Plurality

by indie

EMAIL: indiefic@hotmail.com
DISTRIBUTION:  Ask first.
RATING: PG
CHARACTERS: Sam/Jack, friendship, UST
SPOILERS:  Everything through S5 “The Sentinel” is game.
TIMELINE:  Late Season 5, sometime before "Meridian"
DISCLAIMER:  The Stargate SG-1 universe is property of MGM, World Gekko Corp, SciFi Channel and Double Secret productions. No copyright infringement intended.  No profit is gained from this work.
AUTHOR’S NOTE:  This fic is inspired entirely by a comment made by Amanda Tapping.

***

Major Samantha Carter tended to walk more quietly – even in combat boots – than the majority of her fellow (ie male) Air Force personnel.  But she never would have considered her stealth akin to sneaking, so she didn’t think anything of it when she walked into the nearly deserted commissary and neither Colonel Dixon nor Captain Bosworth, both recently transferred to SG-15, reacted.

“Naked singularity,” she heard Captain Bosworth say.  “What the hell is that?”

Ah, they must have been going over one of the myriad briefs Hammond ordered distributed to new personnel, Sam thought.  It was standard operating procedure at the SGC.  When new personnel arrived, they were all given the requisite homework.  Somewhere in the vicinity of sixty percent of the required reading materials had been written by her – another twenty percent by Daniel and then the rest by assorted others.  SG-1 was by nature the foremost authority on all things related to the stargate and gate travel.  Their experiences were considered learning tools to the other SG teams.

Forgetting the Jell-O that she had come to retrieve for a moment, Sam opened her mouth to explain that a singularity is a region of extremely high density into which matter or light is attracted.  And while Steven Hawking theorized that a singularity can only exist within a black hole, physicists Preskill and Thorne maintained that such an event could be observable, or naked – hence naked singularity.

Except that Sam never got to opportunity to speak.

“Naked singularity,” Dixon repeated with a snort.  “Sounds like Dr. Carter on a Saturday night.”

Bosworth guffawed.  “Yeah, she’s pretty icy, huh?  Not a bad piece of ass, though.  Too bad no one’s layin’ it to her.”

“You know what they say about women in the military,” Dixon countered derisively.

Sam stood rooted in her tracks, just inside the doors.  Somehow, she managed to close her mouth.  Taking a deep breath, she turned as quietly as possible to beat a hasty retreat before either Bosworth or Dixon realized she was there.

And nearly ran straight into Colonel O’Neill.

She yelped, taking an instinctive step back.  Dixon and Bosworth turned around and their expressions were immediately contrite.  Dixon cursed under his breath while Bosworth looked like he was trying to crawl into his boots.  Sam quickly looked away from them, her cheeks burning with humiliation.  Her eyes flitted across O’Neill’s face.  She had no idea if he’d heard Dixon’s snide comment or not, his face was impassive.

“Carter,” he said with a nod of his head, walking past her into the room.

Trying to tamp down her emotions, she quickly strode back to the safety of her lab.

***

Sam knew that she occasionally had a difficult time relating to fellow military personnel.  Her intellectual prowess tended to make people uncomfortable, at least until they got to know her.  She was naturally friendly enough that given time, they would warm to her.  But sometimes there were people with attitudes that no amount of work on her part could change - like Dixon and Bosworth.

Most of the time, she didn’t let that distance bother her.  Realistically, there was nothing that she could do to change their opinions.  She was smart and she wasn’t going to pretend to be a dumb blonde to make people feel at ease around her.  She was a woman in the military and a good deal of difficulty was part the job.

Of course, none of that explained why she still had so many problems when she was off base.  She was a reasonably young, single, self-sufficient woman.  She was a decent cook and she knew -- in a very abstract way -- that men found her attractive.  Yet as Dixon had so aptly stated, naked singularity was quite an apropos description for her average Saturday night.  Or any other day of the week for that matter.

The truth was that Sam had never been good at romantic relationships.  She was on the cusp of womanhood when her mother died.  A largely-absent, hard-core military father wasn’t exactly long on the advice that a blossoming young woman needed.  He showed her how to break her date’s elbow if he got fresh, but he didn’t exactly give her tips on how to relate to men.

During her teens and early twenties, she did date, albeit probably less so than the average woman her age.  The situation was largely of her own design.  Sam had plenty of opportunity for romantic relationships, but she rarely chose to exercise that option.  Her schooling and her career had always been the highest priority - and far more rewarding than a date.  It didn't help that when she finally did decide to give romance a try that it turned into her disastrous relationship with Captain Jonas Hanson.

It took just over a year for things between them to fizzle completely.  Ironically enough, it was his proposal that finally gave her the motivation to break up with him.  She suspected that while she had always had a certain fondness for Jonas himself, that it was the sense of normalcy that she had truly enjoyed.

What would have been an uncomfortable situation between Sam and Jonas was only compounded by the fact that both of them had recently been transferred to the SGC.  Sam couldn’t and wouldn’t take responsibility for the fact that Jonas had ultimately destroyed himself and half his team.  He made those decisions himself.  But the memory of his followers joyfully tossing him to certain death insured that she took a serious break from dating.  It just happened that the break turned into a full fledged hiatus and now it had gotten to the point that Sam couldn’t even remember what it felt like to be close to a man.

Okay, that wasn’t exactly true.  She had tons of experience being close to men -- literally.  Day in and day out, trudging across alien landscapes, she was in the constant company of three men.  Not that she didn’t enjoy their company.  She did.  A lot.  But being the only girl on the team could get a bit depressing.  It had even gotten to the point that she knew their noises.  She knew their routines and quirks.  She knew that Teal’c had at least twenty-five different and specific eyebrow moves that could convey far more information than most people’s words.  She could tell, without looking across the campfire, whether the snores were Daniel’s or the colonel’s.

Hell, her teammates’ impact on her life wasn’t even confined to working hours.  Around her house, she was always finding signs of them; one of Teal’c’s myriad hats behind a chair or a bottle of the colonel's Guinness in her fridge.  Daniel was the worst, leaving a trail of personal items behind himself like a bread crumb trail.  She had an entire shelf in her living room that was dedicated to his miscellany; books, allergy medication, odd relics, even once - god help her - an unlabeled camcorder tape she'd been too afraid to watch.  Just last month, she had stumbled across a set of the colonel’s dog tags.  They were the ones he’d handed her before rappelling down to the stargate with Colonel Cromwell after they were unable to disengage the wormhole to P3W-451.  At the time, Sam had already lost her own dog tags to the gravity.  She was so used to having a set of tags that she hadn’t even noticed until the next day that they were his and not hers.  Somehow she’d forgotten to return them.

Sleeping side by side, eating together, day-in day-out minutiae; she had all the intimacy without any of the intimacy.

Sam sighed as she booted her laptop.  She knew she wasn’t being fair to the guys.  They were more than just teammates or co-workers.  They were family and she was deeply grateful for their companionship.  Daniel was more of a brother to her than her own flesh and blood had ever been.  He could always be counted on to really listen to what she had to say.  His compassion kept her grounded, kept her from becoming the cold, hardened soldier.  Teal’c had been distant at first, but five years of missions had more than bridged that gap and she now trusted him as she trusted few people.  The colonel ...   Sam pushed the thought away.  Her relationship with her commanding officer wasn’t one that she could afford to contemplate.  Not unless she wanted her heart broken.  Or to be court-martialed.  Or both, actually.  He was her best friend but they both had to leave it at that.

For a few minutes, she was able to lose herself in her tasks, but all too soon, the simulations were running and she had nothing to do but stare at her screensaver.  She groaned, leaning her elbows against the countertop and cradling her head in her hands.  Why had she let that neanderthal Dixon get to her anyway?  She knew she shouldn’t be thinking negatively about a senior officer, but the man was a jerk and about as personable as goa’ulded Unas.  All he ever did was make bathroom jokes and bitch about his wife and kids.

Of course, he had a spouse.  And children.  Two things Major Samantha Carter was not likely to find.

“Dammit,” Sam cursed under her breath, blinking back tears.

***

Sam opened her front door and looked dumbfounded at Daniel.  He smiled, but then taking in her appearance – barefoot, gray yoga pants, white cotton camisole with a zippered sweatshirt over it – he frowned.    “Uh, Jack didn’t call you, did he?” Daniel asked dryly, full well knowing the answer to his question.

Sam smiled wryly and shook her head.  “No,” she said, looking over Daniel’s shoulder at the colonel and Teal’c making their way up the walk with a bag of charcoal, a case of beer, two grocery sacks and videos.  Rolling her eyes, she pulled open the door and stepped aside, bidding them all enter.  “Make yourselves at home.”  She knew the offer was unnecessary.  They would undoubtedly make themselves at home.  She couldn’t count the number of times Daniel had left a pair of socks under her couch.

Daniel recovered quickly from his initial dismay that Jack hadn’t – contrary to what he said – called Sam and given her advance notice about their little get together.  Daniel comfortably walked through her house and out the sliding glass doors to her back patio where he methodically uncovered her little-used barbeque grill.

“Major Carter,” Teal’c said with a bright smile and a cordial nod of his head as he crossed the threshold.

“Hey, Teal’c,” Sam replied, smiling herself at his most recent “casual” outfit.  She had no idea who it was that helped him try out different clothing styles, but she highly suspected it was Cassandra.  Today he was dressed in a vibrant yellow jersey emblazoned with “FUBU”, black jeans than hung so low on his hips she was afraid they were going to fall off, a pair of obscenely expensive athletic shoes and a black do-rag to cover the gold emblem on his forehead.  It was bad, but it was such a step above his cowboy outfit.  She wasn’t sure he would fool anyone into thinking he was actually into hip hop, but at least he didn’t look like he belonged in the Village People.

She was still chuckling about Teal’c’s outfit when the colonel brushed past her with a drawled, “Samantha.”

She frowned.  “Guess you forgot to call, sir?” she asked pointedly, closing the front door.

He merely smiled at her with one of those damn enigmatic expressions that she could never read.  “If I had called, you would have just made up some story to weasel out of it,” he said, whistling lightly as he continued down the hallway toward the kitchen.

Weasel out of it,” she repeated in irritation.

“Yes,” he said matter-of-factly, setting the case of beer down on the counter.  She watched as he deftly opened the case, pulled out a bottle, used the bottle opener on his keychain and then handed it to her.  “And there will be no weaseling tonight, Major.”

***

Sam didn’t really understand the appeal of barbequing, especially considering that at least sixty percent of all the meals they shared were MREs heated over a campfire.  However, as she took a bite of the perfectly cooked steak, she had to admit it was very satisfying.  And it sure beat the frozen Lean Cuisine meal she'd been planning to pop in the microwave.

The guys had shown up with all the fixings, which was convenient because her fridge contained a few sugar-free Jell-O cups and some diet soda.  Ever the task master, Colonel O’Neill had assigned duties.  Sam got to make the salad, which consisted of cutting the top off the bag and pouring it in a bowl.  The rest of the preparation had been similar.  Daniel opened the container of pasta salad from the deli and threw the baked beans in the microwave to heat.  The colonel and Teal’c contented themselves with building the fire and charring the meat, occasionally nodding and grunting.

“Pass me another beer,” the colonel said, holding out his hand as Daniel gave him a beer and then snagged another for himself.

Sam smiled in mild amusement.  It was going to be a long night.  Colonel O’Neill and Daniel seemed determined to make their way through the entire case of beer and she knew that neither one of them was going to get behind the wheel drunk, which meant they’d be hanging out at her house for quite a while.  She sort of wished she could feel put out about that, but she didn’t.  They most certainly weren’t interrupting anything.  Ah, what the hell.  “Me too,” she said motioning toward the fridge.

***

Sam shifted, blinking her eyes open slowly.  She was on her couch, slouched against her CO, head resting on his shoulder.  The only light in the room was the TV, which was turned to the all night Simpsons marathon on the local UPN station.  Yawning and stretching, Sam sat up and looked around the room, puzzled at the absence of Daniel and Teal’c.  After dinner, they’d all camped out in her living room with the rest of the beer while watching the two movies that Daniel had rented.  Which reminded her, Daniel was never, never, allowed to rent movies without supervision again.  For someone so intellectual, Daniel was a goldfish.  When it came to movies, anything bright and shiny could completely captivate his attention.  Sam knew she had (thank god) dozed off in the middle of the second movie, which, she looked at her watch, had to have been about two hours ago.  She arched an eyebrow.

“Jell-O wrestling down at The Landing Strip,” he offered without looking at her, his attention riveted on the TV.  She watched as he tilted his bottle of beer, finishing it in one long swallow before leaning forward to set the empty bottle on the coffee table.

Sam was quiet.  She knew the guys sometimes hit the local clubs together.  That didn't explain why the colonel was still sitting in her living room.  “You trust them alone?”

Eyes still locked on the flickering animated images, he frowned, shaking his head.  "Not really," he admitted, looking supremely unconcerned with the fate of two friends - and his truck for that matter.  She hadn't realized just how much he trusted Teal'c.  The colonel trusting the Jaffa with his life was one thing, but with the fate of his beloved 4x4 was quite another.  She watched as he shifted on the couch, sinking back in the cushions and bending his legs to prop his bare feet on her coffee table.  His knee had been surgically repaired months ago, but she knew it still bothered him often.  Of course, she doubted that Janet knew it still bothered him.

She crossed her arms over her chest, leaning back against the armrest.  If he knew she was watching him, he gave no indication.  He simply sat there, watching his favorite TV show, occasionally smiling at the jokes.  "So?" she prompted.

He grimaced, tapping his sternum with his fist.  No doubt he had heartburn.  She warned him to go easy on the jalapeños.  “Simpsons,” he said, only he didn't so much say it as grunt.  The episode ended and another started.  Without looking, he reached over and snagged the last beer out of the case.

Shaking her head, she stood up and padded quietly to the bathroom.  Feeling no need to rush - it wasn't like she needed to play dutiful hostess - she washed her face and brushed her teeth before moisturizing.  She flipped off the light, finger combing her hair as she stepped into her bedroom.  Shimmying out of her jacket and camisole, she traded them for her favorite piece of sleepwear, a well-worn Air Force sweatshirt several sizes too big that was the same faded gray as her sweatpants.  She rolled back the cuffs and then grabbed a thick pair of gym socks out of a drawer, pulling them on her cold feet.

He was exactly where she'd left him, the beer still largely untouched.  Yet again, he didn't bother actually looking at her as she took a seat on the sofa.

"You don't have to do this, you know," she finally said.  "Even if you did get the short straw."

He arched his eyebrows, but still couldn't be bothered to take his eyes off the screen.  "Hmm?"

She frowned, knowing that regardless of how many beers he had consumed, he was being intentionally dense and evasive.  "You don't have to babysit me," she clarified.

His face pursed into a scowl and he finally glanced sidelong at her before turning his attention back to the TV.  Stretching one arm out along the back of the couch, he merely said, "C'mere."

She sat perfectly still.

He turned to look at her, completely exasperated.  "Dammit, Carter, just stop thinking for five minutes and watch the damn show."

He looked back at the TV, but his arm remained where it was - an invitation.  Sighing and rolling her eyes, she finally gave in, once again scooting close to him, resting her head on his shoulder.  She was immediately shocked by the heat and scent of him, comforting and tempting all at once.  She had the most absurd desire to turn and bury her nose into the fragrant skin where his neck flowed into his shoulder - but she hadn't drank near enough beer to try something like that, thank god.

They sat there for a long time, both of them shifting to get more comfortable.  His arm wrapped around her shoulders and her hand rested on his thigh.  The undeniable thrill she felt being so close to him eventually gave way to a stronger fatigue, abetted by the comforting warmth of his body, and her eyelids grew heavy.  She yawned, snuggling closer to him, only dimly aware of his fingers idly caressing her shoulder.

She was just about to nod off when he abruptly said, "Carter, this is my sweatshirt."  The offended tone in his voice nearly made her laugh.

She let out a deep breath, closing her eyes.  "Possession is nine-tenths of the law, sir," she said matter-of-factly.

She could hear his jaw fall open in outrage.  "That's just … Where'd you get it?  I've been looking for this thing forever."

Not bothering to look up at him she said, "You were off playing house with Laira.  Somebody had to clean out your locker after you were declared MIA."

"And so you just thieved it?" he countered, sounding so adorably outraged that she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.

She finally pushed herself into a sitting position, trying to ignore that her hand was braced against his thigh, her face scant inches from his.  "You know," she said, "after that incident on Velona -  you remember, the one where the NID basically tore my entire house apart from top to bottom?"

His expression became somewhat wary.  "Yeah?" he prompted.

"They cataloged every single thing in my house before they gave it back," she continued.

The wary expression was quickly morphing into guilt.

"I used to have this little black lacy thong," she said.  "But it seems that it never got returned."

He swallowed thickly and she knew that if he weren't so damn tan that she'd be able to see him blush.  "Carter, I don't know what the NID stealin' your panties has to do with my sweatshirt," he bluffed.

She smiled tightly.  The look said sure you don't.  "I think, sir," she said aloud, "that maybe we should forget about the sweatshirt and watch the damn show."

He nodded slowly.  "Probably a good idea, Major," he replied.

They both returned their attention to the television, trying to get comfortable.  It was largely futile, the easy camaraderie of only a few moments was gone.  She was too aware of how perfect he smelled, of his arm around her shoulders, of his breath gently stirring the hair across her forehead.  She wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around him, to press her lips to his flesh.  But she couldn't do that.  They were going to do nothing more scandalous than a little G rated cuddling while they watched cartoons.

She almost had to laugh of the absurdity of it.  She was lying there against him, wearing his sweatshirt which she had inexcusably stolen.  On her dresser was a spare set of his dog tags that she had conveniently forgotten to return - for three years.  Meanwhile, he was pretending to be absorbed in a TV episode that she knew he'd seen at least twenty times.  And she would have bet everything she owned that her missing pair of panties was somewhere in his house - or truck, on second thought definitely the truck.  Together she and her CO were like a couple of stalkers.  Only, could it technically be stalking if it was mutual?  It was too sad for words.  God, they were pathetic.

She turned her head slightly, loving the way his soft t-shirt felt under her cheek.  "It would have been safer if Daniel or Teal'c got the short straw," she said.

He took a deep breath and released it slowly.  She knew he wanted to disagree with her, but even his hypocrisy had to have limits.  Them being alone together like this just wasn't smart.  There was no way around it.  "I didn't get the short straw," he finally admitted.  "There were no straws."

"You pull rank?"

"Pretty much."  The hand that wasn't wrapped around her shoulder came up to rub the back of his neck.  "I didn't tell Daniel and Teal'c what Dixon and Bosworth said."

Tears pricked her eyes at his quiet admission.  As much as she loved the guys and as much as she knew they would have done anything to protect her, she was deeply grateful he had spared her that humiliation.  "Thanks," she said in a near whisper.

He sighed, hitting the mute button on the TV.  "You're not the exception, Sam," he said quietly.  "You're the rule.  This is a lonely fucking life for all of us.  If you need anymore proof, just look at the heavy overrepresentation of Jell-O in the diets of SG-1."

She shrugged, not looking at him, ignoring his lame attempt at humor.  "A lot of top secret personnel manage to find a way to make it work," she said.  "You did."

He was quiet for a very long time.  "Maybe I'm just not willing to compromise anymore," he admitted.

Needing to look at him, she once again pushed herself into a sitting position, watching the light from the TV play over his features.  For once he didn't look away.  She could tell he was considering his words very carefully as he said, "Dixon goes home to his wife one night a week, one week out of nine, and he lies to her and to himself."

"That's the way it has to be," she said.

He shrugged.  "I did it for ten years," he said blandly.  "And that's what I told myself at the time, that she was better off not knowing, that in order to keep her safe, to keep myself sane, I had to separate the two."

"And now?"

He snorted.  "I think I'm just too damn old to play mind games with myself," he said, reaching for the beer and taking another drink.  His expression sobered and he continued, "I don't think that pretending what I spend three hundred days a year doing doesn't exist is the answer anymore."

"So there's no hope," she said bleakly.  "If we can't lie, then what else is there?  Being alone for the rest of our lives?"

He looked at her, his eyes warm.  "There's barbeques and Simpsons reruns and occasional misappropriation of government inventory."

She laughed, shaking her head at him.

His expression grew serious.  "You're not alone," he said.  "We're not alone.  It's not ideal, but it damn sure beats lying to the person you're sleeping next to."

She took a deep breath.  "But it's lonely," she said quietly.

He looked at her intently, slowly raising his hand to trail his fingertips over her cheek.  Her eyes fluttered shut and she could feel the sofa cushions shift as he leaned forward.

"Jack!" Daniel bellowed, stumbling through the front door.  "Are you sober enough to drive?  Teal'c keeps doing this thing that makes the world go all tilty."  He slowly made his way into the kitchen before abruptly announcing, "I need to use your bathroom."

Jack smiled tightly, dropping his hand.  "It's not lonely," he said, voice thick with irritation.  He winced at the sound of Daniel retching in Carter's bathroom.  "You'll have Daniel here to keep you company."

"Oh, no," she countered, "you're not leaving him here."

He smiled wickedly.  "Drunk space monkey is not getting back in my truck," he said flatly.  "He better pray he didn't already puke in there."

"Sir!" she said in outrage, watching as he quickly pulled on his socks and shoes.

"T?  You ready to go?" he called, rising to his feet.

"Indeed I am, O'Neill," Teal'c replied from somewhere in the vicinity of the front door, sounding all too eager to depart before Daniel returned.

She stood up and his amused expression sobered.  He shoved his hands in his pockets, looking at her with a slight frown.  "You won't be alone tonight," he said seriously, his voice too quiet for Teal'c to hear.  "And one of these days … You never know."  He kicked absently at the carpet.  "Frasier can't keep patching my knees back together forever."

She looked at him for a moment and he didn't look away.  "Do you want your sweatshirt back, sir?" she asked.

He looked her up and down, swallowing thickly at the knowledge that she probably wasn't wearing anything under it.  He shrugged, fixing his eyes on the bookshelf behind her head.  "You already pointed out that possession is nine-tenths of the law, Major," he said wryly.  "Besides," he said, turning to give her one last heated look, "it looks way better on you."

***

"Coffee?" Sam asked, holding up the pot.

One hand still clamped over his eyes, Daniel held out his cup and whispered, "Yes."

Sam smiled, feeling truly sorry for him as she refilled his mug.  He was on his third cup and the caffeine had yet to kick in.  One of these days, Daniel was going to have to embrace the fact that his liver hated him.

"Remind me never to do that again," he said, finally daring to lower his hand.  He looked at her, squinting against the light.

"Which part?  The drinking or the strip club?"

"Both," he said dryly.  "Being hung over and broke at the same time really sucks.  At least I still have all my credit cards this time."

"Thank god for small favors," she agreed, returning her attention to the crossword puzzle.

"I think I'm scarred for life too," Daniel said morosely.

"I think you're being a little melodramatic," she said.  Seven down, four letter word meaning pennon.  "It's not like you haven't been hung over before."  And it wasn't.  It didn't seem to matter how much Daniel drank, with the rare exception of the time he had the Atoniek armband, Daniel plus alcohol equaled very, very sick Daniel.

"Yeah, I know," he said, "but I was apparently digging through Jack's glove box last night."

She stopped, pencil suspended mid-air.  "And?"

He pulled a little ball of black lace out of his pocket and set it on the counter.  They both stared at it.  "There are certain things I just don't want to know about Jack's life," Daniel said, grimacing.

Sam turned her attention back to the crossword.  Eighteen across, nine letter word meaning bifold.

END

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