Title: Hold the Lullabies
Author: Karen T
Disclaimer: The characters don't belong to me.
Classification: Angst, drama, smidge of Sam/Daniel (although, not really), even smaller smidge of implied Sam/Jack.
Spoilers: Everything through season 8.
Warning: This is an apocafic, so there's angst 'n death 'n stuff.
Notes: My eternal thanks to Julie and Michelle for enduring multiple drafts, endings, titles, and overwhelmed authorial flailings. Title and summary are from "Look Up" by Stars.
"The self-destruct will activate in ten ..."

"We're not leaving you behind, sir."

"Get through that gate, Colonel! That's an order."

"... nine ..."

"Jack, just--"

"Jesus, Daniel, I'm not coming with you and that's final."

"... eight ..."

"Now, please, take Carter and get to the Alpha Site."

"... seven ..."

"If you're staying, sir, then I'm staying too."

"... six ..."

"That is not an option, Carter! And I'm not debating this with you!"

"... five ..."

"Yes, it is. I'm making it one."

"Dammit, Carter, why--"

"... four ..."

"No, damn you, sir! You're--"

"Daniel, if you don't get out of here with Carter, I'm--"

"... three ..."

"--going to kill you myself!"

"Jack--"

"Sir--"

"... two ..."

"GO!"

-----

You can't stop counting.

You count the people who mill about you, many of them mumbling nonsense under their breaths. You count the bottles of water you see being passed about, all too conscious that each bottle drank may potentially come back to bite everyone in the ass. You count all the ways in which this was never supposed to happen.

Most of all, you count the days and remember.

"Hey, Daniel? Feel like playing hooky?"

Earth was attacked. It seems best to state that simply.

Earth was attacked, the offensive was large and unexpected, and, despite all its manuals with 'EMERGENCY PROCEDURES' stamped across the covers, the SGC was caught completely unprepared. There was yelling, and screaming, and pleading.

You never expected the pleading.

"We're not leaving you behind, sir." "Who said anything about leaving Jack behind? You're coming with us, right?"

But then you and Sam arrived at the Alpha Site and there wasn't time to think about what should have happened versus what did. The SGC's 'best and brightest' overwhelmed the site, and Colonel Pierce, the man you'd hoped would enforce order amidst the chaos, was having a surprisingly difficult time comprehending the magnitude with which Earth had been attacked. ("So, Earth, it's ..." "Yes, Colonel. I think so." "But ..." "Colonel, we don't really have time for this right now." "I know, but ...")And to make matters worse, the gate was no longer working.

Without having to be asked, Sam went to work on fixing the gate. You weren't surprised when she hobbled her way to the dialing computer and focused all her attention on the codes that covered the computer screen.

"Daniel, I have a PhD in astrophysics and am a colonel in the United States Air Force. So yes, I think I can figure out how to play hooky."

Ridiculously, a large part of you actually expected her to fix everything: the gate, the attack, your decision to leave Jack behind. But she, of course, couldn't. And when you offered her a bit of food that night, she grabbed the plate from your hand without a look in your direction. You saw her clenched jaw and the volume of her fingers tapping on the keyboard increased. You yearned to yell at her, tell her that you hadn't wanted any of this, that you'd only been following orders, Jack's orders. But instead you slinked away, mindful that maybe some things just couldn't ever be fixed.

You knew it was easier to be angry than it was to be sad. Both emotions physically taxed the body, but one could hide behind the former. You figured you owed Sam at least that much, so you accepted her silent treatment and began tallying and dividing the Alpha Site's rations to make yourself useful and to give you something to hide behind. When reporting the condition of the food and water supplies to Pierce, the colonel, his eyes filled with barely contained panic, whispered, "If we can't fix the gate, we'll run out of food in five months. Water in four. What should we do?"

"Carter, round up everyone you can find and get them through that gate as fast as you can. Go."

You did the first thing that came to mind: sigh.

Bill Lee joined Sam in her attempts to get the gate back online, and when you weren't busy helping Pierce maintain his sanity, you watched Sam struggle with the dialing program. She never took a break, never screamed in frustration, never said a word to you, even though she must have felt your gaze on her.

It's been five days now since Earth was attacked.

Five days since Sam stopped speaking to you.

"We-- We've fixed it!"

You're sitting on the floor towards the rear of the gate room, your back flush against a wall, when Bill Lee's announcement makes you snap your head upwards. Bill is standing behind Sam, his body quaking with excitement as he giddily repeats, "I think we fixed it!" Sam appears more reserved, but you can tell from her balled fists that she's just as wound up as Bill.

"Colonel?" Pierce asks from across the room.

Sam nods and inhales a deep breath, her eyes widening.

"Then let's dial home."

It's a crapshoot, you tell yourself as you watch Sam move aside so Walter can initiate the dialing sequence. Actually, it's worse than a crapshoot. The odds are most definitely not in your favor.

You heard the blast -- no, you felt the blast -- that rocked the SGC just as you and Sam reached the Alpha Site. Your mind knows that given the severity of the attack on Earth and the fact that Jack had set off the self-destruct, there should be no 'home' left to dial to. But maybe, just maybe ...

Almost moving as a single unit, you, Pierce, and countless others draw near the dialing computer.

"First chevron, encoded."

Hoots ring out in the room.

"Second chevron, encoded."

More hoots, but they're subdued this time. Perhaps you're not the only one who wants to be cautious.

"Third chevron, encoded."

It takes you until "fifth chevron, encoded" to realize you've been holding your breath, your lips pressed tightly together. And by "sixth chevron, encoded" all your muscles ache from having been clenched since Walter began dialing.

C'mon, c'mon, you chant to yourself.

"Seventh chevron ..."

Please, please, you now beg.

"... will not lock."

You exhale and close your eyes. And that's that.

"Maybe I dialed wrong. I should try again."

You know Walter didn't dial wrong -- is it even possible to dial wrong? -- but you don't have the heart to tell him so.

"Or maybe we didn't fix the program like we thought."

"Ye-yeah! We should take another look at it."

Well, now, this is becoming silly. You crack an eye open to see Bill and Sam crowded around Walter, all six of their hands punching keys on the keyboard.

Walter didn't dial wrong, and Sam and Bill didn't fail to fix the program. You know this is true, and one look at Pierce's stoic face tells you that he knows it's true too. And when you see the distress on Sam's fatigued face, you know she knows it as well.

"It's okay," you say to her, softly, gently. "We'll figure something out." You mean every word and hope she'll take solace in them.

But instead she breaks her code of silence. "Go to hell."

Five days of silence have culminated in that. You decide then that maybe it'd be best to stop counting.

-----

"Do you think it'd be wise to send a team or two to scout the areas surrounding the mountain?" Pierce looks around the table and settles his gaze on you. "Doctor Jackson?"

You honestly don't know and say as much with a shrug.

"The teams might be able to find viable food or water sources," Major Felton, Pierce's second-in-command, offers.

The pounding in your left temple makes it difficult for you to concentrate on the discussion at hand. "Didn't you just mention how teams scouted the area when this place was first chosen to be the new Alpha Site?" you ask, gritting your teeth against the pain of a migraine. "And didn't those teams report the planet to be ideal when it came to security but less than hospitable in terms of food and water?"

"Yes," Pierce says. "But the scouting wasn't extensive. There could very well be fruit trees and large bodies of water a few klicks from here. But it's a risk. The terrain's rough, unstable. With only eleven SG teams available, is it a risk we should take?"

You shrug once more. You've never had to weigh risk assessments before and don't particularly want to start now. It's true you established yourself as an unofficial advisor to Pierce soon after arriving, but he'd needed the guidance then and you'd needed something to keep yourself busy. Now you just wish he'd take charge.

What you try not to think -- and say -- is that you wish he'd be more like Jack.

A quick glance across the table informs you that Sam's preoccupied with a stack of papers piled in front of her. She hasn't spoken to you since ordering you to hell. It feels like months have passed since then, but you realize it's probably more like a handful of days.

It hurts to look at her. You concede she probably feels the same way about you.

You're operating on about three hours of sleep a day, much of that only occurring when you simply can't function any more without closing your eyes. It's muddled sleep, full of sirens and frightened voices, and usually ends with you lurching awake as your arms reach out to grab hold of emptiness. In your dreams, Jack's always the object of your outstretched hands, but you have yet to reach him before waking. You know it's only a matter of time before your mind stops trying to rewrite history.

"--Doctor Jackson?"

"God, what?" The words explode from your mouth before you have a chance to rein them in.

Pierce blanches, then frowns as crimson colors his face from the neck up. "Sorry to have bothered you, Doctor," he says stiffly.

"No, Pierce--" You squeeze your eyes shut and moan. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean-- You're not--"

He silences you by turning his chair in such a way that you're left staring at the back of his head and left shoulder. You suppress the desire to roll your eyes.

"We currently have one 302 that's operational," Pierces announces to the table at large. "We could make an attempt to fly to Earth and see if--"

"Wait." Still bristling from his brush-off, you straighten up in your chair and stare at Pierce over the top of your glasses. "One 302? I thought there're supposed to be two 302s here."

Pierce glowers and looks much like how Jack used to when you'd ask too many questions. The resemblance is eerie. "There are, but one's down for repairs."

"Fine time to have it stuck in maintenance," you say, not altogether scolding, but not exactly friendly either. You like how sparring with Pierce makes you forget just how similar the conference room in the Alpha Site is to the one in the SGC.

"It's not like I planned it, Doctor Jackson. My memo must've gotten lost about how most of the SGC would be evacuated to this site and I'd need both of the 302s to be operational."

Those seated around the table shift uncomfortably in their chairs, but you press on, undeterred. "And are you insinuating that I received a memo saying most of the SGC would be evacuated to this site and we'd need--"

"Could we stay on track, please?" Sam's voice is soft yet authoritative, and it succeeds in making you break eye contact with Pierce.

Her lids are weighted down from a lack of sleep and there's a slightly yellow tint to her pallor that makes you worry, but she appears to be holding up better than either you or Pierce. Her papers aren't messily spread out in front of her. She's not picking random fights with whoever happens to be convenient.

For all intents and purposes, Sam's behavior did a one-eighty after she and Bill failed to make the gate form a wormhole to the SGC. She became less erratic, less frantic to fix things. And people are grateful for her quiet, steady leadership, especially as compared to Pierce's. Pierce means well, you have no doubt about that, but he still relies too heavily on anyone who's willing to help.

It didn't take long for Pierce to fold the two of you into his 'inner circle'. Sam's involvement made sense: she knows the gate and everyone wants the gate to connect to the SGC. Yours, on the other hand, was one of convenience, for both sides.

But things change. You no longer want that added responsibility. You don't want to be briefed every morning on the ins and outs of the Alpha Site. You don't want to sit across from Sam as she still refuses to speak to you.

Oblivious of your scrutiny, she flips through some sheets of paper and says, "It doesn't matter how many 302s are working right now. None of them are equipped with hyperdrives, and without one, it'd take years to reach Earth. And by that time ..." She pauses to rub her eyes with the back of her left hand. It's the first time she's exhibited distress in days and you lean forward with interest. But by the time her hand's returned to her side, the weariness is gone and has been replaced by resolution. She's once again the spitting image of the 'perfect, little soldier' who remains strong and focused at all times. "It'd be a better idea to keep them around here for defense."

Pierce nods at her recommendation and scribbles something in the margin of the paper closest to him. You suspect he's just doodling.

"We've received initial reports from SGs 3 and 8," Sam continues, reaching for a different stack of papers, "and they report that--" Her voice wavers and she coughs to cover it up. "Excuse me." Pierce smiles and passes her an unopened bottle of water.

My, look at how good we've all become at playing pretend, you think less than charitably.

"Thank you," Sam says as she accepts the bottle. "As I was saying, SGs 3 and 8 report that they haven't encountered anyone on Dakara -- Jaffa or otherwise. They say there's evidence some pretty heavy fighting occurred recently, so there's a good chance that whoever attacked Earth also attacked Dakara around the same time. We're hoping survivors might have gone up into the mountains to hide. We'll keep looking."

Tears prick at the corners of your eyes and you blink rapidly to keep them back. Teal'c. Teal'c. He'd asked for a week off to go to Dakara so he could help establish the newly formed Jaffa High Council. Dammit.

"Doctor Jackson? Are you all right?"

It takes two more quick blinks to clear your eyes enough to make out Pierce staring at you. The irritation that had been on his face has now given way to something new, something you don't want: sympathy. Dammit, dammit, dammit.

Teal'c's not dead, you want to scream at Pierce. So stop looking at me like that. Stop pretending like you're not pissed at me just because you think another one of my best friends has been killed.

Instead you say, "Yes. Allergies." The lies flow deftly off your tongue. You can pretend just as well as everyone else when you want to.

"Ah." Pierce gives a curt nod -- almost as if he's saying, 'Great. Glad you're not going to fall apart on me.' -- and directs his attention back to Sam. "Thank you for the update, Colonel. Please keep me apprised of how things are going on Dakara. Meeting's dismissed."

Everyone scurries from the room and your head's still reeling a bit from how abruptly Pierce always dismisses his meetings when you hear Sam's quiet voice say, "Colonel? I know your men are more than capable of repairing the downed 302 on their own, but if they'd like an extra pair of hands, I'm available."

"Thank you, Colonel." Pierce beams; you can't help but think it looks odd considering the current predicament of, well, humanity. "I'm sure they'd be grateful for any help you could provide them. I'll inform Major Bower of your offer."

"You're very welcome." More smiling, this time by Sam. "And I've been thinking that Sergeant Siler and I might be able to double radar sensitivity around the mountain by realigning some of the sensors and reprogramming the coordinates."

"That's a fantastic idea." Pierce claps an appreciative hand down on Sam's shoulder. "I've also been interested in seeing if there's some way we can manipulate the ..."

You observe their conversation with disbelief. The Alpha Site is completely isolated from Earth -- if Earth even still exists -- and Teal'c's nowhere to be found. Yet Sam and Pierce are shooting the breeze as if it's any regular day in the life of an SGC member. It's like you've entered the Twilight Zone.

You want out.

"... we can discuss this some more tomorrow?"

"Definitely."

With one last flash of their pearly whites at each other, Pierce leaves the room and Sam leans over to collect her papers.

You have seconds, at the most, to make your move, so you do a quick evaluation of what you can say to get (and keep) Sam's attention. Option A: 'Sam, we need to talk.' You like the ring of that. It's non-confrontational, but still retains an edge of urgency. Option B: 'Sam, I really need to talk to you.' That's a bit more beseeching on your part, but you're not above a little begging if it'll get the job done. Option C: 'Sam, I'm so, so sorry. Please talk to me.' You might be giving away the whole store by apologizing right off the bat, but you know how desperate you are.

Sam has almost reached the door by this point, so you grab her left forearm, inhale sharply, and say, "What the hell was that all about?"

And then there's Option D: channel Jack and piss her off so she'll stick around to yell at you. You've always been a sucker for D.

Her eyes lock onto yours and you see emptiness there before she shifts her gaze down to your hand gripping her forearm. Wordlessly, she pulls out of your grasp and attempts to step around you. You block her way. She purses her lips, clutches her papers closer to her chest, and tries to push past you. You stand your ground.

It's clear this could go on for a while, so you swallow your pride and say, "Will you please talk to me?"

Her eyes widen, for just a second, and you think you might have the upper hand since you've caught her off guard. But then she opens her mouth and her voice is hard, cold. "And what would you like me to say, Daniel?"

"I don't know. Anything." You cram your hands into your pants pockets and try to keep from fidgeting. "How being here sucks? How we have to find Teal'c because there's no way he's dead? How ... you're pretending to be okay when I know you're not?"

Annoyance flickers across her face at your last suggestion. The two of you might not be on speaking terms anymore, but you still know her ins and outs. And she can say the same for you because she says the one thing that hurts you the most. "How about we discuss how much I can't stand to be around you?"

You look away. "Sam ..."

"What? We can't discuss that?" Her lips are turned up into a smirk and you hate how it distorts her features. This isn't your Sam. Not the one who squirreled away your cups of coffee when it was obvious you'd consumed too much. Nor the one who sympathetically rubbed your back through insomnia and descensions and a certain general's tendency to say no before hearing all your arguments.

"This isn't you," you whisper.

"Maybe it is. Maybe I've changed."

"Sam--"

"And who are you to complain? If I've changed, it's because you made me."

"Dammit, Sam!" It takes everything within you to resist grabbing her shoulders and shaking some sense into her. "How many times do I have say this? I was following orders! Jack wanted--"

"What about what I wanted?" she asks, her voice thinning as her pitch jumps an octave. "I guess that just didn't matter, huh?"

"What are you--"

"Jack wanted us to go. I know that. That was his decision. But I had decided to stay. That was my decision and my choice and you ... You, Daniel, stole that from me."

"I ..." Shaking your head in confusion, you remove your glasses and rub your eyes. How could Sam … ? You'd never intended to ... You followed Jack's orders. It was what he wanted, and that was what mattered, right?

As if capable of reading the thoughts that are bouncing off each other in your head, Sam steps away and you can feel her studying you intently. "You don't even realize what you did," she mutters.

But then she's back in your face, her eyes full of sorrow. "It wasn't your choice," she says, her voice cracking on the last word. "I never signed up for this."

When she makes another move to push past you for the door, you allow her passage.

I never signed up for this.

Suddenly everything's clear to you.

She never signed up to stay through the end, to pick up the pieces after everything and everyone was dead. But you did. You don't know if it was your first ascension that sealed the deal, but you made that choice, at some point.

And in those fateful seconds back at the SGC, with the sirens blaring and the mountain crumbling and Jack screaming at you, you overruled Sam's decision and damned her to live out your choice with you.

Maybe Sam was right all along: you should go to hell.

-----

The dreams triple in intensity and the amount of sleep you get plummets to an hour and a half a night. Bleary-eyed, you often wake convinced that Jack is in your room, standing over you with his arms crossed.

"You can never see the sea if you only focus on the river," he says, his expression serious.

"What?" you ask as you push the sheet and wool blanket off your body. "Jack, how-- You didn't die? Are you really--"

Then you blink, and Jack's gone, and you're alone. All alone.

-----

"Hey, Daniel? Want to play hooky?"

You look over the top of your computer screen to see a smiling Sam blocking your doorway.

"It's a beautiful day outside," she elaborates, strolling into your office. "We should enjoy it."

"And these reports that Jack wants?"

"He'll understand. Probably." She flashes another bright smile and winks.

You snort and turn your attention back to the flashing cursor on your screen. "Do you even know how to play hooky?"

"Daniel," the gravity in her voice makes you look up, "I have a PhD in astrophysics and am a colonel in the United States Air Force, so yes, I think I can figure out how to play hooky."

"Overachiever," you say with a smirk. "I still say Jack's going to have a problem with it."

"A problem with what?"

It's almost comical how Jack chooses that exact moment to pop his head into your office. If you didn't know better you'd assume he'd followed Sam and had been waiting for the perfect moment to make an entrance. But you do know him and think it's much more likely that he sensed how Sam wanted to cut out of work early. That, after all, is a momentous occasion.

"Sam wants to ditch work," you say, ignoring the glare of feigned betrayal she shoots your way.

"Oooh." Jack inclines his head towards Sam with interest. "Where are we going?"

"Oh. Well, sir, I ... You're ..." She looks at you with desperation, but you quickly become fascinated with the pen sitting on your desk beside your laptop. "You weren't really ... invited." You don't have to see her face to know it's twisted into a grimace.

"You were going to leave me here?"

"Sir, you--"

Sam's protest is cut short when the entire mountain lurches to the left, sending Sam into the nearby wall and Jack into her. You're still holding tight onto the edge of your desk when the SGC shudders back down into its foundation with a moan.

"Earthquake?" you ask. All the piles of miscellany you've ignored for months have now combined to form one large mess on your floor. You slowly make your way through it, hoping that the crunch you just heard wasn't a priceless artifact.

Sam shakes her head as she rubs the shoulder that slammed into the wall. "Could be. But it didn't feel--"

And now the mountain tilts to the right, then forwards, and you're thrown onto your hands and knees.

"Jack--" you start to yell before the blaring klaxons overwhelm your voice.

"Control room!" you hear Jack say as he pushes past you. Sam helps you to your feet and the two of you run after Jack. The halls are crammed with Marines who can't figure out where they should be, engineers screaming about the damage on various floors, and medical personnel rushing to calls for first aid. And throughout it all, the mountain continues to rock to and fro.

It takes some time before you're able to make it to the control room -- seconds? minutes? hours? time has inexplicably quickened and slowed -- but once you're there, you see Jack hunched over the main console, his fingers typing something on Walter's keyboard.

"Carter!" he beckons once he sees you and Sam standing just outside the room. "I need your self-destruct code."

She nods and hurries to his side without question or complaint, but you find yourself unable to operate through the chaos. "What's going on?" When no one responds, you repeat your question, this time more loudly. "What's going on?"

Jack turns toward you, his jaw steeled, but his eyes filled with worry. "We're under attack."

Sam reacts first to the information. "By who? Nothing's showing up on the radar."

As if to disprove her point, a roar breaks through the SGC as another tremor shakes the mountain.

"I don't know what or who it is, Colonel," Walter says as he struggles to keep up with all the buttons flashing on his console, "but something is definitely dropping bombs right on top of us."

She stares at the radar screen, her eyebrows furrowed. "They're cloaked," she murmurs. Then, in a louder voice, "Who has this type of technology?"

Jack shrugs and taps his fingers against the console.

Concrete is now beginning to flake off the walls and ceilings. The klaxons are still blaring. The mountain is still shaking with each invisible bomb impact.

"Are we able to dial the Alpha Site?" Jack asks Walter.

"I don't know, sir. Maybe."

"Try."

Again the concept of time seems to hold still and fast-forward at the same time until a wormhole is created and ripples in wait.

"Carter, round up everyone you can find and get them through that gate as fast as you can," Jack orders. "Go."

She hesitates for just a second, stares at him as she appears to understand his plan, then rushes out of the room.

"Get downstairs, Daniel, and help move people through the gate."

"Jack--"

"Pierce, this is O'Neill," Jack says into the microphone. "We are under attack. Repeat, the SGC is under attack. I am evacuating the mountain and sending everyone to the Alpha Site. Do you read?"

"Yes, General, we read. What the hell--"

"No time to explain. Expect incoming shortly. O'Neill out."

"Jack, what are you--" you again attempt to interject, but he again silences you by holding up a hand. With his free hand he flips a switch on the console.

The PA system screeches awake, but clears in time for all in the mountain to hear, "This is General O'Neill. The SGC is under attack and evacuation procedures are now in effect. All personnel need to relocate to the gate room immediately. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill." With his declaration made, Jack switches the microphone off and punches a button.

"The self-destruct will activate in five minutes," a slightly robotic, female voice announces over the PA.

"Jack, you can't--"

"Downstairs, now," he orders, turning you towards the staircase and pushing you forward.

Cooks, mechanics, bookkeepers, scientists, they all rush into the gate room in droves. You usher them towards the wormhole, trying to be reassuring when someone looks particularly freaked out.

"The self-destruct will activate in four minutes."

"Let's move, people!"

You turn and are surprised to see Jack beside you, pushing people up the ramp.

"Jack, this isn't protocol," you whisper.

"Does it look like we have time for protocol?" he hisses back, never taking his eyes off the people running through the gate. You think he might actually be keeping a head count of how many have gone through.

"But what about the president? Congress? Aren't we supposed to evacuate them before anyone else?"

"They're dead."

It's not until a Marine bumps your shoulder in her rush to get to the gate that you realize you're frozen in place, completely dumbfounded. "They're ... dead?"

Jack nods. "NASA reported numerous explosions on and around the White House, Capital Building, and Pentagon just as we were first being hit."

"A coordinated attack," you mumble.

"Yes. Where's Carter?"

"The self-destruct will activate in three minutes."

"I don't know. How did this--"

"Find Carter. Get her down here. Daniel!" You're again shaken out of your reverie when you feel Jack's hands squeezing your forearms.

"Right. Sam. Now."

You push your way past those pushing their way into the gate room. The number of people who call out your name and grab for your body overwhelm you and you find yourself struggling to remain upright and lucid.

"Doctor Jackson, is Earth being destroyed?"

"What about my family? Can I call my husband and ask him to bring my children here?"

"What are we going to do?"

You stare at the man who asked the last question and open your mouth to respond, but no words come out.

That's when it hits you that everything's in flux.

"Colonel Carter. Has anyone seen Colonel Carter?" you ask, your vocal cords straining to make you heard above the bedlam.

A nurse whose features are vaguely familiar points behind her and shouts, "In the armory, I think."

You nod your appreciation and take off running.

"The self-destruct will activate in two minutes."

"Shit!" You're not even aware you've said the word out loud until your hoarse voice echoes in your ears. "Sam! Are you back here? Sam!"

Despite the yelling and the sirens and the tremors that continue to throw you off your feet, all you can hear is your ragged breathing. You don't think you've developed a superhero mentality through the years, but you just can't accept the idea that you and those you care about might die buried underneath pounds of concrete and twisted metal. Somehow that doesn't seem right, as if there's ever a 'right' way to die.

"Sam!"

The sixty seconds you've been counting down in the back of your mind have almost run out when you hear, "Daniel?" Then, "Daniel!"

Sam sprints towards you, tendrils of her hair clinging to her sweaty face. The right sleeve of her black T-shirt is torn and her BDU jacket is missing entirely. "I don't know if I got everyone."

"You did your best. We have to go."

"But--"

"The self-destruct will activate in sixty seconds."

"Now, Sam!" You grab her hand and run, pulling her behind you.

Along the way the two of you swat at lollygaggers and urge them towards the gate room. We won't die, you tell yourself. You don't want to admit that, in the deep recesses of your mind, you're thinking, we can't die.

By the time you and Sam stumble into the gate room, with a particularly on-target bomb launching the two of you through the doorway and onto the floor, Siler's back is vanishing into the wormhole while Walter and Jack stand at the edge of the ramp.

"Took you long enough," Jack says as you push yourself onto your knees and pick out the bits of concrete that have embedded into your skin.

You roll your eyes and are about to shoot off a snide response when Jack motions towards the gate and says, "Time to go, Walter."

"Sir--"

"Don't start." Jack fixes the staff sergeant with a firm stare. "Just go."

"It-- I--" A flustered Walter turns his attention to you and Sam, his expression pained, before turning back to face Jack.

Jack gives the man a small smile as he pats his shoulder. "It's okay. Go."

Walter nods and hurries to the wormhole, pausing once on the threshold to look over his shoulder before disappearing completely.

"The self-destruct will activate in thirty seconds."

"And not a moment too soon," you hear Jack mumble as you and Sam approach his position on the ramp.

"What are we going to--" Sam begins to ask before Jack cuts her off.

"No, no 'we'."

"But sir--"

"Dammit, Carter, do we have to argue about everything?"

What must be a series of four consecutive bombs topples the three of you onto the metal grating of the ramp.

"We're not leaving you behind, sir," Sam says through gritted teeth as she rubs her right knee.

You stare at her in confusion. "Who said anything about leaving Jack behind?" Then, to Jack, "You're coming with us, right?"

The way in which he avoids your eyes tells you everything you need to know. But his morose "It's protocol that someone remains behind to make sure the self-destruct goes off" hits you like a runaway truck.

"The self-destruct will activate in twenty seconds."

"But you've already broken protocol by evacuating people to the Alpha Site," you say in a feeble attempt at reasoning with Jack. "Who'll care if you break protocol again?"

"I'll care, Daniel." You stare at him in disbelief, an invisible fist lodged in your throat. This is not how you ever imagined the world would end. "Now will you two get your asses through that wormhole?" He pulls you and Sam up to your feet and attempts to hustle you towards the gate, but Sam stands firm.

"The self-destruct will activate in ten ..."

"We're not leaving you behind."

"Get through that gate, Colonel! That's an order."

"... nine ..."

"Jack, just--"

"Jesus, Daniel, I'm not coming with you and that's final."

"... eight ..."

"Now, please, take Carter and get to the Alpha Site."

"... seven ..."

Somehow, during the course of your argument, Jack has managed to corral you and Sam to the precipice of the wormhole. You can already feel its draw pulling on your molecules.

"If you're staying, sir, then I'm staying too."

"... six ..."

"That is not an option, Carter! And I'm not debating this with you!"

"... five ..."

"Yes, it is. I'm making it one."

You stare at your two best friends and see determination etched across both their faces. You know Jack won't budge, but neither will Sam. That leaves you as the odd man out, the sole arbiter of what will happen next.

"Dammit, Carter, why--"

"... four ..."

"No, damn you, sir! You're--"

"Daniel, if you don't get out of here with Carter, I'm--"

"... three ..."

"--going to kill you myself!"

"Jack--"

"Sir--"

"... two ..."

"GO!"

You've been following Jack's lead for eight years and have grown accustomed to obeying his orders, so you do as you're told. At least that's what you tell yourself.

With your arms locked around Sam's waist and your eyes squeezed tight, you pitch all your weight towards the wormhole and hope it's enough to carry both your bodies through to the Alpha Site.

The last thing you remember thinking is that you never said good-bye.

But then you're flying through the air, preoccupied with your complete inability to control either your speed or trajectory, and all thoughts of farewells never said are pushed aside when your left hip strikes hard concrete.

"Colonel Carter? Doctor Jackson?"

Despite the blinding pain that's shooting through your hipbone and up your back, you attempt to sit up and find the face attached to the voice calling out your name. As you're blinking through the fog obscuring your sight -- your glasses must have flown off during your hard landing -- a distant roar grows louder, and louder still until you feel like you're caught in the eye of a tornado and everything around you shakes.

"Close the iris! Dammit, close that iris!"

Pandemonium breaks out as voices are raised and feet start scampering, and you wonder if it's possible you never left the gate room, if, by some freak accident, the wormhole containing you and Sam disintegrated and you're still at the SGC with Jack.

"Jack?" you call out.

"Daniel?"

The voice is soft and low and it takes you several seconds to realize it's coming from beside you. You crawl to your left, stopping when your fingers touch strands of hair and warm skin. "Sam? Are you okay?"

She moans and you feel her shift position so her hands can brush against the contours of your face. "Where are we?" she asks.

"At the Alpha Site. I think." You try to raise your head so you can take in your surroundings, but her hands hold your face in place. "I don't-- I-- God, I'm sorry, Sam." The apology sounds feeble in your ears, so you search frantically for the words that'll explain your actions. Unfortunately, the ones that come to mind refuse to form complete, coherent sentences. "I dragged you into the-- I know you didn't want-- But, Jack, he … Oh, god."

"Jack ..."

"Yes. He's-- I--" You pull yourself beyond her reach and drop your head. "I'm sorry," you plead.

You expect her to recede, to leave you in a silence heavy with sorrow and shame. You also wouldn't be surprised if she yelled at you. But instead her fingers are again against your skin and you can feel her breath blowing moist against your ear.

"Shhh, it's okay," she murmurs.

"No, it's--"

You lose all the words that had been on the tip of your tongue when Sam pulls you in close, one hand cupping the back of your head to draw you downwards and the other hand clutching your shoulder. When her face is millimeters from yours, she deftly flips you around so it's now your back pressing into the concrete. You gasp in surprise when you feel her lips on yours, insistent, demanding.

This feels wrong. This is wrong, you think as you try to disentangle yourself from Sam's limbs.

"Sam, wait--"

"No, no waiting, Daniel."

And suddenly you realize you're no longer lying on the concrete platform of the gate room at the Alpha Site. The loud voices that had been resonating all around you have given way to absolute quiet. The Sam who had been bruised and battered (and clothed) now straddles your hips, naked.

"Sam," you once again attempt to interject, your hands reaching out to grab her waist, mindful of how much -- too much -- skin you're touching.

"I said no, Daniel."

She pushes down your shoulders and pins you to the mattress by sitting on your stomach. You're embarrassed by how quickly your body responds to her change in position. This isn't happening, you tell yourself, not your arousal nor Sam pressing herself against you as she leans down for another kiss.

But it becomes clear that it is happening when her tongue parts your lips and she grinds against your groin. Her teeth nip at your earlobe and she snakes one hand under your T-shirt while the other one drifts down ... down ... until ... You moan into a mouthful of Sam's hair.

This can happen, you try to convince yourself as your hands slide up her sides and your loose bed sheet tangles around your bodies. It's certainly an improvement to Sam's silent treatment, and maybe this is where you two have always been headed.

"Mmm," she purrs against your neck and you reciprocate with your own incoherent murmur as you press sloppy kisses against her jaw line, occasionally catching her lips with yours.

Jack would never--

No. You shove the beginnings of that thought out of your head and squeeze your eyes shut, as if doing so will prevent it from slithering back in.

You don't stop to wonder why Sam ambushed you in your bed; you don't question her motives. Instead you force yourself to revel in the scratch of her nails against your skin as she pulls you closer. You try to remember how things used to be like this -- fun, sexy, exciting -- before your world ended. You tell yourself that maybe things can be like that again, maybe you and Sam can rebuild your friendship to something more, something stronger.

But then her nails are no longer scratching but digging. And her teeth aren't nipping but biting. As pleasure gives way to abject pain, you realize that things will never be as they once were.

"No." You push her away as gently as possible and inch backwards until you strike the wall. "Sam, we can't."

Your room -- which is nothing more than a glorified mop closet with a spare mattress thrown on the floor -- is too dark and your vision too blurred for you to read Sam's expression. But you're able to surmise quite a bit from the way in which she sits up, draws her legs to her chest, and rests her chin on her bent knees.

"I'm sorry," you say, your fingertips still tingling from the warmth of her skin. "I can't--"

"Isn't this why I'm here?"

You open and close your mouth several times, uncertain as to what she means. "I ..."

"Isn't this my purpose now? To repopulate the race? To produce a bunch of genius astrophysicists-slash-archaeologists who'll figure out how to fix this mess because I can't?"

"Sam." The desperation in her voice compels you to reach out for her hand, but she recoils from your impending touch.

"I shouldn't be here."

"That's not--"

"What good am I doing here?" The mattress vibrates under you as she strikes it with her hands. "You made me come here with you because you wanted me to fix things. Admit it, you did. But I can't get the gate to connect to Earth. I can't build a hyperdrive for the X-302s. I can't do anything. Do you know how that feels? To be so worthless?"

You don't know what to say, so you say the first thing that comes to mind. "You do a lot here."

There's a long pause, and you hold your breath, wondering if the comfort you offered was enough.

"Fuck you, Daniel."

The statement is soft, practically imperceptible, and could have been mistaken as a throwaway comment, except you heard it and you know Sam doesn't say anything just to be saying something. "Sam ..."

"No, don't--" A shifting of limbs and the rustle of hair being combed through with fingers interrupts Sam's sentence. Once she's settled down, she says, very, very softly, "We left him behind."

Her tone is neutral, which you have to admit is a nice change, but you cut your eyes downwards anyway because you know which 'him' she's referring to. "We didn't have a choice. He wasn't going to come with us. You know he wasn't."

The mattress bounces slightly and you translate that to mean Sam is nodding in agreement. But then she says, "We don't leave people behind. He wouldn't have."

It's an argument you don't want to have, especially not with a naked Sam hugging herself three feet away from you. But it's the middle of the night on an unfamiliar planet and the migraine you've been battling for days has resurfaced. "We didn't leave him behind," you snap. "Jack chose to stay. He made his choice and I respected it."

It's not until after those words have left your mouth that you remember how you didn't exactly 'respect' Sam's choice when you dragged her through the wormhole with you, but luckily she doesn't react to that. Instead she shakes her head and says, "He was alone, Daniel. We left him behind, alone."

Her last word reverberates in your head, and it dawns on you, slowly, that Jack's philosophy of leaving no one behind was more than just some military credo and was based on something you'd never completely understood until just then.

You never saw the sea because you only looked at the river.

"Shit." Your chest grows tight as you imagine his final moment: standing on the gate ramp with his world literally falling down around him, no one there for him to look at, to say 'It's been fun' before everything faded to black. "Sam, I--"

"The general-- Jack-- He and I-- I don't know if there ever was a 'we', but I shouldn't have left him. There's nothing I can do here, but maybe, if I'd stayed, I could have ..." Her voice trails off, strained.

You find yourself mute, nodding in sympathy, nodding because you see her point of view, nodding because you need to make yourself believe you might be right about something after having been so wrong. "I'm sorry," you say, even though you're not entirely sure to whom you're apologizing.

You envision Jack's hands reaching out to you. So close, but you can't stretch far enough. You can't--

"I miss him."

The words are muffled and when you look in her direction, you see she's mumbled them into her knees. She's shaking.

"I miss Teal'c. I miss ... being in control."

Her admission hangs heavy in the air and it almost makes you laugh. All those years the four of you spent gallivanting around the universe. Possible danger at every turn, the unknown on the other side of every wormhole, and yet none of you cared.

It was exhilarating. It was important. Those were the reasons you gave for why you never walked away, not even after you more or less died. But the truth is you -- all of you -- did it because the adventures helped you believe you could influence fate.

While lost in your thoughts, the mattress shakes and you see the outline of Sam's body rise and bend down to grab something off your floor.

"I have to go," she says, her words stronger than they had been, but still full of sadness. You hear her pull something over her body.

"Sam, wait. Stay? Please? We don't ..." You don't want to be alone. That's the truth, but it seems like so much to confess.

As she opens the door a sliver of dim light from the hallway breaks across her face. Sam looks over her shoulder and you think, for a second, that maybe she'll allow the two of you to regain control together. But then she shakes her head. "I don't blame you, Daniel. And I don't hate you. You did what you thought was right, and maybe it was. But I need some time. Alone."

Returned to darkness when Sam eases the door shut behind her, you remember how you always used to complain to Jack that he never gave you enough time offworld. You wonder when time became so cruel.

-----

She doesn't speak to you the next day. Or the day after that. Or even the day after that.

Communication is eventually established with the Beta Site and most non-essential personnel are relocated there.

With Sam's help, the downed 302 is returned to operational status and everyone agrees that the engineers should try to construct hyperdrives.

And two weeks after your late-night rendezvous, you bump into Sam on your way to Pierce's office.

"Oh, hi, how--"

"Hey, I was just--"

Tongue-tied and a blush burning your cheeks, you wonder if this awkward overrun of sentences will typify your new relationship with Sam. But then she offers you a cup of coffee. "It's weak," she says with an apologetic smile, "but it's black. Just the way you like it."

"Thank you."

She doesn't stick around to shoot the breeze, and you don't expect her to -- those times have passed. But it's a baby step and you're grateful for it.

As you sit across from Pierce's desk and listen to his thoughts on what should be done next, you lean into the back of your chair and savor the coffee. It's not very hot and is ridiculously weak -- you suspect rationing will affect coffee forever -- but you drink every lukewarm drop. It might just be the best cup of coffee you've had in years.

And while roaming the halls after your meeting with Pierce, you catch Sam peeking into the gate room. With your curiosity piqued, you tiptoe towards her and hope she won't shoo you away. She doesn't. Instead, with concern etched across her face, she motions with her head for you to look into the room. When you do, you see Walter seated behind the dialing computer, his eyes intently staring at the stargate as the sixth chevron locks.

"Sixth chevron, encoded," Walter mutters.

With most survivors now at the Beta Site, Walter is the sole occupant of the room. You watch him inhale a shallow breath before saying, hesitantly, "Seventh chevron ... will not lock." His head immediately drops in disappointment and he removes his glasses.

Grabbing Sam's arm and holding your index finger in front of your mouth, you back the two of you quietly away from the door and count to ten before rushing into the room, your heavy steps announcing your entrance before your voice does. "Walter, you in here?"

The sergeant is already on his feet with his glasses back on by the time you and Sam stop several feet from him. "Doctor Jackson! Colonel Carter! I was just--"

You wave away his excuse as if you're too busy to hear it. "Pierce has asked me -- we," you amend as you point at Sam, "to double-check our supplies and catalog what we need from the Beta Site. I was hoping you might be able to help us."

"Three heads are better than two, right?" Sam tacks on with ease.

Walter brightens at the offer. "I'd be happy to."

"Great. Let's get started then."

You try not to notice how eager Walter is to leave the gate room, but that becomes unavoidable when he says, fifteen seconds later, "Thank you for ... getting me out of there."

"Oh. Well ..." Your eyes instinctually seek out Sam's for support, but she keeps her face hidden from view.

"I know I shouldn't, especially without Colonel Pierce's permission, but sometimes I dial the SGC when no one's around. I can't help myself. I keep thinking that maybe enough time's passed. Maybe they've fixed whatever the problem's been and we can--" There's a tightness in his voice that makes all three of you look down at the floor. "I should stop thinking like that, shouldn't I?"

You can't quite bring yourself to respond, so you keep your eyes focused on the tops of your shoes.

"It's just that, sometimes," Walter continues, "I forget this isn't the SGC, and we're not-- Will that ever stop? Will things ever feel normal again?"

You want to say yes because if there's anything you know, it's how well humans can adapt when they need to. But you don't want to face what that adaptation would mean: giving up, giving in, letting go. You're not ready. You're not sure if any of you are.

And that's why you almost trip over your right foot when you hear Sam say, "Yes."

Her emphatic response makes you gawk at her in surprise. And when her eyes meet yours, she merely shrugs and offers a melancholic smile.

"Doesn't everything?" she asks. "After a while?"

Just as she always used to do at large SGC briefings, Sam silences everyone by saying out loud what others are too scared to mention.

This could be home. You've known that since you first noticed how closely the Alpha Site resembles the SGC. With all the similarities, it's easy to believe you're still back there, that nothing has changed and Jack's waiting for you in his office while Sam peers at something in her lab and Teal'c amazes a new cadet with the girth of his arms. But then a card scanner will be a little higher than it should or a pipe will be aligned differently, and reality comes crashing down. It always hurts when it does, but you have to admit it doesn't hurt as much as it used to.

Maybe humans adapt so well because they do it naturally, whether they want to or not.

"Yes, it does," you say, feeling like you're speaking the truth for the first time since you arrived at the Alpha Site.

Walter glances at you with mild surprise across his face, but Sam simply gives you a knowing look. You respond with a quick nod.

Tomorrow she'll continue her work on the hyperdrives and you'll continue butting heads with Pierce as you try to help however you can. Perhaps next week she'll move on to upgrading the security system while you take over duty assignments. And, one day, your friendship will be repaired as this becomes home.

You're sure of this now, and realize Jack must have been sure of it too when the three of you stood before the gate, the future stretched out on the other side of the wormhole.

-the end-