Season 6, S/J UST
The fire crackled in the dark evening, sending sparks drifting up in the still air towards the stars. And it was quiet. The surrounding trees rustled with all the usual noises of the night, but nothing that could rival the overwhelming silence of the planet.
Looking up at the alien starscape, Jack took a deep breath and let himself relax. At least as much as was possible off-world. The planet, it seemed, was devoid of any intelligent life. No Goa’uld, no bad-guys. Just them, in fact. SG-1.
Peering over the flames, he could see the fire glint against the emblem Teal’c still wore on his forehead. A sign of his former slavery, and his defiance. He sat motionless, deep in restorative trance. Jack envied him. His own sleep was never so restful, nor so complete. His mind, it seemed, never fully switched off. On some level, he was always conscious - of himself and the world around him.
A chuckle drifted across the fire, drawing Jack’s eyes to his other team-mates. Jonas and Carter were sharing a joke. She was shaking her head and laughing, as uninhibited as she ever got, punching him gently on the shoulder.
“It’s true!” Jonas protested, more loudly. “You think I’d make that up?”
Perhaps sensing Jack’s gaze, Carter glanced over at him. Her smile faded, her professional demeanor sliding resolutely back into place. “Jonas is trying to convince me to--”
“Ah,” Jonas interrupted hurriedly, “I don’t think the colonel needs to know about that.”
Carter’s eyebrows rose. “You’re not embarrassed are you?”
“No,” came the defensive reply, followed by an apologetic smile sent in Jack’s direction. “I just think he wouldn’t be interested.”
“Try me,” Jack suggested dryly, irritated for no reason he could define.
“Jonas has a date,” Carter blurted, as Jonas grimaced. “Lieutenant Carpenter from--”
“It’s not a date,” Jonas interrupted. “She just asked me if I’d like to ‘catch a movie sometime.’”
“Sounds like a date to me,” Carter grinned. “Don’t you think, sir?”
He shrugged. “I guess. Not my idea of a good time though.”
It was Carter’s turn to look surprised. “You don’t like the movies?”
“Sitting on my ass in a dark room for a couple of hours? Who could enjoy that?”
A frown touched her face, and she looked away. “I do.”
Jonas cleared his throat. “I’ve never been to the movies,” he said into the suddenly awkward silence. “We didn’t have anything like that at home.”
“We should go,” Carter said thoughtfully. “I mean…if you find the weather channel interesting, you’ll love the movies.”
From across the fire, Jack watched the exchange with increasing irritation. “Hockey,” he said aloud. “A hockey match. That’s a good date.”
Jonas glanced over at him, then back to Carter. “Hockey, huh?”
But Carter shook her head. “I hate hockey. I mean, it’s okay on TV, but I just really hate ice-rinks. All that shouting echoing around the place, the tacky music and the smell of hot-dogs.” She shuddered. “Horrible.”
Jack just stared. “You hate hockey?”
She winced, shrugged and refused to look at him. “Sorry, sir.”
“Huh.” The silence between them lengthened as Jack mulled over the information. Carter hated hockey. Hated hockey! This was bad. He picked up a twig laying next to him on the ground, and started poking in the dirt, “Do you ski?”
“Never tried,” Jonas chipped in, until Jack silenced him with a glare.
“I ski,” Carter said after a moment, her face obscured by the peak of her cap as she stared into the flames. “If I have to.”
This was not going well! No hockey, no skiing? “So what do you do?”
She shrugged, still staring into the fire. “Work out. Work on my bike--”
“Pick locks,” Jonas added with a grin.
She glanced over at him, a sudden smile lighting her face. A smile for Jonas. “Yeah, pick locks.”
Pick locks? What the f--- Jack stared between them, his stomach twisting so painfully he actually grimaced. “You pick locks?” he said, aware that his voice sounded hollow, but knowing he needed to say something to keep the telling silence at bay.
“One of her many talents,” Jonas piped up again. “That and spaghetti carobo-- What was it?”
“Carbonara,” Sam filled in. “And I told you, that sauce came out of a jar.”
The twist in his gut was turning into a kind of rising sickness that threatened to clog his throat. Jonas. And Carter. Jonas and Carter eating dinner together? Carter *cooking* for him? And what the hell was the lock picking about? Crap, was it a euphemism for… Oh Jesus! He couldn’t believe it! He flicked a gaze between them, where they sat together on the opposite side of the fire. They weren’t exactly hip-to-hip, but did they *have* to sit so damn close? And why was she looking at him like that? All wide eyed and smiling. It was unprofessional. It was-- Shit. He felt nauseous. Genuinely nauseous.
He stood abruptly, antsy and eager to get away. But with nowhere to go. “I, uh…” He waved vaguely into the dark, silent trees. “I gotta pee.”
And he was moving, the glimpse of Carter’s thoughtful eyes turning towards him the last image he carried with him into the night. Carter and Jonas? They couldn’t. She wouldn’t! Would she?
His mind turned over every scrap of information he could recall, every time he’d seen them together. Every nuance of their conversations, looking for the clues he might have missed. Okay, so there was a certain degree of…sparkage. But that didn’t mean anything. Right? And just because they’d pulled that married stunt one time, it was only for the mission. And she’d probably have done the same with any of the rest of the team.
He paused at that thought, his feet clogging in the dark and loamy soil as he stared down at the decaying leaves. Would she? He had a hard time imagining her pretending to be *his* wife under any circumstances; he had an even harder time imagining anyone believing it.
But Jonas and Carter? Together? Nausea rose in his throat again, and he recognized it now as jealously. Of the bitterest kind. He’d had a hard enough time excepting Jonas into the team, but if his suspicions were true…? Hell, he’d rather take another vacation in Baal’s house of horrors than see that in front of his eyes every day!
Sucking in a deep breath, he forced himself to calm down. They were off-world. Now was *not* the time to loose it. Plenty of time for that when he got home. Ahead of him, he saw a patch of golden moonlight shimmering through the trees, and bent his steps in its direction. Emerging into a small clearing, he looked up and saw the planet’s large, yellow moon filling the hole in the forest canopy. It was beautiful and serene, its golden luster reminding him painfully of her hair. Everything, it sometimes seemed, reminded him of her.
That he’d lost her.
The truth of the words hit him like a fist. He’d lost her. In fact, he’d lost her way before Jonas appeared on the scene. If he’d ever had her. Their feelings had bloomed too soon, inappropriately. And the early flower had been bitten by a hard frost that had left it scared and dead.
Slumping to the ground, Jack flopped onto his back and stared up into the alien sky. He knew he was being self-indulgent, that he should get back to the camp or at the very least check in before they came looking for him. But a sudden lethargy held him in a leaden jacket and he couldn’t bring himself to move. And the jealous nausea in his throat hardened into a lump of remorse that he couldn’t swallow. It was over. And the saddest part was, it had never really had the chance to begin.
“Carter to O’Neill.”
Her voice, loud over the radio, nearly jolted him out of his skin. He sat up, trying to calm his racing heart and steady his voice before he toggled his radio. “Go ahead Carter.”
A hiss of static. “Sir, are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m just…” Hell! What? I’m just falling apart out here, give me five? “Just admiring the view.” Gah!
He could hear the confusion in her voice. “Sir, where are you?”
“I’m taking a walk, Carter,” he snapped, irritated more by himself than her. “I’ll be back soon. O’Neill out.”
Slumping back to the ground, he stared again up at the moon. It was still golden, still beautiful. It still reminded him of her hair.
And his heart still ached enough to burst.
Time passed. He didn’t know how long. All he knew was that he was glad to be alone; it was like a balm to his uneasy mind. Alone, he could just be. Let the mask fall. Feel the sorrow and regret seeping into every bone. Alone he could--
Holy shit! He jerked to his feet, heart thundering as he turned to see her standing on the edge of the clearing. She was hesitant, concerned. Beautiful. And the moonlight shimmered in her hair like gold-dust.
A rebuke formed on his lips, but hung there unspoken as her eyes met and held his. She hadn’t looked at him like that, so openly, for a long time. Years. He wondered if she was going to tell him now, about Jonas. He shied away from the prospect as though it were a snake, propelling himself into action. “Beautiful night, huh?” he said, strolling towards her with as much composure as he could muster. “I was just looking at the--”
“There’s nothing going on,” she said softly, ignoring him. “If that’s what you’re thinking.”
He stumbled, his feet as well as his words coming to an ungainly halt. “What do you mean?”
“Jonas and me. We’re just friends. I made him dinner once, that’s all.”
She knew. Of course she knew. She’d always been able to read him. An angry flush heated his face, embarrassed that his jealousy had been so apparent. Afraid that she hadn’t been the only one to notice. Damn, he should have better control of himself!
And then a violent wave of relief rolled over him as her words sank in, cooling his anger and leaving him light-headed, dry-mouthed and incapable of speech. He rubbed a hand over his face, struggling to regain his equilibrium. Their conversation was already well over the line and into highly inappropriate territory, and the last thing he wanted to do was to lose what little control he had left. “I, uh--” But her open gaze held him and forbade him to lie, or fake indifference, or change the subject. “I… I can’t believe you hate hockey.”
She blinked, surprised. And then her face relaxed into a small smile. “I can’t believe you hate the movies.”
He snorted softly, shaking his head. He felt way out of his depth, and yet freer than he had in months. They were actually talking about it. More or less. He kept his eyes fixed on hers, carefully gauging her response as he tentatively suggested, “Maybe I’ve never gone to the movies with the right person?”
She didn’t react. Not at first. And then her small smile burst into a self-conscious grin that dazzled the moon and punched the breath from his lungs. “Maybe not.”
Neither of them moved, standing no more than a couple of feet apart. He studied her, the subtle lines on her face, the shadows cast by the moon. He knew that face so well, and yet sometimes he felt as though he hardly dared look at her for fear of betraying their dangerous secret. “You’d like hockey,” he said, when he could bare the silence no more. “I’d teach you how to play, not watch.”
Her eyes softened into a smile that didn’t quite touch her lips. “And I’d take you to a drive-in. It’s much more fun than sitting in the dark.”
“I like the sound of that.” God, did he ever. Just the idea of spending time with her, without wearing his rank, was enough to fill him to overflowing.
She sighed, a mixture of resignation and sadness. And the sound echoed profoundly in his heart. Involuntarily, his hand twitched towards her, acting on his instinctive need to comfort her, as well as himself. But he willed himself to stop, to do the right thing. Yet there was something about her eyes, or perhaps the silent, empty planet, that was stripping away his common sense bit by bit. He didn’t move, but the words spilled helplessly from his lips. “Carter,” his voice almost cracked with the weight of the words. He cleared his throat, “God, Sam, I really want to ki--”
“No!” she hissed, eyes wide, her face crumpling into anguish as she took a step back and shook her head in denial. “Sir, please.”
He swallowed hard. Stupid! Damn stupid, O’Neill. “I’m sorry.”
For the longest time they stood gazing at each other, their rapid breathing in perfect unison, separated only by moonlight and duty. And then she turned away, wrapping both arms around herself and sucking in a deep breath. But he couldn’t move. He dared not move, afraid of what he might do if he allowed his feet to start walking. Because at that moment, all he wanted to do was hold her. And was that so goddamn bad?
“I was thinking,” she said at last, cracking the tension between them.
“When aren’t you?”
She turned slightly towards him, and he could see the half-smile on her face. “I was thinking that we do have at least one mutual interest.”
Despite his gnawing frustration, he couldn’t ignore her contagious smile. “And that would be?”
Fishing? He stared, confused. She’d never been fishing. At least, not with him. She offered no explanation, just raised an eyebrow at his confusion, and with a final ambiguous smile headed back towards the camp. Fishing?
And then he got it.
And despite everything, despite the frustration, the loneliness and the longing, he laughed. It was a small sound against the vast emptiness of the planet, but it felt as bright as the moon, because her words had given him hope. So what if they didn’t share every interest? So what if they had nothing in common but one single, shining thing? Because that one thing, tempered by the fires of duty, respect and restraint for six long years, was as dazzling and resilient as the hardest of diamonds. And it would last, he realized, until there was time to explore all their differences in slow and intimate detail.
It would last until there was time for them to fish.
And to fish again, and again, and again…