Too many years in the military had left Jack with the inability to sleep in, and he woke up well before the sun made an appearance.
He stared at Sam’s back in the dim light from the hall and listened to her breathe. It had been too long since he’d woken up with another person in his bed, and he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed sharing his space. The thought sent a pang of nostalgia through his chest. Being married was something he’d enjoyed. Having someone at home waiting for him had meant a lot to him in the early years of his career when there were so few solid and predictable things in his life.
Sam rolled onto her stomach, and Jack’s thoughts were drawn back to the present. The blanket slipped low on her shoulders. He wanted to run his fingers over her pale, smooth skin but didn’t want to risk waking her. He was so caught up in staring at her that he jumped a little when she started talking.
“Why are you awake?”
“I thought you were sleeping,” he said. It was more of a defense than an answer, but the words were out of his mouth before he could think of a better response. He traced a line of freckles down her spine to the spot where the comforter crossed her back.
“I am,” she said. Her voice was sleepy and slightly muffled by the pillow under her face. “What time is it?”
Jack checked his watch and wished he hadn’t stared at her so hard. “Almost five.” He said it quietly, hoping she wouldn’t actually hear him.
Sam groaned into the pillow and pulled the blanket over her head. It was her only protection from Jack’s early rising tendencies. He’d have to work on getting out of bed quietly or learn to sleep in. Assuming, of course, that she would ever want to sleep with him again.
“Ugh,” she said.
Jack thought her sleepiness was cute but didn’t say so. He pulled the blanket back down and kissed the spot on her shoulder that he’d been staring at. “I’m going to make some coffee,” he told her. “Go back to sleep.”
She mumbled something else that Jack translated to: ‘Okay, Jack.’ He was about to get up when she rolled over and kissed him, slow and sleepy. It was something he thought he could get used to. “Come back in an hour,” she said before closing her eyes again.
It was a tempting invitation, but he shut the door on his way out and let her sleep until she woke on her own. He grabbed some clothes from the the dryer and showered in the guest bathroom. The soap in the shower was cracked and slightly brown at the edges. He frowned at it and wondered if soap went bad.
Jack’s kitchen was still suffering from dinner. He’d never finished loading the dishwasher. Dirty dishes and empty containers covered most of the flat surfaces, reminding Jack why he rarely cooked. It just didn’t make sense to generate this kind of carnage to feed one person. Take-out was more economical like that.
Cleaning the mess was about as appealing as he’d expected. He considered going back to bed, but the clock on the microwave changed his mind. He sighed into the empty kitchen and pushed his sleeves up instead. Starting a pot of coffee was his first order of business, because caffeine was his favorite cleaning partner.
Once the kitchen was under control, he kept himself busy with coffee and a crossword puzzle until Sam wandered down the stairs. She was wearing the shirt she’d taken off him last night. It hung down over her thighs, and he wasn’t sure if she’d bothered with underwear. Jack wanted to freeze the moment and save it for all the rainy days in his future.
Sam curled up next to him on the couch, still more asleep than awake, like she’d only gotten out of bed to prove that she could. “Hey,” she said.
“Hey, yourself.” He set the paper on the coffee table, draped an arm over her shoulder, and hoped their morning after conversation wouldn’t be too awkward. It was like that sometimes with relationships that moved too fast.
“How do you feel about breakfast?” he asked. “I make a pretty good omelet.”
“Just coffee,” she said. “It’s too early for food.”
“I can do that.”
Sam followed him to the kitchen and dug the cheesecake out of his refrigerator while they waited for the coffee to finish. Apparently cheesecake didn’t count as food.
Jack watched her rifle through his cabinets for a plate, and he handed her a fork. She stood next to him at the counter and ate most of her piece before asking, “Did you want a piece?”
Living alone for too long had a way of ruining basic social skills. She might have spent her entire adult life living by herself; it wasn’t something they’d talked about. He had a hard time believing there hadn’t been anyone in her life that had wanted her around on a permanent basis, but anything was possible.
“No,” he said. He’d eaten real food an hour ago with his first pot of coffee. Nothing fancy, just cereal and toast. “I’m too old to eat that much sugar for breakfast,” he told her, because it was true.
Sam scrunched her eyebrows together and stared at him like she’d only just noticed he was on the wrong side of forty. Jack was suddenly aware of how young she was.
“You’re pretty hot for an old guy,” she said, pointing at him with her fork in a way that made Jack a little nervous.
Jack was lucky that way. He had a job that forced him to stay in reasonably good shape. He worried sometimes that he’d get transferred someplace less demanding and it would all fall apart. He was past the point in his life where he exercised for fun. Even hockey had started to lose its appeal. There were too many younger, faster kids on the ice willing to take risks with their bodies that Jack had outgrown. He liked to reserve his risk-taking for things that mattered. Things like saving the planet.
“Thanks,” he said and then reconsidered. “I think.”
Two cups of coffee later, Sam was sitting at the end of his couch finishing up his crossword puzzle. She paused occasionally, tapping the pencil against her lips and staring hard at the paper, trying to work out the more difficult clues. Watching her think was far more interesting than he would have thought possible. He didn’t even mind the fact that she seemed to have forgotten he existed.
He plucked the paper out of her hand just before she could fill in the last answer, and she gave him a hard look that almost had him handing it back. Christ, what had he gotten himself into?
“Hey,” she said. “I was almost done.”
“Yeah, well, it’s my puzzle,” he told her. “I get to finish it.” He tucked it under his empty coffee mug and held out his hand. “Those are the rules.”
Sam narrowed her eyes and handed the pencil to him. She didn’t look like she could be trusted with the puzzle and the pencil in the same place, so Jack tossed it to the other side of the room. It bounced off a window and into a potted plant--a ficus that had come with the house. The plant was wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but the pencil would have plenty of bottle caps to keep it company.
Taking the puzzle away from her turned out to be a smart move, because without it, he was her only entertainment. She straddled his hips and put her hands on his shoulders. “I’ve never heard of those rules,” she said. She dragged one finger down his chest and over his stomach while she spoke, never taking her eyes off him. Jack couldn’t look away.
“House rules,” he said. He tugged at the hem of her shirt, and she pulled it over her head. “Always have to play by the house rules.”
It was almost lunch time, and they were still sprawled out on the couch. Jack was on his back with one foot on the floor, staring at the ceiling and listening to Sam flip through a fishing lure catalog. Her chin was poking him in the ribs and her hair was all forward, blocking his view of her face.
He tapped her on the head, and she tried to look back at him but the angle was all wrong. “Do you want to get up?” he asked. “Maybe go do something?” He flexed the leg that was threatening to fall asleep. Sam’s chin dug a little deeper into his ribs. They really needed to get off the couch and get dressed. “Something that involves clothes,” he added.
She picked the magazine up off the floor and sat up. Jack extricated his half-asleep leg out from under her, hoping to restore the blood flow to his foot before permanent damage set in. Sam was staring at the clock on his mantel in a way that made it clear that there was more on her mind than the time. “I can’t,” she said.
He sat up too, feeling a little self conscious about being naked on the couch in the middle of the day. “Oh,” he said. “Okay.” He must have looked disappointed, which was odd, because he’d never considered himself an easy person to read. Sam herself had said that about him on their first date, but she’d definitely picked up on it.
The look she was giving him was new and complicated. Jack wished he understood it. “I mean, I’d love to,” she said, “but I need to get home and feed my cat.”
He wanted to tell her that he’d wait for her to feed the cat and they could do something after, but she might have been looking for an excuse to get away from him. He didn’t remember seeing a cat when he was at her house. Jack cleared his throat, trying to buy some time to collect his thoughts. Maybe she was looking for a more casual relationship. He wasn’t sure he could be good at casual or that he wanted to be.
Sam interrupted his reassessment of their relationship when she picked up his hand and ran her thumb over the inside of his wrist. It was intimate and seductive, and he never wanted her to stop. “You can stop by later.” The way she said it made Jack second guess his second guessing.
“Are you sure?”
She smiled at him with her bright, young smile before leaning in to kiss him. When she groaned a little against his lips, Jack felt like less of a charity case.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I’m sure.”
Halloween came and went, and they were halfway through November before rumors of their relationship spread through the base. It was a good rumor, and it spread quickly--so quickly that Jack managed to miss it as if flew by.
Jack started to pay more attention once Sam mentioned it, but the only thing he noticed was that Colonel Hammond had started spending more time with Sam too.
Jack caught them in the briefing room on occasion, going over old mission reports. When he asked Sam about it, she told him that George was helping her understand the military side of the Stargate Project. She’d kissed him on the nose, saying that he thought it would be good for her to understand what Jack did, who he was. Every time Jack saw them with their heads together at the long wood table, he wished he’d thought of it first.
They were lying in front of his fireplace a week before Thanksgiving when Jack realized they had no plans for the holiday. He wasn’t really a holiday type of guy. Even when he’d had his own family to spend them with, he missed so many that it didn’t make sense to become attached to them. It had been a sore spot in his marriage that had become one of many by the time it was over.
Still, he was willing to put in the effort if it was something Sam wanted. He wasn’t unwilling to learn from his mistakes. But cooking for two seemed like a wasted effort, and they were running out of time to get reservations anyplace nice.
“I was thinking,” he said. “About our lack of Thanksgiving plans.”
Sam was quiet, and he rolled onto his side to see if she was still awake. She was awake and regarding him with a slightly puzzled look, like maybe she’d never heard of Thanksgiving. Jack watched the firelight play across her face and had a sudden urge to take her camping. The good kind of camping, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a tent and a fire.
“You know,” she said. “I have to work on Thanksgiving.”
Well, shit. She was right. General Harris from the Groom Lake facility was scheduled to be at the mountain all week. Most of the science department would be missing their turkey dinner. Jack felt like an ass, but the timing of the visit had been out of his hands. “Your boss is an asshole,” he told her.
Sam moved closer and slipped a hand under his shirt. “Hmm,” she said. “He has his moments.”
“How about I take you out to dinner on Saturday. You know, to make up for the fact that your boss has no respect for the holidays.”
“I would love that.”
“But I already told Catherine we’d go to her house after General Harris went home. Turns out, her boss is making her work on Thursday too. Also, she really wants to make a turkey.” Sam said that like she couldn’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would voluntarily cook a turkey.
“Well, okay. I guess.” They’d never been out as a couple with anyone they knew. They worked so hard at keeping their working relationship professional. He wasn’t convinced they’d be able to relax around other human beings. “Do you think it will be weird?”
“Yeah. A little.” She yawned, and Jack knew he needed to drag her to bed or they’d be spending the night on the floor. “I just couldn’t say no. You know how she is.”
Jack was working his way through the crowded food line on real Thanksgiving, waiting for his Air Force issued turkey dinner, when Catherine magically appeared behind him. Jack almost dropped his tray when she tapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t you dare eat that turkey, Jack,” she warned.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” he said. “Turkey is all they have.” Catherine didn’t seem to think that was a valid excuse, and she looked at him like she was unimpressed that he’d even tried to use it. Jack had to remind himself that he was an Air Force general.
“I don’t care,” she said. “As far as the two of us are concerned, Thanksgiving is Saturday. Don’t you ruin it.”
Jack wasn’t sure how eating turkey twice in three days was going to cause any problems. He could have had turkey for breakfast and Catherine never would have known. She was glaring at him though, so he handed the plate back to the young airman. “What the hell am I supposed to eat?”
“Eat an MRE if you have to,” said Catherine. “I don’t really care.”
People were staring at them, most of them trying hard not to laugh. Jack noticed Sam sitting at a table in the corner, pulling food out of a paper bag like maybe she’d known Catherine had lost her mind. He grabbed some salad and pie and made his way to her table.
“I guess I should have warned you,” was all she said.
“Yeah.” Some warning would have been nice. And some food. Food would be nice too. What the hell kind of meal was salad and pie? It wasn’t even pumpkin pie. Just plain old apple.
Sam was eating a peanut butter sandwich. It looked like a pretty good sandwich. All peanut buttery. On fluffy white bread. It was chunky peanut butter too. Chunky was his favorite.
Sam’s sandwich stopped halfway to her mouth. She reached into her paper bag and pulled out another one. “Here, she said. “You’re starting to make my sandwich uncomfortable.”
Jack unwrapped his chunky peanut butter sandwich. “Thanks,” he said. “You’re the best.”
Catherine came back with her tray and sat at their table. She was the only one who ever did that. Usually they were surrounded by a circle of empty tables like they were contagious. She picked up a steak knife because somehow, she had a steak on her plate.
“So, Jack,” she said, waving the steak around on the end of her fork. Jack couldn’t help but follow it. “What are you bringing to our Thanksgiving dinner?”
Jack finished the last bite of his sandwich. Somebody in the kitchen was going to have some explaining to do about Catherine’s lunch. “I don’t know,” he said. “Sweet potatoes?”
“With marshmallows and pecans?” Sam’s tone made it clear there was only one right answer to that question.
“Good,” said Catherine. “And bring something green, but not that wretched green bean casserole.”
Jack happened to like that wretched green bean casserole. He didn’t say so. “Yeah, okay. I’ll get some asparagus. Or brussels sprouts.”
Catherine nodded her approval, but Jack wasn’t sure of which vegetable she was approving. He didn’t have time to ask before Catherine turned her attention to Sam. He was going to have to bring both.
“What about you, Sam?”
Sam pretended to think about that for a moment. Jack knew she was pretending, because he spent a lot of time watching her think for real. Too much time, probably. “I’ll grab some wine.”
“Yes,” said Catherine, “that would be nice.”
“Why do I have to cook, and you only have to pick up alcohol?”
Sam shrugged her shoulders. “Wine is my best dish. I’m playing to my strengths.”
December brought a lot of pressure. Her birthday was four days after Christmas, and he had no idea what to get her for either occasion. Shopping for other adults wasn’t something he was good at, but he wanted to get this one right.
He tried to ask Catherine for help, but the best she could do was to recommend some racy underwear. That was exactly how she phrased it. Racy. Jack was mildly disturbed by her suggestion and decided he was on his own. Catherine was his last hope and the only friend they had in common.
The perfect gift fell into his lap on December 15th, and it was good enough to cover Christmas and her birthday. It was something that was going to keep him awake at night--not in a good way like the racy underwear would have done-, but she was going to love it, and it was something she deserved.
Jack headed to her lab after meeting with Colonel Hammond to finalize the mission plan. His gift wasn’t something he could do on his own. This one was going to be a team effort. A two team effort, to be exact.
Her lab was still and quiet, a sure sign that she was working on something difficult. Jack lingered in her doorway for a minute, watching her back while she stared at her whiteboard. He tapped on her door frame when it became clear that she wasn’t going to notice him on her own. She turned and smiled at him, and Jack realized that somewhere along the line he’d fallen completely in love with her. The realization hit him square in the chest, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so blindsided by anything.
Sam walked over to him, hesitant and confused by his sudden shift in demeanor. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Jack stared into her wide, concerned eyes, and yeah, he was in deep. Christ. How did that sneak up on him?
He smiled and hoped he was doing a good job at it. “I have a surprise for you,” he said. Professing his love in her lab, in the middle of the work day, just didn’t feel like the right thing to do. Later he’d regret not telling her when he had the chance.
“I don’t like surprises,” she told him.
Jack filed that bit of information away. It was something he hadn’t known about her.
She was still looking at him like he was about to announce the end of the world. It was a fair reaction, because sometimes, that’s exactly what he did. He reached out for her hand and tried to squash all of his brooding tendencies. “You’ll like this one,” he told her.
Sam put her free hand on his chest and leaned into him. “Is it chocolate?” she asked, her voice low and seductive. She did this to him sometimes, wound him up tight during the day. It wasn’t always on purpose.
“Sort of.” He turned them around and backed her into the door until it latched behind her. The last thing he wanted was unexpected company.
“Remember that ship the UAV found on P3X-682?” he asked. She nodded, and her eyes dropped to his mouth for a moment. “I’m sending some science geeks to check it out, and I thought that since you-” He kissed her neck close to her collarbone and she made a low sound of appreciation in his ear. “-are a science geek,” he finished. “You might like to go along.”
“How is that sort of like chocolate?” She grabbed his belt loops and pulled him tight against her, and Jack immediately regretted their ‘no sex on base’ decision. “And yes,” she said. “Of course I want to go.” She said it without hesitation, like he’d asked if she wanted to go to the corner store instead of through a wormhole to another planet.
“Okay. Good.” He kissed her on the mouth this time and wondered if the parking lot was considered ‘on base’. “Merry Christmas. Happy Birthday. I hope you don’t expect anything else.” Except for the ‘racy’ underwear that he’d already bought, wrapped, and hid under his bed, but those might have been more of a present to himself.
Two complete SG teams and three extra Marines crowded around the small group of technical experts being sent to examine the ship. They’d never sent civilians off-world and weren’t taking any chances. Even Catherine, who’d done so much for the program, hadn’t been through the gate. Jack had offered to let her go more than once, but she always declined, saying that if she died out there, there would be nobody to replace her.
Sam was standing at the bottom of the ramp radiating her excitement, and Jack knew he’d made the right decision. Tactical gear looked good on her, and for a moment he wondered what her life would have been like if she’d followed in her father’s footsteps. They might have never crossed paths. Or worse, they would have, and given their age difference, there was no way the Air Force rank structure wouldn’t have been an issue. He couldn’t imagine knowing her and not wanting her. It would have been a disaster.
He walked over to her and straightened her vest, holding on longer than necessary. Letting her go was turning out to be more difficult than he’d anticipated. The gate room was busy with last minute preparations, giving them a weird sense of privacy in the crowded room.
“Are you nervous?” he asked her.
“Yeah, a little.”
“You’ll be in good hands,” he said. And she would be. He was sending his best people to keep the civilians safe.
She looked at him with so much trust and confidence; he didn’t know what he’d done to deserve it. “I know,” she said.
Jack brushed her cheek with his thumb before sticking his hands in his pockets. “Have fun, Dr. Carter. And don’t blow up my ship.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. She’d only recently started doing that, calling him ‘sir’ at work. It might have been a joke, but it was starting to grow on him.
SG-1 took that as their signal to move out and headed up the ramp with SG-4 close behind. Jack waited for the all clear from the planet before sending the civilians through. They’d be in good hands, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to worry the whole time she was gone. It was one of the few times he wished he wasn’t in charge of the whole circus; he would have felt a lot better if he were going along to keep an eye on things.
Sam stopped to touch the rippling surface of the wormhole before stepping through, and Jack knew he wasn’t going to feel right until her boots were back on this side of the event horizon.
Jack wasn’t on base when everything went to hell, because the cat did exist and it was his job to feed it while Sam was gone.
They were two days into the mission when the call came. Jack was sitting in Sam’s kitchen watching Schrodinger eat, because that’s what Sam had told him to do. Schrodinger looked back every few bites and yelled at Jack. Jack was a dog person; he had no idea what the cat was trying to say. That didn’t stop him from answering. “Yes,” he said. “I still see you.” Schrodinger looked pleased and went back to his meal, purring while he ate. Jack thought he was getting the hang of feline communication.
It was still early when he left Sam’s house, and Jack figured he had plenty of time to grab some coffee before the morning briefing. Hammond killed that thought with a two minute phone call before he had a chance to start his truck. His brain was kind enough to imagine every worst case scenario while he made his way to the base.
Half of SG-4 and Dr Lee were in the briefing room when he arrived. Everybody started talking at once and Jack tried to pick the story out of the chaos. He was just about to tell them all to shut the fuck up when the gate started to spin.
He took the stairs two at a time but still felt like he was moving in slow motion. Hammond was there already, preparing their defenses and looking at Jack like he wanted to tell him to get the out of the area. Jack’s place was behind the ballistic glass, not at the bottom of the ramp.
Sam came through first, and Jack tried to take in everything at once--the blood streaking her forehead, the telltale charred look of a staff blast above her right knee. He was so intent on cataloging her injuries, he barely registered the large, unfamiliar Jaffa holding her up until the Marines in the gate room reacted to him.
He watched everything through his slow motion filter as Sam’s eyes went wide and she tried to step in front of him. “Don’t shoot him!”
Hearing her voice was enough to get Jack’s brain back online. He repeated the command to hold fire because it was his job to give orders. The Jaffa looked like he was protecting Sam as much as she’d been trying to protect him and Jack had no idea what the fuck was happening in his gate room.
He stepped in front of Sam, ignoring the Jaffa for a moment. If Sam trusted him so completely, he was willing to take the risk. “Are you okay?”
She blinked hard before throwing her arms around him. “I’ve been better,” she said. He knew her well enough to know what an understatement that was, and he might never let her out of his sight again.
The Jaffa hadn’t moved away from Sam’s side and he seemed unconcerned with all the weapons being pointed in his direction. “Who’s your friend?”
The Jaffa placed one hand on his chest and dropped his head. “Tek ma’tek,” he said. “I am called Teal’c.”