author: claira
rating: pg-13
summary: episode addition, post 'shades of grey'.
a/n: sequel to 'shattered'.
thanks to samkickass, allie o'n and splash_the_cat for their betas.
disclaimer: i do not own

[ b l u r ]


She hadn’t looked at him once during the briefing.

Well, that wasn’t quite true – she had glanced at him while he was describing his conversation with the leader of P3X-216, but that had been out of sheer decorum.

There had been none of the usual tiny connections that had somehow made even Daniel’s most tedious explanations more bearable. Jack hadn’t realized how much he would miss it. How much it would just *hurt*.

Dragging his gaze away from Carter – still not looking at him – Jack tuned in just in time for General Hammond’s wrap up and dismissal. Sam had picked up her folder and moved swiftly toward the door before Jack had realized the briefing was over. He was already on his feet and moving to follow her when General Hammond called him back.

“Colonel?”

Jack turned reluctantly. “General.”

“Have things settled down?”

“Sir?”

“I expect there would have been some tension after your undercover mission and just wanted to make sure that everything has returned to normal.”

####
“Whatcha doing, Carter?”

Jack dropped to his knees beside her and tried to peer at the hole she was digging into the topsoil. She glanced at him, almost *through* him, and her eyes were devoid of their usual sparkle and warmth.

“Soil samples - nothing that would interest you, Sir.” Her voice was cold, too.
“Ah.”

Silence.

“Well, I’ll let you keep working.”

She didn’t reply. The soil samples seemed to interest her, at any rate.

Rising awkwardly to his feet, he tried to shake off her dismissal as easily as the red dust covering the knees of his BDU’s.
####


“Everything’s fine.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes. Dismissed.”

Jack was halfway out the door when the General spoke again.

“Colonel?”

“Sir?”

“Whatever is happening between you and Major Carter, fix it.” Hammond lifted his eyes from the papers, and a stern note entered his voice. “I need my flagship team fully operational. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.”

Hammond smiled at him, and went back to reading his reports. Jack backed out of the door.

It was that obvious?

He winced. He needed to talk to Carter. Soon.

* * *

“I thought I might find you here.”

Sam looked up from the aimless patterns she was tracing in the dirt with a stick and smiled weakly.

“How did you find me?” she said, raising her hand to shield her eyes from the setting sun.

Janet sat down next to Sam, and reached for a stick of her own. “Lt. Madison said you had gone this way…”

“Oh.”

“… and I often come here myself when things are bad at work.”

Sam’s hand stilled, and then she pushed the stick hard into the dirt. Hard, harder, until it buckled and snapped.

“What makes you think things are bad?” she asked, her voice cool.

“I didn’t say that.”

“You implied it,” Sam retorted, without thinking. At Janet’s tiny flinch, she looked remorseful. “I’m sorry, Janet. You didn’t deserve that. It’s just – “ she trailed off, picking up another stick and etching more equations.

“It never stops for you, does it?”

Sam glanced at her in confusion. “What?”

“Your work,” Janet elaborated, gesturing to the dirt drawings. Sam looked down, noticing for the first time the collage of symbols and signs that she had scratched in the dirt. Flushing, she scuffed them with the toe of her boot.

“Do the lines ever – blur?”

“Janet …” Sam’s voice held a note of warning, and Janet backed away from the topic swiftly.

“I should go,” she said, rising to her feet and glancing at her watch. “I’m supposed to be working. I’ll see you later?”

Sam nodded, preoccupied with her drawings.

“Sam?”

Sam’s body stilled. “Don’t ask, please, Janet.”

Janet nodded slowly. “Just remember that you can’t avoid him forever.”

Sam didn’t answer for a second. Then she lifted pain-filled eyes to Janet. “I know,” she said. “But I can try.”

* * *

He couldn’t find her. He’d checked almost the entire list of usual Carter-haunts and had drawn a complete blank.

She’d disappeared.

Wandering down the corridor, he decided to check if she was with Daniel once more, just in case he’d missed her the first – and second - time.

He was doomed to disappointment; Daniel didn’t seem to have moved from the position he’d been in when Jack had glanced in half an hour ago.

“Daniel!”

The younger man sighed and reluctantly lowered the book he was reading. “Jack.”

“Do you know where Carter is?”

Daniel shrugged. “Checked her lab?”

“Daniel…”

“I don’t know, Jack. Why do you need her?”

Jack stopped pacing about the room, and stopped in front of Daniel’s desk. “Have you noticed anything – unusual – in Carter’s behavior?”

“What do you mean by ‘unusual’?”

Jack gestured futilely and picked up a small figurine from Daniel’s desk. “She’s ignoring me.”

“I thought that was normal behavior.”

Jack blinked. Ouch.

“So you don’t know where she is?”

“No, Jack. I don’t.”

“Ah.” He ran a fingernail around the base of the statue. “Daniel – did you really draw straws?”

Daniel looked puzzled.

“To come and see me. That night,” Jack elaborated.

“Yes,” Daniel replied after a moment. He eyed Jack quizzically. “ Why do you ask?”

“No reason.” Jack carefully put the figurine on the tabletop. “I’ll see you around.”

* * *

Whiskey, Jack thought, twisting the lid off a new bottle, was fast becoming a good friend.

Pouring himself a shot, he sat down on the sofa and tried to relax, but reluctant memories of another night crept into his mind as the smell of whisky seeped into the air.

He had been sitting in the same chair two weeks ago, listening to the sound Daniel’s car fade into the distance through an alcoholic daze. Three, maybe four shots of whiskey later, he’d heard another car pull up, a door slam and then light footsteps come up to the front door.

######
“Carter.”

“Sir.”

She looked rumpled.

“What do you want?” he asked abruptly, leaning against the doorway.

She flinched. “I – uh, wanted to see if there was anything I could do.”

“There isn’t.”

“Oh.”

A car drove by, and the loud music pumping into the cold night air temporarily eased the icy silence.

“Was that all?” Jack asked, burying his hands deep into his pockets, watching Sam as she watched the toes of her boots.

She looked up. “No,” she said, holding his gaze. “There was something else.”

“Well…”

Sam glanced over his shoulder. “Um – “

“You better come in,” he said reluctantly, opening the door wider and letting her follow him inside.

He sat down on the sofa. “Whiskey?”

Sam looked from the nearly empty bottle to the glass in Jack’s hand and smiled weakly. “No. I’m fine.”

He shrugged, raised his glass to his lips and deliberately sculled the small amount left. Sam lowered herself gingerly onto the opposite chair, and watched as he poured himself the rest of the bottle.

“What?” he snapped, catching her gaze.

She flushed and dropped her eyes. “Nothing.”

“Well, spit it out, Carter…”

“Is this my fault?” she finally blurted out, staring at the carpet.

“What?”

She lifted uncertain eyes to his, and Jack felt something plummet inside him. He could tell by the set of her shoulders that she was bracing herself for a blow; he’d seen an identical stance many times in the field. He’d just never expected it to be directed at him.

Looking down into his whiskey, he watched the liquid swirl in the glass.

“I brought you back…and…” she trailed off, her tone begging him to understand.

Jack watched her twist her fingers together, noticing the layer of sweat greasing her palms and forehead, gleaming in the firelight.

She was so nervous.

He closed his eyes.

He hated his job.

“Well, Carter,” he said, forcing his gaze into a cool dismissal. The look in her eyes nearly broke him. “There wasn’t much to come back for.”

He watched her face, counting the seconds before the cruelty of his words would register.

The wait wasn’t a long one; she blinked, once - and then several more times. She swallowed.

“I – I should go –” Her voice was choked.

He nodded, focusing down into his glass, and didn’t look up until he heard the door click shut.

And then her car keys mocked him from the tabletop.

* * *

Sam was halfway down the path when she slapped her hand into her jacket pocket. Nothing.

“Carter?”

She turned, and saw something flying at her, glinting in the light streaming from his doorway.

Lunging for it, she felt the sharp edges of the keys bite into her hands before they bounced off and landed in the grass. Her face flushed as she bent over to pick them up.

The door clicked shut, and the front yard was blanketed with darkness.

By some miracle, she managed to open her car door, found the ignition and inserted the keys; and then she sat for a moment, bowing her head over the steering wheel.

She didn’t see the man watching from behind the curtain, clenching his fists in bitter frustration.

She drove away.

#####


He stared straight ahead, seeing nothing but Carter’s face crumple in front of him.

He remembered her bewilderment at his cruelty.

And he remembered watching a closed, tight expression remove the life from her face, identical to the one that had acted like a mask ever since - since he had been back from Edora?

The whiskey was suddenly burning more than his throat.

Why had she cared so much?

Putting down his glass with hands that trembled, he reached for his phone.

He got halfway through her number numerous times before hanging up in disgust at his cowardice.

* * *

He stared at the paint on her front door for a long time.

Finally, he gathered enough courage to lift his knuckles and rap sharply on the door. There was no answer for a short while, and he knocked again, harder.

Footsteps sounded inside, and then Sam’s voice drifted through the door. “It’s unlocked.”

He tentatively turned the handle and stepped inside.

“In the living room!” she called from somewhere in the depths of the house, and Jack moved towards the sound of her voice.

She hadn’t stopped talking. “Thanks for coming over at such short notice - ”

“Ahh – “

Her head flew up. “Colonel!”

Jack glanced down over her baggy shirt and the pajama pants hanging from her hips and felt a sudden, inexplicable pang of jealousy.

“Expecting someone, Carter?”

She looked down herself, and flushed. “Janet is coming over,” she replied coolly, her hands picking at her clothing. “Sir, what are you doing here?”

“I was in the neighborhood – ”

He cringed inwardly at her look of disbelief.

“ – and I just wanted to check that everything was okay…” he trailed off, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets.

“Everything’s fine, sir.”

She had the mask on again. And he’d had enough.

“Look, Carter – “ He spoke louder than he intended, and her gaze flew to the floor. He grimaced, and thought of the horrible night when he’d brought her to tears. “I didn’t mean it.”

There was a long pause, and then some of the stiffness left her shoulders.

“It didn’t look that way,” she said quietly, running a hand through her hair.

Look? “What?”

Her eyes studied him, and then Jack could have sworn she cringed backwards. “Nothing, sir.”

A flush was creeping over her face.

“Nothing?” he questioned, his voice laced with skepticism.

“I just meant – it didn’t look like you wanted to come home. To all of us,” she elaborated unnecessarily.

The red of her skin was intensifying.

The words tumbled out before he thought. “Nothing more?”

Her fingers clenched into the soft material of her pajamas, but her voice was steady. "Of course not, Sir. Why?"

“I just thought – “ Belatedly, he slammed his mouth shut, realizing that that train of thought was not one that could be pursued. Not now. Not ever.

Well, this was awkward.

A car pulled up outside, and a door slammed.

"That would be Janet, Sir," Sam said softly.

"I should go."

Halfway down the hallway, he stopped and turned to face her and something stung inside him as her gaze skittered over his face and dropped to her bare feet.

"I never meant to hurt you,” he told her, and hesitated for a beat. ”In – *any* of this.”

She finally lifted her eyes from the carpet. The pain in her eyes spoke for her.

“Carter - Sam -“ On impulse, he reached out and brushed his fingers gently down her arm. She flinched back out of surprise, and Jack dropped his hand as if she had burnt him.

The sudden knock on the door was loud in the silence, and Jack took a hasty step backwards.

"Well - good night, Carter. Sleep well," he said awkwardly, trying to sweep the confusing jumble of emotions into the ‘do not touch’ file.

"Thank you, sir. You too.” She was carefully not quite meeting his eyes again.

His fingers had closed around the handle of the door when he turned back.

“We’re going to be fine?”

For a long moment she held his gaze, and something flashed into her eyes. “I think so, sir,” she answered simply.

A warm wave of relief flooded him.

The knock sounded again, and Jack swiveled quickly and opened the door.

Janet practically fell inside. “Colonel!” she exclaimed in surprise, glancing over his shoulder with a puzzled expression on her face.

Jack nodded in recognition, and half-turned. “See you tomorrow, Carter,” he said, and then stepped out of the house and into the chilly night air.

“Yes, sir,” she answered from behind him.

He didn’t look back.

* * *

"Well, Sam? What was that about?"

Pre-occupied with watching him disappear down her path, Sam took a moment to realize that Janet was watching her closely.

“Oh, just mission stuff. Nothing important,” she answered.

Janet nodded, eying Sam curiously, but didn’t press the point. ”So, where is this coffee you promised me?” she asked, taking her coat off, and rubbing her hands together.

Sam locked the door, and smiled slightly. “This way.”

*

[ b a c k ]

    
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