Outside the Lines: Honor
Summary: How far would you go to make your world right again?
Classifications: Action/Adventure, Drama, Angst, S/J
Season: 4 (Alternative storyline for 'Chain Reaction')
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-1, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.
Author's Note: The speech at the beginning is modified (stolen) from a posthumous Medal of Honor ceremony given by President Clinton in 2001 for two men, Andrew Jackson Smith, an African-American Civil War Hero, and Theodore Roosevelt. There has in fact been only one woman honored with this medal (Mary Walker, 1861). Obviously I had a little too much fun researching this all…;) But I thought you might be interested too! Oh, and this is the last chapter, by the way. I hope you have all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Thank you so much for all your feedback, it means the world to me.
"In 1782, George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit. It was the first medal awarded by our nation's Armed Forces. But soon it fell into oblivion, and for decades no new medals were established. It was thought that a medal was too much like a European aristocratic title, while to fight for one's country in America was simply doing your democratic duty.
"So when the Medal of Honor was instituted during the Civil War it was agreed it would be given only for gallantry, at the risk of one's life above and beyond the call of duty. That's an extraordinarily high standard, one that precious few ever meet. The Medal of Honor is our highest military decoration, and we are here today to honor an American hero who is only the second woman to meet that mark.
"Major Samantha Carter, you have performed above and beyond the call of duty, risking your own life against entrenched enemies of the United States of America, uncovering conspiracies that threatened the sanctity of American honor and preserving the lives of fellow servicemen and women…"
Sam stood ramrod straight in her dress blues desperately trying not to remember the last time she had worn them at the edge of Jack's grave. The President's speech flowed over her, but she found she could no longer listen to words of praise and honor. She was scared that if she did she would rudely interrupt him to correct him. To remind him that there were more apt words to describe Samantha Carter, and that none of them were hero.
Sam swayed on the spot, but quickly stiffened her spine, hoping no one had seen. There was an endless sea of uniforms and suits, smiling politicians and insistent reporters jockeying for better locations. They all stood in the weak winter sun, pulling their coats tighter against the biting wind. But Sam was numb to all of it.
Soon she was shaking the President's hand, murmuring the appropriate words with a plastic smile on her face. A large medal was pinned to her chest, made only heavier by its hypocrisy. Endless flashbulbs blinded her and anonymous hands gripped hers.
The formal ceremony bled over into an evening cocktail party where people asked her about her work at the Pentagon and how she enjoyed living in Washington. Sam's work was still largely classified, but her refusal to divulge any details just made her more popular in her mystique. Every time she turned around, there was just another corpulent face and more pointed, pressing questions.
At midnight she managed to slip out of a side door and wander down the moonlight paths to the edge of the tumultuous Potomac. As she walked, her mind began to rebelliously think of the people who hadn't been there tonight. Not that she really expected anyone, it was just that some part of her would have taken comfort in some familiar faces.
Not that she deserved it.
Sam walked a little further before she sighed and closed her eyes, resigned to letting the uncomfortable memories attack her once again.
They were all gathered at Jack's house, celebrating his release from the infirmary. It was the first time they had all been alone together since everything had started, but Sam wasn't naïve enough to think that it would be like old times. Daniel was chatting animatedly and even Teal'c was trying to participate, but nothing could disguise the cloud that hung over the gathering, or the foul mood that radiated off of Jack.
The last few weeks had been filled to the brim with investigations, in-depth briefings and, for Jack, a long recovery from a staff-blast wound, a broken arm and a severe case of pneumonia. He had never been one for sitting patiently in the infirmary, but Janet had insisted on bed rest. He's spent all his time there, getting updates from Daniel and Teal'c on what was happening in the Mountain.
As for Sam, for some reason she hadn't been able to quite bring herself to visit him. She'd claimed that she was busy, which she certainly had been, but none of her teammates were really be fooled. Once or twice she had stood slightly behind Daniel and Teal'c as they related the latest news, but she hadn't even been able to meet his eyes. Daniel and Teal'c seemed to understand and never pushed her, but Jack was a different case entirely.
When Jack had first returned, Sam, like the coward she was, had only visited him at night when she was certain he was asleep, allowing herself the selfish luxury of touching his skin, just to prove to herself that he was really there. She'd let her eyes travel over his bandages and the scratches on his face, trying to establish what exactly had happened to him, all because she was too afraid to hear the story from his own lips.
Sam was exhausted from the roller coaster she had been on for the last couple of months, but now that she sat in Jack's house that reeked of unspoken things, she found herself heartily wishing for the non-stop activity of the previous days.
Daniel had pulled out the brown bag Sam had forced on him and dropped it at Jack's feet. "Thought you might want your money back," he wryly commented with a smile. "Well, at least the part I didn't spend."
Jack glanced in the bag and turned to Sam. "So you did manage to figure that out."
There was something testy in his tone and Sam felt herself stiffening. "It wasn't that difficult, sir."
"So I guess it's just following my orders that's so damn hard to do."
Sam wasn't surprised by his anger. It was more than just the fact that she had ignored his orders. He was also hurt by her behavior. He was no fool, and she found herself incapable of explaining why exactly she had evaded him so carefully at the SGC. Everything was just still too raw.
All in all, his anger was to be expected and Sam weathered it stoically. Before she could come up with a response, however, Daniel and Teal'c attempted to wrest control of the conversation away from them.
"Mathers' hearing starts tomorrow," Daniel smoothly interceded.
Jack stared at Sam a moment longer before turning away and taking a swig from a beer of which Janet would definitely not approve. "Yeah," he said noncommittally. "But York still seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet."
"Hopefully not literally," Daniel commented.
Jack picked at the label of his beer, but didn't even smile at Daniel's quip. "No word on Wash?"
The atmosphere in the room rapidly changed. Sam could feel Daniel's eyes on her and knew that Jack didn't miss a second of the glance or the way Sam had undoubtedly paled.
"The investigation has revealed nothing of his whereabouts, O'Neill," Teal'c commented mildly. Sam was impressed by the way he managed to not speak a single untruth and yet still protect her.
They shouldn't have to protect her. And yet, she still sat quietly by and let them. Not even once had she stood up and admitted what she had done during all of the briefings she had been through. There was only one highly classified report that documented the complete truth, a truth Sam didn't want to discuss even if it had been allowed. Necessary measures, it whispered. Sam had taken the flimsy excuse and never looked back, which was why she sat silently by and let Daniel and Teal'c lie for her.
Sam forced herself to meet Jack's gaze and wasn't surprised to see that he had already suspected her. It had been that way ever since he returned. On the rare occasions they were together, she could tell that the darkness that lurked in her eyes bothered him. She thought that perhaps part of him mourned the Major Carter that had died during his absence.
The idea forced her to her feet and out the back door.
Jack followed rather closely behind, probably spoiling for this confrontation from the moment he stepped through the wormhole and she hadn't been there.
"Dammit, Carter. Why couldn't you have just done what I asked?"
Sam had told herself to stay calm and just let him say what he wanted, but she was surprised by the immense swell of anger at his words. "Done as you asked…Run away and forget that people had been neutralized? That an organization capable of the murder of its own was now going to be Earth's ambassador to the whole galaxy?"
She hadn't looked at Jack during the whole tirade, but she could sense his surprise. Good, obedient Major Carter never dared yelled at Colonel O'Neill. But she was damn tired of him deluding himself into thinking that this was a simple case of following orders.
She turned to look at him. "You expected so little of me that you thought that after you were murdered, that I would just shrug and walk away. That I wouldn't care…That's complete bullshit."
Jack stared stunned for a moment, before his eyes began to flash with matching anger. "I was hoping that you wouldn't be that selfish. That maybe you would think of Daniel and Teal'c, or the other people who didn't need to die."
Sam took one involuntary step back, as if he had slapped her. She reflected that just a few weeks earlier, she might have felt threatening tears, but that Sam was a thing of the past. "I offered them a chance to go. I practically ordered them…but I wasn't naïve enough to expect them to do something I wouldn't do myself."
"And Wash?" Jack asked in a low voice.
They were finally getting to the crux of the issue. "I didn't do anything that you haven't already done. That you wouldn't do in my place."
Jack finally sighed and took a few steps away from her. She tell that his anger was draining away. "I know that," he finally admitted.
He sounded sad, tired and resigned. Sam found that she preferred his anger.
He rounded on her, his voice soft. "But you… This is about you, not me. There are some things you were never meant to understand. It was part of who you were."
Were. Past tense, as in no longer.
Sam closed her eyes against the burgeoning pain in her chest. Her fingers bit into the railing. The ultimate cost for her actions was higher than she'd expected. But she still knew with absolute certainty that it was worth it. She opened her eyes, meeting Jack's gaze head on.
"I would do it again," she whispered. "A thousand times if need be."
Jack sucked in his breath, as if surprised by her vehemence, by the conviction he saw in her eyes.
"I'm sorry if you can't accept that," she said softly before turning her back on him and disappearing inside.
Less than a week later, when a grateful, somewhat still awe-struck Bauer asked her if there was anything he could do to thank her for all her hard work, Sam had requested a transfer back to the Pentagon.
Jack never tried to talk her out of it.
Three months she had lived in Washington, her old stomping grounds. Any luster she may have projected on this place years before was sorely lacking. Not that her work at the Pentagon wasn't fulfilling or interesting. It just wasn't the same. But that was probably the point.
She wasn't sure if she was punishing herself with self-imposed exile or if she maybe just couldn't handle the thought of seeing Jack day in a day out, knowing that she had lost his esteem and whatever soft feelings she may have imagined him having. She wasn't the same person who used to be on SG-1. All that was left was a woman haunted by nightmares, whose stomach twisted at the thought of ever holding a gun again.
Sam reached the edge of the river and leaned heavily on the railing, her eyes determinedly averted from the bright stars above. The swirling muddy waters of the Potomac were her new life. For a moment, she wished she had tears for all she had lost, but they had all dried up in a dark, echoing cell with the last of Wash's blood.
Her fingers brushed over the medal pinned to her chest and she reflected that there were so many others that deserved this more that her. She thought of the fiercely determined faces of the SGC personnel in the dark. Daniel, gripping a weapon he despised, but firing anyway to save her life. Teal'c risking his life on the barest whisper of hope that his brother-in-arms might still draw breath.
But it was Sam, the one with dark secrets and blood on her hands, that was given this honor that was an insult to so many.
"Funny how it can feel more like a curse than an honor," a voice observed placidly behind her.
Sam swung around to find Jack standing casually behind her in his dress blues. He had loosened the tie at this throat and his hands were characteristically shoved into his pockets.
She was more surprised by his sudden appearance than by his ability to somehow read her thoughts. Her eyes traveled over the orderly rows of various colored ribbons that decorated his chest and wondered how many of them represented unforgivable things he had been asked to do for the good of his country. But no one had asked Sam to do what she did, and she couldn't quite pretend that she had done it in the name of her country.
Sam turned backed to the river and its turbulent waters before saying, "What are you doing here?" She couldn't quite bring herself to tack on the 'sir.'
She felt rather than saw him move up beside her and lean back on the low wall with his arms crossed. "It's not everyday a member of my team receives the Medal of Honor," he said mildly.
Sam fought back the urge to snort disbelievingly or remind him not so gently that she wasn't a member of his team. Not anymore. Instead, she just remained silent.
They stood there a long time, neither of them speaking. After a while, she could feel the weight of his gaze, willing her to look at him. But she stubbornly kept her eyes lowered, fairly certain she didn't really want to know why he was here.
Eventually, he sighed heavily in defeat and asked bluntly, "Why did you leave?"
They so rarely communicated this openly with each other that Sam was taken by surprise. "Why didn't you stop me?" she countered without thinking.
Jack didn't respond, but she could feel him shift uneasily next to her. Part of her wanted to laugh hysterically at them. They were both desperate for honest answers, but neither of them was willing to give them. Just another chapter in the twisted tale of Jack and Sam, she thought wryly.
From beneath lowered lashes, Sam turned her head slightly to observe the man leaning next to her. He seemed to have fully recovered from his injuries and illness, but there was still a gauntness to his features that was new, as if he hadn't been sleeping or eating properly. Considering everything he had been through, it was no surprise.
Sam turned her head back to the water, refusing to let her mind travel down that path. But she knew what it must have cost him to come here to see her. Maybe he deserved a little truth. Maybe they both did.
Why did she leave?
"Wash," she finally whispered in answer to his question.
The name hung between them and Sam wondered how such a tiny word could have so much power.
"Yeah," Jack agreed, his voice barely more than a sigh.
"I told myself I had to do it," Sam continued in a louder voice, "but that was a lie. I didn't." It was the first time she had admitted it to herself, let alone to anyone else.
Jack didn't respond, but just waited for her to finish.
Sam forced herself to look at him, needing to see his reaction. "I killed him because I wanted to. I wanted him to pay for what he had done to you," she said.
Jack met her gaze head on, but there was no revulsion or disappointment. He just looked straight back at her. "I can't tell you that it's okay, because it's not," he said quietly. "But you already know that."
They were words she hadn't even known she'd longed to hear, but they were just…right. It was a balm to her soul to hear someone acknowledge the dishonor of her actions rather than force her to stand tall while she was praised.
And somehow, miraculously, she felt a single tear travel a path down her cheek, proving that maybe there was a little human in her yet. She cried that tear for Hammond and Morris and for Wash's sister and mother who hopefully would never know how far astray their loved one had gone. She cried it for herself and what she had willingly become and for the man in front of her who'd been forced to watch a subordinate assassinated just so they could get to him next.
Without hesitation Jack took one step closer to Sam and brushed that single tear from her face. "I was angry at the whole situation. I couldn't handle the thought that you might have gone through all of this just for me," he confessed softly, "but you can't honestly believe that it makes me see you as anything less."
Sam met his eyes with difficulty, but could clearly see that he spoke the truth. They both knew what she had done and exactly why she had done it. He wasn't trying to excuse it or pretend it hadn't happened. He just understood.
In that moment, Sam vividly remembered her broken confessions into Daniel's damp shirt so many months before. How she had longed for just one chance to say the words she always wanted to say. How she had sworn to an empty grave that if fate somehow managed to bring him back that she wouldn't squander anymore time to fear and restrictions.
But instead, she just stared at him and wondered if anyone ever bothered to learn anything from the past. Or if anyone ever kept their promises.
She opened her mouth, tried to force the words.
But maybe Jack somehow knew what she was struggling with, because he just gave her a tiny smile, held his hand out for hers and led her away from the turbulent winter waters.
With her hand grasped tightly in his, Sam decided that Daniel had been right. Jack did know. And maybe that was enough.
In the end, she had crossed the lines and left them all broken behind her. There was a high price for what she had done, but Jack wasn't one of them. She could feel the curling tendrils of an even deeper bond between them and knew it would be enough to keep the darker nightmares at bay, whether she deserved it or not.
But Sam decided that it was no longer up to her. She leaned her head back and gazed at the endless stars, yearning to travel them once again. It was time for someone else to lead. So she closed her eyes and let Jack guide her where he may, with only one thought in her mind.
For him, she would do it all again.
"If it's really love you would follow it forever
Would you wander for me?
Even though you think I'm lost and you know better
Would you wander for me?
Wandering is more than
filling footprints right behind me
How far would you go outside the lines just to find me
When you see that I am gone to the edge and way beyond
Would you wander for
'Cause I'd wander for you."
Would You Wander by Lisa Loeb