Title: Tethered (The Wocka-Wocka Remix)
Author: Karen T
Disclaimer: They don't belong to me, any of them.
Classification: Drama, angst, inferred Sam/Jack.
Spoilers: Everything through "Heroes Part 2."
Notes: Written for nanda in the Remix Redux IV. nanda's "Tether" is utterly fantastic; I hope this remix of it doesn't completely bastardize the original. Much thanks to Julie and Michelle for their beta help. And thanks to Jojo for making the final story decision.
SAM: Sir, I've been thinking.
JACK: I'd be shocked if you ever stopped, Carter.
The truth is, Sam didn't want Cassie to move in with her after Janet's death.
A bag and a box.
A bag and a box.
"Sam? You okay?"
Sam blinks and there, still standing on her front porch, is Cassie, a duffel bag slung across her body and a recycled box clutched in her hands. The porch around her is completely, surprisingly empty.
"Yeah, I'm ..." Sam swallows and orders her mind to reveal the brilliance for which she's known. "I thought you'd be bringing more with you."
"Oh." Her eyes widening slightly, Cassie glances down at the box she's holding before returning her gaze to Sam. "I packed up most of my stuff and put it into storage with Mom's. It didn't seem to make any sense to move it all here when I'll be leaving in a couple months, you know?"
Sam nods, not because she 'knows', but because she can tell the teen expects her to.
"All I brought with me is what I'll need to finish school and get through the summer. That okay?"
"Of course." What else is she supposed to say? So Sam steps aside and motions for Cassie to come in. "Traveling light's always been one of my mottos," she says brightly, her stomach clenching. "It's really the best way to be."
Cassie smiles in return, but Sam can see mild bafflement in the girl's eyes as she walks by. Sam had imagined this would unfold quite differently. In her mind, she'd envisioned suitcases and boxes and hugs and grateful murmurs about how this could be a new start for both of them.
But instead she got a bag and a box.
"If you want to put your stuff down, I fixed up the--"
"Room in the back?" Cassie finishes. "Next to the guest bathroom?"
"Yeah." Sam moves to lead the way, but Cassie's already started down the hall without her. "I bought new sheets," she calls after the teen, "but if you don't like them, or if there's anything else in the room you want to change, we can go shopping and--"
"I'm sure everything's fine, Sam. Thanks."
Cassie's stay is only temporary. She knows this. And Cassie's a self-sufficient teenager: smart, capable, responsible. She knows this too. Yet she never imagined Cassie would need so little of her. She's unfamiliar with not being needed.
"Hey, she here yet?"
Shaken out of her reverie by Daniel's voice, Sam turns to see him and Teal'c striding up to her door. Daniel's smiling, but that doesn't succeed in erasing the dark bags under his eyes. It's no secret he hasn't been sleeping well since returning from P3X-666, and that was partly why she'd invited him -- along with Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill -- over. She thought that if all four of them could help unpack Cassie's things, then perhaps that could turn the tragic events of Janet's death into something somewhat positive.
Guess that's something else that won't go as planned.
"Yeah, Cassie's here, and--"
"Point us to the boxes, and Teal'c and I can take over. Have I mentioned what a pro I am at unpacking? Have to say I've had a lot of practice in the past few years."
"Yeah ... we, um ... We're done," Sam lies, unable to mention Cassie's meager belongings.
"Really?" Daniel's eyebrows furrow and Teal'c regards her with a look of curiosity.
But Sam bobs her head up and down, and slaps a large smile on her face, its false wattage rivaling that of Daniel's. "You know what they say about the early bird catching the worm."
"I guess." Daniel continues to stare at her with slight skepticism, but he doesn't push the issue. "If you don't need us anymore, Teal'c and I can just go back to--"
"No, you should stay." The words are out of Sam's mouth before she entirely knows what she's suggesting. There is, after all, no real reason for them to stick around. But the idea of being alone with Cassie suddenly terrifies her. "I'm sure we can figure out something to do, and then, later, we can all go out to lunch." She hopes she doesn't sound as desperate as she thinks she does.
"Well, we ..." Daniel glances at Teal'c, who cocks an eyebrow and nods, before turning back to her, his tired eyes gleaming with mischief. "I could really use some coffee."
"Daniel Jackson and I have also procured donuts for our culinary enjoyment," Teal'c declares as he holds out the pink bakery box for her inspection.
The timing is too perfect and Sam laughs, feeling somewhat normal for the first time that day. But then she sobers when she sees a familiar blue truck pull up behind Daniel's sedan. "There's a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen," she says, her large, false smile back on her face. "Help yourself. And while you're back there, grab Cassie, will you? I don't know if she's eaten anything yet this morning. I'll be in right after ..." She gestures to Colonel O'Neill, who's climbing out of his truck.
If Daniel and Teal'c notice any changes in her behavior, they don't let on as they brush past her, arguing good-naturedly about which donut goes best with coffee.
Leaning against the doorframe, Sam waits for Colonel O'Neill and instantly recalls the last time he was over without Daniel and Teal'c in tow. It was the day she'd put an end to their affair and he, already prepared for the inevitable, stared at her, his eyes dead, before turning to leave without saying a word. The next day he riled Daniel up by constantly interrupting him during their pre-mission briefing, she laughed, Teal'c tried not to roll his eyes, and life continued as normal, with only her and the colonel knowing something significant had changed. The memory is one she can never seem to make disappear.
She watches him lock his truck -- is it her, or is he taking longer than is necessary? -- and then amble up her walkway, his sunglasses perched on the bridge of his nose so she can't read his mood. She thinks he might be looking into her house, also remembering. "Hey, I'm glad you--"
"Sorry I'm so--"
They both blush at their overlapping words and it's O'Neill who eventually finishes after Sam motions for him to do so. "Sorry I'm late. Cassie get here okay?"
"Oh, yeah. She got here earlier than I thought she would, so we had some coffee and talked and ..." She doesn't mean to lie so elaborately, but the words simply fly off her tongue, almost of their own volition, and she finds herself growing internally aghast. "Before we knew it, all her stuff was unpacked, and now she's completely moved in."
"Oh. Well." The colonel fidgets with his sunglasses before shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "I know I said I'd spend all day here, but I'm behind on a bunch of reports and it doesn't seem like you need my help anymore ..."
He turns to leave and Sam's mouth falls open in alarm. Without thinking through her actions, she hurries onto her porch and grabs hold of him, her fingers encircling his right forearm. "Wait, I-- Cassie didn't come early. There's nothing to unpack because she only brought a bag and a box. I don't think she really wants to move in here." When she feels him tense under her hold, she releases her grip and stumbles backwards. "I'm sorry. I don't know why-- I'm sorry. This isn't your problem."
He stands there with his back to her for a few seconds before he slowly turns, his hands still buried deep in his jacket pockets. "Cassie loves you, Carter. You know that."
His sunglasses afford her the unique opportunity to stare at her own skepticism. "I know she does, but ... she doesn't need me. After Janet, I thought ... But she's fine, and I don't really know what I'm supposed to do here."
"Carter," Colonel O'Neill sighs, but there's a tinge of amusement in his tone, "you're a brilliant scientist and a fearless soldier, but you really need to stop thinking so much."
Sam snorts and looks down at her feet as she feels tears of exhaustion prick at her eyes. "Story of my life, sir."
He's grinning when she glances back up, and she's transported to a year ago, when he was there to remind her to stop questioning everything. "Do you really have to leave?" she asks, already aware of the answer but hoping she doesn't know him as well as she does. "Daniel and Teal'c are in the kitchen with Cassie. I was thinking we could all go out for lunch later. It'll be like old times."
For a moment she thinks he might say yes and she holds her breath, but then his head is shaking and he retreats a step. "I can't. That backlog of reports. Hammond's going to kill me if I don't get through them soon. Sorry."
"No. That's fine. I ... know how those reports get."
"Tell Cassie I'll see her soon. Maybe I'll take her to a hockey game or something."
"Sure." Sam smiles politely, ever politely, always politely. "She'll like that."
"See ya, Carter."
She's moving towards her door when the colonel's voice has her spinning back around.
"You shouldn't take it personally. The bag and box," he quickly clarifies. "Cassie's lucky to have you looking out for her."
He's throwing her a bone and they both know it. If she asks him again to reconsider leaving, he'll change his mind and stay. But she can't -- won't -- go down that road again. Not when she's aware of how it'll end and how hurt he'll be.
"Thank you, sir. Have a good day."
And with that, Sam rushes into her house and shuts the front door behind her. As she leans against the door, two sounds fight for her attention: the colonel starting his truck, and Cassie, Daniel, and Teal'c laughing about something in her kitchen. Never before has the dichotomy between wanting and being wanted been so clear to her.
She and the colonel would never have been able to have a future, she tells herself. And she doesn't really want Cassie to move in. This is simply an arrangement of convenience. Yes, that's it: an arrangement of convenience -- no emotions involved.
She thinks she can possibly make herself believe that if she tries hard enough. She has, after all, almost succeeded in making herself believe she and the colonel are better off as just friends.
The truth is, Sam couldn't fathom why Cassie would want to bum around the world rather than go to college.
"I'm not going to start at MIT."
She's in the middle of sorting her mail when Cassie's declaration almost makes her place her water bill in the 'trash' pile. "Did you decide on one of the other schools after all?" Sam asks after what she hopes was an imperceptible pause, her heart pounding in her chest. She knows, almost instantly, that this is it: the moment she's been anticipating and dreading for months. "I'm not sure what the rules are, but I'm sure we can--"
"No. I'm not going to college. Not now. I'll go later. Right now I want to ... see things. See this planet."
After being raised in a military household and spending most of her adult life in the military, Sam's an expert at reading between the lines. And it's immediately clear to her what Cassie's not saying: I want to get away from here, from you. Yet Sam still can't stop herself from twisting that knife a little bit more by asking, "Cassie, are you sure that's--"
"I'm not asking your permission, Sam."
Of course she's not. Because that's one of the many things independent Cassie has never needed from her
But despite how disappointed she is by Cassie's decision, Sam can't entirely blame her for making it. Sometimes she wishes she could shut down her computer, turn in her SGC security badge, lock up her house, and just take off. The destination isn't important as long as it's anywhere but where Pete Shanahan has left her four phone messages which she has yet to return. And where she and the colonel are still as polite and friendly as ever, but their self-imposed cordiality is slowly tearing her apart. And where she and the Goa'uld are dancing a maddening waltz, their feet scampering around in circles but neither of them making any real progress on the dance floor.
Yes, Sam understands wanting to leave it all behind. She thinks about it almost every day, because thinking about it is as far as she takes it, as far as she'll ever take it.
So she puts down her mail, nods, and reaches out to squeeze Cassie's hand.
"I'll be okay. I can take care of myself," Cassie assures her, returning her squeeze.
"I know you can," Sam says before pulling her hand back so she can return to sorting her mail.
Tomorrow, she'll continue to avoid Pete. Tomorrow, she'll continue to call the colonel 'sir' and he'll call her 'Carter' and they'll both pretend they never called each other anything else. Tomorrow, she'll continue to dance aimlessly with the Goa'uld, switching partners whenever one System Lord gets tired. And tomorrow, she'll start convincing herself that she won't miss Cassie and that it's for the best that Cassie's going far away.
Tomorrow, she'll do all that over and over again.
The truth is, Sam liked how Cassie called every month at the same time.
Three and a half glasses of wine later and Sam's still sitting at her kitchen table, her cordless phone resting next to her wine glass. She purposely cleared her schedule so she'd be home with plenty of time to spare before Cassie's expected call. She doesn't know why she bothered since Cassie never calls until eight o'clock, on the dot. But it's important to Sam that she be at home and undistracted when the phone rings, so on the second Thursday (because Thursdays are as good as any other day of the week) of every month, Sam hurries home at seven, and sits and waits.
Maybe this month Cassie'll be so excited about something that she'll call early.
Maybe this month Cassie'll want to talk for more than thirty minutes so she'll call early.
Maybe this month ...
Maybe this month ...
But it's never 'this month', so Sam just sits in her kitchen, waiting and drinking, and tells herself that this is good: good for her schedule, good for her relationship with Cassie, good for her .
Another half a glass of wine and maybe, hopefully, she'll actually start to believe that.
She knows she could just tell Cassie how much she hates these preordained phone calls, how the exact day and time of the call makes her feel as if she's a scheduled nuisance, something akin to a routine dentist appointment you make a year in advance. But there's a part of her that's so scared. Without these appointments, would Cassie still call? Or would she consider it carte blanche to move on, burn what's left of her bridge to the past? And by doing so, would Sam be left--
Downing the wine left in her glass, Sam refuses to allow herself to finish her thought and focuses all her attention on listening to the seconds tick by on her kitchen clock. Tick. She's just feeling a bit melancholy. Tick. Work's been a little stressful. Tick. And it's been hard coming home to a dark house. Tick. But those aren't Cassie's problems, and they'll all pass.
Right on schedule, the phone rings as the big hand on the clock reaches the '12' and the little hand points to the center of the '8'. If it wasn't so goddamn annoying, Sam's pretty sure she'd be impressed by how Cassie's able to do that.
As her phone rings a second time, Sam pours herself another generous serving of wine. It's show time.
Deep breath, happy smile on, then, "Hello? ... Hey, Cas. How are you? ... Oh, yeah, this is a great time for me. ... What? No, I'm fine. Just fine."
The truth is, Sam died without any regrets.
Careful to keep her hands away from Salkowitz's smoldering wounds, Sam presses her right ear to the man's mouth and waits. The wheezy rattle of his chest as he grabs a shallow breath tells her that he probably has a collapsed lung in addition to all his other injuries. She wishes there was more she could do, but all she can offer him is a blanket and a less than convincing "Hang in there."
"How is he?"
He's dying. Those are the words on the tip of her tongue, but she finds herself unable to say them, despite how obvious it must be to Daniel that Sal won't ever recover from his wounds. So instead she shrugs, as if her denial will reverse their current situation.
She doesn't need to lift her head to know Daniel's now staring at her. And when she finally does slide her eyes upwards to meet his gaze, she holds her breath. Sal is dying, the locked door keeping them alive will probably be broken down in minutes, a rescue team will not be coming, and Sam really needs Daniel not to mention any of that.
Please, her eyes beseech, and Daniel offers a small smile before nodding.
Another futile check of Sal's pulse -- thin, weak -- and Sam leans back against the nearest wall, closing her eyes to the familiar sound of Daniel's pen scratching upon paper. Somehow, she'd always imagined the end would involve that sound.
That fails to comfort her as much as she thinks it should.
"It was a good plan," Daniel says, his pen continuing its scratch, scratch, scratch .
"It was," she admits, nodding, recalling, somewhat fondly, her father's grand plan to steal an Ancient device from under Baal's nose. The mission wasn't simple or foolproof, but they -- all of them: the Tok'ra and SGC, allies once again -- felt the odds were in their favor. They had an undercover Tok'ra on their side and a preoccupied Baal who, they gambled, wouldn't realize what was happening until it was too late.
Nine times out of ten, their gamble would have paid off.
"Of course, it would have been a better plan if Baal hadn't figured it out and ambushed us," Daniel continues, his tone wry.
Sam manages not to snort at the comment as she feels hysteria begin to creep through her system. Uncontrollable laughter threatens to break forth from her chest, and her fingers tingle with a desire to tear at her hair as she screams about the injustice of their predicament. But she can't lose it. Not now. Not after everything she's done to hold on.
"Those pesky details," she says, purposely making her voice sarcastic, hoping she can find strength and solace in the sarcasm that's always been so helpful in the past.
Daniel pauses in his writing to shrug and say, "Devil's in them, right?"
"Yeah, I guess." Glancing around the cramped room, Sam quickly takes stock of their weapons. She and Daniel still have their P-90s, and they managed to grab Sal's P-90 as they were dragging him into the room. She also has a couple packs of C4, but she knows neither will be able to do any significant damage. If there was enough time, she could try to use her laptop to get into the compound's mainframe and initiate its self-destruct system -- assuming, of course, it has one. But she knows how much time it would take to tap into the mainframe, and she highly doubts Baal's Jaffa are so inefficient that she'll be able to complete the task before they pry the doors open. No, their best line of offense -- or defense, as the case may be -- are their P-90s. She looks at Daniel, then at his gun, which is lying on the floor next to him, and prays they can both do what's needed when the time comes.
"We can't be captured, Daniel."
He nods, never looking up from his notebook. "I know."
"If Baal gets his hands on us, he'll do to us what he did to Colonel O'Neill when he was captured."
"This has to end here."
" I know ." Laying his notebook down on his lap, Daniel raises his head and makes eye contact, his expression grim but resigned. "I know, Sam," he repeats calmly, and she nods.
"I'm sorry. I wish it didn't--"
"It's not your fault."
"I know. But maybe if I'd been able to detect the mothership hidden behind that moon, we could have called in for back-up, and Colonel O'Neill and my dad wouldn't be stuck on that--"
"There's nothing you could have done, Sam. There's nothing any of us could have done." His eyes cut downwards to his lap and Daniel lets out a low chuckle. "That's actually what I've been writing down. Well, part of it, anyway. I figure that if anyone from the SGC comes through here later and finds this, they'll know we understood how they couldn't send anyone in after us. Seems like a good way to make sure we end things right."
End things right. The words resonate in Sam's mind and the twitching in her fingers reignite, this time with urgency. "Think you can spare a pen and a sheet of paper?"
"How about a pen and two sheets?" Daniel tears out the last two pages of his notebook and passes them, along with a ballpoint pen, over to her.
She stares at the lines and thinks about what she wants to write, what she should write. A part of her thinks she should don her solider cap and write about how, exactly, the mission took a turn for the worst, and how she and Daniel only managed to escape the initial assault because they happened to be in the back of the compound when Baal's Jaffa showed up, staff weapons blasting. She thinks she should write about exit strategies she knows won't work, and explain why she and Daniel have decided to end their lives the way they will. She thinks she should be strong, the consummate professional, the steady scientist and soldier everyone wants on their team. That is, after all, how she's portrayed herself for years.
But then she remembers her last phone call with Cassie. For the most part, it had been like all the others. She and Cassie had been going through their usual motions, Sam purposely avoiding asking any questions that were too personal and Cassie purposely avoiding answering any questions with overly personal anecdotes.
There were numerous times in the conversation when Sam wanted to tell Cassie how she couldn't keep up the charade any longer. She missed her and wanted her to come home. She wanted to see exactly how tan she'd gotten, and just how much the sun had bleached her hair. She wanted to see for herself that Cassie really wasn't skipping meals. Most of all, she just wanted to see her . And she knew all she had to do was ask.
But she couldn't. Or wouldn't. It was hard to know anymore.
So instead she listened to Cassie tell a version of a story Sam could have sworn she'd heard before, simply set in another country during a different time of the year, and she laughed in all the places she knew she should. And then it happened.
A male voice -- a low, gravelly bass -- appeared from nowhere in the background and Cassie quickly said, "Can you hang on for a sec, Sam?" before something, probably Cassie's hand, was used to cover up the mouthpiece. In spite of this, Sam was still able to hear a muffled exchange of words and then Cassie giggling. The sound caught Sam off guard as it was the first time she could remember hearing the girl giggle since she deemed the act 'uncool' as a twelve-year-old. It was also the first time in years that Sam felt like she was hearing the real Cassie.
When Cassie returned a few seconds later with a breathy "I'm sorry. Someone stopped by to ask me something," Sam couldn't help from investigating.
"That 'someone' a guy?"
"What? Uh, yeah. We met a few months ago."
"So you're close then?"
"I guess. A little." Cassie sounded somewhat uneasy, but not annoyed, by the questions. This pleased Sam. "I don't know. It's complicated."
The confusion and weariness in her voice almost made Sam laugh because they were emotions she could definitely relate to. "Yeah, I know how that goes."
"I'm probably making a bigger deal out of it than I should be." Cassie sighed and, despite the distance that separated them, Sam had honestly never felt so close to her before.
Leaning back into her chair, Sam could feel the muscles in her body relax as she said, "I wouldn't be too hard on yourself. It can be hard to gauge."
"Yeah? Maybe." The reception crackled and then Cassie was asking, her voice a conspiratorial whisper, "Is it bad I sometimes just want him to go away?"
But she never got a chance to respond because Cassie was suddenly back on the line, her voice no longer wistful. "Hey, Sam? I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to go. Someone else needs the phone, and she's pestering me to get off."
"Oh. Okay. I'm glad you called."
"Me too. And you're okay? Really? Work hasn't been too overwhelming?"
The questions were ones Cassie had asked in the past, but they sounded more heartfelt this time, and Sam found herself actually considering her answers before responding. "Yeah. Work's okay. Never ending and exhausting, as usual, but good. I'm actually going out of town in a week to deal with some stuff." That was her way of saying she'd be offworld and unreachable.
"Oh. Will Jack be there with you?"
"Yeah, it's business."
"I'm glad he'll be there."
"We are on the same team, you know."
"I know, but ... it's nice to know he'll be there looking out for you. Tell the gang I say hi, and be safe, Sam."
"You too. Take care, Cas."
And that had been it. If she'd known then that it would be the last time she'd hear Cassie's voice, she might have stalled a bit more to make the call last longer. Then again, she kind of knows she still wouldn't have, especially since, as calls go, that one was as close to perfect as she and Cassie got.
And as she now stares at the empty notebook pages Daniel gave her, Sam knows exactly what she wants to say, and to whom, to make sure she ends things right.
At the top of the first sheet, she scrawls: Cassie-- Don't run away from the complicated. Complicated is good. Trust me.
She considers writing more, but decides she's happy with that before tearing off the lower half of the same page and writing: Jack-- I'm so sorry. You were always right.
Placing the two halves on top of each other, Sam folds them three times and slips them into one of the chest pockets on her jacket, the one directly over her heart. She knows it'll be the first place the Jaffa will aim when they barge into the room and find themselves in a gunfight with her and Daniel.
Satisfied, she grabs her P-90 and prepares to die.
The truth -- the real truth -- is, Sam wasn't very good at telling herself the truth.