AN: It can't be a surprise that there was another delay, but I do have a good reason. I finally found inspiration. I know where I'm going with this poem...yeah, I didn't before...so I've been working on an outline beginning about six years after this chapter takes place, all the way up to the time of the '94 movie. Don't know what's going to happen in those six years yet...but I'm working on it, I promise! Thank you for the reviews. So many times I would have given up on this fic had it not been for someone asking what happens next.
Oh, and sorry for the depressing mood of this chapter. I almost cried writing it. (I'm not ashamed of that)
At his cabin that night, his first night back in the real world, Jack could do hardly more than sit and stare at the woman beside him, a woman who, inexplicably and inexorably loved him. It should have been a dream, this happiness, but the heat of her hands in his, the gentle cadence of her breath, the flickering light of the fire reflected in her cobalt eyes, these things were real. Real and wonderful.
He had no words. His fear had abated the moment he held Sam in his arms again, and he didn't want to remember it. Didn't want to acknowledge it by speaking of his absence.
Sam was the first to break the lovely silence between them. Reality could not be denied. The rest of the world, though it felt light-years away, must be dealt with.
"Do you want me to go with you tomorrow? I understand if you'd rather go alone."
Jack's eyes tightened. His memory flashed to the last moments of his friend's life. "I need you there."
It was simple, but it was enough. Sam understood. Sadness fell upon her, sadness for the death of John Gray, for his widow, for the friends and comrades he left behind. Sadness for her Jack, and the pain he hid so well. Sadness for herself, that wish as she might, she could not take away his pain.
They slept there, on the floor in front of the fire, Sam's head on his chest, her long hair cloaking them. The soft beat of her heart, almost in time with his own, and her trusting embrace were enough to drag Jack's mind from mourning and turn his thoughts instead to a future of more nights just like that one.
The funeral was a somber affair. Colonel John Gray was buried a fallen hero and given Full Honors. His friends and family stood by as the Air Force Base Honor Guard performed the funeral. His three teammates, still and always loyal, his Commanding Officer, his brother, and his father acted as pallbearers.
Sam's eyes swam with tears as she stood behind Barbara Gray, who stood stoic and silent between her mother and her mother-in-law. In the end, the seven members of the firing party bid a final farewell to the fallen soldier, and Barbara took her flag.
At the first opportunity, as soon as was decent, Sam snuck away from the crowd, past the twenty guardsmen, and walked past grave after grave of soldiers, young and old, father, husband. She stopped at the first bench, a marble slab in the shade of a tree, and wept.
In her mind, the funeral she had just attended could have been Jack's. The names on all the headstones around her, stretching for what seemed like miles, could all read Jack O'Neill. So easily, her love could have been the one mortally wounded. She could have been in Barbara's place, acting brave and strong at the moment, but ready to collapse in despair as soon as she was alone.
She felt someone sit next to her, but she couldn't move her hands from where they hid her face.
The voice stopped her tears. She peeked through her fingers, unsure that she had heard right. There he was. No warning, no explanation, after being gone so long. Her father.
"Sir," she said, her voice deep with sorrow.
Awkwardly, Colonel Carter patted his daughter's shoulder. His return had been unexpected, and his friend Hammond had told him where to find his little girl. Sobbing after a funeral for a man she didn't know was not where he had imagined he would find her.
He handed her his handkerchief, and she carefully wiped her tears away, blew her nose, and stuck the cloth in her little purse. She had a fairly large collection of her father's handkerchiefs in her room already. So many tears she had cried, and that was the only way he knew to help.
"Was Colonel Gray a friend of yours?" he asked, uncertain.
"No," she answered, straightening, trying to regain some form of composure. "He was Jack's CO."
His eyes narrowed. Every time he had asked Hammond about the relationship between Sam and Jack, George's answers had been evasive and ambiguous.
"I think you'll find they have become very close," was the last thing George said on the subject.
Jacob Carter was not complete fool, nor was he quite so oblivious on the subject of his only daughter that he had not noticed when his daughter fell in love. He didn't like it.
"Why are you crying so much?" he demanded.
She looked away. "Because it could have been him."
Sam was spared from hearing Jacob's rude answer when Jack arrived, concern drawing his eyebrows together. Torn between a desire to comfort Sam, to be comforted by her, and obligation requiring he restrict his behavior in front of her father, his superior, he stood in awkward silence for a moment.
He saluted quickly, and held out his hand. "Colonel. Good to see you back, and safely."
"Yes," was the senior Carter's curt reply. "Well, I'll leave you now. I'll see you at home, Samantha."
With that he walked away, his back rigidly straight, his steps clipped and precise. As soon as he was out of sight, Sam fell into Jack's arms, wrapping her own around his neck.
"Oh Jack, I'm so sorry."
Jack knew that the mission would always haunt him, that even then he dwelled on what he could have done to save his friend, but Sam was medicine enough to heal that hurt.
He took her hand and led her to the waiting cars that would take them to the Gray residence, where, hopefully, the mournful air would depart, and they would grant John's wish to be remembered with happiness and laughter.
AN2: I tried my best to get the funeral as accurate as possible, but as I found only a general list of what was involved in a Full Honors burial, I had to wing it. If I made a mistake, or left something important out, please let me know.