The Things You Leave Behind
By: a. loquita
A/N: Written for the apocalypsekree ficathon, the prompt was: Sam/Jack, "On second thought, that was a really bad idea." Thank you to latante and bohemianheart for their beta work on this.
"When it happened, and I said that we should go through the gate?"
"On second thought, that was a really bad idea."
I'm replaying the conversation in my head for the 47th time because, evidently, I like torturing myself. No one ever said Jack O'Neill was mentally normal. Heck, I'm not even sure what the definition of normal is anymore. Not that I can look it up when the dictionary has been blasted to bits.
Every time the scene replays in my mind, I can never manage to rewrite that look on Carter's face when "really bad idea" comes out of my mouth. You'd think since it's in my head I could make her do whatever I want, including rewriting history, but it's never worked that way. This truth was supposed to remain unspoken, apparently, but no one told me. How is it my fault if I voice something that she doesn't want to hear?
I walk across a rope bridge, end up on a wide platform with a slanted roof that serves as the kitchen, and turn a corner to another rope bridge. It's like some kind of Swiss Family Robinson complex up in the trees.
We'd only visited this world once during our SG-1 days, and it was so brief that I don't remember it. The first night Carter and I returned here we camped on the ground and discovered why the indigenous people—whoever used to inhabit this planet—had built their village this way. Because during the night, weird bugs come out of the underbrush and though they're not deadly, they are certainly creepy. Best to stay several stories up.
"Carter," I say as I approach. She doesn't respond. Not that I expect her to; she's been giving me the silent treatment since yesterday. Since "really bad idea" came out of my mouth and that look appeared on her face. If she keeps this up much longer, I might resort to talking to the walls. Or ropes. Or bugs. Whatever.
She told me months ago that she doesn't mind the chore she's currently doing: hanging clothes. Because it reminds her of her mother back when Carter was six, and they were living in San Diego. Her mother would hang the laundry in the backyard. Carter told a story about being mortified that Jimmy Engle said he'd seen her underwear drying on the clothesline. Which of course wasn't true. But it made the bus ride home from school uncomfortable for a least a week afterwards. Her mom had baked her cookies every day when she got home. After that, hanging laundry together became one of their things during which mother and daughter would spend time together and talk.
It's stuff like this I would never have known about Carter if we hadn't come here. If things had stayed as they were, her my subordinate, me her CO, and us pretending there's nothing in the air between us that at times goes from gas to solid—visible, touchable, and damn inconvenient. These are the things I wouldn't know about her if the world hadn't ended and we didn't end with it.
"Carter," I try again. "This is getting annoying."
"Getting?" she inquires, without looking at me still. "I thought we were already there."
Starting talking is good. But beyond that part of the plan, I have no idea what to say next. Saying I'm sorry at this point seems lame and I'm pretty sure that I'm not sorry anyway. I'm just sorry that she's taking it the way that she is.
Sam grabs another sopping wet ball of material out of the basket, shakes it out, and clips the shirt to the clothesline. Is it crazy to be angry with the laundry because it gives her an excuse not to look at me?
"It's fine," she reaches into her basket of diversion again. "You feel how you feel. You can't change that."
But you could've kept it to yourself.
The unspoken part blasts clear as a bullhorn. Yeah, I'm an idiot. But does she want me to lie to her? Tell her that I'm happy that the Earth was destroyed and everyone we know is dead? And that my plan to get us both through the Stargate at the very last second worked. Only, on second thought, spending all of eternity with just the two of us and no Simpsons, take-out Chinese, or regulations that keep us at a safe distance from one another was a bad idea.
A very bad idea.
I watch her hang another shirt, then a pair of socks, and finally she's finished. She picks up the basket and starts to move, but I'm blocking her way.
"Jack," she says, irritated, and tries to shift to her right, so of course I move to block her. When she shifts back left and I block again; she drops the basket and glares at me.
At least she's finally looking at me.
I give her credit for not yelling when she asks, "What the hell is wrong with you?" There're've been too many years of restraint drilled into her. But despite appearances, I know her, and I know she's about as angry as she's ever been in all the years we've known each other. Then, of course I, being the ass that I am, don't particularly help the situation.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Carter?" It zings her, like I knew it would.
"You'd really, truly, prefer that I'm stuck here alone?" Her hands aren't quite balled into fists, but they're close enough that I'm already calculating which way to duck. "You'd rather be dead than have to live with me for the rest of your life? Because, so help me, Jack O'Neill, I've got no problems shooting you right now."
I state the obvious: "I'm an idiot."
"Yes, you are."
"There's a good chance this is gonna end in a murder-suicide sometime in the next 10 years."
She puffs out in equal parts anger and sarcasm. "There is that chance."
"Just so we're both clear on that."
"Yep." At that, she moves right again to go around me, and this time I don't block her. I note that neither of us has acknowledged who would be doing the murdering. Some things have always been understood between us, I suppose.
I follow her across three bridges until she enters the sleeping quarters built between two thick tree trunks. The second night we were here, I suggested we stick nearby each other at night, even though the complex was massive, and obviously we could've each had our own room three-quarters of a mile apart. Now, I'm starting to wonder if even that would be enough space.
"I thought you were going fishing," she says.
Sam digs through a trunk for something. I wonder if it's necessary or if it's simply replacing the laundry's earlier grand purpose.
My eyes betray me and glance toward the beds. She pushed them back at some point today, back to where they had been all these months up until last night. When I returned from washing up last night, entered the room and hung my towel to dry—because damn does she gets pissy when I leave it in a heap on the floor—there were those same two beds pushed together
I said words. Some that she apparently didn't want to hear; she did the look thing, and I fled as if I'd found the big, bad wolf in bed with grandma.
Again, she doesn't say anything. I rub the heels of my palms into my eyes. Another headache is forming.
"Carter, God damn it!"
She stills and turns very slowly.
I swallow. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are."
"It's just…" I can't say these words. "If we start…" I glance again at the beds standing resolutely apart. "…that."
She raises an eyebrow.
I conclude, "It'll make things even more complicated."
Sam says, "It's complicated between us even though we're not… doing that."
I'm momentarily glad that I'm not the only one who can't even say the word. But I'm not sure what's next. "So?"
"So, damn it, Jack, for once think about—" She shakes her head and her face twists up. "I can't…" I know what's coming next even though I've only seen her cry a handful of times. It crumbles something inside me to see her like this, fighting for control.
In all the months we've been here, she hasn't cried for losing her home, her family or friends. She hasn't cried about failing to stop the invasion or not being fast enough to save Daniel and Teal'c. But this is it. Me, what I've done and what I've failed to do, that's the thing that makes her cry.
I hate myself even more than I already did.
A few tears escape as she says, "You could at least lie to me and tell me that if the world had to end and you were left with just one person, you'd want it to be me."
"It's not… as simple as that."
Sam shakes her head and wipes her cheeks with the back of her hand. I move a few steps closer, but I hesitate. I'm not sure that she wants me to touch her. Last night, she offered herself up and I rejected her. Maybe now I don't deserve to give or receive anything.
She's the one to close the uncertain gap, putting her arms around me and resting her head on my chest. So I follow her lead and hug her back. I will always follow her; doesn't she understand that by now? The fact that our ranks made me the leader didn't really matter. In every way that does matter, she leads and I follow. Even if at times, I do so reluctantly.
"Just promise me one thing?" I ask.
"What?" Her voice is still a little rough but clear enough to indicate the threat of tears has been effectively defeated.
"Be careful with me, Carter, I break easily." She chuckles because she knows. At least I've got her laughing and that's a good sign, right? "I mean it, I'm not a toy."
The world can end and I'll handle it. Well, besides the general complaining about lack of Simpson's reruns and my longing for General Tso's chicken. But if this, between us, if this ends… It's the safest thing to never let it start. Not starting is the only way to ensure it won't end, like everything else I've ever known.
"We'll be OK," Carter says, looking up at me. I have no choice but to trust her and follow her one more time.
"So…" I ask hopefully, "No murder-suicide today?"
"Not today." Her lips curve into a smug little smile, "Let's wait and see about tomorrow."