** See Part 1 for disclaimers and story details.
Author's Notes: First, let me apologize for the late posting. Crappy internet connections have a way of conspiring against me. Thank you everyone for the fb and reception after leaving you hanging for so long! And welcome back into the world of Jack and Faith. Everyone wave and say thanks to Lynette as well - without her you'd be reading something with mistakes all over the place. ( she hates it when I do that. ) As always, any and all feedback is appreciated.
The last sip of coffee was bitter even though it was still warm. Setting the cup down with a disgusted clink, Jack looked up in time to catch Carter glance quickly away. “What?”
Carter's face didn't lie any better than her voice. Stifling a sigh, he leaned over the table and pinned her with his out with it stare. “What is it, Carter?” he repeated, not truly certain he wanted her to answer.
She glanced off to the side, then down to the table before meeting his eyes. “Really, sir, it's nothing. You just had this funny little smile on your face.”
Instantly, Jack felt his cheeks twitch, the smile trying to return. “I don't have funny little smiles, Carter. I have confident colonel ones.” He bravely ignored the snort from his left as Daniel struggled to hold a laugh in check. “And I wasn't smiling to start with.”
“You were, O'Neill.”
Damn. He was really hoping Teal'c would go along with him on that one. Some friend he was. “So what if I was smiling? Has it suddenly become against the law to smile while having lunch with some friends?”
“Of course not, Jack. Stop being obtuse,” Daniel said, laying his fork on the table next to his plate of lasagna. “You're just not one to sit around smiling to himself. Now spill.”
If Daniel hadn't been such a close friend for years Jack wouldn't have even bothered to make up something. “It's just been a good week. We haven't run into a single Goa'uld and the worst injury has been a sprained ankle. Aren't those good enough reasons to smile?”
“Not for you.”
Shooting the other man a quelling look, he picked up his cup only to remember it was empty. He set it back down with a frown. Why didn't he just tell them about Faith? It wasn't like he was ashamed of her, like he didn't want to be seen with her. He simply wanted to keep her to himself for a little while longer. Then he'd tell the team, introduce them properly. The fact he couldn't explain to himself exactly how they'd gotten started to begin with had nothing to do with his reticence.
And yet he still smiled when he thought about her.
“There it is again, Jack. Sure there's nothing you want to tell us?”
He stood abruptly, chair squealing over the cement. “I'll be in my office when you guys are done having a laugh at my expense.” Carter's wide eyes flew up to meet his as he looked around the table, positive he was overreacting but unable to stop it.
“Come on, Jack,” Daniel called after him. “You know that's not what we meant.”
Ignoring the peace offering, he walked out of the commissary, Teal'c's gaze heavy on his back. He walked blindly through the corridors, responding automatically as people greeted him. Why was he so prickly, anyway? Daniel had said it, he wasn't acting like himself. As a matter of fact, he hadn't been feeling much like himself either. And it was all due to Faith.
Shutting the door quietly behind him, Jack stepped into his office, the smile Carter had teased him about forming once again. No matter how hard he tried it refused to disappear. Even the thought of losing his hard-as-nails-colonel reputation couldn't diminish it.
He might as well admit it – he'd fallen and he'd fallen hard.
The past two weeks had flown by in a blur. Last Monday night's game and dessert with Faith had sparked something he never could have anticipated and they'd spent every evening together since.
Faith had proven to be one surprise after another, each facet drawing him a little closer for a better look. She was so confident about where she was in life and where she wanted to go, yet there was a vulnerability, a tiny slice of uncertainty hidden way down deep. He wasn't sure if she was even aware of it, but he simply had to know what it meant.
There was only one small glitch threatening his bubble – why him? Why Jack O'Neill specifically?
The smile faded, a lead weight taking up residence between his chest and stomach. Faith had searched him out, no question about that. There was also no doubt about the disparity of their ages. Yeah, they'd met briefly six years ago, an evening neither had alluded to in the past week. But that one event didn't seem enough to bring a woman practically to his doorstep, let alone the interest she appeared to have in one busted up colonel.
That thought led to one he wished gone before it had even fully formed. He had plenty of enemies out there, not the least of which was an organization which had already proved it would go to extreme lengths to hurt the SGC and its personnel. Maybe even hire an attractive young woman to seduce a high ranking member of the SGC?
Just the thought stole his ability to breathe.
Shaking fingers pulled his keyboard to the edge of his desk. One minute later Carter's database search program cursor was blinking up at him. Carter had shown him how to access the database almost three years ago, but this was the first time he'd ever thought of using it. His hands trembled over the keys, muscles so tight they were cramping. One quick check. That's all it would take. And then he'd know.
Lungs emptying in a painful heave, his hands fisted over the plastic letters. He couldn't do it. If Faith wasn't what she portrayed he wanted to hear it from her lips, not read it on some computer screen. Slapping the button on the mouse, he closed the window and shoved the keyboard away. And if she was just a woman who'd decided she liked him, Jack didn't want his lack of trust hanging over them. He was going to have enough issues with only his job and what he couldn't tell her to worry about without creating more.
The sick feeling finally faded, leaving him shaky and empty inside. Without thinking about it, he grabbed the phone, dialing quickly.
Just the sound of her voice steadied him. Yeah, it was time to ask some of those unlovely questions. “Hey. It's me.”
“Hey back. I thought you were working today. Or was that just an excuse so you could split from our date early?”
Her words were light, teasing, but Jack could have sworn there was the slightest undercurrent of uneasiness in her voice. If she was a plant, God, she was the best he'd ever seen. “Of course not. I'm at work right now. Are you finished at the gym for the day?”
“Yep. Last lesson duly battered into the ground.” The smile was back in her voice. He heard the clank of the gym's door opening and then the sound of cars in the parking lot. “What about you?”
“I've got a couple of hours left here. Why don't you come over when I get home? We can grill or something.” He'd never invited her to his house before. He almost held his breath waiting for her answer. The thudding of his pulse in his lungs nearly drowned out her response.
“Really? Jack, I'd love to.”
And she'd done it again – tightened his chest and made him feel like he was flying with only a simple change in her voice. He didn't think she was aware of it, but whenever he surprised her with some small indication he wanted their relationship to progress, her voice dropped slightly, a huskiness filling her natural alto. He hoped she didn't realize just how much the sound affected him or he was in big trouble. But for tonight, all he was looking for was dinner and her company. “Yeah. I'll call you when I get out of here. Give you directions.”
“All right. I'll talk to you in a little bit then.” He waited to hear her phone disconnect before setting the receiver onto the cradle. As much as he didn't want to ask, he had to find out before he got in any deeper.
He was already afraid it was too late to save himself if he was wrong.
The knock couldn't have surprised him any more than a gunshot even though he'd been expecting it for the last ten minutes. She was here. Nerves jumped up and down his gut as he walked to the door. No date had ever even seen his house, let alone stepped foot in it. Although what he felt for Faith made the term date a ridiculous one, implying a casualness he couldn't pretend anymore.
”You made it,” he greeted, stepping aside to let her in. Accepting the invitation of her upturned face, he kissed her lightly, tasting the residual peppermint of the gum she favored. “Mmm. You taste good.”
Dropping the plastic grocery bags she carried at their feet, she leaned into him, arms sliding around his neck. “And I think you taste better.” Apparently, his little welcoming peck hadn't been enough.
Heat flooded him, his pulse suddenly pounding in his ears and chest. His arms came up, banded around her slender frame to hold her against him. Time lost all meaning as he drank in the feel of her body, her lips. He forgot about ages and motivation. Hell, he barely remembered his own name when she pressed up into him and stroked her tongue along his.
With a groan, he pulled away from her, face flushed and hands itching to explore more than the safe region of her back. “What-” He coughed lightly to clear his throat. “What was that for?” He still sounded like he'd taken sand paper to his vocal cords. She was potent and addictive, a very dangerous combination at the moment.
“Because I felt like it.” Faith didn't sound much steadier than he did, a fact Jack took a small delight in. “And I just couldn't help myself.”
Smiling broadly, he stepped away before he gave in and kissed her again. The door stopped his retreat and only then did he realize they'd just given all of his neighbors one hell of a show. The heat that had begun to die flamed back to life. He couldn't even manage to shut a door before mauling her. If she wasn't what she appeared. . . Jack squashed the thought before it could finish. He was borrowing trouble and he knew it.
Grabbing the bags at their feet, he closed the door firmly. “Let's get this stuff into the kitchen and get dinner started.”
With a smile that said she wasn't finished with him, Faith gestured with one hand. “The kitchen for now. You can give me the full tour later.”
Suppressing the shiver at the intent look in her eyes, he led her through the walkway, the weight of her gaze on his back a physical presence. He wondered what had brought out this playfully aggressive side – not just of Faith, but himself as well. Was it his invitation, opening his house to her? Or was she just feeling the pull as strongly as he was? He wasn't some untried young man, inexperienced and led by his emotions. So why did he feel so out of control around this woman? Despite his professional reputation as a rule breaker, he was very careful about who he let into his personal life. His circle of friends was small by both chance and choice. He'd hated the way he'd constantly had to watch what he said around Sara, hated that she knew he had a huge part of his life he couldn't share with her. It was easier to simply not form any attachments to people outside of his little sphere.
And then came Faith.
He turned with a jerk, bumping his hip against the kitchen table. Faith stood a few feet away, face tight with concern. Just how long had he been standing there lost in thought?
“Hey,” she said softly, stepping closer to lay a hand on his arm. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” he answered, the automatic answer slipping out without thought. Lifting one hand to trail the back of his fingers over her cheek, he nodded. “Yeah. I'm fine.”
She searched his face for a long moment, eyes darker than normal. Jack held her gaze, insides melting just a little at her obvious worry. Finally she nodded back and squeezed his arm before turning to the bags they'd set on the table. “We have onions and mushrooms to grill with the steaks. They had some fresh sweet corn at the store as well so I grabbed some. And,” she drew out the word, reaching into the second bag with a smug smile. “I found some Kriek.”
Jack's eyebrows rose as she pulled the red bottles from the bag. The Belgian beer was hard to find in the States and it was rarer to find someone who'd even heard of it. He hadn't had any since his last assignment in Europe. “Who introduced you to Kriek? It's not a common choice for an American.”
“A friend of mine lived in England for a while. Brought some back for me. Some people call it a froo-froo beer, but I think it's great.” She was unabashed in her defense of the cherry-flavored beer, setting the four bottle cardboard holder on the table next to the vegetables. “How'd you discover it?”
“I was stationed in Europe a couple of times,” he said, carrying the bag of vegetables to the sink. There was no need to mention he'd first tasted the beer while on an intelligence gathering mission and the drink had been just another part of his cover. “I tried it then. A friend suggested it.” He heard the slight hint of bitterness in the words and concentrated on rinsing the vegetables carefully. He hadn't thought of Dimitrius in years. And as Faith leaned against the counter next to him, Jack knew now wasn't the time to let himself reminisce. “So tell me about this friend of yours. Any need for me to feel jealous?” Once he asked he realized he was only half-joking.
“Of Willow?” The surprised response settled the tiny voice in the back of his mind. Two weeks, Jack, that's all it's been. Try to remember that. But Faith had continued. “She may swing to both sides, but I'm not really her type.”
Jack froze, blinking down at the mushrooms in his wet hands, sure he'd heard her wrong. A quick glance to the side gave him nothing but a mischievous twinkle in her brown eyes and a calm smile. “I take it Willow is. . .” He trailed off, for some reason unable to say it and not very happy at the inability.
“A lesbian. At the moment.” The twinkle grew as he continued to stare at her. “Like I said, she kind of goes back and forth.”
After a moment, she grinned, a broad expression he just knew was at his expense. “I think this is going to be one of the weirdest conversations we'll ever have.”
This time it was Faith who froze, her smile losing about a hundred watts. “I wouldn't be too sure of that. I've led an unusual life.”
Not bothering to pat his hands dry, he cupped her jaw, ignoring her started shriek as the cold water met her face. “Then you can tell me more about it while I cook.” He pressed a quick kiss to her lips, pleased to feel her return the pressure. “Now go open the door. I'll get the steaks.” Not giving her time to retaliate for the wet hands, he crossed the kitchen to the refrigerator. By the time he turned back, Faith had wiped her cheeks dry and was staring over at him, expression contemplative. Somehow he felt like he'd just passed a test he hadn't know he was taking.
Gesturing with the pan of marinating meat, he waggled his eyebrows. “Door, woman. Hop to it.”
“Yes, sir, Colonel, sir,” she mocked, her poor attempt at attention the worst he'd ever seen. Sliding the glass open with a flourish, she winked at him. “After you.”
“Uh huh,” he muttered, walking past her. “I know what your game is. You just want to stare at my butt.”
Her laughter floated after him as he set the pan on the side of the grill and he grinned. God, he loved her laugh. A slender hand slipping into his back pocket nearly sent his own hand straight into the hot side of the grill.
“Hmm. Maybe age really is the voice of knowledge.”
Swallowing against the instantaneous dryness in his mouth, Jack's stomach swirled with a heated tension. Faith's hand squeezed lightly, sending fire racing down to his toes. He couldn't have moved at that moment if someone held a gun to his head. Every bit of his consciousness focused on that hand and the heat that melted into his bones.
With a final pat, she stepped back, the light Colorado wind a sudden gust of ice over his body. “Just so there's no confusion,” she stated, steps telling him she was headed back toward the door, “it's a really nice butt.”
Jack gasped in a breath, lungs arguing their abuse. Where the hell had that come from? Sure they'd teased and kissed, flirted and held hands the past couple of weeks, but that had just been a whole new level of touchy-feely, as had the kiss they'd shared when Faith had arrived. It had been a long time since Jack had dated, but he wasn't that clueless.
Turning to look back through the sliding glass door, he watched as Faith gathered the last of the mushrooms into a pile on the table next to a cutting board she'd unearthed from his cupboards. It was obvious she wanted their relationship to progress farther than kisses and hand holding.
The question now was what did he want?