NOTES: Written for the fanfic100 challenge on Livejournal: Sam/Jack pairing, keyword 'days'. This runs as an AU Season 9 of Stargate where Jack is still in charge of the SGC.
Don't Say A Word
Sara never said a thing and so Jack never knew.
Now he did.
The waiting was the worst.
Sergeant Tyler flinched when Jack walked into the control room.
He caught the look the duty SFs exchanged as he looked from the gateroom to the technician. "No call from SG-1?"
Tyler shook her head quickly. "No, sir. Although SG-11 will be delayed - the negotiations were set back a day when the Chief's daughter went into labour."
Jack nodded. He vaguely remembered the situation. "If the child is a boy then the negotiations change, right?"
Tyler briefly looked panicked. "Uh, I don't know, sir. Major Woolley just said they'd be back the day after tomorrow and would continue to check in."
He took pity on the technician. "All right then," he said. "Carry on." He felt kinda pompous telling the woman to 'carry on', but what else was he going to do?
And SG-1 was still out there.
He stumped back to his office.
They were five days overdue when he walked into the gateroom and got a shake of the head from Sergeant Davis. The man looked sympathetic, but at least he wasn't trembling the way Tyler had.
Jack made a mental note to work on his big, bad superior officer attitude. Authoritative was good. Intimidating not so much - at least, not for the personnel on base.
He sat down in his office and stared at the picture on the wall - an older photo of SG-1 back when he'd been a part of SG-1.
That had only been a bit over a year ago.
Dammit, Carter, Daniel, Teal'c. Call. Fight. Get the hell out of wherever you are and get back home. He stared harder at the photo, as though he could transmit his thoughts to them through the picture. Now would be good. As in really good. Nothing. No Stargate dialling, no glowy lights, no voices from nowhere. Now, guys?
Command wasn't all it was cracked out to be.
Jack hated meetings on general principle.
He hated the ones with the scientists the most, because they seemed to think that six years of knowing Daniel and Carter meant he actually understood what they said. Needless to say, he didn't.
The ones with the SG-team leaders were best. Jack could follow what was going on, he got the jokes, he knew the guys and they knew him. Of course, there was a small distance now that he was the commander of the base, but it was still like old times.
He frowned at the men crowded in around the table, and the empty chair beside his seat. "I don't bite, you know."
They wouldn't meet his eyes for more than a couple of seconds. "What?"
It was Cameron Mitchell who voiced it. "That's Colonel Carter's chair, General."
Jack stared at the youthful-looking Colonel who'd come into the SGC only six months ago with a desire to join SG-1 and a bad case of hero worship. He'd been on SG-1 for four months before Carter wrangled Jack into giving Mitchell his own team. Jack hadn't regretted it; Carter was right in this case - flyboy or not, Mitchell was wasted as a subordinate.
He frowned slightly at the leader of SG-21. "Carter isn't here, Mitchell."
Blue eyes looked levelly back at him. "No, sir. But it's still her chair."
Jack didn't quite sigh. He would have written it off as just one more aspect of Mitchell's hero-worship if it wasn't for the fact that every other team leader at the table was more or less nodding at Mitchell's words.
He started the meeting and tried to ignore the empty chair.
It was harder to ignore the looks from the team leads whenever someone - usually Mitchell - mentioned SG-1 and their absence.
On the ninth day of SG-1's absence, Jack wrote up the MIA announcement and posted it to the President and all the relevant bigwigs. He left a message on Hammond's answering machine, and went by Carter's house to water her plants.
Then he went through the house looking for bugs.
Habit, more than anything else.
The bugs went in the bin, and Jack went into Carter's room and shut the door. He lay down on the bed and turned his face into the smooth Egyptian cotton of her pillow.
Then he reminded himself to breathe.
Technically, he shouldn't be here at all. Technically, he shouldn't be involved with Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter either.
Carter had been the one to say that the technicalities could go to hell.
Jack never asked how much of it was related to her failed relationships with Pete and Jonas Hanson. He didn't let himself wonder if it was just a reaction to her father's death, and he never let himself speculate on tomorrow.
Today was enough - or so he'd told himself. Carter seemed happy with today, and as long as she was satisfied, Jack was satisfied.
Now, he wished he'd had yesterday, too. Especially since tomorrow seemed less and less likely.
"Got a minute, Jack?"
Jack looked up at Dixon, who was hovering in the doorway. It was close to shift change and Dixon's team had arrived back from a mission just that afternoon. He'd have figured Dave would want to get back to his family.
He didn't let himself look at the photo on the wall.
"Just a minute?"
Dave shrugged. "Well, a couple of hours would do nicely. We're headed out for a drink. Thought you might like to come along."
Team leader drinks hadn't been entirely unheard of in the earlier days of the SGC, back when everyone was still trying to work out how this command was going to work. They were rarer now, with most personnel deciding that they spent enough time in each other's company on duty to want to spend any more off duty.
"Sure you want me there?"
"Wouldn't want to leave you out," Dave replied.
"I'll be there in an hour," Jack promised. He was almost relieved at the invitation. Tomorrow would be two weeks without a peep or a word.
The Jaffa nation were terse and unhelpful, the Tok'ra were sorry but had neither information nor operatives to spare, and the Asgard were off doing...something Asgard-y. Jack didn't know what and he didn't bother to ask the random Asgard who'd shimmered into holographic life to give him the information. Now, if it had been Thor...
SG-1 had vanished into the night without so much as a hint or whisper.
And, lately, Jack wasn't sleeping so well.
Getting drunk wasn't even close to an option. But a couple of drinks with a few guys...he could handle that.
As it turned out, it wasn't drinks with a few guys, it was drinks with Dixon - a trying-to-be-helpful-but-really-not Dixon.
"Can't keep it up forever."
"We are not having this conversation."
"Actually, we are." Dixon glanced at him. "Honest Injun, Jack, we're career military, not idiots. You've been with them seven years - that's a long time."
What Dixon was saying - without actually coming out and saying it - was that Jack was probably going slowly insane in the absence of his team-mates. They knew each other: they were cast from the same mold, after all. Met before the SGC, been reasonably good friends since.
"If we're career military - and not idiots - remind me why we're discussing this?"
Dixon snorted into his glass. "Because they've been gone nearly two weeks now. No word, no sign, nothing. That's a long time without contact."
"We've come back before." Jack didn't realise he'd included himself on SG-1 until Dixon gave him a pitying look.
"That was before."
That night, Jack woke up in a pearl of sweat.
He'd dreamed of his team.
Running, fighting, bleeding, dying, rotting in the bright, alien sun of an alien world far from Earth.
When the adrenaline faded and his heartbeat returned to normal, he allowed himself a glass of whiskey. It burned as he tossed it down his throat, and he wished that the burn of the alcohol could fill the emptiness in his chest.
That's a long time without contact.
He knew what Dave had been sent to do: to make Jack face the facts.
SG-1 weren't coming back. Jack would have to go on without them, as they'd gone on without him.
The first heaving breath - not a sob, but a choking moment - passed without a second one following. Around him the house and neighbourhood was still and silent. A cricket chirped out in the garden, but that was all. Jack was part of that silence - that time of regret and memory that came of 0200 hours. And he held his silence.
He was proud of that self-control, of keeping it all in.
It would have been nice to let it all out.
He couldn't. He didn't dare. But when he went to bed an hour later, still with the hollow ache in his chest and a little drunk, Jack wondered if he should call Sara.
The airmen flattened themselves against the wall as they saw him coming; an unlucky sergeant stepped out of a connecting passageway and nearly slipped trying to avoid colliding with him; and the SF at the door to the infirmary stepped back to let him through.
"Where are they?"
Dr. Carolyn Lam handed over three test tubes of blood to a medical tech and gestured at Jack. "This way, General."
He followed the base's new Doc - not quite as diminutive as Fraiser, but with her own brand of terrifying - through the infirmary rooms until he got to the beds of his team-mates in a slightly darker corner of the infirmary.
All three of them. Apparently alive since they were occupying hospital beds, although rather the worse for wear.
"How is it?"
"Better than it looks," Dr. Lam told him. "They're reasonably healthy, although they came back through the gate covered in alien slime." Dr. Lam was recent to the job - the last eight months. She was still getting used to the alien goop, the viruses, and the moments of panic that Fraiser had sworn took ten years off her life at a go.
Jack missed Fraiser. The Doc had been small and scary, but she'd been tough and adaptable too. Lam wasn't doing such a bad job, but it had taken her a little longer to acclimatise.
Then again, it was a tricky job to get used to.
"Dr. Jackson and Teal'c are reasonably okay," The Doc said, pointing to the two men, apparently asleep in their beds. "We checked their vitals, rinsed off the slime, and have them on IV for borderline malnutrition. Nothing too terrible just yet, but getting into dangerous zone. Neither had any bruises or violent injuries but they fell asleep almost immediately."
Jack nodded, but his eyes had already drawn to Carter. Even in the dimmed lighting, she looked translucent-pale, a faint shadow of her usual self. And Dr. Lam's phrasing indicated that worse was yet to come. "Carter?"
She walked to the third bed, and Jack gave both Daniel and Teal'c a quick once-over as he passed before following her.
"Colonel Carter's left wrist had been sliced open when we came through. It was loosely bound and she'd already lost a lot of blood. Neither Dr. Jackson nor Teal'c were in any state to explain why her wrist was cut, only that it was necessary. She's lost a lot of blood, but we've got her stabilised."
Jack nodded and tried not to think too hard about what kind of situation would necessitate Carter's wrist being slit. "Time to recovery?"
Carolyn gave him a very direct glance. "They'll be in here for at least a couple of days - I'd prefer a week in Colonel Carter's case. When I say she lost a lot of blood, I mean a lot. I won't clear them for base duty within three weeks, and going through the Stargate is out for at least a month, preferably six weeks."
He held up his hands. "I wasn't going to-- Lam, what do you think I am?"
Her expression held amusement. "I think you're a commander who needs to go and sit near his team for an hour or two before he goes back to work."
She turned to leave. Jack turned with her. "Was I really that bad?"
Her chuckle was wry. "With all due respect, sir: yes."
He scowled after her for a moment, then turned back to his team.
Seven years of travelling through the Stargate weren't overturned in a single night. No way, no how. Not by a long shot. They were still his team, even if he wasn't the one leading them out there. And he supposed that was pretty obvious to the rest of the base - from Dave and his attempt to get him to talk, to Sergeant Tyler terrified of giving him bad news.
Jack decided he really hated the waiting game.
And Sara had never said a thing.
After a mere fifteen minutes, his aides worked out where he was and started bringing his paperwork to him. He set up office on the fourth bed, read through and signed what they brought him and scheduled all discussions for later.
Right now, he needed his team.
And, thank God, after seventeen days, nobody grudged him that.
Mitchell glanced in at the half-hour mark with a thumbs-up. Jack gave him the O'Neillian glare of doom and the Colonel grinned and left. Doubtless the return of SG-1 from the dead - again - had already made the rounds in the base.
It wasn't more than a few minutes later when the Doc came in to check on Carter.
Jack looked up when Dr. Lam wheeled in her trolley of doom, but the Doc was just taking away the empty blood bag. She removed the needle with brisk care, then began checking the monitors and IV drip lines.
He watched and waited for her to reach for the clipboard at the foot of the bed. "How is she?"
Dr. Lam didn't look up. "Maybe you should ask her yourself." The Doc stepped aside and Jack met Carter's gaze.
He swung his legs off the spare bed and came around to the side of the bed. "Hey," he said, looking over her face, hungrily. There were hollows and shadows in her features that hadn't been there seventeen days ago when he saw them off and his hand almost reached out to touch her. Sanity - or career-preservation - prevailed before his hand got further than the low railing on the bed.
"Hi, sir," she said, her voice cracking from disuse. "Good to see you've joined us." Her eyes wandered over to the bed where some kindly tech had set up a lamp for Jack to see by.
"Hey," he protested. "That's my line." He glanced at Carolyn as she looked from General to Colonel nodded once and briskly went to check on Daniel and Teal'c. "What happened?"
Something came over her expression and she looked away - at the two men who were still sleeping...or deep in kel no reem. "Aliens," she managed. Talking seemed to tired her. "P8Y-425. Telepaths." Jack slipped his hand over the railing edge, brushing his fingers along the inside of her forearm, above the bandage that was wrapped around her wrist. Her skin was cold, but she subtly pressed her flesh against his fingertips. "Put us in tanks to facilitate telepathy." Only Carter would use the world 'facilitate' while struggling to speak.
Jack looked down at the wrist bandage. "Cutting your wrist in protest seems a bit over the top," he said, keeping his voice light while his fingers stroked her skin.
Carter gave him a wincing smile. "Naquadah," she said. "Breaks the link."
And so she'd slit her wrist to get herself and her team out.
"Sorry we're late," said Carter. And her smile hurt, it was such an effort.
"I'm just glad you're back," he said, meaning all of them, but specifically her, and closed his fingers lightly around her arm.
Days later, he let himself into her house and closed the door behind him. His shoes were left at the door, his keys on the table. He shed shirt, trousers, socks, and watch before he slipped into the bed beside her.
"You were expecting someone else?"
"I wasn't expecting anyone at all."
He lifted an eyebrow at her voice, never mind that she couldn't see it. "Not tonight?"
The soft flutter of air was a laugh, but the hand that reached out to brush his thigh was tender. "Sorry."
Jack spooned up behind her anyway. "I do get to stay, though. Right?"
"Mmph," was her erudite answer.
Considering he had the curve of her butt pressing firmly into his groin, Jack figured that was a 'yes'. He let his hand slide possessively over her stomach and the curve of her hip. A few adjustments and they were curled up with each other, ready for sleep.
Sleep didn't come.
Seventeen days of waiting. Two and a half weeks. A little over half a month.
He'd been married to Sara for ten years before their divorce. During that time, he'd been off and away for several months of the year at a time. And she'd worked, kept house and brought up Charlie, and waited for her husband to come home at the end of his tours of duty.
She'd always greeted his return with pleasure and relief, and Jack had been glad to be home.
But she'd never said a thing about the waiting.
So Jack never knew.
Carter shifted in his arms, on the verge of sleep, her cheek rubbing against the arm that ran over her shoulder and beneath her neck.
Jack's left hand slipped up to her stomach, beneath the thin, ragged edge of her sleeping tee and up to where her heart beat beneath her breastbone.
The pulse-pulse-pulse of her heartbeat thumped steadily beneath his fingers.
Jack hadn't known.
Now he did.
The waiting was the worst.
- fin -
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