TITLE: Looking Up
AUTHOR: Strix varia
RATING: Graphic violence
CATEGORY: Drama, Angst, Hurt Comfort, Romance
SUMMARY: After a serious injury forcing her to leave the SGC, Sam is finally on the road to recovery
SPOILERS: Possible references to anything up to season 9
WARNINGS: Violence (a few bits of graphic gore), language
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I actually like Pete in the show, so I feel a little bit bad for abusing him in this story. I honestly don't think this piece is true to his character as portrayed on the show (so far), but it worked better this way for my own nefarious purposes. Also, I'm not a scientist, so please forgive my pathetic attempts at scientific lingo.
DISCLAIMER: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. Etc. etc. etc.
"I blew up a sun, once," Sam said absently, running her eyes over the data from the latest run. She couldn't be sure without a full computer analysis, but she thought the numbers would probably support her hypothesis. Of course, she was going to need a lot more if she was going to persuade her colleagues that she was on the right track. She'd also need to design and build the equipment necessary to prove it. But this was a start, something tangible and tantalizing enough to show them that she was, in fact, not completely out of her mind for questioning theories that had gone unchallenged for so long.
The silence that fell over the room finally registered, and she looked up. Charles and Bill were staring at her. Even Jenny, still facing her computer screen, had an odd expression on her face.
"Did I say that out loud?" she asked, feeling the heat rising in her cheeks.
"Yes," Charles and Bill answered simultaneously.
Everyone in the lab knew that she had served in the mysterious Air Force Stargate program, but the specifics of her history were still classified. "Oh," she said, making an apologetic face. "Sorry." She looked back down at her report, trying to focus on the numbers.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Charles roll his eyes. She hoped that they wouldn't expect more of an explanation out of her. She wasn't very talkative, normally, and while they had quickly learned to respect her intellectual capabilities, even after so many months working together, they still didn't know what to think of her personally.
She hadn't made it easy for them, she knew. For the first few months she'd worked at the lab, she'd been depressed to the point of being borderline suicidal. Not that they'd necessarily known that. But she hadn't much cared what her new colleagues thought of her, and she hadn't bothered trying to establish any friendships. She'd stayed close to Cassie, who was still an undergraduate in the physics department, but she understood instinctively that it was pointless to try to get others to like her when she didn't even like herself.
She went through the motions of living, if for no other reason than to honor her team and all those who had risked their lives to save her own during her ten years at the SGC. Though she'd left Colorado Springs for her sanity's sake, she still felt a sense of loyalty to them, and the few times she'd pulled out her Berretta in the midst of another bout of despair, it had been fear of betraying them that had ultimately kept her from pulling the trigger.
It was the work that saved her. Doctors Charles Bradman and Bill Raczkowski were both brilliant physicists, and their work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Institute for Nuclear and Particle Astrophysics had proven to be a stimulating challenge. General Hammond had pulled the strings to get her the initial appointment to the lab knowing that it was well suited to her academic qualifications with the additional benefit of being close to Cassie. And if the circumstances of her employment were slightly unusual, nobody had complained too loudly when they learned that her hiring came with millions of dollars in federal Homeworld Security grant money for their research.
Bill elbowed Charles in the ribs. "I'd say that blowing up a sun beats lighting your neighbor's roof on fire with a modified pop-bottle rocket," he said, continuing their discussion.
"And blowing up your dad's garage with home-made TNT," Jenny muttered, still staring at her computer screen.
Bill looked offended. "Hey, if I hadn't done that, I probably would have wound up as a chemist."
"Have you ever blown anything up?" Charles asked Jenny.
The graduate student smiled slowly. "One of those plastic two-liter pop bottles…"
"Ah," Bill chuckled. "The old carbon dioxide bomb, eh?"
"Yeah," Jenny said. "In fifth grade."
"A precocious, youngster…" Charles grinned.
"I believe my parents used the phrase, 'holy terror,'" Jenny shrugged, pushing up the glasses on her nose.
Sam smiled to herself. Jenny Morikawa reminded her of Daniel in many ways, introverted, intuitive, and brilliant, even if she was an exact opposite in appearance, being short, dark haired, dark eyed, and of Japanese ancestry. But 'holy terror' was not a phrase that she'd ever thought to use to describe the young woman.
"So, Sam…" Charles asked, stroking his graying beard, pulling up a stool beside her to look over her shoulder at the report. "Why did you do it?"
She looked at him, confused.
"Blow up the sun…" he clarified.
She sighed. They weren't going to let that slide, after all. She considered a moment before answering. "It was sort of a glorified assassination attempt," she finally said. She was probably violating half a dozen laws and her confidentiality agreement with the government to admit that, but such things didn't matter to her as much as they once did. She wasn't the good soldier anymore. Let the Air Force track her down to prosecute. She'd find a good publisher and blow the lid off the whole project.
Charles' eyebrows went skyward. "Did it work?"
She shrugged. "For the most part."
"Did it save the world?" Jenny asked.
Sam let a smile steal its way onto her lips. "Possibly."
"Okay," Jenny said, swiveling on her chair, no longer pretending to be looking at the data on her monitor. "I know it's probably all classified and everything… but theoretically, how do you blow up a sun?"
It was so different from her former life. At the SGC, everyone expected her to pull off the bi-monthly miracle to save the team, the world, the galaxy. But they never wanted to hear the details of how she did it. They expected results, not explanations, no scientific technobabble. She handed the report to Charles, knowing that his sharp eyes would likely pick out the same unusual pattern she'd detected in the numbers. She adjusted her wheelchair to face Jenny and smiled. "You've read my book on wormhole theory?"
"Of course," Jenny nodded.
"Well, theoretically, let's say you had a device that could establish a wormhole that connected to a planet that was being devoured by a black hole…"
Sam realized that she was enjoying herself. It felt good to have an attentive and appreciative audience. Even the sense of overwhelming loss that normally accompanied any thoughts of her time with SG-1 was absent. And her pain levels had been lower recently, probably due to a change in medications. The difference in her energy was remarkable; she had forgotten what it was like not to have to battle constant pain on top of everything else. It had seemed like cruel irony that the spinal cord injury that had left her unable to walk had not been complete enough to eliminate the terrible pain associated with her amputated foot and injured legs.
"…and that sufficiently destabilized the sun, causing a super-nova," she finally finished. "Theoretically, of course…" she added somewhat sheepishly.
Bill and Charles exchanged a look that she couldn't quite interpret, but she didn't think looked disbelieving.
"Wow, that's… amazing, Dr. Carter," Jenny said after several long moments of silence. "That would look spectacular on a resume', wouldn't it? Caused super-nova to save earth…"
"I think I'm glad you're on our side, Colonel," Bill said with a slight smile.
Sam blushed. She didn't realize Bill knew her former military rank. She never spoke of it. But she supposed he and Charles had both seen her job application. His sentiment was extremely unexpected. She knew that many academics resented the military and the amount of money that flowed into the military budget, and she had thought that whatever respect she earned with these people would have to be done as a scientist, not a soldier. She nodded, unable to meet his eyes, and turned her wheelchair back to her computer.
Charles lay the report down next to her keyboard. "I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I think you may be onto something here," he said.
"Well, we won't know for sure until the complete analysis is finished," Sam said, always cautious.
"I don't suppose you can tell us how you knew you would find this, can you?"
Sam shook her head. "I didn't know… not for certain, anyway. It's just the only direction that made any sense."
"But it doesn't make sense," Charles insisted.
"It does if you change your frame of reference," she said. They'd had this discussion before, but she still hadn't been able to make them understand. Which, actually, was not too surprising since she barely understood it herself. That leap of intuition wasn't an easy one to make, perhaps even impossible without having seen the Tollan walk through walls in person. But if the Heisenburg uncertainty principle was an unalterable, universal law, that wouldn't have been possible. Sam knew that the traditional theory of quantum mechanics was flawed. The problem lay in convincing others of this fact. "We have to take into account the effect and influence of near dimensions. If we can begin to understand that interaction, we may be able to predict the behavior of subatomic particles."
"That's making a huge assumption about the actual existence of near dimensions," Bill reminded her. "The existence of which we have no way to prove…"
"I think when you read this report," Sam said, "You'll start to see that I'm right. And trust me when I tell you that they do exist. We also need to discard the idea that space is… empty… nothing… If we start thinking in terms of… ether… again, it will help…"
"See," Charles said, shaking his head. "That's where you start to sound loony… Nobody's going to buy this, Sam. It's taking two steps backwards in scientific understanding!"
"Sometimes you have to back up and start over again after you hit a dead end," Sam insisted.
As they debated back and forth, Bill and Jenny listened with interest until Charles finally looked at his watch. "We'll have to pick this up again Monday, Sam," he said, rubbing his beard. "Marilyn's probably already waiting on us." He looked at Bill and Jenny. "You guys ready?"
"Sure, let me get my keys from my office," Bill said. "You need a ride, Jenny?"
Sam turned back to her computer as they filed out of the lab. It was Friday night, and she knew that they all went out together for dinner and drinks twice a month. She sighed, remembering steak nights at O'Malley's with her team.
"Hey Dr. Carter," Jenny said, poking her head back into the lab. "Would you like to come?"
Sam looked up in surprise. It had been months since they'd last asked her, and always she'd turned them down.
"It's handicap accessible," Jenny grinned.
Sam fumbled for an excuse to decline. She hadn't eaten out with company since she'd moved to Berkeley. For that matter, she hadn't done anything remotely social with anyone except Cassie. Probably because, if she was totally honest with herself, the very thought of it scared her silly. "Uh…"
"Come on," Jenny continued, pulling out her cell phone. "Cancel your ride with Paratransit. You can ride with Dr. Raczkowski and me…"
She looked up at Jenny, wondering if she was being serious. That was one of the worst things about being in a wheelchair… always looking up. She was used to being tall for a woman, but now everyone loomed over her like she was a child again. Sam swallowed. Bill drove an SUV, and she'd probably need some help getting into and out of the vehicle. She shook her head. "I don't think so… It's not equipped…"
"So?" Jenny said, handing her the phone.
Sam took it automatically, then stared at it, wondering if she could actually do this.
"Listen, Dr. Carter," Jenny said. "You blew up a sun. You probably saved the world more times than we can imagine. We're not going to think any less of you just because you may need a little help getting into and out of the car. If you even do."
Two months ago, Sam would have been furious at anyone presuming to understand her situation. But she suppressed her rising anger. Like it or not, Jenny was right on the mark. In fact, it occurred to her that Jenny had been gradually pushing her in other directions, too…dragging her to a lecture the week before… introducing her to new people in other departments at the lab. She wasn't sure if she should be grateful for the girl's persistence or resentful of her interference. Slowly, Sam opened the phone.
Jenny smiled broadly and trotted out of the lab. "Hey Dr. Raczkowski," Sam heard her say as she dialed the number for East Bay Paratransit, "Dr. Carter is coming with us!"
Because of her reliance on Paratransit for her transportation, Sam hadn't had much practice getting into and out of vehicles since leaving Colorado Springs. While getting into Bill's SUV hadn't been quite as humiliating as she'd expected, it hadn't been pleasant, either. Bill and Jenny had chatted back and forth pleasantly, pretending not to notice how embarrassed she was by their assistance.
"This is a really cool wheelchair," Jenny remarked as she folded it up. "It's so light!"
Sam smiled. "Yeah, it's custom made." Sgt. Siler had orchestrated its creation while she'd been in the hospital. Made of a trinium alloy oxidized to a shiny black, it was virtually indestructible and much lighter than even the top-notch wheelchairs currently available on the regular market. Daniel had provided a custom leather backpack for it stained a deep Air Force blue, and Teal'c had worked the SGC logo into the soft leather on the back of the pack. Even she'd had to admit that the whole rig looked very stylish.
The ride downhill from the lab was quiet, yet comfortable, and as Jenny had promised, the restaurant was wheelchair accessible, the staff taking her arrival without a second glance. Charles introduced his wife, Marilyn, and two colleagues from the Accelerator and Fusion Research Division whom Sam had met before, but didn't know very well.
Sam listened to the dinner conversation contentedly, quietly sipping her beer. The food was good, and it was nice not to be eating home alone on a Friday night for a change. It occurred to her that these were good people, people she could learn to like and respect. They were people with whom she might like to be friends.
"You've been feeling better this week, haven't you?" Charles asked quietly beside her, and she realized that he had been watching her.
Sam ducked her head, hating to be so obvious. "Yeah," she said. "My doctor changed my pain medication at the first of the month. It's made a huge difference."
Charles nodded with a slight smile. "I'm glad."
"Yeah, I am too."
He chuckled. "You know, Sam, if these theories of yours pan out, we'll be rewriting a lot of textbooks." He took a long swig from his beer.
"They need to be rewritten," she said. She held his eyes. "Our level of technology is not very advanced compared to some of the others out there," she said. "And our understanding of quantum mechanics is one of the things holding us back."
"You're sure of this?" Charles asked.
Sam nodded. "It's the reason I'm here." She rubbed the armrest of her wheelchair absently. "Well, one of them, anyway."
"Obviously, the U.S. government agrees with you to the tune of twenty-five million a year," Charles said thoughtfully.
"I guess so."
"You know, I resented you at first. I thought the department forced you on us for the money. I didn't really think a retired Air Force Colonel would have anything worthwhile to contribute. Of course, your book hadn't been published yet, and most of your work was classified…" He shrugged.
"I understand. Actually, I expected it." She took another sip of beer, then smiled at him. "But you hid it well. Thank you."
Charles chuckled. "It didn't take me long to figure out I was wrong," he said. "I'm glad you're here. And I'm very glad you came to dinner with us tonight."
Sam smiled. "Me too." And she was surprised to realize that she really meant it.
General Jack O'Neill sat in his office staring at the letters he'd just finished signing. There was never enough information to provide the families, even after the Stargate program had officially been acknowledged by the U.S. government…in much the same way that Area 51 had finally been acknowledged. Few details had been released, just that yes, there was life on other planets; yes, the governments of earth were dutifully protecting their citizens from any extraterrestrial threats, and the Stargate program was the first line of defense; and no, ordinary citizens were not privy to the details, for reasons of planetary security.
At least he didn't have to give the families some ridiculous and (he thought) insulting lie about a training accident, but he wished he could give them more. He tried to make each letter unique and personalized, but he wasn't exactly gifted when it came to the written word. He found himself using the same phrases over and over again until it had become almost standardized. He wondered if he shouldn't ask his new aide, Maria Sanchez, to help him… she seemed to have a gift for words, and she knew all the members of the SGC. Knew all their beverage preferences. The woman was amazing, never forgot a name or a face. This was good, because God knew that Jack couldn't keep anyone's name straight.
This was the hardest… and worst… part of his job. He ran a hand through his thinning hair. No, that wasn't true. It might have been the hardest part, but it wasn't the worst. The worst part was watching his teams leave through the gate, day after day, never knowing if he would see them again alive and whole. Ever since SG-1 had gone through the gate only to return five minutes later, blown to hell, he'd felt the uncertainty of it all more keenly. With morbid fatality, his mind returned to that awful day.
The pictures sent back by MALP had been idyllic. They'd shown green mountains and a meadow filled with a sea of earth-like flowers. It was likely the world was inhabited because of the sign sticking up in front of the gate with writing on it, despite the absence of any other structures, buildings, or other indications of civilization. Daniel thought the sign had been written in several different languages, some of which he'd never seen before. He thought the sign might serve as a Rosetta stone of sorts. Jack couldn't fault the archeologist's argument that the chance to learn additional alphabets and languages might benefit the SGC in future missions. SG-1 had had a rough time of it, lately, and this looked like an easy trip. Jack authorized a quick mission, two hours to check out the sign and the immediate area, no more. If nothing else, Daniel could photograph the sign and translate it back on earth.
They say that hindsight is 20-20, but Jack regretted that he hadn't listened to his conscience that morning as he watched them walk up the ramp together. Sam handed Daniel a box of tissues with a grin, saying something about flower pollen. Their mood was light, joking. But Jack's had been heavy. He should have listened to the voice that said that the easier the mission appeared, the worse it would turn out for SG-1. They never had to look for trouble; it found them.
After watching them leave, he'd hardly had time to grab a cup of coffee and start on a report in his office before the alarms sounded. Unscheduled off world activation. Though several teams were off world that day, he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. A dozen scenarios involving SG-1 ran through his mind as he turned around, heading quickly back to the control room. Daniel's allergies could have taken a turn for the worse… maybe Lt. Kerr had taken a tumble down the stairs after exiting the Stargate (the man was normally an excellent soldier, but strangely accident prone at odd moments)… Maybe there had been an ambush… The latter stuck in his mind as he entered the control room.
"It's SG-1's signature, sir."
His heart sank. "Open the iris. Get a medical team down here." He hoped Dr. Brightman had already arrived that morning.
Teal'c was the first one to step through the gate, the light reflecting off something shiny and wet. It took a moment for Jack to realize that Teal'c had a body slung over his shoulder, and the shiny something was in fact blood on the legs and boots of whomever it was that Teal'c was carrying. He swore out loud, not caring if the others in the control room heard him. There was a lot of blood. A steady stream of it was trickling onto the grating of the ramp, dripping through to the floor below.
"We need medics, now!" Teal'c bellowed.
A minute later Daniel stumbled through, pulling something. A mangled body, missing body parts. Jack's stomach did a flip. Beneath the blood, the body had dark hair, answering his question as to whom Teal'c was carrying. Sam. Dear God. Kerr was clearly already dead, and it was Sam who was bleeding out before their very eyes.
Daniel was bloody, too, and fell to his hands and knees, vomiting as the gate shut down behind him. For a moment Jack wondered which poor airman would have to clean up the mess left on and under the ramp this time. Blood and vomit. Not a pleasant job, but all too common. Perhaps they should put a tarp or catch bins under the ramp to make it easier. This wasn't the first time things had gotten messy, and it wouldn't be the last.
Belatedly, he realized that he was still standing in the control room when he needed to be down below with his people. He took the stairs two steps at a time, ignoring the pain in his knees, and entered at the same time as the medical crew from the opposite side. Teal'c met the gurney at the base of ramp and with the help of the medics laid Sam upon it.
"Lt. Kerr?" Dr. Brightman asked, glancing towards Daniel and the body on the ramp.
"Lt. Kerr is dead," Teal'c said. "Daniel Jackson is also injured, but not as severely as Colonel Carter."
The doctor waved two medics towards Daniel.
Jack moved closer to Sam, trying to see how bad it was. She was obviously fighting to breathe… he could hear her gurgling gasps for air above the other noise in the embarkation room. The wounds he could see looked bad, as if shrapnel might have made them… There was a lot of blood on her torso; he wondered if one or both of her lungs might be punctured, but it was hard to tell. There appeared to be a wound through her face… she could just be choking on blood from her mouth…not likely, though, too much blood on her chest. Her legs were a mess, the right in particular… Someone had used a belt as a tourniquet…she'd have bled to death already if not. At a glance he didn't think Doc Warner would be able to save the leg, but he knew that wasn't the main issue at the moment. Sam was having too much trouble trying to breathe.
Dr. Brightman issued orders to her staff; and Jack turned away numbly as his view of Sam was blocked by a nurse. He hoped they could get an airway in quickly. Sam was fighting for her life, and he felt helpless, wanting to do something for her, but knowing that the best thing he could do was stay out of Dr. Brightman's way. Teal'c met his eyes, and Jack saw his own anguish mirrored in them.
"You all right, Teal'c?" he asked.
"I am uninjured," he said. Jack saw him swallow. "I am sorry, O'Neill."
It occurred to Jack that Teal'c thought Sam was going to die. He pushed the thought aside. She would make it. She had to make it. He had to believe that. He couldn't imagine the SGC without her. "She'll pull through, Teal'c," he said.
Teal'c nodded silently.
Jack glanced at the ramp. Like Teal'c, Daniel was covered in a significant amount of blood, and he looked gray from shock. The two medics were helping him onto another gurney.
"Danny?" Jack asked.
"I'll be fine," Daniel said bleakly, "Just a couple flesh wounds." He covered his eyes with a red-stained hand.
Jack patted his uninjured shoulder as the medics wheeled him towards the door.
With a sigh, Jack walked up the ramp, kneeling besides Lt. Kerr's body. The medical staff was clearing out, caring for the living and the dying… for Daniel and Sam. He turned to an airman, standing silently beside the ramp. "We need a body bag…" he said.
"Yes, sir." The airman saluted sharply and hurried away.
Jack remembered how excited Kerr had been to be assigned to SG-1, how his face had lit up when Sam had told him. He'd seemed so young… young, intelligent, and enthusiastic. And now he was dead. Another SGC statistic. Another letter. Jack's knees hurt, and he stood up stiffly, but he would stay here, beside Lt. Kerr until the airman returned with the body bag. He owed the kid that much, at least, not to be left abandoned and alone on the ramp before being hauled off to the morgue.
He felt Teal'c's solid presence approaching behind him. "What happened?" Jack finally asked.
Shaken by his memories, Jack pushed away the letters from in front of him, his thoughts turning to Sam, alive and well in California. Alive at any rate, he amended. Against all odds, she'd survived that terrible day despite the severity of her injuries. Her recovery had been a long, hard battle, and he knew she was still psychologically fragile. He glanced at his watch, feeling an overwhelming need to hear her voice. Given the time difference and Sam's regimented lifestyle, it would be about time for her evening toilet. It usually took about forty minutes for the suppositories to work, and he knew she had a phone in the bathroom in case she ever had to call for help. It was also one of the times that he knew she'd probably answer the phone out of sheer boredom. He picked up his phone and dialed her number from memory.
It rang once, then twice. "Hello, sir," Sam's voice said.
He smiled. She sounded good. Cheerful, even. "How'd you know it was me?"
"You have a knack for calling me at about this time," she said, and he thought she sounded a touch chagrined. Well, yeah, okay, maybe it was a bit awkward that he had a habit of calling when she was sitting on the john. But dammit, it was hit or miss any other time, and she wasn't even very reliable about answering emails.
"Sorry," he said. "You busy?"
"Not really," she sighed.
He was glad she couldn't see his evil grin. "How's life?"
"Better," she said.
He almost dropped the phone in surprise. "Whoa!" he said. "Is the rest of the world in danger?"
Sam chuckled. "Okay, I know I've been…" she searched for the right words, "…a bit cross these past few months. But I'm feeling better physically, and it's made life a lot easier."
"I'm glad to hear it, Carter." He was, too. Maybe this would be a turning point for her. He truly hoped so. He was tempted to tease her about it a little (the word you were really looking for was "bitch," Carter) but he didn't want to risk it. Her moods had been ridiculously difficult to predict the past year. "Soooo…. Whatcha doin' at work?"
"I'm drawing up plans for adding a portable ion propulsion engine to my wheelchair."
Jack laughed. "Having a hard time on those Bay Area hills, huh?"
"You think I'm kidding?"
"The government is not paying you to revolutionize the wheelchair industry… I'm sure you're working on those designs in your spare time, right? I asked you about work…"
Sam chuckled. "I'll spare you the details, sir, but it's going well. I got some promising results back last week. I think I may be able to convince my colleagues that I haven't lost all my marbles after all."
"That's great!" Jack said. She hadn't sounded this upbeat since… well, since before P6X-9253.
"How are things at the SGC?" she asked.
Jack sighed, not wanting to dampen her good mood. But he wasn't going to lie to her. "I'm writing letters to two families…" he said.
He heard her intake of breath on the other end. "Who?"
"Lt. Richard Wedel and Captain Glen Pappas. I don't remember if you ever met them or not."
"Wedel was a new recruit about the time I left, I think…tall, blonde… goofy grin," Sam said. "Pappas was a marine?"
"Yeah, that's them."
"I'm sorry, sir…may I ask what happened?"
"Poisoned by hostile natives."
Sam was silent on the other end. He knew what she was thinking: what a senseless waste of life.
"I've had to write too many of these, lately," he said quietly. "This isn't something I should do often enough to get good at."
"I don't envy you your job, sir."
"I've lost twenty three people since you left, you know. I'm tired of sending promising young faces through the gate and seeing them return as corpses."
Again he was met by silence. For a moment he felt guilty about laying this on her, but he knew that Sam would understand.
"Everyone who steps through the gate knows the risks, sir," Sam finally said. "You can't blame yourself for doing your job, or allowing them to do theirs. They died in service to their planet, doing what they were trained to do."
He knew she was speaking from experience, having almost made that ultimate sacrifice herself. More than once. As it was, she'd lost so much… He closed his eyes. "I know. It's just… hard," he said.
He imagined Sam nodding sadly on the other end. "It's not your fault, sir."
He sighed. "I know."
"So," she finally said. "How's Teal'c?"
"Off-world with SG-7. But you know, I think he's actually considering resigning. He's mentioned considering trying to open up a martial arts school somewhere here on earth. Maybe working with a shelter for battered women or something."
"Nope. Most of his reasons for staying with the SGC are gone now."
"But you and Daniel…?"
"Daniel has been spending more and more time in the lab, or on archeological projects with other teams."
"I would have expected Teal'c to retire on Chulak," Sam said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, me too, but I think he feels like he can do more good on Earth."
They chatted for another half hour until Sam finally said good-bye. As he closed his cell phone, Jack felt a familiar sense of loss as his gaze returned to the letters on his desk, a grim reminder of the duty at hand. He wished he was in California, with Sam, where he wouldn't have to say good-bye to her, where he could wish her a "good night" instead, knowing he would see her again in the morning.
He understood why she'd decided to leave. In her position, he'd have done the same thing. He didn't think he could handle being in a wheelchair on base, surrounded by some of the fittest, healthiest personnel the military had to offer. The control room wasn't accessible to wheelchairs, and even though he'd volunteered to renovate her lab to fit her new needs, she'd declined the offer. She'd considered going to work at Area 51, but similar problems faced her there.
Instead, she'd opted to pursue a new career in academics, and Berkeley had offered her the greatest potential for intellectual challenge. Plus, Cassie was there. Jack knew that that had figured heavily in her decision, as well. He understood her reasoning, but that didn't make him miss her any less. He missed her smile, her laugh, her presence, her brilliance. His job just wasn't fun anymore, and the terrible responsibility of it weighed on him more heavily than ever.
He sighed, running a hand through his thinning hair. Damn, but he was getting too old for this.
Daniel stood quietly near the back of the embarkation room during the memorial service for Lt. Richard Wedel. He wasn't really paying attention to Jack's speech. After awhile these services had all started to sound alike. The personal details always differed, but the praise of sacrifice was the same. Perhaps it was disrespectful for him to think that way, but he'd become a little numb to it all. It was probably a self-defense mechanism, he reflected, similar to how trauma physicians tuned out their emotions in order to function in their jobs. He supposed that even though he wasn't a soldier, he'd had to develop a certain thick skin about death… and it occurred to him, standing there, devoid of emotion at a promising young man's funeral, that this was not a good thing. It wasn't good at all.
He tried to remember the last memorial service that had truly moved him. Janet's? Yes, he'd cried then. But he'd also cried at Jeff Kerr's funeral. He remembered his mixed feelings then; grief and anger at Jeff's loss contrasted with incredible relief that Sam was still hanging on to life in the Academy Hospital. But the most powerful emotion he'd felt that day had been guilt… guilt that he hadn't been just a second faster… guilt that he'd been so insistent to have a chance to examine that damn sign…
He'd headed for the sign as soon as he tumbled out of the gate. Jeff had gone towards the DHD, while Sam and Teal'c had stopped by the MALP to get it ready to bring home with them when they left.
"The DHD appears to be in working order, sir," Jeff reported to Sam.
That was always a relief. One never knew when the MALP might miss something important.
Daniel knew that Sam had meant the box of Kleenex to be a joke, but it would actually come in handy. He pulled one out and began clearing the dirt off the sign. As soon as he started, his nose started running. He pulled another tissue out, sneezed, and then blew his nose. To his right, Sam chuckled as she and Teal'c pushed the MALP back in front of the gate.
"Bless you," Jeff said, grinning.
The sign was divided into ten "paragraphs," each paragraph written in a different language. The third group appeared to have been written in a variant of Sumerian, although he didn't recognize several of the cuneiform symbols being used. Still, this was probably his best bet at deciphering what the sign was saying. His first impression was that it was a warning of some sort… the first word being suspiciously close to the ancient Sumerian "danger" or "dangerous." He wasn't certain, though, and in his experience with most earth cultures, warnings, when represented in colored alphabets, were generally written in red, not blue. Red was the color of blood… the color of danger… At least for humans. Of course, the Goa'uld had blue blood, so perhaps it was a warning to them… Which might be good, assuming the local inhabitants weren't friendly with the Goa'uld. On the other hand…
"Any luck, Daniel?" Sam asked, interrupting his chain of thought.
"Um… well, I'm not sure yet… uh… this third group is written in cuneiform… or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof…"
"Do you think you can translate it?" Jeff asked skeptically.
Daniel sighed. Sometimes Jeff reminded him of Jack. Jeff was a soldier, not a scientist, and he had a tendency to get bored when he and Sam got involved in some project he didn't really understand. "Given enough time…" Daniel said patiently.
"Well, the rest of us will have a look around, then," Sam said, surveying the meadow. "Those orange flowers look like California poppies," she said. "I don't suppose anything on the sign resembles any Native American languages?"
It was an interesting point, but Daniel didn't think so. Not that Native American languages, ancient or modern, were his specialty, exactly…. He shook his head, attention fixed on the sign. Danger… dangerous… strangers? No, those who do not belong… something, something, go back, well, that was clear, at least…
"Okay," Sam said, although Daniel wasn't paying much attention. "Teal'c, check the perimeter to our left. I'll check right. Lt. Kerr, you're with me," she said.
Sam stepped forward as Daniel tried to figure out if the sign said, "would have acted upon them" or "will be" or "will become." The next word was probably "death," and that set off warning bells in his head. Perhaps it was equivalent to a "no trespassing" sign. He opened his mouth to warn Sam when the explosion rocked the meadow. Even as he was thrown backwards, he had a vision of Sam and Jeff flying through the air, tossed like rag dolls by a fiery flash of red.
Daniel felt a sharp stinging in his right arm and shoulder as he landed hard on the ground, the wind knocked from his lungs. Miraculously, his glasses stayed on his face, and he blinked up at the clear blue sky for a moment, gasping for breath.
Seconds later, Teal'c dragged him to his feet by his uninjured arm. "We must help the others," he said, bodily pulling Daniel with him.
With a gentle shove, Teal'c pushed Daniel towards the DHD. "You must help Major Carter; I will see to Lt. Kerr," Teal'c said urgently.
Daniel staggered forward, still trying to focus his eyes. Sam! She had landed on her back on the DHD, her body balanced precariously on top of it with her head and arms hanging off awkwardly, her legs twisted at an odd angle. His breath caught in his throat… this didn't look good… didn't look good at all… He tripped on his own feet, and caught himself on the edge of the DHD, barely avoiding Sam. His hands came away wet and sticky… Blood!
Sam was bleeding badly. Daniel blinked rapidly, searching his brain for anything that might help. He felt faint; his arm throbbed in pain. He looked down at it, saw blood running down his bicep and shoulder. Some part of his mind recognized that he must be going into shock, but he couldn't let himself give into it.
Bleeding… Sam needed help. Blood was spurting from an artery in her leg… tibial or femoral? God bless Janet Fraiser for forcing those first aid classes on SG-1…ABCs… airway, breathing, circulation. He could see and hear Sam gasping for air, so he knew she was breathing. He could see the spurt of blood pulse in time to the beat of her heart. He heard Janet's voice, "Use pressure and elevation to stop bleeding…" But Sam was bleeding from too many places. He couldn't exactly put pressure on all of them and elevate her whole body, now could he?
With shaking hands, he whipped off his belt. Tourniquet. Sam was bleeding to death in front of him, and he had to stop it. He wrapped the belt around her leg just below the knee and pulled it tight. The gush of blood slowed to a trickle. He gagged at the sight of the mangled mess that had been her foot. He forced his eyes to look elsewhere, at her face. No, that wasn't much better. There were dark, bloody holes piercing her chin and left cheek. Scarlet rivulets ran into her eyes, her hair…out of her nose and the sides of her mouth. Oh god, it sounded like she was drowning.
Daniel panicked. What could he do? How could he help? This went way beyond simple first aid… They needed to get her to the SGC! "Teal'c!" he cried hoarsely.
The big man was beside him almost instantly, pulling Sam up and over his shoulder. Daniel hoped that the blood would drain from her mouth in that position. "Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. "You must dial Earth!"
Daniel concentrated, punching blood-covered symbols as quickly as he could, silently grateful that Sam's landing hadn't shattered the center button. "What about Jeff?" he gasped as the chevrons engaged.
"Lt. Kerr is dead," Teal'c said.
The Stargate whooshed.
"You must send our signal on the GDO," Teal'c said.
Of course, Daniel nodded. How stupid of him to forget. He pushed the numbers in, leaving bloody fingerprints on the buttons. He spotted Jeff on the other side of the DHD, at the base of the stairs. He looked far worse than Sam…
Teal'c disappeared through the event horizon carrying Sam, and Daniel stumbled over to what remained of Jeff Kerr's body. He couldn't just leave him there. He heard Jack's voice, "We don't leave our people behind." Ignoring the pain of his own injuries, he grabbed the collar of Jeff's uniform and pulled him up the stairs, around the MALP, and through the gate. Daniel's last vision of the planet was of a slight wisp of smoke still lingering in the air above a crater in a meadow full of flowers.
Flowers. Daniel shook his head, looking absently at the floral arrangements on either side of the podium where Jack stood, continuing his eulogy. They'd learned the hard way that the sight of flowers sometimes triggered flashbacks for Sam. The first time she'd been brought a bouquet in the hospital after moving out of the ICU, she'd gone white as her sheets. The second time it happened, he'd figured out what was happening. Balloons, stuffed toys, and clever mechanical gadgets were fine sympathy gifts for Sam, but flowers were psychologically lethal.
It wasn't right that a beautiful woman like Sam should be so upset by the sight and smell of flowers. But then, so much of what had happened in the past ten years wasn't right. Sha're, Drey'auc… all those millions of dead Jaffa poisoned by the rogue NID… Was it really any wonder he no longer felt any excitement when he stepped through the Stargate? Gone was the awe and curiosity… No, now, he mostly felt a vague sense of unease and dread. Would he survive the trip? Would his companions? Or would he watch his friends be blown to hell by some hidden landmine like Jeff and Sam, their lives snuffed out or irrevocably changed in the blink of an eye? Whose body would he have to drag back to earth next time? Whose blood would stain his hands?
He shook his head. Yes, Jeff Kerr's funeral had marked the beginning of his numbness to it all.
"I'm quitting," Daniel said, handing Jack his letter of resignation. He'd debated the decision for a week, but he'd finally come to conclusion that it was for the best. "This is my two weeks' notice."
Jack looked at the letter silently, nodding slowly. He didn't look at all surprised. Daniel wondered if he had somehow been expecting it. "Any plans for what you'll do?" Jack finally asked.
"I've been in contact with the Archeology Department at UC Berkeley. It's likely they'll have an opening next fall. I'll apply for that. Until then, I hope I can do contract work for you… and/or Area 51…"
"I think that can probably be arranged."
Daniel nodded gratefully, relieved that Jack wasn't trying to convince him to stay. "Thanks." He hesitated, feeling awkward. "Listen, I'm… uh… really sorry about this…"
Jack shook his head. "Don't be. You're unhappy, even I can see that. Will you be staying in Colorado Springs until you hear about the Berkeley job?"
"Um… no… I'd sort of planned to go out there to find a place to live first…"
"Yeah…I miss her, you know?"
Jack snorted. "Yeah, I know. You want company?"
"Huh…?" Daniel frowned, unsure what he meant.
"Help moving? Maybe a roommate? Housing is expensive out there. You wouldn't believe what Sam is paying for her place."
Daniel stared at Jack. Had he said "roommate?"
Jack made a face. "I've been thinking about retiring. For months now." He tapped Daniel's letter. "This… well, it just makes it easier to decide. We could get a place together until you get your job, and maybe I convince Sam…" He stopped, blushing.
"Convince Sam to marry you?" Daniel grinned.
"Something like that…" Jack said slowly.
Daniel was tickled by the whole idea. "I don't know, Jack, do you think we could live together without killing each other?"
"Ah Hell, Daniel. We traveled and camped together for eight years. It would just be a temporary thing until we get our permanent situations worked out."
"You already had this planned out, didn't you?" Daniel said.
Jack shrugged, smiling wryly. "Well, I hadn't counted on you coming along for the ride, but I'd appreciate the company when… uh… Sam won't speak to me."
Daniel laughed, remembering how Jack had always seemed to bear the brunt of Sam's angry moods before she'd moved to California. Suddenly he was certain that he was doing the right thing by quitting the SGC. He looked at Jack, seeing his own burnout mirrored in the man's tired face. It was time…time for them to find real lives before it was too late. Time to enjoy the world they'd saved so often from destruction. They'd earned this. And practically speaking, sharing expenses for a few months made a lot of sense. "Sure, Jack," he said. "Let's do it."
"Soooooo… I hear you went out for dinner last Friday," Cassie said, moving her rook across the board. "Check." It was Saturday afternoon, and Cassie had come for her weekly chess game at Sam's apartment.
Sam was surprised by the statement but not the move. "You did?"
"Yeah… you know, the physics department is a small world."
"Oh." Sam hadn't actually known that, but she supposed she should have guessed. That she would be the subject of gossip really shouldn't have surprised her. She moved a bishop to protect her king.
"Well?" Cassie asked.
"Did you have fun?" Cassie said impatiently, knowing Sam was being deliberately obtuse.
Sam couldn't help grinning a little. "Yeah, actually I did."
"See, I told you that you need to get out more often!" Cassie smiled broadly. "So are you going to go with them again this week?"
Sam shrugged. "Maybe."
"Oh, come on," Cassie ribbed her.
"Okay… probably…" she smiled. "If I'm feeling up to it."
"I thought you said you were feeling better?" Cassie said, moving a pawn forward.
"Oh, I am," Sam said quickly. "It's just…" She hesitated, not sure of what she had been about to say. Or at least afraid to admit it out loud.
"Just what?" Cassie pressed.
Sam shook her head. "I guess… I guess I'm just afraid that the bottom is going to drop out again," she finally confessed. She concentrated on trying to determine her next move, avoiding Cassie's eyes.
After a long pause, Cassie said, "You're going to be okay, Sam."
Suddenly, Sam was thrown back eight years to when a much younger Cassie had said those same words to her in the SGC infirmary, after Jolinar. She looked up, tears misting her vision. Cassandra Fraiser, who had lost so much in her young life, stared back at her earnestly. "How do you know?" Sam finally whispered.
Cassie smiled. "Because you're the strongest person I know. Because you taught me the meaning of courage. Because if you haven't used that gun in your beside table yet, I have to believe that somewhere deep down inside you feel that something in life is still worth living for." She paused as Sam gaped at her in embarrassed shock. "Because it's time, Sam."
"Time?" Sam asked, fighting the urge to break down crying. What was wrong with her?
"Time," Cassie repeated, "You know, 'the continuum of experience in which events pass from the future through the present to the past…'"
"I know what time is," Sam said quietly.
Cassie pretended to smack her with the back of her hand. "Then stop playing stupid. It's time to quit moping about in your apartment and get a life!"
Sam bit her lip, looking at her hands. Was she really "moping?" Yes, she supposed she was. "I just miss the SGC." Before Pete, the SGC had been her life. How could she ever replace that?
"The place, the people, or the work?" Cassie asked seriously.
Sam thought about it. Not the place, certainly. Concrete walls, no windows. The Stargate was certainly beautiful, but so was northern California, if she was honest with herself. She did miss the work, but that was denied her, now, and what she was doing at the lab was a satisfactory replacement. Almost. "The people, mostly, I think," she said slowly. "The work, too, though."
Cassie nodded. "It's your move," she said, and Sam thought it looked like she might be trying to hide a smirk.
Sam frowned. "How did you know about my gun?"
Cassie shrugged. "Jack saw it when they helped you move in."
"And he told you about it?"
"Well, I am the one who'd be mostly likely to find you, if…" She shrugged. "I think he just wanted me to be prepared…"
Sam was horrified. The thought of Cassie finding her dead was… unthinkable. "I'd never…" she stammered. "I never…"
Cass made a face. "Liar. I never believed you'd go through with it, though. You wouldn't do that to us. I don't really think Jack thought you'd do it, either, but he was kind of morbidly depressed at the time." She smiled as if to soften her words, and then pushed her king over onto its side. "I give up. You're going to checkmate me in two moves, anyway."
Sam nodded dumbly, suddenly ashamed of herself for so many reasons. Jack had been depressed? She'd been so wrapped up in her own misery, she hadn't even noticed. Or maybe she had, and she just hadn't cared…
"You're going to be okay," Cassie repeated. She reached across the chessboard and grabbed Sam's hand, squeezing it. "Let's go see a movie."
"Go?" Sam asked, feeling a familiar rise of panic at the thought of going out in public.
Cassie waved a finger at her. "It's time, Sam. Jeez, you're turning monosyllabic on me."
Swallowing hard, Sam nodded. It was time.
"Teal'c is coming to visit next week," Daniel said, unloading even more books from a box onto the bookshelves in their new living room.
Jack wondered how he had managed to make friends with two people who owned so many freaking books. Didn't they know how heavy books were? Between moving Daniel and Sam, his back would never be the same.
"Oh yeah?" he said, not offering to help Daniel unpack, sipping his beer as he lounged on the sofa watching a game. He felt a pang of guilt at the mention of Teal'c. The former Jaffa had asked him to check out the women's shelters in the area to see if they would be interested in marshal arts classes, but he hadn't gotten around to it yet. He would, eventually. In fact, he thought he might like to help Teal'c with the classes. It would keep him in shape during his retirement.
Daniel nodded. "Um, Jack, when are you going to go see her?" he asked.
Jack didn't need to ask to know whom he meant. He didn't answer.
"We've been here almost two weeks, Jack. If you don't, I will. She's probably wondering if we've forgotten her. I want to see her."
"You think I don't?" Jack snapped.
Daniel blinked at him innocently from behind his glasses. "Two weeks, Jack. Don't be such a chicken."
Jack sputtered. "I am not a chicken! I've been unpacking!"
Daniel obviously didn't buy it. "You finished two days ago…"
Jack sighed, giving up. "Yeah, okay," he shrugged. "I'll go see her."
Sam's mind wandered as she sat in the lab, entering more endless data into the simulation program. She wasn't bored by the work, things were going very well, in fact, but she was starting to be a little concerned about other things. It had been over a month since she'd heard from anyone at the SGC, and Jack and Daniel hadn't returned her calls or emails. She was starting to wonder if something bad had happened. She'd even tried calling General Hammond to see if he knew anything, but his aide had told her that he was out of office on business. Briefly she tinkered with the idea of calling the SGC directly to ask for Jack, Daniel, or Teal'c, but she knew that nobody there would be able to tell her anything if something had happened to them. And if nothing had… well, it just meant they were deliberately not returning her calls.
The thought depressed her. Maybe Cassie had told them she was doing better… making new friends and doing things outside of work, and they'd decided she didn't need them anymore. She supposed that that would be better than them being in trouble… hurt or stranded off-world somewhere, but she couldn't help but feel a little melancholy at the possibility that they were simply too busy to call, that she was no longer a priority in their lives.
Still, that was a better alternative than them being hurt.
She rubbed her eyes, tiredly. The increased activity of the past month was catching up to her. Or maybe it was the growing worry. In any case, she was feeling worn out.
"Why the glum face?" a voice asked from the door.
Sam looked up in astonishment. "General!"
Jack grinned at her, looking blessedly healthy and well, dressed in a casual shirt and jeans. His hands in his pockets, he was leaning against the doorframe. "May I come in?" he asked.
"Yes…yes, of course, sir," Sam said, waving vaguely at an empty stool. "It's great to see you!"
"Why, Carter, if I didn't know any better, I'd say that you missed me!" Jack chuckled.
Sam paused for a moment. Of course she'd missed him. Could he really doubt that? "I did, sir," she said.
If possible, his smile widened. He sat down, rolled the stool in front of her, and pointedly looked her over from head to toe. "You look good," he said seriously.
"Thanks, so do you," she replied. He did, too. He looked… relaxed… which was a good thing since it meant that he probably wasn't there to deliver bad news about Daniel or Teal'c.
Jack grinned. "You can call me Jack, now, Carter. I'm retired."
"What?" she asked, thinking she hadn't heard him correctly.
"I'm retired," he repeated.
"You are? I mean… sorry, sir…I just… I'm stunned… Why?"
He looked her in the eyes. "Do you really not know the answer to that?"
She knew what she longed for, but she also knew that wishful thinking would only set her up for bitter, bitter disappointment. She was tired of pain. Tired of hurting. She remembered their last phone conversation. The same was true for him, she thought, though in a different way. "I suppose you're tired of losing good people," she sighed.
"That was only part of it," he said quietly. He smiled. "Daniel and I are renting a house in the Berkeley hills. We just finished moving in."
She stared at him. He'd moved to Berkeley? With Daniel? "I don't understand, sir…"
"Daniel's hoping to get a job at UC Berkeley next fall," Jack said. "For now, he's acting as a government consultant."
Sam was confused. This didn't make any sense. Daniel had left the SGC? And Jack was retired? And they'd both moved here? Together? "Has something happened to the SGC, sir?"
"No, still same old, same old. I think Daniel finally got tired of it all. You know… after you and Lt. Kerr… it was just starting to wear on his soul, all the killing and death. He was running on borrowed time, and he knew it. So… he came here to be with family."
"Daniel doesn't have any family here," Sam said still bewildered. Did he?
"You, Carter," Jack said softly. "He came here to be near you. You're the closest thing he has to family."
Sam felt the tears filling her eyes. "But… I left…"
"Yeah…we know. We understand why, Sam. But enough is enough. You've proven you don't need to rely on us; that you don't need any help. You can make it on your own… we know it, you know it. But, I don't think you ever considered the fact that maybe we need you."
Sam wiped at the tears on her face. God, it felt like she couldn't have a personal conversation anymore without breaking down.
"Sam, you can try to push us away again, but it's not gonna happen. You're stuck with us." He went down on a knee in front of her so he was looking her in the eyes. He touched her hand. "I love you, Carter. I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Jack could see the disbelief in her eyes, the pain, the hurt… the fear. So many terrible things had happened to her all at once… the loss of her foot, the loss of mobility. The loss of the job she loved. The loss of her fertility. The loss of Pete. The latter had been particularly devastating to her, he knew. Was it any wonder she looked so… lost? Perhaps she didn't feel worthy of love anymore. Perhaps she didn't understand that he, Jack O'Neill, would love her no matter what. But how did he convince her of that?
"Listen. I know you can't walk. I know you can't have children. I know you've got scars on your body. Hell, I know you have to catheterize yourself to pee." He gently touched the small scar on her left cheek. "I know that flowers sometimes freak you out, and I know you're carrying around a heap of emotional baggage that can't be matched by anyone outside the SGC. I know you're seeing a shrink, and you may be fighting depression for years to come. And you know what? It doesn't change a damn thing. I love you. And if I have to spend my entire retirement trying to convince you to love me back, then so be it. It'll keep me from getting bored." With a wry grin, he stood, kissed her forehead, and left, knowing that it was going to take her days to process what he'd just told her.
Sam Carter was wise enough to know that her emotional and social IQ was not as high as her intellect. She was a "thinker," not a "feeler," and the intricacies of her heart were sometimes more mysterious to her than the so-called secrets of the universe. Gravity and quantum physics, she understood. But there was no mathematical proof for love, no numerical formula for loneliness. Her heart and mind were often at war. The world should be logical, but her heart refused to operate by any guidelines she could safely tabulate or predict. And sometimes she hated that fundamental truth of her existence.
Intellectually she knew that she had a habit of falling for men who were not always good for her… Jonas and Pete had both had been wild and irresponsible as teens, traits that eventually reared their ugly heads in their adulthood, as well. And her relationships (if they could be called that) with Martouf, Narim, and Orlin had been doomed before they even started. Every relationship she'd ever had had ended in disaster... and all too often, loss of life. Was it really any wonder that she was an emotional cripple on top of everything else?
Then, of course, there was the General. She didn't even know what to call her relationship with him. It wasn't romantic, because they'd very carefully avoided crossing that line. In some ways it was much deeper than that… a depth of devotion and caring that defied definition, but what he was proposing was definitely crossing the line into… something else. Something scary. Something that made her stomach do somersaults just thinking about.
Trouble was, she honestly didn't know if he would be any better for her than any of her past romantic interests. Would not this, too, end in disaster and pain? If not the near future, then sometime down the road? He was significantly older than she was… divorced, with a closet full of his own skeletons. Could two people with so much psychological damage safely coexist in a relationship without running head first into each other's pain like some kind of galactic emotional train wreck?
She'd thought she and Pete had had something special, but he'd bailed as soon as it became apparent that she would never walk again. She sighed, feeling all of her forty-two years old. Of course, the General had been there when Pete had abandoned her. He'd been there holding her hand as she'd wept in the hospital. He'd been there when she'd thrown things in fury and frustration during physical therapy. He'd been there when she'd ranted and raved about the unfairness of it all because her hormones were out of whack from sudden, premature menopause. And he hadn't walked away when she'd cursed him for doing nothing more than stay by her side through it all. He's seen her at her worst, quite literally, emotionally and physically.
And after all that, he still said he loved her.
It didn't make any sense.
There was no reason for him to love her. None. She had nothing to offer him. She wasn't rich. She wasn't young and beautiful. Quite the opposite, in fact, courtesy of too many years of life and a trip to P6X-9253 that left behind a body covered in scars from a dozen tiny bits of skin-shredding shrapnel. Organ-shredding shrapnel, she reminded herself. She couldn't have children. Footless. Paralyzed….and wouldn't that just make life fun for her husband to be? Pete wasn't stupid. Just very unkind.
Of course, she was smart. But the General had never cared for her technobabble, so she doubted that he loved her for her brains. It's not like he would look forward to being dazzled by her intellect as she told him about her day at work every night.
Briefly, she tried to image what a day in their life would be like, if they were married. He was retired; she'd go to work. He would… do what? The laundry? Watch TV? Play on the computer? Drive somewhere to go fishing? She couldn't imagine it.
No, there was no logical reason for General Jack O'Neill to love her.
But she also knew that he would never lie to her about something so important.
So, he did love her. For whatever reason. He loved her.
Love wasn't logical.
But maybe, just maybe, it didn't need to be.
She was still staring at her workbench when Jenny found her an hour later.
"Dr. Carter, what's wrong?"
Sam looked up.
"Did Jack already leave?" Jenny asked.
Sam frowned. "Do you know…Jack?"
"Uh… you know," Jenny said, rummaging around in a drawer, "just forget I was even here."
"Jeeeeenny…" Sam said, her tone warning the student that she had no intention of forgetting anything. "You let him into the lab, didn't you?" Sam hadn't stopped to consider how Jack had found her, unescorted, in a high security building.
"You're a lot sharper on those new pain meds, you know?" Jenny said irritably.
"Sharp enough to know when somebody is trying to change the subject," Sam agreed. "How did you know Jack was coming to visit me today?"
Jenny sighed, giving up, and flopped down on a stool across the lab bench. "Okay, I have a confession to make. But before I say anything, you have to promise not to kill me."
Sam thought this was turning out to be a very, very strange day. And given her time at the SGC, that was saying a lot. "I think you can probably run faster than me…" she said slowly. Despite her joking tone, she had a feeling she wasn't going to like what Jenny had to say.
"Not good enough. I know you have combat training and could probably take me out with a pencil from thirty feet."
"Doubtful…" Sam said, narrowing her eyes. "Although if you don't tell me what the hell is going on, I might try."
Jenny laughed. "Promise first! No killing of Jenny Morikawa for confessing the truth!"
"Okay, I promise not to kill you."
"I should warn you, however, that over the years I have witnessed some very creative torture techniques."
Jenny drummed her fingers on the bench top nervously. "I probably should have made you promise to forgive me, instead, huh?"
"Too late for that, now," Sam said, only halfway teasing. "Spill it."
Jenny took a deep breath. "I'm a spy."
"Yeah… sort of the daily eyes and ears of a grand conspiracy centered around you."
"I was drafted by my roommate…"
"Your roommate?" Sam tried to remember if Jenny had ever mentioned having a roommate before.
"Cassie?" Sam suddenly felt like a parrot, numbly repeating everything Jenny said. Ugh, she was turning monosyllabic. "Cassie is your roommate?" Cassie had never mentioned having a roommate, either.
"Yeah…But it was really Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c who pushed the issue, though, you know…? Talking to you every now and then on the phone just wasn't enough for them, I guess…and, of course, Cassie only gets to see you four or five times a month…"
For the second time that day, Sam felt completely bewildered.
"So… I've been sending out frequent, um, well… 'Dr. Carter updates' via email…"
Sam was quite certain she should be furious. Or maybe just… humiliated. Or upset that her privacy had been invaded. Or… something…
Actually, she didn't know what she should feel. Ever since Jeff had stepped on that damn landmine, she sometimes felt like she didn't know who she was anymore. She'd been stuck in such a dark, bitter, and angry place for so long… until these past two months, anyway, when everything seemed to turn around for the better.
"Dr. Carter, I'm really, really sorry I did this… and I know it wasn't right of me, not really… but they were all just so concerned about you… I mean, it started off with Cassie just asking me how you were doing every day, and then she would tell Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c; but then she apparently gave Jack my email address, and he started pestering me daily… and it just kind of evolved from there…"
Sam knew that General Jack O'Neill could be very persistent when he wanted to be.
She thought back over the time since she'd moved to Berkeley, how so frequently when she'd had a really bad day at work, somebody had called her in the evening just to chat; Daniel, asking for her help on a problem, Jack being deliberately nosey about her life, or Teal'c giving her an update on the latest goings on at the SCG. Even General Hammond had called a few times. Yes, they'd given her some space, but now it was clear that they'd also carefully orchestrated their support for her, even at a distance.
"Are you all right?" Jenny asked. "Please, please forgive me…"
Sam could tell the young woman was genuinely distressed. "It's okay," Sam said. "But why didn't you tell me you were Cassie's roommate?"
Jenny shifted uncomfortably. "Cassie thought that if you knew, well, you know, all those times I asked you how you were feeling and you said 'like hell,' well, she thought you probably wouldn't have been so honest."
Sam blushed. Jenny was right, if Sam had known she was Cassie's roommate, she would have answered, 'I'm fine.' That was her answer to Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c whenever they inquired, and all too often with Cassie, except when it was obvious she was having trouble. "You're probably right," Sam said slowly.
Jenny remained silent, watching her nervously.
Sam took a deep breath and smiled. "Really, I should thank you," she said. "You've been a…" She hesitated, not sure what expression to use as a professor with a graduate student. She settled for the truth. "You've been a good friend."
Jenny's face lit with a smile. "Really? Does that mean I'm forgiven?"
Sam chuckled. "Oh yeah. I think I probably owe you a lot."
It was Jenny's turn to blush. "Well, you've helped me so much on my thesis… I'm really hoping I can get a post-doc here so I can keep working with you."
Sam smiled. So, perhaps it had been a very strange day… but maybe it had been a good day, too.
It took her precisely three days and two meals with Daniel subtly (and not so subtly) cajoling her to decide that she needed to see Jack again, to talk with him in person. Daniel had told her that he planned to go to the library on Saturday afternoon, so she'd made arrangements for Paratransit to drop her off at their house at that time. She loved Daniel, but this was a conversation she'd rather have in private, if for no other reason than she had no idea how it would turn out.
The general's truck was in the driveway when she arrived, so she waved the bus good-bye after unloading, realizing her mistake too late after facing the stairs leading to the front door. There was no way to reach the doorbell, and terraces on either side of the house blocked the way to the back.
Sam sighed heavily, cursing her reliance on wheels. She looked around. The view of the Bay was spectacular, and she imagined the view from the picture window in front was breathtaking. She frowned, an idea forming in her mind. She couldn't reach the door, but maybe she could get his attention some other way.
He came barreling out of the house after the fifth pebble pinged off the picture window. He slid to an abrupt halt on the top step as soon as he saw her, the angry shout dying on his lips. "Uh…hello…" he stammered in surprise. He frowned. "Are you throwing rocks at my house?"
She looked up at him in annoyance. "Dammit, General, did you have to rent a house with stairs to the front door?"
"We're on a hillside, Carter. What did you expect? Besides, I didn't think you'd be coming up here anytime soon… I've already got permission from the landlord to install a temporary ramp, but I haven't had time to build it yet…" He looked at her with a strange expression on his face. "Why are you here, by the way?"
"Do you really not know the answer to that?" she asked quietly, mimicking the phrase he'd used earlier on her.
His face softened. "I only know what I hope," he said, slowly sitting down on the stairs so he could look into her face on an even level.
"What do you hope?" she asked.
"I hope you're here… because you love me, too."
"I do," she said simply. "I love you." It was easier to say out loud than she'd expected. Perhaps it wasn't so complicated, after all. On this, it seemed, her heart and mind were finally in agreement.
He brightened. "In a…. 'I want to marry you, Jack,' kind of way?" he asked hopefully.
"Someday," she said. "Maybe."
His face fell, just a little.
"But definitely in a way that the Air Force would not approve of…"
His face brightened again.
"I think we should… date… for a while," she continued. "Like…normal people."
"There's nothing normal about us, Carter." Then, when he saw her frown, quickly added, "But dating is good!"
She smiled. "I agree…sir."
"Drop the 'sir,' Carter."
"If you'll drop the Carter, sir."
"Sooo….Sam, you wanna do dinner tonight?"
"Sure… Jack." She smiled. "Hop on."
"Drive… you mean…?"
She smiled. "It's all downhill from here to my place. I've got my cell phone if we run into trouble."
"My place," she affirmed. "My nice, wheelchair accessible apartment… without stairs to the front door. And a great Chinese restaurant just down the block."
"And how will I get home tonight without my truck?" he asked.
"Who said anything about you coming back here tonight?" she asked.
A slow smile spread across his face. He waved his hand at her wheelchair. "I'll squish you if I'm sitting on top."
"If you're on the bottom, you'll have to steer…"
"No problem," Jack said, "I am a pilot, after all." He grinned at her. "This thing does have brakes, doesn't it?"
"My super, duper BlackBerry brakes work great on hills."
"This is still crazy, you know that?"
"Yeah," she said. "So? I'm feeling a little crazy today."
Jack nodded. "You're right. Give me your gloves. If we die, we die together."
Sam smiled. "We die together," she agreed. "But not today. Today…we have fun."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Fun? I like the sound of that. I think I may even remember what that is…"
Daniel Jackson was driving home from the library, his mind mulling over a text he was trying to translate. He wasn't paying much attention to his surroundings, but as he turned up the hill leading to the house that he and Jack were renting together, his eyes were drawn to something out of place on the opposite side of road.
Two people in a wheelchair were racing down the street, one with her arms outstretched like she was on a rollercoaster, the wind blowing her golden hair, the man beneath her, arms wrapped around the woman's waist, had his legs sticking out as if to brace them both for impact. At first Daniel was terrified for them, afraid they were going too fast, afraid that they were going to crash at any second. Then he saw that their faces were lit with laughter and excitement.
It was Sam and Jack, together, flying down the hillside.
His sudden fear was replaced by soaring hope as he watched them quickly disappear around a corner in his rearview mirror, Jack grabbing the wheels to steer, Sam holding onto the armrests for dear life. They would be fine, he knew. They hadn't survived ten years at the SGC to die in a joyride down a hill on Earth. No, if anything, they'd make a habit of careening down Bay Area hills until the police put an end to it because they were endangering other motorists. In fact, it occurred to him that he should probably keep his cell phone close tonight just in case he had to bail them out of jail.
Daniel couldn't contain his grin, remembering Sam's happy face as she flashed past. It had been so long since he'd seen that glowing smile. And now that it was back, he knew that life was definitely looking up again…for all of them.
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