She’s supposed to be on vacation by now.
She’s been thinking about a trip on her motorcycle for a month now; her plan is to ride into New Mexico, or maybe Utah. She hasn’t decided yet, but she’s got almost two weeks and this time she doesn’t want to stay at home.
The General asked them to meet in the briefing room at the last minute, and it had only taken minutes for Daniel and the Colonel to start fidgeting and checking their watches. She thinks that Daniel has a conference in Chicago he’s anxious to attend (although she suspects that, like her, he's just ready to get out of Colorado), and she guesses that the Colonel is going fishing. She's stopped asking, and he's stopped telling her.
She’s just about to clear her throat pointedly at the Colonel’s incessant tapping when the General walks into the room with a folder in his hand. The look on his face as he sits has her mentally kissing her Indian goodbye.
Apparently the Colonel has the same impression. "Sir..." His tone is borderline insubordinate, but that's normal.
A corner of the General's mouth turns up, but he sounds regretful. "I'm sorry, Colonel. The Redalians are asking for a renegotiation of the mining rights agreement."
To her left, Daniel sighs. "Why?"
"Their planting season is approaching. They've noticed some unanticipated runoff on their fields from the nearby naquada mines, and they're concerned that it will adversely affect crop growth."
Daniel's ready to go, but it's obvious he can understand the Redalians' concerns. "They want us to shift our mining operations before the season starts?" At the Hammond's nod, Daniel sighs. "That sounds reasonable. But?"
She pipes up then. "But our surveys so far show the naquada deposits are concentrated in one area. We've been taking samples from areas outside the city, but so far we haven't discovered any deposits large enough to warrant mining."
"So setting up shop somewhere else isn't an option, then?" The Colonel asks, brows raised.
"No," the General replies. "In the meantime, the Redalians have shut down the mining operation, affectively cutting off one of our largest sources of naquada."
"Which has the Pentagon up in arms,” the Colonel finishes. Sardonically enough that she has to smile down at the table.
"Yes. We're agreeing to immediate negotiations in the hopes that we can resume operations as soon as possible."
Beside her, Daniel is leaning forward. "Where do we fit in?"
"SG-1 was the team who negotiated the original agreement, so you're the most familiar with the situation."
She's suppressing another grin as the General raises his hand to forestall whatever the Colonel is about to say. "However, because it's been some time since SG-1 as a team has had downtime, I'm assigning SG-2 to the negotiations. Having said that, I'd still like one of you to accompany them to the proceedings."
"Colonel, the Redalian leadership knows you. They trust you. SG-2 is very capable of handling this, but I believe the presence of a member of SG-1 at the negotiations would make them more comfortable with whatever compromise we reach. Since Teal'c has already left to visit his son, that leaves one of you."
The General taps his papers on the table as he rises. "SG-2 leaves this afternoon at 1500. I'll leave it to your discretion to decide who will accompany them."
He says the last to the Colonel, and leaves the three of them standing in the briefing room. The Colonel looks at Daniel first.
"No." Daniel says firmly.
The Colonel just continues to stare. "You're the best qualified for this thing."
“Jack, I’ve already bought the tickets.”
She watches the Colonel watch the rest of his team. For a moment his eyes settle on her and she’s afraid that he’s going to order her to go.
But then he sighs heavily and shoves his hand through his hair. “Okay, no one wants to give up their downtime. I say we draw straws.”
It’s a reasonable solution to their problem. “Okay,” she relents. “Fair enough, sir.”
Daniel’s not as gracious. “Fine.” He sounds annoyed, and the bite in his voice tells her just how desperate he is to get it over with.
Colonel O’Neill disappears down the hall.
Daniel moves wordlessly to the window to stare at the stargate. She glances at him out of the corner of her eye, and tries to think of something to say that will make peace while they wait. “What’s in Chicago?”
“A three-day conference on Egyptology.”
She can’t help but raise her eyebrows. “Only three days? What do you plan to do with the other seven?”
“I don’t know, Sam. Go to the museums. Do some writing. Relax. Something completely unrelated to the stargate.”
The belligerence in his voice makes her blink in surprise. “Okay. I’m sorry.” She means it, although she’s not sure for what exactly she’s apologizing.
He winces as he turns. “No, it’s just”-
“Okay!” The Colonel sweeps into the room, ending whatever it was that Daniel was going to say. “Let’s do this.”
He puts his back to them as he lines up three straws of varied lengths in his hand. When he’s done, he offers them first to Daniel, who picks the last straw.
Sam draws next, and although the Colonel hasn’t revealed the straw he was left with, she knows immediately that she’s lost.
It’s definitely the short straw.
Relieved, Daniel tosses his medium-length straw into the trash. “Well…okay. I’m going to go ahead and go. I’ll see you guys in two weeks.” And then he’s out the door, obviously trying to get out of the mountain before something else comes up.
The Colonel, of course, is grinning. “Cheer up, Carter. This probably won’t take long. Two, three days tops, and then you can go do…whatever it is you do.”
She knows he’s kidding, really she does. But she can’t help but feel like she’s being dismissed, or patronized, or something, and she can’t explain it so she lets it go.
“Yes sir,” she replies on a sigh and watches him leave.
She’s going to have to scream soon. That, or pass out.
She’s on a stretcher, and she can see the top of the stargate as they pass through. She doesn’t know who is carrying her, but she doesn’t really care as long as they stop moving soon.
She catches a glimpse of Griff to her left – he’s holding a bandage to his ear, which is bleeding so badly it has colored his neck black. He’d been lying next to her when the MALP was hit, and she remembers him trying to pull her out of the path of the blast. She hopes it’s not as bad as it looks.
Janet appears above her, and she tries to blink to get rid of the black dots swimming in the air. Then someone is squirting something wet and cold in her eyes. It burns. She has to squeeze her eyes shut to get them to stop.
She thinks Janet is saying something to her, can see her lips moving, but all she can hear is a weird sort of buzzing that drowns everything else out.
She feels herself being lifted onto something soft, a gurney maybe, and they are sliding her over and she’s going to scream soon. There’s a hand tugging at her arm, one at her good knee, and hands at her neck, and they’re turning her onto her side.
This time she does scream. Loudly. She knows because she can hear it.
She’s moving, and she’s fascinated by the lights as they whoosh above her. Eventually all she can see is the outlines of the people around her and it’s enough to send her into blackness.
Later (it has to be much later because the pain is dull and her face feels clean) she wakes and looks to her left. The Colonel and Teal’c are on the next bed watching her, and Colonel O’Neill pushes away from where he’s sitting on the edge to move over her.
She opens her mouth – she thinks she does – but nothing comes out. So she closes her eyes again.
The next time she wakes it’s because her right side feels like its being torn apart. She can feel the pain but she can’t move, and she’s terrified. It’s possible she’s crying, but she can’t be sure.
A long moment passes before Colonel O’Neill appears again, and she feels his hand on her arm, warmly pressing against the inside of her elbow. He’s talking, but not loud enough to push past the buzzing silence. He must figure out that she’s not taking anything in, because he stops and his eyes tighten in a way she’s come to recognize as concern.
He doesn’t move away, and she passes out again as his hand tightens on her elbow.
When she wakes again she knows it’s the last time. She’s not sure how much time has passed, but the infirmary is dark and there’s no movement that she can see. She’s having trouble processing things; she can think and see, but everything is slow and tight, like thread being pulled through closed fingers. She’s not as aware as she should be.
But she still feels his hand on her arm.
He’s in the same place he was before, only this time he’s sitting. His arm is outstretched, and her eyes follow the dips and lines of light along it to where his shoulders are level with the bed. His head is bowed.
She can sense Teal’c somewhere. The charge she always feels around him says he’s close, but she doesn’t see him. Knowing he’s there is enough.
She wants to move, and is surprised at the urge she feels to slide her hand over and into the Colonel’s hair. It’s a kind of comfort she’s never been able to give him. She really wants to give it to him now.
She wants to ask where Daniel is. Wants to take in the affection and passion that she’s always associated with who he is. But she remembers the way he was, and that’s enough too.
She tries to move her arm a little to get the Colonel’s, Jack’s, attention, and is dully surprised at how hard it is to manage just a wiggle.
It works immediately. His head jerks up, and he’s on his feet in a second looking down at her. He says something that she thinks is Carter, but she can’t hear it. She would panic at the knowledge, but the panic would be a waste of this precious energy.
This energy that is unnatural. She’s seen it before, and knows it won’t last.
She thinks: I am going to die. The thought is just there. I am going to die.
She thinks maybe that’s okay. What else is there to do? Maybe she knew it before, before the dark when the lights were rushing by, and then she thinks, before when? Before what? And she doesn’t know anymore.
But Jack is still standing over her, moving his hand to hers. He’s never held her hand before when she was in the infirmary. It makes her cry. She’s not sure if he sees so she tries her best to squeeze his hand, feels him return the pressure.
She can see his eyes, warm and sad. She’s glad for it even as she wishes she didn’t recognize the look in them. She uses up the rest of her energy on a painful smile and hopes he understands what she’s trying to tell him.
She falls asleep.
She dies on a Saturday. Things happen quickly after that.
Daniel is struck by just how quickly things happen. Jacob arrives from the Tok’ra home base on Sunday. By Monday, Sam’s brother and his family have checked into a hotel near her house.
By Monday afternoon the men are gathered in Sam’s living room tensely discussing her funeral.
Teal’c, although today he’s not Teal’c but someone else, is standing in a corner with his hands behind his back and a hat on his head. He is, as always, observing.
Jack is sitting in a chair he dragged from the kitchen and placed away from the rest of the group. Elbows on knees, his fingers are threaded together and completely still. He’s also silent. Daniel doesn’t think Jack is paying attention, but then neither is he.
None of them have spoken much about her. They told him the facts of what happened: that a goa’uld attacked the planet; that the siege had lasted several hours. He knows that SG-3 was sent to retrieve them when they missed a check-in, and that Sam was caught in an explosion while they were fighting for the gate. He knows that her injuries were severe and that she died four hours later. He can’t bring himself to ask for more details. Jack and Teal’c aren’t offering any.
That he hadn’t been there with her is the elephant in the room.
He’d been so determined to get away from the mountain. The stress had been building for a while, and he’d needed to be an archaeologist and nothing else for a few days. So he’d snapped at her when it looked like he might have to give up that small reprieve. He’d been angry with her for not volunteering; she usually didn’t even take her vacations, so why did he have to give up his?
It’d been childish, and he’d meant to apologize. She was Sam, and she would have understood if he’d explained it. Instead she’d drawn the short straw and that was the last conversation they’d ever have.
Now he’s here, one among the group of the most important men in Sam’s life, and he thinks he shouldn’t be here. He thinks he’s forfeited his right to be here.
But Jacob asked him to come, and so he’s here.
He’s forced to turn his attention back to the conversation between Jacob and Mark when they begin to argue over whether or not she’ll have a military funeral.
Jacob is tired and weary. “Mark, it’s important. The Air Force”-
“Well, she’s not in the Air Force anymore, is she?” Mark snaps, obviously grieving and looking for a channel through which to expel some of it.
A stark silence settles in the room. Daniel shifts on his feet and wishes all of them away. He desperately wants to replace all of them with Sam. In his mind he sees her coming from the kitchen, holding snacks and glaring at him for teasing her.
Who told you I couldn’t cook?
For the first time since he settled in the chair, Jack speaks. “It’s not about the Air Force. It’s about her.” His voice is quiet and final. “She’ll have honors.”
For a moment, Daniel is shocked at the words. But he remembers the way Jack was waiting for him at the elevator when he was too late getting back, remembers the grief kept quietly in check as Jack stood, and decides that he’s really not surprised at all.
Another beat of silence passes as Jacob and Mark study Jack, and then move on to planning her wake.
Jack goes back to staring at his hands. Daniel goes back to his fantasy.
They bury her two days later.
The sky is overcast during the service, but Jack still wears sunglasses. As does Jacob, Daniel, Teal’c, and Janet. He wonders if the other mourners think they planned it, and would have thought it was funny if he didn’t understand the reasons behind it.
The rifle volleys echo in the air, three in quick succession. Beside him, Cassie trembles but doesn’t flinch. When the Taps starts to play, Cassie puts her hand through his arm and squeezes hard. He lets her lean.
Afterwards everyone gathers at his house for the wake, and Jack dutifully makes the rounds. He didn’t want to do this here, but Daniel’s apartment was too small and Jacob said it didn’t feel right to hold it at General Hammond’s. Jacob came to him and he couldn’t say no.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to remember her. She deserves this time and so does her family. It’s just that he doesn’t want the memory of this in his house. Still, he knows that there’s nowhere else he’d have wanted to hold it, and he’s a little pissed because he’s damned either way.
He’s keeping an eye on the team as he winds his way through the quiet crowd. There’s SGC personnel, of course, but also Carter’s family and family friends, all of whom he doesn’t know. It doesn’t escape his attention that SGC personnel aren’t interacting much with everyone else, and he knows there’s more to that distance than unfamiliarity. The civilians will never know just how much they lost when Carter died, and her coworkers don’t want to face their ignorance.
He catches sight of Major Griff across the room and freezes. There’s a bandage over his right ear, an injury he’d gotten in the same blast that eventually killed Carter. It’s the first time Jack’s seen him since the teams poured through the gate four days ago. Jack heard that he’s lost his hearing in that ear, and thinks the man is headed for a medical discharge. If Carter had lived, she would have been too.
Jack makes eye contact, and Griff’s face is as blank as his own. Griff nods and Jack returns it. They have nothing to say to each other.
He turns away, scanning faces for Daniel and finds him standing with Teal’c near a window. He’s a little concerned at how disconnected Daniel has seemed the last few days; Daniel’s supposed to be the grounded one, but he’s been somewhere else since it happened.
Teal’c has always been inscrutable, but he’s been so quiet and so bland that Jack is sure it’s anger he’s hiding. He can’t remember the last word Teal’c spoke to anyone.
The tension between the three of them is almost as stifling as the pain in Jack’s chest.
Jack doesn’t know how to help them, so he just watches for them in the crowd.
Two hours into the gathering, Jack decides he has to get away. Anywhere will do, as long as it’s away from everyone else.
He sets his sights on the kitchen, thinking that a beer is exactly what he needs right now. He manages to get there without running into anyone who wants to talk.
He takes the beer out of the fridge and goes to leave before he realizes that he has no idea where he’s going. Instead he puts the beer on the counter and his hands on either side of it.
For a moment all he can do is stand there. He takes a deep breath, lets it out. He’s about to take another one when Jacob steps in behind him.
He closes his eyes briefly, trying to compose himself before he turns around. He grabs the beer again and makes himself say something as he opens it. “Jacob.”
The man looked tired three days ago and he still does. “Jack.”
Jacob has his back against Jack’s oven, and it seems to Jack that he’s trying to look relaxed. He knows better. They’ve both been avoiding this conversation.
They listen to the murmur from the people in the hall until Jacob speaks again. “It’s okay, Jack.”
Jack wants to laugh. How is that possible? “Yeah?”
“You made a command decision. You couldn’t have known what would happen.” The tone and the words sound forced.
There’s a snort from the door and they both turn to find Daniel and Teal’c there listening. Daniel looks anything but disconnected. Jack’s heart starts to beat faster, like it knows what’s coming.
“We drew straws. That was his great command decision,” Daniel says derisively.
All the muscles in Jack’s back tense up. His voice is gravelly, and no amount of clearing his throat will help. “I don’t remember hearing you volunteer to go.”
Jack watches as Daniel’s fists clench at his sides. Teal’c shifts closer to Daniel, ready to intervene. “We are a team. We all bear the guilt.”
He can’t stop the words from coming out. It’s like the anger is a separate entity in his kitchen, taking up more and more air. “Really, Teal’c? All of us? I only remember there being three straws.”
Teal’c’s eyes go cold. “If we all do not accept the responsibility, O’Neill, only one of us must.”
“So, we were so comfortable being a team that we stopped being one? Is that what you’re saying?” Daniel asks, nearly yelling. “How the hell does that work?”
“No,” Jack barks, his stomach rolling. “That’s not what he’s saying.”
“Stop it,” Jacob rasps, ragged and heated. “For Christ’s sake, we just buried her. Do not do this now.”
Jack’s stepped up, ready for a confrontation with no memory of having moved. They’ve all gone past reason, but he thinks if they don’t do this now they never will, and it will always be there between them.
But their raised voices have attracted attention out in the hallway, and suddenly Hammond is at the entryway. His presence is a balm that is needed but that no one wants.
The anger seeps out of Jack until all he feels is the ever-present and overwhelming sense of loss. He swallows, shakes his head, and meets no one’s eyes as he leaves.
Most of the guests have gone when Jack retreats to his back porch. He sits on the top step and looks out over his backyard.
He’s loosened the tie of his uniform and unbuttoned his collar, but couldn’t sum up the energy to take off his jacket. Another beer is beside him on the step, unopened.
Carter had loved this porch. The last time she’d been here was for a team night not long after the entity had taken her body. She’d sat just like this and stared at the trees as the sun had set, and he’d followed after her, desperate for even the littlest connection.
He’d thought he’d lost her then. It’d been only a glimpse of what he feels now.
Still, the endings are starting to blur. There’s been so many.
He remembers how impressed she’d been when he told her he’d built this porch himself. He’d been thrilled at her reaction; it was so rare that he was able to surprise her, and so he’d let slip that he’d built the porch at his cabin, too.
She’d leaned back against the railing and smiled at him, a big and luminous one that always made him catch his breath.
I bet that one’s much better.
He looks over and she’s not there.
He’d always thought that one day - that one undetermined damn day - she’d be here for good. When they were finished with whatever they were doing, they’d work it out and come together as something other than teammates.
That won’t happen now, and he really should have known better. It’s not like he didn’t have plenty of warning. How many times had she almost died?
He’s starting to face up to it, and it’s worse than he thought it would be.
The back door opens behind him, and Jack doesn’t need to look to know who is joining him.
Jacob settles onto the step next to him, his own beer in his hand. They don’t look at each other.
“You drew straws?” Jacob is angry, but it’s quieter now.
At least it’s more honest, Jack thinks. Somehow Jacob’s anger is a relief. “Yes.”
Jacob shifts, stretches out his legs until his heals hit the ground, and suddenly Jack is ridiculously glad that he built the steps wide. He doesn’t think he can take any kind of contact right now.
The crickets begin to chirp as the light fades. He’s trying to swallow, trying to get rid of the strained soreness there. “I’m sorry.”
“I know.” It’s not forgiveness, just acceptance, and Jack knows it’s all he’s going to get.
They sit, and time goes by. Jacob takes a sip of his beer before speaking again. “I think I know how you feel about her.”
Jack shakes his head sharply. “You don’t.”
He can feel the weight of Jacob’s gaze. “I buried the woman I loved too, Jack. I recognize the signs.”
He wants the other man to leave. He needs him to leave soon, because he doesn’t want witnesses for this.
He focuses hard on control. “What do you want from me, Jacob?”
“Nothing.” Jacob’s voice is steady. “I just want you to know that maybe I understand.”
The pain is pushing up through Jack’s chest, and he doesn’t know how much longer he can keep it in. It’s hard to talk around the pressure. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
The reply is hard. “No. But then I don’t suppose anything could.”
And it’s too much. He breathes in on a sob, hand over his mouth, and then there’s a second and a third and his hands have to move to hold up his head. He bends because he can’t hold up under the force of it.
Jacob is motionless, just silently staying until it’s over. He stays while Jack struggles to be calm again and as he finally succeeds.
The sky is dark when Jacob goes without a word, leaving Jack on the porch, alone and hollowed out.
Three weeks later Daniel walks into the briefing room to find Jack and Teal’c waiting for him.
He’d come early - nearly an hour early - because he’d wanted to be alone. Just to think for a while.
They’d spoken to each other as little as possible since the confrontation in Jack’s kitchen. They’d talked, of course, about missions and new team members and whatever news Hammond wanted to pass along. But it had been completely professional, and nothing that could spark the dividing anger they’d felt before.
Standing in the room now, Daniel figures the anger is gone but the strain that caused it is still there.
Accepting the inevitable, he takes a seat across from Jack and waits.
Not looking up from the pen in his hands, Jack goes first. “We have to talk about this.”
Daniel nods. “Yes we do.”
They’re all reluctant. None of them wants to be the first to show his wounds. “I wish I could say I didn’t mean what I said, but…”
Jack gives something resembling a laugh. “Right.” He looks better than the last time Daniel saw him.
Again, Teal’c is the peacemaker. “We will all carry the burden of this.”
Daniel tries to smile. “I’d rather someone else carry mine.”
He needs for someone else to be to blame. The truth of it hurts.
But all he can see in Jack’s face is understanding, and it helps. Daniel feels something shift inside, and knows he can finally ask. “How was she, before…?”
He watches Jack steel himself against the memory. “She woke up a couple of times. The last time, I don’t think she felt much, and she couldn’t talk. But she was there. She was okay.”
Jack looks up at him. “She wasn’t mad, Daniel. That’s not what she was thinking.”
Daniel has to swallow and blink a few times. “How do you know?”
Teal’c is the one who answers, calm and full of grief. It’s the most expressive he’s been in weeks. “Because she was Major Carter, and she was ours.”
It’s quiet again, although this time there’s some peace in it.
“So what are we going to do?” Daniel asks.
Jack’s eyes are indecipherable. “We deal and move on.”
A bolt of pain shoots through Daniel’s chest at the idea. He thinks moving on is going to take a while, but then there’s really no other choice. So he nods, and that’s the end of the conversation. He’s pretty sure it’s the last time they’ll ever discuss it.
They talk about nothing until the briefing starts.