She had been silent on the short walk from the car to his front door, an intense, radiating silence that he recognised all too well. But then, she had been silent in the car too, the quiet burble of the
radio the only noise they shared. She had been silent as she sat by that bed, gripping Sam's hand so tightly that he would have feared for her circulation if he hadn't already known it was too late.
He had received The Call in between yelling at his secretary and throwing paper balls at his waste bin - a day so ordinary that it seemed almost unfair to catch him so off guard as this. In his nightmares it had always been Janet's tremulous voice delivering the news and so it took a few seconds for Daniel's thin voice to register - seconds that came rushing back with force once the meaning of those words became clear. Daniel had said little - what was there to say? - before dropping the name that bought a startling halt to his own grieving: Cassie.
Putting aside the black hole that had taken up residence in his chest (that and the sound of her proudly amused laugh at his use of a scientific analogy) he walked out of his office, past his still fuming secretary and boarded the first flight home.
Teal'c had met him at the gates, greeting him with solemnity but saying nought, his red-rimmed eyes crushing whatever hope remained within him. They had walked through the halls separate men – they had lost a member of their team and their unimaginable grief set them apart from those around them, no matter how sympathetic their glances.
He had hesitated slightly at the door to the infirmary, his hand hovering over the cold metal. But the knowledge that Cassie was there, that she needed his help drove him forward, pushing him into the room he had always dreaded and now hated most in the entire universe.
Cassie had been sitting in his seat (it would always be his seat), her eyes fixed on the figure lying prone in the bed, the one Jack had refused to look at, knowing that if he did it would be in his dreams every night to come. Instead he studied the now young lady in front of him. She had grown so much, too fast, and yet the desperately determined expression on her face had looked every bit like the twelve year old they had rescued. He had recognised the stubborn set of her frame and knew in that moment that she had not moved, that the others had been unable to move her from her grim vigil.
Reaching out, he had slowly unknotted Cassie's fingers from Sam's. The coldness triggered the tears he could no longer hold back but he tried to concentrate on Cassie's hands instead. He hadn't looked at the nails coated in clear polish (a rare concession to femininity he had delighted in mocking), nor the leather band that had slipped forward on her wrist (the one his fiddling fingers had traced beyond measure). He had sought out the warmth of Cassie's fingers, wrapping them in his
own as he forced her to look at him and led her, with little more than nod of promise to the broken SG-1, out of the room.
It had been only three short years since Janet had passed, far too short a time to heal any wounds on a girl who had already lost so much. With Sam now gone, Jack feared for her well being and, apart from being the next logical choice to offer Cassandra a home, there was quite simply no other way he'd have it. They needed each other, the remaining halves of broken families.
Which is why she was now standing in a bubble of her own misery staring at the door he held open. She did not take the step forward into the house, instead she stood before him with a look that made Jack ache down to his toes. She looked terrified and guilty, bereft and confused all at once; it was a look of soul-crushing mourning.
"Come'ere," Jack said, stretching out his arms wide to take her in.
As if they were the very words she had been waiting for, Cassie fell forward, collapsing into him. Great wracking sobs tore from her, tear soaked words surfacing when they could; her silence had been punctured. Having lowered to the floor of the porch, Cassie tried to curl up on his lap like the child she had been while Jack tried not to see the errant smear of red on the hand clutching the front of his shirt.
It took near an hour for the sobs to subside, leaving them both exhausted but slightly calmer. Cassie's words when they came were the barest of whispers, afraid as she was to give them full form.
"I can't," she said, fingers threaded through the folds of his shirt, eyes staring at that invisible line that marked the entry to his home. "I can't go in there."
Jack dropped a kiss to her hair. "Why not?"
"Because I can't. Because I don't want you to die. I can't be brave. I just - I can't be that without her."
With that admission what was left of his heart shattered. The look of guilt across her face suddenly made sense, aching tear-wrenching sense. The girl who had lost so much, facing the loss of a third mother, terrified of inviting that pain again. Jack pulled his would- be-daughter even closer to him. He wished he could make her promises, wished he could say the words to soothe her tear soaked logic. But Jack had never been a man of words.
Lifting her up, he ignored his screaming knees as he pushed them both up and off the porch and carried her into the warmth of the house. He couldn't make her promises, they both knew that. She, who had lost her entire world, knew better than anyone that the universe was a dangerous place.
But he could do what he did best; he would love her, and carry her through to the other side. And most of all he would hope, hope that it was enough.