table in a nondescript room of the Pentagon. He absently twisted his pen in his hand as he tried to keep his mind distracted. Across from him, Carter sat with her hands folded gently on the table, an amused look on her face. Which Jack was also avoiding.
She had walked through the door fifteen minutes earlier, exactly 45 minutes from when he had spoken to Lawler. In other words... right on time. Jack couldn't help the cock-eyed grin that escaped when his former 2IC entered the room. She gave him a questioning look before taking a seat. She hadn't moved since.
Jack had stopped looking at her ten minutes ago. He couldn't help but admire the way her flight suit hugged every curve of her body or notice the fact that she hadn't tied her hair up in a regulation style. The now brown locks spilled down her back from a clip at the nape of her neck. The general in him felt an admonishment on the tip of his tongue but he just couldn't bring himself to reprimand her. 'Another reason those regulations exist,' he told himself.
So instead he tore his eyes from her body—er, hair and stared relentlessly at his pen as it twirled and rolled between his long fingers. Neither said anything but he could feel Carter thinking. When he chanced a glance her way she was just watching him, a slight smile on her lips. Jack went back to examining his pen for defects.
The seconds ticked by. Just when Jack didn't think he could take another minute, the door banged open and two four-star generals sauntered in. Carter leapt to her feet, her hand already up in a salute. Jack was slower to get to his feet and only saluted because General Wesley looked his way.
"At ease, Colonel," General Braselton said.
Carter smiled at them all, visually relaxing. Wesley shook her hand and chatted with her about space travel. Jack went back to looking anywhere but at Carter while Braselton rambled on about meetings with foreign diplomats he cared very little about and knew damn well that Jack cared even less about.
A few minutes later they were joined by General Claymer, General Lemski and the two admirals: Kern and Miller. The meeting got underway, starting with Carter's apology for her appearance.
An hour of questions and answers were given stoically by the obviously weary colonel until Wesley finally drew things to a close.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, and Colonel, but I have other business to attend to. I think we've heard enough for now but I'm sure your full report will be a good read."
Carter returned his warm smile across the table. "I'll be sure to include all the juicy details, sir."
"You do that, Colonel," Kern said with a chuckle, "it's the only way to get Leo to actually read the reports. Huh, Jack?"
All eyes turned to Jack but he didn't notice. For some reason this one strand of Carter's hair escaped the clasp and curled around the side of her face starting at her temple, curving around her cheek and ending in a twist near her chin. She repeatedly tried to tame it by pushing it behind her ear but it continued to break free to gently caress her skin. Jack thought the new color—definitely an auburn shade—really complimented her pale skin but that just made him think of how tan she used to be. Back when she made a living planet hopping with him instead of commanding an interstellar spaceship.
Jack shook his head and slowly turned to the man on his left.
"Are you okay?" Kern asked. Jack suddenly became acutely aware of snickering and stares from around the table.
"Fine, sir. Why do you ask?" More snickering followed that obvious lie and pathetic attempt at a cover.
"You seem a little... distracted."
Jack had nothing to say to that. He refused to look at Carter sitting across from him. This was all her fault and he had a suspicious feeling she did it on purpose. The sounds of chairs sliding across the carpet and folders snapping shut brought Jack back to reality. Reluctantly he got to his feet and shook hands with the other brass in the room before they filed out once again leaving him alone with Carter.
She was still giving him that infuriating little grin. Jack was now sure she knew exactly what she was doing.
More seconds ticked by on the clock as she stared at him and Jack tried not to notice that stray strand of hair again. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore.
"So..." he said, moving towards the door. Carter automatically followed just like he knew she would.
"So..." she mimicked in a light tone.
"The guys know you're back?"
He hazarded a look at her. Her eyes twinkled and her smile grew a fraction of an inch wider. She hadn't called Daniel yet. Jack wondered briefly what that meant.
"Oh, I just figured I'd be a little busy tonight."
Jack's heart actually skipped a beat. A physical beat. A small section of his brain worried if that was healthy at his age but he ignored it.
"Oh, yeah, very busy."
They turned a corner heading back to Jack's main office, the one not buried in the sub-basements for national security reasons.
"Got a hot date, Carter?" he finally choked out, his brain rusty from lack of friendly teasing recently—what with Carter flying around the galaxy and Daniel busy trying to keep that Vala chick out of trouble. He missed the bickering and banter more than he cared to admit.
"Well," Carter said as he gestured rather gallantly for her to enter the office first. "I was told there would be a lot of de-briefing involved."
Jack tripped over his foot, crashing into the door frame. He then overcompensated as he tried to regain his balance and caused the door to bang loudly against the wall before rebounding into his nose.
"Ow," he muttered, his pride wounded worse than his face. He toed the door shut more forcefully than needed as he rubbed his sore nose.
"Are you okay, sir?" Carter asked with way too much joy in her voice.
Jack glared at her. "Peachy, Colonel, but I'm thinking the de-briefing might be canceled in lieu of my recent injury."
Carter gave him a "poor baby" look but her smile stayed in place. "I'm not sure what else I can do considering I lost all my clothes in the last attack. All I've got is my uniform and some borrowed pajamas."
Jack's eyes narrowed as they quickly raked up and down her body. "You've been wearing the same underwear all week?" he asked with a grimace as he tossed files and papers haphazardly into his briefcase.
"Oh, no," Carter said with a shake of her head that sent the brown waves cascading over her shoulders, "I'm going commando."
Jack managed to slam both thumbs as he closed his case. Carter giggled.
"I thought I said no giggling."
"With all due respect, General, that was twelve years ago."
"Order still stands," he muttered as he grabbed his hat from a shelf behind his desk.
"You didn't seem to mind when I was on leave last time."
"You are dangerously close to insubordination, Colonel."
"I learned from the best, sir."
Jack glared at her for all of twenty seconds before he broke, a lopsided smile pulling at his mouth. "Remind me to find that guy and punch him in the nose."
"I'll be having dinner with him tonight... if you must."
They exited the office and strolled casually down the hall. "Getting a little presumptuous there, aren't you, Carter?"
"Oh, I don't know, sir. Do you always leave work at 1300 hours on a Tuesday?"
Jack nodded at the Marine standing guard then opened the door for Carter. Her hand shot up to block the bright afternoon light. Jack watched her as she absently walked down the few stairs, her hair shimmering in the summer sun. 'The red really shined in this light,' he thought.
Carter turned back to look up at him. She never looked better. He hurried down the stairs and surprised her by wrapping his arms around her waist and lifting her into a spin.
"Sir!" she half-shouted, her eyes darting around out of habit. Jack was satisfied to know he could still throw her off kilter as easily as she could to him.
"I'm off the clock, Carter."
He put her down and finally gave into the impulse to tame that one wild lock. He pulled it back behind her ear, his thumb tracing the route across her cheek. She visibly shuddered at the touch. Oh, yeah, still got it.
A black Town Car pulled up in front of them and a driver started to get out but Jack waved him off, opening the rear door himself. "I leave work early on days my wife is in town," he mumbled to her as she climbed into the car. She smiled brightly up at him.
"Anyone I know?" she asked with a snicker.
"I'm not having dinner with her tonight."
"No," Jack said as he slammed the door. "Apparently she's in need of a briefing so we can't go out."
"Oh, too bad, sir."
She was barely containing her laughter now. Jack glanced at the driver and was sure he was rolling his eyes even if Jack couldn't see them.
"Yeah, it's a shame since we only have like eighteen hours before her best friend realizes she is in town and invades our privacy."
"So what are you going to do?"
Jack rubbed at his chin and watched the busy streets of DC shift into the suburban lanes lined with trees and brownstones. Finally, with mock resignation, he said, "I figured I'll just have to let her de-brief me as quickly as possible so we can get on with other things."
Jack caught a blush creep up her face before she turned to look out the window.
"Oh," she said softly.
Jack felt his grin widen, his cheeks now hurting from the effort. "Yeah, might have to do two de-briefings to adequately make up for lost time."
Carter groaned. Jack smiled. An amicable silence fell over the car but Jack could feel the underlying tension building as they drew closer to his house.
"So, Carter," he said, breaking the quiet, "about this hot date you have?"
She shot him a look that said she was done playing. Jack chuckled to himself then ever so slowly slid his hand across the space between them until his fingers brushed hers. She looked down at them, his gold band reflecting her affectionate smile. Slowly her gaze traveled up his arm to his face and the affection morphed to something much more animal in nature. She licked her lips; Jack's breath caught in his chest. Her eyes darted to his mouth; Jack watched that tendril of hair break loose from behind her ear again. She squeezed his hand gently; Jack squirmed in his seat, fighting off the urge to demand to know what was taking so long. Carter's other hand came up to shove the stray strand of hair back again and Jack almost lost all control.
Mercifully, they pulled up in front of his house and Michaels, the driver, hopped out. Jack was still staring at the woman next to him moments after the door opened. Carter gave his hand another squeeze then nodded at the opened door.
"Sir, I think you're home."
He blinked then slid out of his seat, refusing to meet Michaels' eyes. Carter thanked him as he held a hand out to her.
The two stood on the stoop several minutes after the car drove off. Jack fumbled in his pocket for his keys while Carter stared at the sidewalk as neighbors passed by completely oblivious to the general in dress blues and a colonel in a black flight suit.
"Jack?" she finally asked, catching his hand in hers. "Are you okay? You seem... off."
He frowned at her hand wrapped around his until he realized she had called him by his first name. She was serious.
"Six months is way too long," he mumbled, his voice thick with emotion.
"Yes it is," she answered, equally overrun with unspoken feelings, "I mis-"
Before she could finish Jack moved, once again catching her off guard. His hands flew to her face, cupping her cheeks gently before he pressed his lips against hers. Gentle only lasted a few seconds before he tilted her head and deepened the kiss. Carter's hands found their way to his chest and slid under his jacket.
"God, I missed you, Sam," he breathed into her lips causing her to groan. No more words were uttered as she pushed her tongue deeper into his mouth. It flicked across his back teeth and along the roof. A shiver went down his spine and he adjusted his hold on her; one hand slid around to the back of her neck, the other snaked around her waist pulling her closer.
He felt her tugging at the buttons of his shirt and finally pulled away. His front porch was so not the place to be doing this.
"We should go inside," he said hoarsely.
She nodded in agreement before resting her forehead on his chest just below his chin.
"Six months is way too long," she said, repeating his earlier lament.
"You should talk to someone about that." Jack licked his lips finding he had a sudden lack of adequate saliva. "I'm sure you could give a couple good reasons why your deployment shouldn't be so long."
"I'm not sure General Wesley would appreciate the reasons I had in mind."
Jack flushed at the comment. A few more moments of silence descended on the porch—the only noise their breathing as they tried to maintain control. Finally, Jack collected himself and pulled his keys from his pocket. It seemed to take forever to find the right one and open the door. He was almost sure Carter was about to grab them from him and do it herself.
Once inside Carter didn't even hesitate in showing him exactly how long six months was. Jack barely had his shoes kicked off as she unzipped her flight suit and let it fall to the floor.
True to her word, she was wearing nothing underneath. Jack nearly fell over causing a huge smile to overtake his wife's face. She turned without a word and walked seductively towards the living room.
"Uh, bedroom's that-a-way," Jack finally managed to say. He followed her, pulling his tie over his head and tossing it on a chair. His jacket quickly followed.
"I know." With a devilish glee in her eyes, she settled on the sofa, pulling her hair free of the clasp.
Jack could only stare as the brown locks flowed over her pale flesh covering it just enough to be tantalizing. It had to come down to her waist now. Way past regulations. She twisted a strand around her finger then shifted on the couch causing the rest to slide from her breasts. Jack nearly growled in anticipation.
Carter grinned at him. "You going to join me or am I going to have to take my argument to General Wesley?"
That got Jack moving. Hell if that old horn-dog would ever get to hear his wife's plea for shorter deployments and longer leaves.
It was several long minutes before they pulled away for much-needed air. Jack leaned his forehead against Carter's and ran the back of his hand across her cheek. She shivered and not from cold. His hand slipped into her hair and he twisted it around his fingers.
"About your hair."
"You like it?" she asked, her voice still gruff.
"The husband in me says, 'hell, yeah,' but the general in me says, 'no.'"
Carter pulled back to look at his face. "Why not?"
"Not regulation," he told her as if that explained everything.
She frowned at him in an all too cute fashion as she tried to figure out what he meant. "Regulations?" she asked after a moment.
"Jack chuckled at her confusion. "It's too distracting," he said as he swept her into another passionate kiss. He was sure he could hear her thinking, 'that was the whole point,' as she kissed him back.