"You should go home, Carter.”
She glances up from the untouched coffee she’s nursing and gives him a wan smile. “I… Yeah, I guess. I don’t know.” Blowing out a shaky breath, she smiles an apology and swipes a hand across her eyes. She looks totally out of it. “Sorry, sir.”
“Don’t be.” Jack pulls out a chair and sits down opposite her; it’s safer that way and it’s long ago become a habit.
“It’s just, I feel...” She shakes her head. “I don’t know what I feel.”
He frowns, wanting to say more but, as usual, failing to bring anything to mind. It would be easier if he could just hold her but they’re in the commissary and, regulations notwithstanding, Pete Shanahan still stands firmly between them. Figuratively speaking.
“It’s like…” She shakes her head, struggling to find the words.
“A great big blank?”
She looks up. “Yes, yes exactly. Like nothing. Like I've run out of feelings.”
“You’re exhausted,” he says, which is true; grief is exhausting. “You need to go home, get some sleep. Nothing else is gonna happen here tonight.”
She nods, gazing into her coffee.
He watches her for a moment and then says, “You wanna ride?”
“Sir, you don’t have to—”
“I know.” He holds her look. “You wanna ride home?”
“I have my car.”
Frustration makes him angry and he flattens his hands on the table as he pushes himself to his feet, tamping down hard on the unworthy emotion. None of this is her fault. “Okay,” he says, trying not to actually grit his teeth. “You want me to call Pete to—?”
She frowns and looks away, shaking her head slightly. “I can’t—”
And then she looks at him with that complex expression that’s punctuated their relationship ever since Pete barged onto the scene. The one that looks like a question, or a plea – the one he’s never really understood and has never dared pursue. He holds her gaze but doesn't speak; he has no idea what she wants to hear.
After a moment she looks back at her coffee and says, “I think I just need to be alone for a while.”
That, at least, he can understand. But he still doesn't want her driving while she’s reeling from the shock of losing her father. And it is a shock no matter how prepared she claims to be. Deciding to pull rank, he says, “Go get your stuff, Carter. I’m driving you home.”
“Not a discussion, Colonel. Get what you need; I’ll meet you at the elevators in ten.”
She considers it briefly – perhaps contemplating arguing – then gives in to the inevitable. “Thank you, sir.”
The ride up in the elevator is long and silent, Carter leaning back against the wall and staring at her boots. She’s so lost in thought that she doesn't even notice when the doors open and he has to nudge her out of the elevator with his elbow.
“Sorry,” she mutters again.
“Stop apologizing, will you?”
She smiles. “Sorry.”
He rolls his eyes in an attempt to cover a bright flare of affection but wonders how well he conceals it; Kerry knew right away, despite his best efforts. He’s afraid it’ll still be obvious even after Carter’s married.
The thought sinks like a stone into the pit of his stomach and he sighs, or something, because Carter frowns at him in concern. “What?”
He shakes his head. “Just thinking.” Digging into his pocket, he finds his keys and unlocks his truck as they cross the parking lot.
“Yeah,” he lies. “About Jacob. He was a good man, I’ll miss him.”
Carter nods, but her voice isn't tearful when she says, “He liked you, sir. He liked you a lot.”
“Good.” He finds a smile for her and she returns it for a moment before that incomprehensible look clouds her eyes again and she turns away.
“He, ah, said…” She swallows and stops as they reach his truck.
Jack opens the passenger door, holds it for her. “He said what?”
Carter shakes her head. “Nothing, I— He…” She’s standing between him and the door, close. Close enough that he can feel her warmth through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. “I’m all over the place right now,” she says at last, looking out over the parking lot. “I don’t know what I’m thinking.”
“It’s okay,” he says. “I feel like that most days.”
She gives a tearful laugh.
“Get in the truck,” he says, and closes the door behind her. Slowly, he walks around to the driver’s side, giving himself time to gather his own unruly emotions. Jacob’s death has shaken a few things loose and he doesn’t have as much control as he would like; his conversation with Kerry has only made it worse. And it’s left him with a single, pressing question: what the hell am I doing?
Is he really going to let her walk down the aisle with another man and not even put up a fight? It doesn’t sound like him, and yet not once since this whole Pete thing began has he done anything to stop it.
Because you have no right, a reasonable part of his mind suggests. You can’t offer her anything better. You can’t offer her anything at all.
Tired of the old, circular argument he opens the door and climbs into the driver’s seat. Carter’s already buckled in, staring unseeing through the windshield. He turns the key, the engine jumps to life, and he backs out of the parking space. “So,” he says, looking over his shoulder as he steers, “where to?”
“Home,” she says, surprised.
Still not looking at her, he says, “Yours?”
“Unless you’re inviting me over, sir?”
“No, I meant—”
“I know what you meant.” A half smile. “My house, please.”
They drive in silence almost all the way, but it’s not an uncomfortable silence. Occasionally he glances over at her, but she’s lost deep in thought – it’s been, what, five hours since her father died? He’s just wondering if he should say something, although he has no idea what, when she speaks.
“What do you think of Pete, sir?”
“Pete?” Ah, crap. He struggles for something appropriate. “I, uh— He seems nice?”
She nods. “Nice. That’s what my Dad said.”
“Well, good. Nice is good.”
She looks over at him; in the corner of his eyes he sees her head move and feels her gaze rest on him. “Is it?”
“You’re still having doubts? It’s natural, you know. It’s a big decision.” And what the hell is he doing? Is he actually trying to talk her into marrying Mr Whitebread? He clears his throat. “That’s not to say that you shouldn’t listen to— Just because…” He lets out a long breath. “Carter, I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Nothing.” She shuts down again, looks away. “Sorry, sir, I shouldn’t have—” He hears her take a deep breath. “So, you and Kerry Johnson, huh? She seems nice.”
He wonders if he should tell her that he and Kerry are over, but now doesn’t feel like the right time. Things are complicated enough. Instead he says, “Nice?”
“I know,” he glances at her as he pulls up outside her house. “I know exactly what you mean, Carter.”
She nods and stares down at her hands where they lay clasped in her lap. “So… Thanks for the ride, sir.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll send someone over with your car later.”
“You don’t have to—”
She smiles a real smile. “Thanks, sir.”
For a moment she just looks at him and then she unbuckles her seatbelt and climbs out of the car. He hesitates a moment before getting out as well and coming to stand with her on the sidewalk. “You gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, I just need some time to…process everything.”
“Sure.” For a moment it’s awkward because he doesn’t know what to say, but then he realizes he doesn’t need to say anything and instead just holds out his arms. There’s no one watching, after all. “Come here.”
And she does, leaning into him and holding him as close as he holds her. “Thank you,” she whispers, her breath warm against his neck; he has to close his eyes against the flash of longing it provokes. “For everything.”
He hugs her tight. “Anytime, Carter. You know that.”
She nods against his shoulder and then pulls out of his arms. There are tears on her cheeks and she dashes them away with the back of one hand. “Sorry,” she sniffs. “God, I’m a wreck.”
“You just lost your dad, Carter. You’re allowed to be.”
She nods toward her house. “I should probably…”
“Go,” he says, jamming his hands into his pockets to keep from reaching for her again. “Get some rest, eat something. Call me. You know – if you need anything.”
Another nod, too much emotion in her eyes for speech, and she’s walking slowly up the path to her house. Part of him wants to go with her, but most of him knows that she needs to be alone. Whatever is going on between her and Pete, she needs time and space to process the loss of her father before she can make any decisions.
And the last thing she needs is him there confusing things.
They hold the memorial two days later, before Selmak is removed and returned to the Tok’ra, not only at the Tok’ra’s request but because Homeworld Security doesn't like the idea of burying a real alien in California. Just in case someone gets curious. It seems pedantic, but Sam can’t really blame them and the idea of Selmak’s remains appearing in The National Enquirer makes her blood run cold. Besides, she figures he’d like to rest among his own kind, although she doesn't know a great deal about Tok’ra funerary rites. She thinks she might ask them about it later, when it feels less raw.
Her father’s body will be taken to San Diego after the memorial, to be buried next to her mother. Mark wants them to be together and, although Sam doesn't believe it much matters where his physical remains are laid to rest, she doesn’t argue with Mark. She won’t be able to visit the grave very often, but she’ll remember her father every time she steps through the Stargate and Mark won’t have that – just like he didn’t have the past four years that brought them so close. So she doesn’t begrudge him the headstone.
She feels cold as they gather before the Stargate, its bulking presence dominating the room and the lines of uniforms standing to attention in its shadow. She didn’t sleep well and didn’t eat breakfast; she feels cold and thin as paper, like a breeze could blow right through her.
Pete isn’t there, neither is Mark. This is just for them, for those few who inhabit this other reality and knew her father as both Jacob and Selmak; who know what they both contributed to the cause for which everyone in the room has already given so much.
General O’Neill stands next to her, grave and spotless in dress blues. He glances at her once, when he comes to stand with her, but he doesn’t speak until he climbs the ramp to stand at the lectern and then it seems that he speaks to her alone, that she is the only person in the room, as he tries to sum up what her father had meant to them all: SGC, Tok’ra, and Free Jaffa.
His words are honest and touching and Sam has to blink back tears. O’Neill and her father respected and liked each other despite, or maybe because of, the way they locked horns. They were too alike, she supposes, to get along easily. Both stubborn men, both good men. Both close to her heart.
There are more eulogies, from the Tok’ra and Brat’ac and others, and as time crawls on Sam feels herself sway, tense with restrained emotion, her knees locked and blood pressure falling as she stands at a rigid parade rest. She flexes her feet, shifting her weight from one to the other. It helps a little.
O’Neill nudges her arm. You okay?
She nods, leans a little closer to him. Not close enough to touch, but close enough to feel the warmth of his presence. Pete, she thinks, would have put his arm around her shoulders or reached for her hand. But O’Neill knows better; he understands Lt. Colonel Carter.
There’s a prayer at the end, a muttered ‘amen’, and then it’s over.
As people file out, speaking in low voices and generally avoiding her eye, O’Neill turns to face her. “There’s a thing in the briefing room,” he says, watching her carefully. “Coffee, pastries - the Air Force’s idea of a wake. But you should eat something.”
Sam blows out a breath, glad it’s over. Glad she didn’t cry. “I should speak to Bra’tac first—”
“He’s invited.” A discrete hand on the small of her back steers her toward the gate room doors; it’s an order, apparently. “You’re doing a passable impersonation of Casper the Friendly Ghost, Colonel,” he says, close to her ear. “You skip breakfast?”
“I wasn’t hungry. Stupid, really; I knew I’d be standing for hours.” The last thing – the very last thing – she wants to do is faint.
He doesn’t comment, but his hand is on her elbow as they climb the narrow stairs, cut through the control room and head up into the briefing room above. The chair, when she finds it, is very welcome.
So is the Danish he sets before her. “Eat.”
He’s right, it’s probably low blood sugar as much as anything else and she feels better almost as soon as the pastry hits her lips. “Thanks, sir.”
The corner of his mouth curls in a half smile and he drops into the chair next to her. “So,” he says, unbuttoning his jacket with obvious relief, “that’s over.”
“Yeah,” she nods, licking sugar from her fingers.
O’Neill looks away sharply, studying the slowly filling room with a focus it doesn’t really deserve. Perhaps he feels awkward and doesn’t know what to say?
Not quite sure what to say herself, she suddenly remembers his speech. “Thanks for what you said about Dad, sir. He’d have appreciated it.”
“I meant every word.” He glances at her again. “Your dad was a pretty cool guy, Carter.”
“He was,” she says with a smile. “I’m glad I had the chance to discover that.”
He doesn’t answer, just looks at her for a beat or two longer than comfortable. She doesn’t know how to read that dark, serious look. And then it’s gone and he’s frowning, shaking his head as if recollecting himself. “So, you’re heading to San Diego tomorrow?”
One eyebrow lifts at the sigh in her voice. “Things okay with you and Mark?”
“Okay,” she says. “Not great. You know.”
“It’s difficult when you can’t talk about any of this.”
“It doesn’t help. But we’ll get through it.”
“Course you will.” He hesitates, and then says, “Pete flying out with you?”
She nods. “He’ll stay for the funeral but has to be back here by Thursday.”
“Good,” he says, and sounds like he means it for once. “That’s not a trip you want to make alone.”
She isn't sure she wants to make it with Pete either, but she can’t deal with that right now. Not amid everything else. Nonetheless, a queasy unease turns her stomach. The same feeling she gets when she thinks about wedding flowers and place settings, the feeling that sent her over to O'Neill's house on that ill-fated afternoon. She feels it in the field sometimes, too, when everything’s about to go pear-shaped.
It’s only when O'Neill says, “Carter?” that she realizes her thoughts are drifting.
“Sorry, sir. I was just—” She clears her throat. “I should probably go thank some people for coming.”
“You need a minute?” he says, gesturing to his office. “It’s yours if you want it.”
“No. Thanks, sir, but I’m fine.” She smiles to assuage the doubt in his eyes. “Really. But I appreciate the offer.”
She stands up and he does too, tugging at his tie. He’s longing to rip the thing off, she can tell. “It’ll be yours one day anyway,” he says. “The office, I mean.”
That makes her chuckle. And it feels wonderful, a sudden emotional release she hasn't realized she needed. “And where will you be, General, when I’m sitting in your office?”
“Fishing,” he says, “with any luck.”
And there it is: that hanging ambiguity that she’s tried so hard to move past. He shrugs an apology, hands sinking into his pockets until he remembers what he’s wearing and pulls them out again. “With Teal’c, obviously.”
Or Kerry Johnson, she thinks. And suddenly her smile is gone.
Pete holds her hand on the flight. She doesn’t mind; she’s not in uniform and she’s allowed to hold hands. But they don’t talk. She feigns exhaustion, which isn’t hard. Sleep has eluded her for the past few nights, although she’s a little ashamed to admit that it isn’t grief for her father keeping her awake at night but an unsettling sense of wrongness.
Perhaps his illness and death have brought things into a clearer focus, or perhaps it’s just that his loving advice has thrown everything off kilter: You can still have everything you want.
She knows he wasn’t talking about Pete.
As the plane taxies toward the arrival gate she switches her phone back on and smiles to see three messages waiting for her, all from O’Neill. She reads them in order, the first sent a couple minutes before her flight left: Have a good flight, don’t eat the peanuts.
Half an hour later: T just checked in. Not much progress.
And then, just a couple of minutes ago: Need a ride home from the airport on Friday?
“Who’s that?” Pete asks, looking over her shoulder at her phone.
Irritated, she switches it off and stuffs it into her pocket. “A friend,” she says, which isn’t a lie. “Why are you reading my texts?”
He holds up his hands, defensive, and she feels guilty because maybe he has a reason to be jealous. He looks away, glancing out of the window at the heat shimmering on the tarmac. “Looks hot out there.”
“It’s June,” she says, suddenly weary. “It’s San Diego.”
The funeral is low key, a world away from the formality of the memorial. And it isn't that she has to force tears it’s just that she’s already said goodbye twice. So she lets Mark take the lead, set the pace, lets Pete put his arm around her shoulders in a gesture of comfort she doesn't want. It feels strange, though, to be out of uniform at the funeral, as if it isn't quite respectful. But she knows Dad would have understood; this is for Mark, who’s had so much less of him than she has.
They go out for lunch after the ceremony – somewhere kid-friendly and she’s glad of the noise and the cheerfulness. There’s been enough morose sitting around in the couple of days before the funeral and they’re all happier now it’s over; there’s a sense of clouds lifting.
Pete and Mark laugh and talk about football; she can see why they’re friends. They get on better than Mark would get on with Jack O'Neill, not that they’re ever likely to meet. But still, perhaps it’s an upside? Pete fits in better with this half of her life. Well, when she says ‘half’ it’s closer to ten percent. Or maybe five. But he fits in with the normal bits, which is what she thought she wanted.
But sitting there, eating fries in the San Diego heat, she realizes that she doesn't really enjoy normal – at least not for more than a couple of days at a time. She gets bored. A sudden memory makes her smile: Colonel O'Neill, as was, twisting paperclips apart during in one of Daniel’s interminable briefings, his eyes meeting hers across the table. A moment of connection, of mutual understanding. For all her scientific discipline, they've always been more alike than not. Both easily bored.
“Penny for them?” Pete asks, covering her hand with his.
“Not worth half that,” she says, resisting the urge to move her hand into her lap. “So...” she smiles, “are we doing desert?” The kids scream ‘yes!’ and the moment passes.
Pete leaves that afternoon, heading back to the Springs. She tries not to feel relieved, but it’s difficult to ignore the sensation of lightness fluttering beneath her skin.
They’d slept far apart in her brother’s guest room. She hadn't wanted him to hold her because, when he did, she remembered Jack holding her as they stood on the sidewalk outside her house, his breath ruffling her hair; she remembered his arm around her in the infirmary, his presence so constant and comforting. He’d promised to be there for her always, despite Kerry Johnson. Despite Pete.
Lying awake in the dark while Pete snored on the other side of the bed, she’d wondered what it meant that Jack O’Neill could make such a promise.
“I’m glad I got to meet him,” Pete says, interrupting her thoughts as she drives him to the airport in Mark’s car. “Even if it was just the once.”
“Yeah,” she says and tries not to think of her father’s faint praise. But, typically, that’s all she can remember of the evening.
He seems nice.
“Do you...?” Pete clears his throat. “Do you think he liked me?”
“Sure,” Sam says, because it doesn't matter anymore. “Why wouldn't he?”
Pete shrugs. “I don’t know, I guess maybe he liked General O'Neill better.”
If she hadn't been driving, hadn't had the steering wheel to clutch and the road to hold her focus, she might have choked or frowned or done something else revealing. As it is, she just swallows hard and says, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, he talked about General O'Neill half the night.”
“They’re friends, that’s all.” She feels a sudden pang at her use of the wrong tense but lets it go with a sigh. “They were friends,” she corrects. “And they went through some tough stuff together – we all did.”
“I know.” Pete folds his arms across his chest; it’s a frustrated gesture. “It’s a pretty impenetrable world you live in, Sam.”
“It has to be.” She glances at him, glad for the sunglasses that hide her eyes. “You know a lot more about it than Mark.”
“I wasn't talking about all the secret stuff,” he says. “I meant... You’re tight, all of you. It’s hard to get in.”
“You don’t have to ‘get in’.” Irritated, she pulls into the left hand lane and starts overtaking a string of dawdling cars. She’s driving too fast; she wants to get to the airport and be done with this conversation. “You’re not joining the team, Pete, we’re just getting married.”
“Just getting married...?”
She winces at his tone of voice. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“You’re speeding,” he says.
She takes her foot off the gas, but bites her tongue; she can already see the airport. “I’m sorry,” she says, because she doesn’t have the energy to part on a sour note. “I’m still... You know.” She feels guilty blaming it on Dad when he isn’t really the reason. Or, at least, his death isn’t the reason – just his words, his advice. The truth he held out for her to see.
“I know.” Pete’s hand touches her knee. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just— sometimes I feel like an outsider.”
“I know.” She flicks on the turn signal and slips across two lanes of traffic and into the exit lane. “Maybe now’s not the time?”
“No,” he agrees. “No, sorry. You’re right.” After a pause, and more brightly, he adds, “Mark and I are good, though.”
“Yeah, I know.”
And then they’re at the drop point and she pulls over. He leans in to kiss her goodbye and she gives him a quick hug, but he prolongs it and kisses her again. With the door open, the AC is spilling out and hot dry air floods the car. She feels uncomfortable and sticky in his arms and pulls back. “Have a good flight.”
“See you Saturday?”
“Maybe,” she hedges. “There’s some stuff happening at work, I might need to go in. I’ll call you when I know.”
He gives a resigned sigh. “Sure, okay.”
“It’s always important.”
“Yes,” she says, emphasizing the point. “It is.”
He nods, tight lipped, and climbs out of the car. “I’ll wait for your call then,” he says and offers a peace-making smile. “We still need to talk about the seating plan...”
There it is again, that queasy unease she can’t shake. But she manages a smile, albeit sickly, and hopes he can’t see her eyes behind her dark glasses. “I’ll try to find time over the weekend,” she promises, as if seating plans matter when Anubis is still out there and all that stands between him and Earth is Stargate Command.
She lifts her hand to wave as Pete shuts the car door and disappears into the terminal building. But she doesn’t drive away, just glances in her mirror to make sure no one is waiting for her space. It’s quiet and she pulls out her phone and scrolls through the texts.
You need a ride from the airport on Friday?
She hasn’t replied; somehow it didn’t feel right when Pete was right there. But now he’s gone and she sends the text she’s wanted to send since Monday.
Thanks. AA067 ETA 1430.
She tells herself he’ll send a car, but she knows he won’t and wonders who she’s trying to kid.
Carter’s flight lands ten minutes early, which isn’t a problem because Jack’s been waiting in arrivals for twenty minutes – bouncing. That’s what Daniel called it, this nervous energy that keeps him pacing, fiddling with his sunglasses, checking his phone. Daniel always said he knew they were in trouble when Jack went still. Daniel had been observant like that.
The airport isn’t busy, people are just straggling through with their heavy luggage carts and peering around looking for cabs or rides. He reads the labels on their suitcases, but no one from Carter’s flight is out yet. She’ll be one of the first, he figures. No hand luggage; Carter knows how to pack light.
He paces, checks his phone – no messages – put his sun glasses on, pulls them off again. They’re his favorites, the ones he takes off-world. He lets them dangle from the cord around his neck and glances up at the flight board. Landed. No new information, not that he’s expecting it to tell him anything more, it’s just—
And there she is, with her cropped blonde hair and confident ground-eating stride, winding her way in-between the slower passengers. He doesn’t need to wave, her sharp eyes spot him right away and that smile – God, he loves that smile – breaks out across her face. It floors him, leaves him standing motionless as he watches her walk toward him with her duffle bag slung over one shoulder.
He doesn’t need Daniel to tell him he’s in trouble.
“Sir,” she says, slowing.
“Carter. Good flight?”
She nods, swings her bag off her shoulder and drops it at her feet. “Fine. I slept, mostly.”
And there they stand, face to face. He’s missed her, he realises. He’s missed seeing her face every day and if she’d been anyone else he’d have pulled her into a hug. “So...” he says instead. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good, sir.”
He studies her face, assessing the truth. She’s not lying; she is good and he’s glad to see it. But now they’re just standing there, staring at each other, and things are starting to feel charged and awkward. But then Carter leans forward and hugs him. “Thanks, sir. For the ride.”
He hugs her right back, hard - just a little bit longer than platonic but not nearly long enough. “You’re welcome.” Then he lets her go before he does something stupid. His voice has gone a little husky, though, and he has to clear his throat before he adds, “But you can carry your own bag.”
She grins and slings it over her shoulder again. “So,” she says as they head toward the parking lot. “Anything happened I should know about?”
“No news,” he says. “I’d have let you know if there was.”
“Teal’c still off—?” She catches herself just in time and grimaces. “Off...doing his thing with his friends?”
Jack smiles. “Yup, but no progress. He was sorry, by the way, to miss Jacob’s memorial.”
“I feel bad we couldn’t wait a little longer.”
“Yeah, well, you know what those Tok’ra are like...” He glances at her sideways as he pushes open the door and holds it for her. She gives his unaccustomed gallantry an arch look but he just shrugs it off and says, “So, how’d it go?”
“Surprisingly okay,” she says with a thoughtful nod. “Pete and Mark are close, which helped.”
“I’m glad.” He puts sunglasses on, partly against the glare but mostly to hide the sharp jab of envy. “We’re way over there,” he says and waves to the far side of the parking lot. “Think you’re up to the hike, Colonel?”
Dismissing the comment with a shake of her head, she takes a deep breath. “It’s so hot in San Diego this time of year,” she says. “It’s nice to be back.”
“It’s nice to have you back.”
She smiles, slipping her own sunglasses over her eyes. “Thanks, sir.”
Sir. He never thought he’d hate that damn word so much.
The general drops her outside her house, but doesn’t come in. “I need to get back,” he explains, looking awkward and uneasy with his hands jammed into his pockets. “Teal’c could be back any time and… Well, you know. Anything could happen.”
“I’ll come with you,” she offers. “I’ve got a tonne of work to catch up on.”
But he gives her that look – the stern CO look. “Monday, Carter. You’re on leave until Monday and you know how I feel about people on leave actually leaving.”
“Don’t you have flowers to choose or something?”
She grimaces. “Seating plan.”
“Right,” he says in that careful, guarded voice she knows so well. “There you go.”
“If anything happens—”
“I’ll call you in,” he promises. “Believe me, Carter, you’re the first person I’ll call.”
And again they’re drifting in that ambiguous space between them – a place inhabited by Pete and the regulations, and now by Kerry Johnson. And she wants to say something, to change something, but she doesn't know how; every avenue is blocked. A knot tightens in her throat, hardening in her chest.
You can still have everything you want.
But it’s never been that easy and that’s always been the problem.
Later that night, tears come. Unexpected, they creep up on her as daylight fades into evening and she finds herself sobbing in the gloom and thinking about how her Dad had been so wrong and how he’d been so, so right.
And how she misses him so much she can hardly breathe past it.
She cries when she thinks of Pete, at home waiting for her to call. She cries when she thinks of the flowers and the the house with the yellow kitchen and the life she’s tried on for size – and how it doesn’t fit, doesn’t suit her. How she doesn’t suit it.
And she cries when she thinks of Jack O'Neill, and what had once been, and almost been, and now might never be. How she’s pushed him away and moved on; how he’s shut down, pulled back, watched without comment or rancour or anything as she played out her romance with Pete. And how now he's with someone else. She thinks, if he’d said something, given any indication that it wasn't okay, that he wasn't happy, that maybe she’d have stopped. She knows why he didn’t – but she also knows that, really, he did; hasn't she known all along what his unreadable eyes and inscrutable expression were hiding?
But it didn’t stop her; she thought she was doing what was right, freeing them both from a hopeless situation. But now she sees she was just lying.
You can still have everything you want.
The thought fills her as she drifts from tears into deep, dreamless sleep.
She wakes early the next morning to a bright sky and clear thoughts. Scoured clean by the emotional storm, Sam sees the world through unclouded eyes for the first time in forever. And with clarity comes purpose and the acceptance of what she’s known, deep down, all along; she can’t marry Pete.
She can’t inhabit his world, she can’t pretend to care about seating plans or the colour of her kitchen. For a while she bought into the fantasy of ‘normal’, afraid that she was denying herself something fundamental by holding out for the exceptional. But now she knows she was wrong.
Normal isn’t for Sam Carter. She’s destined for another life. Not a better one, but a bigger one. Probably a shorter one, but so be it. It’s the life she wants, the life she’s been born to live. And she loves it.
Showering and dressing quickly, she eats breakfast and calls Pete as soon as she thinks he’ll be awake. Perhaps he catches something in the tone of her voice because he sounds tense when she asks to meet. “At the house?” he asks doubtfully. “We can talk about furniture, maybe?”
“The house is fine,” she says. The venue doesn’t matter; she’ll go wherever makes it easier.
On the drive over she imagines how he’ll react. Obviously he’ll be hurt, but he loves her and she knows he’ll want her to be happy. She hopes they can still be friends, eventually, still see each other. There’s no need for it to get nasty.
With a slightly guilty feeling she remembers her flash of jealous disbelief when Kerry Johnson stepped out of the general’s house, salad bowl in hand. But that was only a momentary emotion. She’s happy for him really, isn’t she? That’s what grown-ups do for the people they care about. They’re happy for them, and there for them. Always.
Pete’s already sitting on the little bench out front when she pulls up at the house. She notices how his fingers clench nervously and feels her stomach lurch, dreading the conversation but not facing it with any doubts. She knows what has to be done and she’s soldier enough to see it through.
Oddly, she feels less nervous about this than she did sitting in her car outside O’Neill’s house, contemplating a very different conversation. But she’s always happier when she’s in control of a situation. That’s just good tactics.
The dewy grass soaks her shoes as she walks across the lawn and sits down next to him on the bench. He doesn’t try to kiss her and she sits as far away from him as possible. It doesn’t seem fair to do anything else.
“Hey,” he says, definitely uncomfortable. “You okay?”
He gives her a hopeful smile. “Want to take another look at the house? I’ve got a key.”
“No. It’s— Pete, that’s not why I called.”
“No,” he says nodding and staring down at his shoes. They were wet too. “I didn’t think it was.”
She blows out a long breath. “This, all of this, it’s—” She stops, collects herself; it’s kinder to just be direct. “I’m sorry, Pete, but I can’t marry you.”
Another nod, a silence, and then, “I knew from the beginning. Guess I just thought when you said yes that…” He looks at her with more self-pity than she expected. “You were worth the risk. Don’t say I deserve better. Can’t get much better than you.”
“That’s not true.”
“I wish I could believe this had something to do with your father - you needed some time to just work things out.” There’s an edge to his voice now, resentment clipping his words. “I guess all I can say is: I hope you get what you want.”
Or who, is the heavy implication. Irritated, she says, “That’s it?”
“What do you want?” he snaps. “You want me to get down on my knees and beg?”
“God, no. Of course not. I just—”
A memory strikes her: O’Neill, tense but trying to be kind, trying to do the right thing when she shows him the ring. Whatever he’d felt, he’d held his ground and he’d still been there for her. Every time. “I thought you’d react differently,” is all she says. But perhaps that isn’t fair: he isn’t Jack O’Neill. And that’s the crux of the problem.
Pete blinks back tears and in a stiff voice says, “Goodbye Sam.” And that’s it; he’s on his feet and walking away.
“Pete!” But he doesn’t stop. He just pulls the Sold sign down – a petty gesture – and walks away. Just like that, it’s over.
She doesn’t move, taking a moment to let reality sink in and to work out how she feels about her shifting future.
I’m not marrying Pete.
She feels… Relief. Yes, that’s it. She feels a weight lifting from her shoulders, she feels like she can breathe again – and she wonders when she started suffocating. Closing her eyes against the swell of emotion, she tilts her face up to the sky and whispers, “Thank you, Dad.”
After a while she blinks. It’s strange, it feels like a new world but the old one is still all around her. There’s the house and her car, the same but different. Brighter, more hopeful. Briefly she wonders what she should do about the house. Call the Realtor? But then she figures that was Pete’s—
Her cell buzzes in her pocket. Half afraid it might be Pete, and that he might actually beg, she’s almost relieved when she sees the SGC’s caller ID. Although she doubts it’s good news. She presses the phone to her ear. “Carter.”
“Carter, I hate to do this to you.” O’Neill’s taut voice crackles down the line, her lousy reception doing nothing to hide his anxiety. “But I need you on base. Now.”
“Yes sir, I’m on my way. What’s—?”
“Bad news, from our friends,” is all he’ll say; it’s her private cell and unsecure. But she gets the message.
Glancing at her watch, she says, “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. I’m already on the right side of town.”
“Don’t stop for red lights, Carter.”
She starts running. “Understood, sir.”
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Click here for part 2. :)