General Hammond stood ramrod straight in the SGC elevator. Normally he would be happy to be here, more than happy. Not today. Jacob Carter was dying. His friend of many years was dying, and he had only an hour to see him before he had to return to Washington.
It was times like these that not being responsible only for the SGC dug into his nerves.
When the elevator doors opened he was greeted by the familiar figure of Walter Harriman. He frowned. He'd been expecting Jack.
"General," Harriman greeted, "Its good to see you sir."
"Good to see you too, Walter. Where's Jack?"
"He's with General Carter, sir." Harriman said, falling into step beside Hammond as they headed for the observation room containing Jacob.
When they got there, Jack was still in the room, talking with Jacob. Harriman raised his hand to knock, but Hammond stilled him.
"I'll wait in the observation room, Sergeant. You're dismissed."
"Yessir," Harriman said, turning and heading back to his post.
Hammond climbed the stairs to the observation room and took a seat, looking down at his friends. Jack was sitting on a stool beside Jacob's bed, listening intently to what Jacob was saying.
Hammond had had two phone calls that morning. One extremely tearful one from Samantha Carter, who in all her years under his command had never used the fact that he was an old family friend, had never even referred to it. The conversation had been disturbing.
Hammond's phone rang.
"Hammond?" he answered.
"Sir," came the voice of his secretary, "I have Lieutenant Colonel Carter from the SGC on the line for you. She says it's urgent."
"Put her through," Hammond said, wondering why Carter would be calling him.
"General," the familiar voice came, sounding strained. "Its Colonel Carter…" the line was silent for a moment.
"Colonel?" Hammond prompted.
When her voice came, it was almost a whisper. "Uncle George…"
Hammond frowned; she hadn't called him that since before her mother died.
"Uncle George," she tried again, "its Dad… he's dying," he heard her take a deep breath, her next words were steadier. "He only has a short time left, sir."
"Understood, Colonel," Hammond responded. "I'll be there this afternoon, Sam," he finished, his voice softer.
"Yessir," she said and hung up.
Hammond sighed at the memory of the phone call. The second call had come only moments later, from the man in the room below currently not lying in the infirmary bed.
"General?" Jack's voice had been brusque.
"I know, Jack," Hammond had said, "I'm on my way."
"Good," Jack had replied. "I'll have a car meet you at Petersen," he said and hung up.
Hammond leant forwards onto the console in front of him. Suddenly Jacob's voice filled the room.
"How's your love life, Jack?"
Hammond looked down, realising he'd flipped the switch that enabled him to hear everything in the room below relayed through the speakers. His hand moved to flick the switch back to the off position, when what Jacob had actually said penetrated his mind.
"Excuse me?" Jack was spluttering.
"You heard me, Jack. And please, don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about, I don't have limitless time here."
"I…" Jack began, then took a deep breath and continued, "I just got dumped, if you must know. Why the interest?"
"You know why," Jacob said weakly.
Even without seeing Jack's face, Hammond could tell he was uncomfortable.
"Even now, you can't talk about this?" Jacob asked, "To me?" Jack shrugged. "She's my daughter, Jack."
Jack shrugged again. "Carter's engaged, Jacob."
"I met him."
"You didn't like him?"
This time Jacob shrugged, the movement causing him to cough. Jack rose, concern written in every line of his body. Jacob weakly raised a hand to wave him away. "Take care of my daughter, Jack."
Jack seemed to be about to say something when the door opened and Walter Harriman poked his head in. "General O'Neill? You're wanted in your office."
Jack nodded and looked back to Jacob. "I'll come see you again," he said, rising and exiting the room.
Jacob looked up at General Hammond and nodded to him. Hammond rose and headed for the sickroom, wondering how long his friend had known he was there.
It was several hours later. Hammond was once again installed in his office in the Pentagon. Jacob Carter had died only a couple of hours after Hammond's visit, and the loss had upset the General more than he cared to admit. Jacob, after all, had been his friend for many years and since Jacob had blended with Selmak they'd become greater friends.
He'd had to leave immediately after his barely twenty minute visit with Jacob. Luckily he'd had the Prometheus on standby, ready to beam him across the country at a moment's notice.
He stared at the half-completed letter of condolence on his laptop screen. The words Dear Mark Carter were as far as he'd managed to get in the last fifteen minutes.
Of course Sam Carter had already informed her brother of their father's death, but the letter was called for and Hammond wanted to write it. Jack had offered to do it.
"I'll write to Carter's brother if you want, sir." Jack said, his hands shoved deeply into the pockets of the BDUs he favoured even as a General.
Hammond watched as – yet again – Jack's eyes flicked sideways, through the glass door to the room where Sam sat, looking down at her father.
"I mean," Jack went on, "I know you're busy and I-"
Through the open door they heard Carter sigh. Long years of watching Jack O'Neill meant Hammond could see the man flinch at the sound.
"Go, Jack," He said softly, "take care of her."
"I can't sir," Jack said, his eyes now firmly fixed on Sam's profile.
"Why not?" Hammond asked.
Jack looked at him, startled. "Sir?"
"I said why not, son?" Hammond repeated. Jack merely stared. "I have to get back to Washington. Let me know of any… change." He said, the metaphor tasting like dust in his mouth.
Jack turned and walked into the room, closing the door behind him and taking a seat next to Sam.
Hammond looked at the papers on the desk next to his laptop. Reassignment papers. One set he had set in motion himself. The other had arrived on his desk minus the signature of one Brigadier General Jack O'Neill, even though it was clearly called for.
The first were Jack's. The year was up, Hammond was retiring and Jack would be coming here. The man didn't know it yet – that was a battle for tomorrow.
The second set of papers was a request, not yet granted, for Samantha Carter to be reassigned to Area 51. Colonel Carter had emailed it to him directly, using his personal, but still highly secure email address. While it was true that, as head of Homeworld security, he could approve her request, she should technically have gone through Jack.
Hammond had to wonder at her motives.
However, that – again – was a battle for tomorrow. Hammond sighed and turned back to his letter.