The Empty Chair
Content Warnings: Major Character Death, non-graphic
Season: After the series ends.
Summary: After a long and full life Jack is laid to rest with full military honors. The story focuses on Sam's reactions as she stands alongside the rest of SG-1 to pay their final respects to a beloved friend.
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without author's consent. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Copyright © June 2006 Maggie Eaton
Author's Note: June 8, 2006. Response to Challenge 42 to use the phrase "delicious surprise" and/or the word "grind." on the As The Stargate Turns Yahoo group. The flag presentation speech was taken from a video regarding the military honors provided to all eligible veterans of the US armed forces. As always, any and all mistakes are my own. I hope you enjoy the story.
The Empty Chair
Sam stood in front of the lines of military personnel, ever the model of military perfection, a flawless icon of her career; her stance exuding the confidence and discipline for which she was well known. An impressive display of battle ribbons and commendations hung heavily from her uniform, their magnificence lessened only by the double stars sparkling on her shoulders.
Over the years her glorious golden locks had slowly turned to silver and like her earlier days, remained a bit askance. It was just the right touch to soften the military persona, revealing only a slight trace of the passionate woman behind the mask. A few battle scars and deep smile lines had been gently sculpted into her face but the everyday grind of the military machine had not affected the brilliance of her eyes; they were still blue, sparkling depths that rivaled the beauty of the ocean.
She was determined to be at her best today standing rigidly at attention as the pomp and circumstance unfolded, her features an unwavering mask of solemn respect. The man beneath the flag deserved that. He had risen to heights above all expectations; his final promotion had made him chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was a reluctant hero, the fulfillment of an American dream, overcoming all obstacles to reach his goal. But still, he was a common man, a common man who responded admirably in uncommon situations, his shy skill and wisdom blazing the trail for others to follow.
A distinct shiver raced along her spine as her former teammates slipped into the empty spaces beside her, standing almost as rigidly as she. She didn't smile or turn to acknowledge them preferring not to risk the rush of emotions that she knew would follow, she simply squared her shoulders and held the mask firmly in place. She refused to fail him on this final day.
Her mind wandered leisurely across the years as the haunting sound of "Taps" echoed from the surrounding hills. A moment of silence followed and then the shattering sound of the traditional twenty-one-gun salute shook the foundation of her resolve. Against the protest of her mind a single tear trailed down her cheek and her hands trembled as she accepted the inevitable. This was it. He was really gone. The death of hope, the inconsolable loss of joy, and as the final chapter in a long, bittersweet life settled around her, she struggled to hold back the tears.
Gloved hands lifted and folded the flag that had covered him, turning rectangles into triangles and life into memory. She watched the hands that lovingly caressed the flag and thought how well this suited him. He had served under that flag for most of his life, risking all and never asking to be rewarded.
Another gentle fold sparked the memory of the first day they had spent together then branched off to their first day alone. Theirs had been a mutual admiration and a mutual choice. A choice they made willingly with full knowledge of the consequences but in their hearts, hope had lived on as they waited.
Their choices had finally separated them. They were reassigned and promoted then reassigned again until half the world stood between them. Their destinies demanded different paths and finally, it had proven too much. Despite their love and devotion they had accepted their duty and followed their love of country and freedom, allowing their personal lives to shatter and be discarded. Sam had never surrendered her hope though, not completely. Oh, she'd hidden it away in a dark corner of her soul but she'd longed for those days to return.
Again and again their paths crossed briefly and the flame grew brighter with each reunion, each chance meeting. Neither time nor separation could smother that attraction, that love they felt for each other.
Suddenly his smiling face appeared in her mind's eye and she smiled in return at the memories of comfort and laughter they had shared. It had never been enough. There had never been enough time. They had never managed to shut out the world and just live for each other but they knew. They had always known in some primal, unexplainable way that they belonged together; that together they were unbreakable steel and no force in the universe would be strong enough to defeat them. No force except themselves and the integrity that lived within their souls.
Sam's eyes strayed back to the flag, watching the precise movement of hands and cloth as the honor guard performed their ritual. She sucked in a sudden, rasping breath as she watched and realized that the best part of her life was gone. There would be no more stolen evenings alone, no more late night phone calls, no more delicious surprises or long vacations. No more chances. The hourglass was empty; the grains of sand had finally run their course, shattered their constraints and drifted away on the summer wind.
She had loved him. In fact, she had never loved anyone else.
She felt Daniel moving slightly beside her and realized that he was fighting back his own tears, trying to school the emotions that struggled to be free. She wanted to comfort him but not now. She would not break the display of honor and respect, not even for Daniel and she knew that he would understand.
Silent hands tugged, tucked and then smoothed the starry field of blue into perfection. With slow precise movements the soldier turned to gift this final memento, this symbol of honor and service to the General's next of kin but stopped, unsure of how to proceed, as his eyes fell upon the single empty chair.
Teal'c bowed his head and Daniel lifted his to the sky as the reality of Jack's life suddenly overwhelmed them. Sam felt their sorrow; their regret that they had left him so alone but she knew there had been no other choice. Jack would have accepted nothing else. He expected, in fact he insisted, that they find their own destiny and follow the call of their own hearts just as he had followed his.
He had never been alone. Jack would not want their pity and she would not allow them to think that he had died alone and unloved. This was her last chance. Having denied him in life she would not deny him in death. Sam felt hundreds of eyes watching as her gloved hand rose slowly in salute. All the years of careful distance and avoiding rumors along with the practiced art of hidden feelings were forgotten as Sam allowed her love to gain control and took a single step forward.
Her hand dropped to her side and then both hands rose, palms upturned to accept his flag. The soldier saw her movement and showing no surprise turned to face her. With measured steps he crossed the short distance and gently placed the flag in her waiting hands.
"Ma'am, on behalf of the President of the United States and the United States Air Force I present to you this flag as a token of your loved one's dedication and honorable service to our grateful nation."
Sam nodded slightly and keeping her eyes locked with his, spoke calmly.
"Thank you, Sergeant."
The sergeant saluted again before turning to retake his place at the graveside. Sam's slightly trembling fingers curled softly around the edges of the flag and she pulled it to her chest, hugging it tightly against her as she watched the soldiers march solemnly past her and the rest of the crowd begin to slowly move away.
"I'm fine, Daniel."
"What will we do without him?"
"The best we can, Daniel, the very best we can. That's what Jack would want."
Daniel nodded but didn't speak. Teal'c raised a large hand to Sam's back and gently guided her away but she stopped after only a few steps as if she'd forgotten something. She turned back toward the gravesite, staring silently and both men could see fresh tears glistening in her eyes.
"Do you wish a moment alone, General Carter? To say goodbye?"
Sam looked up at Teal'c and smiled sadly. "No, Teal'c, not goodbye . . ." Then she turned back again and forced a smile. " . . . just . . . see you soon, Sir."
Daniel reached a comforting arm around her and they turned to walk away together, side by side, supporting each other as they had done so many times before.
And from a distant heavenly plane, Jack looked down and smiled.
"I'll be waiting, Carter."