Warning for a character death. It's no one you know but I hope you'll care.
She smiles and leans over to whisper in his ear. "I told him I'd broken the regs while stranded on P3X-124 once already. And look where that got me."
Jack's gaze drifts over to the white cotton covered table top where Teal'c supervises as Hope busily tries to see the effect of adding club soda to wedding cake and the corner of his mouth turns up in a quirky little smile as they spin out of his sight. "Yeah," he agrees, "it's quite a mess."
The guests have trailed off and the caterers have cleaned up by the time Jack gets Hope put to bed and Sam all to himself, right beside him on the couch as she reads through a stack of cards congratulating him on his retirement. "Surprised them, didn't we?" he says with satisfaction. She laughs under her breath and Jack leans over to find out that it's a dirty joke penned in by Caldwell and he frowns, lifting it out of her hands with a stern look.
"Quite a surprise," Sam smiles. "Except for Major Ramirez. How did she know?" Her bare feet are propped up on the coffee table, nearly covered by her long white dress and for some reason Jack finds the whole scene oddly endearing.
Jack shrugs. "She knows everything." He kisses the top of Sam's head as she settles into his shoulder. "I suspect she deliberately screwed up Landry's schedule on the day of your promotion, too. 'Cause she never makes mistakes."
"Well, that would make sense."
"Her first name is Valentina. After the picture thing I thought I'd better check."
Jack chuckles. He'd always thought it was probably Valerie. "Putting her in the puzzle?" He idly runs his fingers through his wife's hair and thinks about names and wonders how to get Carter to change hers, before deciding he should just quit while he's ahead.
"Yeah." Neither one of them speaks for a moment, then she says, "Have you thought about our honeymoon?"
"Not much past the part where you strip me down, tie me up and make me call you 'General'."
"Jack," she says with faint reproach, a touch of amusement in her voice. "I meant we don't have to go to Tahiti. The puzzle isn't finished."
"I know," he confesses.
She's silent for a moment. "You weren't supposed to see that yet." Her voice abruptly changes, guarded and steady now and Jack mentally kicks himself for not putting the puzzle back where it belonged and keeping quiet about the whole thing.
He digs out his wallet and dutifully returns the folded paper. "I took the wrong suitcase and found it accidentally," he says apologetically and he doesn't dare to ask her about the mysterious answers.
She turns the puzzle around in her fingers, contemplating it before enfolding it securely in her palm. "Well, if we do go, Hope has to have a passport."
Jack snorts. "Born on another planet and can't leave the country without ID?" But he's happy she's not dwelling on his transgression with the puzzle and in true Carter form she has focused her attention on the details he would have overlooked. "Good thing you got copies of her birth certificate," he says, but he really wouldn't have expected anything less.
"Did I?" She says absentmindedly, picking up another card.
"Yeah," Jack says, unwinding his arms from around her and getting to his feet to climb upstairs to his office. It's a stupid thing, really but Jack remembers how he loved to see it in writing since he missed out on the real thing and opening the envelope up again he finds it right there, in black and white- well, not white but legal green- Hope Carter O'Neill. He's glad no one's there to see the stupid grin on his face but it makes him feel so good he might not even care. And Carter, remembering to cross the t's and dot the i's did get more copies. Just to be thorough, he checks the other ones over. And it's a good thing, too, because they got his name wrong.
"Close, but no cigar, guys," he says happily to himself. "It's Jonathan, not John." Looking more closely, he realizes they really fucked up this birth certificate beyond belief, with their names mixed up and switched all around. But not even the DC Health Department is that bad- is it? With an uneasy feeling Jack studies the document more closely and sees his name actually is correct, and so is Sam's- both in their proper places. He carefully slides his finger across the paper and notes that the birthdate is right, too- it's the same as Hope's. But her name is missing. His smile fades as his other hand goes to the back of the chair, just to give him something to hang on to while the world turns upside down. There hasn't been a mistake- that much is painfully, breathtakingly clear. The baby's name and time of birth are not wrong- they're just different.
He already knows what's on the next piece of paper but he can't seem to stop himself from sliding out the third certificate. And oh, has he seen too damn many of these. Neat, cold little facts summarizing the end of a life. After that, he just stops reading altogether and with shaking hands he keeps Hope's birth papers and then puts the rest back in the mailing envelope. His legs are leaden, his thinking processes just as slow, but somehow he makes it down the stairs and into the basement where he slips the remaining papers into the safe he keeps for classified documents, set in concrete and buried deep in the floor. Spinning the dials, he wonders how long those memories can stay locked away before they consume Sam and him from the inside out, just like they did to him before. And then he goes back upstairs, finds her asleep on the couch, and walks out to sit on a patio lounge chair with his head resting back, looking in the general direction of P3X-124 until the sun washes the stars away in the early morning light.
The water is warm here, lapping at their feet as they walk down the shoreline, Hope playing in the foam and encased in the wetsuit with the built-in floaties that protect her from the waves and the sun and if Jack had his way there'd be a trinium shell around her, too, but they don't sell those at Wal-mart. Sam walks along beside him with her dress blown against her legs, soft fabric drifting around her body, not so angular but healthy and fit and Jack thinks there must be theoretical limits but she just gets more beautiful by the day, breaking all the laws of physics that he knows. All in all, they're pretty damn happy here but there's something that keeps pulling them back, back to the work and the war and Jack just hopes she's ready.
As if reading his mind she stops, their feet sinking into the sand, and picking up his hand she presses the finished crossword puzzle into it. "It's done," she smiles softly but her grey eyes don't sparkle like they did when she first started the task and he wonders if they ever will again. Looking quickly to the line with the name, he notices with relief that she has left it in. His finger caresses the four short letters and he wonders about his son's four short days of life and then his gaze turns to her face. Tears stream down unrestrained, the pain he's seen in her since he found her finally finding its release as she realizes he already knows the question to the answer.
"How did you figure it out?" she manages to whisper as he tries to wipe the tears away with his thumb, his other hand grasping the paper as it flutters in the tropical breeze.
"Kent filed the other certificates. I guess he thought I knew."
"But he didn't know about Charlie," she whispers.
Of course. Jack should have known she'd sacrifice her own sanity to save his. He remembers Hailey's defensiveness back on the planet and Sam's evasiveness here and he just can't stand the thought of how hard he's been on her, and what he put her through. "God, Sam. I should have- could have done something."
"You did. You risked everything because you thought things weren't right. Back in the hospital I told you that I know, but you understand."
Taking a deep breath, he looks down at the other answers he doesn't recognize, those two years about which she hasn't breathed a word, hasn't written a report, hasn't even cried out in a nightmare. He realizes that his love and respect for Sam don't have any theoretical limits, either, as he raises his head to watch Hope trying to catch a crab that always makes it to its burrow well before she can.
Sam pulls back a strand of hair that had blown across her face, searching his averted eyes. "I just couldn't bear to tell you, Jack."
He feels the deeply empty, familiar pain of loss, for her and for himself, and he understand that more, much more pain will be coming. But at that moment he also knows that he'll find the strength to shoulder on because, thank God, she needs him to. And as long as she needs him, he'll be there. Finally turning to face her he asks, "Can you now?"
She nods, takes his hand and starts to walk again. "I named him John Carter O'Neill so I could call him Jack...," she begins in slow and halting phrases, "but he could have his own name since his father has pretty big shoes to fill…"
The tide comes slowly in and the sun sets into the deep blue horizon, but for Jack and Sam the sun finally rises on P3X-124.