"Constantly," Sam responded. "I thought it would get easier with time but it hasn't. You seem kind of lost yourself," she added looking over at the lean, muscular man next to her.
"It's a phantom limb kind of pain, you know? I keep thinking he's there but he's not." He nodded down at the village. "Do you think we need to watch them any longer, Colonel? Don't know how many more variations of chasing children, hanging out wash, and cooking things over open fires these folks have in them."
"Agreed. Let's pull back." They squirmed away from the ridge on their stomachs until they were far enough back to go to all fours and then stand. The new regs required no contact with locals, if at all possible, until an assessment could be made as to impact. SG teams had unintentionally wrecked havoc on too many worlds by dropping in out of the blue with no idea what isolated local cultures would make of their arrival. The troops had started calling it the StarTrek rule and, just like non-involvement rule in the series from which it got its name, it was turning out to be very difficult to stick to.
They began to walk back to the gate at an easy pace, keeping their voices low and watching for any sign of the locals. Sam said, mopping her neck with a kerchief, "I am about to melt. It is really hot on this world at noon."
Douglas laughed and replied, "You won't hear me complaining. Don't tell the boss this, but I'd work for free just to be able to walk in the sunlight like I can here or anywhere but earth." His laughter fled and he got more serious, returning to their earlier conversation. "You know, when I got to know Daniel, he became the first true friend I had had since before I became Spike. When you wait for something your whole life, you really appreciate it."
Sam looked at the team member walking in step with her. He had a handsome face with wonderful bone structure, slightly long, wavy, light brown hair, and a buff physique. He was lithe and athletic. The appealing physical package went with a biting wit and, surprisingly, an essential sweetness and gentleness that he worked hard to hide. In fact once you got to know him, he was a lot like Daniel, his intellect just showing up in street smarts instead of academic, scholarly brilliance. He was widely admired in Cheyenne Mountain, his rep having been established by what he and Daniel had done in the partnership they had formed within SG-1. Yet she knew that he felt like a man walking on thin ice. He was sure that, if people knew the rest of the story, everyone would turn against him and she tended to agree. She would never have given him a chance herself if it hadn't been for loving Daniel. Douglas prized Teal'c and Sam because they knew all about him and had gotten past it but Daniel had been the first. If Daniel was Douglas' first true friend, Daniel's bond with Douglas was the closest male friendship Daniel had ever formed.
Sam decided to share a decision she had made during this mission with Douglas. "I thought I could handle Daniel and I being on different SG teams. It's not so much going days without seeing him, although that's tough, as it is the not being there to watch his back. Not knowing from one day to the next, if he's okay. When we decided to get married, there was no way for me to keep my command and be on the same team with him. I don't care about command any more if it keeps us apart. I'm going to ask Jack to assign me to the same team as Daniel under someone else's command."
Douglas didn't look all that surprised. He cautioned Sam, "You know that Daniel is going to pitch a bloody fit over you making sacrifices for him."
Sam just said,"Tough."
Finally they came up out of the trees and saw the gate on the edge of the rolling grassland. Douglas said, "I can hear them over there." He pointed to a spot 100 yards further along the forest verge.
Sam nodded and radioed Teal'c. "You ready?"
Teal'c and Daniel's replacement on the team stepped out of the woods exactly where Douglas said they were and waved at them. The four converged on the gate at a fast trot and Teal'c immediately began to dial home.
When they walked down the ramp in the gate room back at Cheyenne Mountain, they saw General Jack O'Neill in the control room above them. He gestured to them to come up. Sam hoped his gestures were not as urgent as they appeared. The general's adjutant entered the gate room just then. "Colonel Carter, General O'Neill would like to see you, Teal'c and Mr. Atherton in the control room. It won't be necessary for you to come, Captain Salazar," he said to the newest member of the team.
Sam now had a really bad feeling about this. She stopped long enough in her rush to comply to ask one of the men stationed in the gate room on guard, "Do you know if SG-17 has returned?"
He shook his head. "No Ma'am. I've only been on duty for the past hour."
When they entered the gate room, Jack was leaning over the shoulder of a technician who was replaying a transmission for him. Sam wasn't sure if she recognized the voice. It might be Major Donovan who commanded SG-17 but she couldn't be sure.
"General, you wanted to speak with us?" Jack straightened up and walked over to them quickly.
"Let's go to the conference room," he suggested and started to lead the way.
"General, you're scaring all of us, even if I'm the only one ready to admit it. Whatever it is, just tell us, straight out." Douglas was talking to Jack but looking at Sam with real concern. "Please," he tacked on belatedly. He had moved closer to her and was almost touching her. Sam wasn't sure if this was for his comfort or hers but she was glad he was there.
Jack closed his eyes for the briefest of seconds. Sam knew then what was coming. She had seen Jack give bad news to families and friends before. "No," she whispered.
Jack stepped closer and took her hands. "The team at the archeological site on P3H789 ran into some trouble. They were attacked by a massive force of hostile locals. SG-17 and the other personnel at the site came back through the gate two hours ago, leaving behind 4 causalities and an MIA." He swallowed. "Sam, I'm so sorry but Daniel is missing and," he stopped for a moment, "the report reads 'missing and presumed dead.'"
Sam had kept chanting, "No" under her breath and now it rose to a wail. Douglas had his arm around her and was holding her up. Teal'c quickly moved up behind them both and put an arm around each of them.
Douglas asked, "MIA doesn't mean dead, just missing. What are you doing to find him?" He didn't like what he was seeing on Jack's face and all the coaching he had been getting from Daniel flew out the window. "Bugger all; you'd bloody well better not be going to tell us that you are doing nothing." He had kept his voice low but the venom and menace in those words was a glimpse into what he had been.
Jack narrowed his eyes but he let it pass under the circumstances. "The first thing that occurred to me was that you could go back through alone. They would never be expecting someone like you and you might have a chance."
"All right!" Douglas' smile was chilling and deadly.
Jack shook his head slightly. "Before I could even make the suggestion, command specifically told me that no one, and especially you, was to go through the gate at this time." Jack made eye contact with Douglas. "You are a secret weapon. The only one of your kind who has been willing to work with us. They are not going to risk you for one man no matter who he is. And realistically, you wouldn't have that much of a chance."
"Maybe I should just have a bit of a sit-down strike then. No more work from Douggie boy until they come across with an opportunity to save Daniel," Douglas said, jutting out his chin.
"And let Sam and Teal'c go out alone without you? Or are you both thinking of going on strike too?" Jack asked Sam and Teal'c. He knew the answer but wanted to make the point to Douglas.
Jack turned his attention back to Sam now. "With other factors at present, command won't authorize sending one of our ships on the slim chance anything effective could be accomplished and the Tok'ra don't have anything available in the near future." There was no sympathy or understanding for these decisions on Sam's face.
Jack sighed. "Daniel's been presumed dead so often that it's becoming a habit. I have to admit that I can't believe this is the end. If I did, it would hurt like," he hesitated it and then said, "it would hurt a lot like losing Charlie did. We all loved Daniel. We just have to keep the faith that he's alive and that eventually there will be a way to help him."
Jack looked at the two men now. "I know you are hurting too. We all are. I have to stay here and take care of some of the clean up from this. You'll take care of her?"
Teal'c raised an eyebrow and Douglas looked insulted. If Sam had been herself, she would been twice as insulted but she had gone somewhere inside and couldn't care that she was being treated like a child. In fact, she felt like a very tiny child, wandering through bombed out shells of buildings with no idea where her family was, no idea of how she would survive.
Jack made a 'that was really stupid' face and said, "Of course you will." He squeezed Sam's hands hard and choked out, "I'll be over later." He released them and walked off rapidly.
There was a strict policy about leaving the mountain after being off world without minimal decontamination procedures. The clothes stayed at the base for laundering and shower and shampoo were required. They took Sam to the locker room to which they were assigned, locked the door, took off her boots and socks and helped her out of her jacket and pants.
Douglas asked gently, "You're going to take a shower now, right?"
She got enough control of herself to say, "It'll be fine. Just, just put my clothes on the bench in the stall." When the units had become sexually integrated, individual shower stalls had been put in place. They did as she requested. She was in the shower for a really long time and didn't answer them when they tried to talk to her. They were considering whether they should find a woman to help her and, if so, whom, when she finally emerged.
They drove her home in Douglas' van with its specially tinted windows and feeling of being isolated from the world outside. She collapsed on the couch. Douglas sat down next to her and took her hand. "Sam, you haven't eaten for hours. How about if we fix you something or go get you something. Whatever you want."
"I'm not hungry." She looked up at Teal'c. "You could get me a beer. There should be some in the refrigerator."
"I haven't cried. Isn't that weird?" She looked at Douglas. "I'm definitely crying on the inside."
Teal'c came back with the beer and a glass. Before he could pour it, she took the bottle from his hand. "Look at that. It's a Guinness. I don't really like them but you made Daniel into a real Guinness man, Doug."
"I will get you something else ColonelCarter," Teal'c said immediately but he couldn't get the bottle out of her hands.
She started stroking the label. "We have to keep some Guinness in the refrigerator so that when Daniel gets back there'll be some waiting for him." She looked at Douglas for confirmation. "We do, don't we? Everything should be just the way he left it. Just the way.." That was when the floodgates opened. She cried longer than Teal'c thought was possible, longer than Douglas could remember seeing and he had seen his share of tears.
For two days she was a zombie. Teal'c, Douglas, or Jack were always there with her. She didn't want to get in bed because Daniel wasn't in it and slept on the couch instead. They let her get drunk but wouldn't let her stay that way. Douglas seemed to have more luck than the other two getting her to eat or bathe. There might have been a clue in the fact that once or twice, she called him Daniel.
The morning of the third day, Douglas and Jack were both there, Jack drowsing in the overstuffed armchair opposite the couch, Douglas wide awake, reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Sam sat up, threw off the two afghans Jack had put over her and said, "Time to rejoin the living. Daniel wouldn't want me to be like this."
She was as good as her word. There were no more tears, no more failure to be anything other than the incredibly effective officer and scientist that was her basic make up. It was very hard to talk about Daniel and at first she wouldn't talk to anyone about him. That was until she realized that no one was helping Douglas' with his anguish which was profound. Jack and Teal'c were close and could help each other with their mutual grief. They had gone through losing Daniel before and getting him back and in their hearts, expected him to somehow return again. ouglas lacked that comfort.
Sam and Douglas spent hours recalling Daniel, things they had shared, things he had said, his quirks. Although Douglas could go on - just another way he reminded her of Daniel - he could be a good listener. After awhile, they found themselves sharing things that neither of them talked to anyone but Daniel about. She told Douglas about the complexities of her relationship with her father and how some things were still unresolved when Jacob died. At times she forgot she wasn't talking to Daniel. And Douglas began to tell her just what sort of a monster he really had been. His sire was crazy and his grandsire was a sadist. The two of them had played sick games with people, delighting in torture and terror. He took no pleasure from anything but a quick, clean kill but they ridiculed him if he didn't join in their fun and games and far too often the need for acceptance had been too great not to go along.
"Every face is there, haunting me. If I get hundreds of more years, I won't be able to expiate the evil I did in the first 100 plus. Daniel kept telling me that it wasn't me. It was the vampire symbiote that took me over after Dru bit me. But the question I ask myself is if I wasn't in there, than who was that it that went and sought out a soul. Who was it that put William Douglas Atherton back in command of this body? Why couldn't I have done that sooner? Cut back the bloodshed by a few hundred?" It was late at night and Douglas was four Guinnesses along and close to tears.
"I think it's more important that, as far as Initiative knows, there aren't, at most, more than 1 or 2 vampires a century who try to get their souls back, to take command of their bodies back from the vampire symbiotes inhabiting them. You are an exceptional man. Give yourself credit for that." Sam felt so full of tenderness for him and for the shadow of Daniel she so often saw in him, she wanted to show him somehow. She leaned over and brushed his cold, beautifully formed lips with hers.
Douglas immediately pulled away and took her by the shoulders, holding her out at arm's length. "I'm honored that you did that and I think I know why. But it can never happen again."
Sam started to speak but he laid a finger on her lips. "I hope you can be happy someday with someone. You made Daniel very happy and you deserve that. But it can't be with me.I didn't like you at first but now I know you are one of the best. You deserve better than a monster who killed children along with adults and laughed about it. Daniel was the best and I want the best for the woman he loved with everything in him."
Tears for Daniel, for Douglas, and for herself were silently rolling down her cheeks as he stood up and left.
Jack had been a strong support for her as she tried to adjust to life without Daniel. Time with Douglas was often intense. Time with Jack could be almost lighthearted. He got them all to go bowling, insisted that they use a lane with bumpers, and then invented a new scoring system that required that balls rebound off the bumpers to count. He finally got Teal'c and Sam to his cabin to go fishing with him. He rented really stupid DVD's and then did his own version of MST commentary that the even the most depressed person in the world would still have laughed at. He got the whole gang together for silly parties with ridiculous themes. A particularly memorable one, as unlikely as it might seem, required everyone to bring their least favorite food. Every once in awhile, there was a crack in his façade and she saw that he was in terrible pain too. That was what was most amazing to her and what demonstrated the giant Jack was.
One night, it was atypically just the two of them. Sam wasn't sure what Teal'c was doing but Douglas was out with Corinne, his on again, off again facsimile of a girlfriend. Jack had her laughing so hard her sides ached at his deadpan recounting of a meeting with representatives from the joint chiefs. Only Jack could have made something like that funny without seeming to even try. He looked at her and said, "God I love to see you laugh. I think it's when you're most beautiful."
She looked at him in surprise. He had never said anything like that before. "You think I'm…beautiful?"
"Sam, you are not only beautiful, you are incredibly hot." Her jaw fell open.
"All these years the regulations about fraternization within the chain of command has kept me from doing anything. It killed me when you married Daniel but I have to congratulate myself that I was at least unselfish enough to be glad that he made you so happy." She was still looking at him as if an alien had moved into Jack O'Neill's body.
"Say something Sam," he said searching her face for a clue to her reaction. "I know I'm a lot older but I was hoping that there was at least a chance."
Sam couldn't process this. For years she had thought she was suffering from unrequited love for a man she couldn't have. She had put that love behind her because she thought it was hopeless and been free to fall in love with Daniel. And now Jack was telling her that, all the while when she had been in love with him, he had loved her back?
She started to speak but settled for leaning toward him and initiating their first kiss. It wasn't like kissing Daniel or Douglas but it was just as good in its own way. It was real and solid. She was tired of dreaming about Daniel or, lately, Douglas, but waking up alone. When they broke apart, Jack put his arms around her and they hugged fiercely. Then he kissed her. And kissed her again. Sam started to feel a little alive. It was like returning feeling in frost bitten toes. Painful but joyful.
The regs were still there. Neither one of them liked sneaking but they wouldn't give each other up and they weren't ready to give up their careers either. The only one who knew was Douglas. He was true to his word and genuinely happy that Sam had found someone he thought was almost good enough for her. Douglas was a convenient chaperone and many an evening the three of them would ostensibly be doing something together but Douglas would fade away and leave them alone. Not a soul suspected anything. Occasionally Sam wondered about Teal'c. He, however, was going by 'don't ask, don't tell,' on this one.
One weekend, Sam and Jack went to Lake Tahoe together. They rented a small plane and Sam flew them there, reveling in being in the air again. She had barely been able to log enough hours to keep her pilots license up over the past several years. They stayed in a small, out of the way motel that was clean but hilariously tacky. It was clearly designed for young couples who had gotten married there at Tahoe.
They went for an early morning walk and ended up sitting on the banks of a small stream where Jack skipped pebble after pebble across the water. "I used to do this with Charlie," he said startling Sam with the topic. Jack never talked about his son. "I never thought I'd want to leave myself open for that kind of pain again."
Sam found herself holding her breath. She knew deep down that something momentous was about to happen. She could feel the planets realigning and tectonic plates shifting. Jack looked over his shoulder at her where she sat a little higher on the bank, her chin resting on one knee. He stretched out his hand to her and she took it and scooted down to his side. He put his arm around her and pulled her against him snugly.
"I've been approached about a new assignment for you. The general in question didn't want to make a politically stupid move by pulling one of my best people away from me without my agreement." Sam waited, very still, for him to connect the dots.
"You'd be giving up the stargate but doing something really important and challenging. You wouldn't be under my command any more. We could come out in the open." He tiled her chin up to look at her directly. "We would be free to get married, to have children." There were tears in her eyes now. "Hey, I didn't think that would make you sad. I sort of hoped…"
"I'm not sad. I'm just deep down touched. You loving me is like some sort of miracle. Something I never expected and frequently can't believe, even now. I want to marry you, Jack. I want to have your children." He started to kiss her but she put a hand on his chest to stop him. "But the only way to do that is to have Daniel declared legally dead or to divorce him."
Jack bit his lip. "I know. I thought about that. It feels like a huge betrayal on some level." He laughed a little. "I talked to Douglas about it. I used have such contempt for that guy. I was really wrong." He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear. "He walked me through it. Did I think Daniel would want you to be alone? Who did I think Daniel would have picked for you? What were the chances that Daniel was still alive after two years?'
Jack looked out across the creek for a moment. "There isn't anyone alive who cares more about Daniel's memory than Douglas. If this has his blessing, then I think we can feel comfortable with what we want."
The silence stretched out. At last Sam said, "How about I take the assignment, get into a place where we could go public. Then we see if there still isn't any sign that he'll come back. If there's no good reason to hope, then yes, I'll marry you."
It all seemed like it was fated. It went that smoothly. Sam did hate giving up the star gate but her new assignment had everything to like and nothing not to like, except the absence of the gate. Logistically, it worked out that she could keep her home in Colorado and spend time there. She still saw a lot of all three of the men she held dear.
At the end of the first month away from Cheyenne Mountain, she was home and she and Jack were with Teal'c and Douglas for an evening cookout at Jack's. Jack looked at the vibrant woman he loved and her two strong knights. He thought he had their blessings but still needed to hear it. "Sam and I have something to tell you two," he announced taking her hand in his.
Teal'c actually rolled his eyes. "Do you not think that I have eyes in my head GeneralO'Neill?" he asked.
Douglas laughed and contributed, "What he said."
"And you are both okay with this?" Jack asked.
"Would that stop you?" Douglas asked.
"Of course not but I wouldn't be happy about it. The two of you have been wonderful friends to both of us. I want you there at the wedding, standing at the altar with me."
Douglas said, "At night, I hope, if it's outside. Once when we were under the influence of magic…" The rest all rolled their eyes. They all were convinced that there were scientific explanations for all the magic Douglas really believed he had seen. He plowed ahead in the face of their patent disbelief, "My ex wanted to get married in the broad daylight under a tree, as if that would do it. She didn't seem to get that members of the wedding party bursting into flame was not really the ambience you want."
Jack chuckled. "Someday I have to meet this woman. I got to tell you the mental image I have built up over the years is not really positive."
He turned to Sam and reached into his pocket and pulled something out, keeping it hidden in his hand. "Forgive me if I don't get down on one knee. This is my last clean pair of khakis."
She smiled at him. "Forgiven."
"In the presence of these witnesses, will you Samantha Carter accept my proposal of marriage?" He looked at her teasingly. "You don't get what's behind door number 1 if you don't say yes."
"Oh, yes," she exclaimed and he kissed her and dropped the ring in the process. It actually took the four of them a couple of minutes to find where it had rolled. It made it seem like a group engagement when Teal'c exclaimed, "There it is!" triumphantly and pointed, Douglas picked it up and handed it to Jack, and Jack placed it on her hand.
Sam went to Reno for a quiet, uncontested divorce using documentation that the military had cooked up for her. Obviously they couldn't say, "I need a divorce because my husband is MIA on a planet about 15 light years from here." Divorce was hard but she could not bring herself to have him declared legally dead. Douglas went with her. It felt wrong somehow for Jack to be there. She cried for Daniel in Douglas' arms one last time and his tears mingled with hers.
Sam and Jack began to officially date with a schedule carefully planned to rapidly but believably build up to the engagement that had already taken place in secret. Everyone played along as if this was a new relationship but in their reactions Sam realized the depth of good will the men and women of Cheyenne Mountain had towards her and Jack. She had been wrong when she had believed that no one had a clue. Many people had suspected but no one had wanted to see them get in trouble for something that pleased everyone. Those who had known Daniel had greatly respected and liked him. They were glad to see a happy ending for the wife he had, so sadly, left behind. The entire command was happy for Jack whose no nonsense leadership was the kind the rank and file wanted.
When the engagement was announced, events seemed to take on a life of their own. Major Hewlett's sister and brother-in-law had a ski resort that was used in the off season for events like weddings. Sam had saved Carl Hewlett's life on one dicey mission when SG-1 went in to rescue his team. Even though his family didn't know the particulars, they did know how deep the debt was and insisted that Jack and Sam use the resort free of charge. The surprisingly listenable pick up band from among the base staff, "Event Horizon" insisted on playing at the reception. The dress, the wedding party, and most of the other details appeared to arrange themselves. It seemed like all Sam had to do was show up and it would magically happen. She even asked Douglas, only partly teasing, if he had called up one of his old associates and ordered up a spell.
The resort was a good three hour drive away and on the afternoon of the wedding there was a skeleton crew at Cheyenne Mountain with only the personnel offworld being those at permanent installations. Those on duty at the base were, for the most part, relatively new to the program. Personnel with a history with Jack and Sam were those most motivated to make the wedding and Jack had been very creative in helping to arrange things so that anyone who really wanted to come could. An enterprising video buff had gone to great lengths to get a feed approved from his camcorder at the resort to the control room to pipe in the events of the wedding. Everyone more or less had their head somewhere other than Cheyenne Mountain's business as usual.
Suddenly there was an unscheduled off world activation from P3H789. Everyone snapped to attention. They were a well drilled, well trained team that immediately left the warm fuzzy world of true romance and went into full alert. And then, the code for SG-17 came through. The control personnel checked it twice, unbelieving at first and paying no attention as the minister was saying on the video feed, "And I now pronounce you man and wife." A full guard detail was in position, rifles pointed at the gate when the iris was opened.
A man carrying a teenaged boy came stumbling through, dressed in the robes worn on P3H789. The bearded man barely managed to stay on his feet after he stepped on the ramp and there was blood staining his robe. At first the detail thought the he was hurt but the blood was coming from the boy who had been wounded in the chest. The beard man hefted the limp body in his arms and spoke his first words of English in over two years. "I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson. Please help me. He needs immediate medical attention." In that moment, the boy was not the only one with a wound to the heart. Some just didn't know it yet.