A/N: Written to honor and celebrate Charles, whom I only ever knew by association. I also hope that sometime it might bring a smile for Carrie. Set post-series, during SGA's 5th season, just before Enemy At the Gate. This fic focuses on General Hammond's passing, hence it gets a "character death" warning, but it is in canon.
Over on GW we have been asked to keep away the sadness if at all possible, despite our hurting for our friend's loss. Hopefully this will help.
Meaning of Life Stuff . . .
Colorado Springs, CO
Sam stepped through the wormhole and smiled as she registered the familiar clank of her boots on the metal ramp, a sound that would always mean "coming home" to her. Still in her tan BDU's and dusty from her time in the windy, open facility she'd just left, she felt almost as if she were returning from a routine mission, except that nothing about today's summons to the SGC was routine. Sam glanced at her watch. She'd gotten the relayed message to report ASAP to the SGC just under twenty minutes ago and had dropped everything to comply, quickly handing off projects as she ran to the Stargate. She wasn't necessarily panicked about the return-to-base order; while unusual, it wasn't something that triggered any alarms for her, but she had been apprehensive. Looking around more carefully, the normalcy of the gateroom and the control room served to set her initial fears to rest. Whatever the reason she'd been called back, it wasn't because Jack was injured in any way. Thank God.
She glanced around again quickly, noting the absence of defense teams, and relaxed a bit more. Whatever it was also didn't appear involve a threat to the base via the gate. And, obviously, the gate itself was in working order. Hitching her daypack higher, Sam looked up at the personnel in the control room, wondering why she didn't see Landry in place and noting that Chief Harriman wasn't manning the computer. Again, not usual for this time of day, but not too far out of the ordinary either.
The minute she was clear of the ramp the gate snapped off, followed immediately by the sounds of the giant ring dialing again. Sam turned toward the left-hand door and smiled as Colonel Mike Reynolds strode toward her; her smile turned quickly to a frown as she caught sight of his pack and gear bag. Sam flicked her gaze up to the control room once more, wondering again where Landry was and why he wasn't there to see a team leave. Then she realized that there was no team behind Mike. Just him and a gear bag. Sam studied him as he approached. She didn't sense any great urgency from the man before her, nor in the general atmosphere of the room, but something was obviously up. "Hey, Mike. Heading out?"
Reynolds nodded. "Yup. I'm filling in for you at the new Alpha." Correctly reading Sam's confused look, Reynolds shrugged. "Couldn't tell ya. Orders just came. You're wanted here, so I'm headed there."
"Where's Landry," Sam asked as the last chevron snapped into place.
Sam nodded and stepped aside, giving Mike room to position himself just as the wormhole kawooshed open. She gave him a final wave before leaving and taking the steps up to the control room. The sergeant on duty waved her up toward the briefing room and Sam acknowledged him with a nod. She took the steps to the command level two at a time and strode into the briefing room to find Chief Harriman on the phone. The Chief waved her into what would always be to her General Hammond's office.
" . . . –stand, sir. No. He's on a 130 somewhere over Nebraska. Do you want me to . . . Yes, sir. Colonel Carter's just arrived and–"
Sam closed the door to the office behind her as she approached the desk, quickly picking up the phone and pressing the flashing button. She dropped into the large leather chair as she spoke. "Carter."
"Hello Colonel. Paul Davis."
Sam frowned. Paul sounded . . . tense. She could have sworn his voice just cracked. Sam felt her shoulders tightening in response, her insides going cold. She slid forward on the chair and rested her elbows on the desk, supporting the suddenly heavy phone in her hand. "Paul? What's going on?"
Please, not Jack. Not Jack. Please. Not Jack.
"Colonel, I . . . I don't know how to say this . . .."
Colorado Springs, CO
Sam numbly acknowledged the voice on the other end of the line as he bid her goodbye, barely noticing that it took her three tries to get the handset back into the cradle. She brought her trembling hands to her cheeks, peripherally aware of how cold she suddenly was.
It couldn't be. They had to have it wrong. There was . . . no. They were wrong.
Fists clenched to control her shaking hands, Sam rose to her feet, swaying as the words washed through her again. He's gone. We haven't contacted General O'Neill, he's inbound to Peterson now, the trip was already scheduled. I wanted you to hear it from . . . a friend . . ..
"No." Sam shook her head. "Oh, God. No." Tears threatened, burning white-hot against the back of her eyes. She flattened her hands on the desk and bent her head to catch her breath. To fight back the steadily rising waves of nausea that threatened. Straightening, she found a spot on the wall and focused, carefully and deliberately, on breathing in and out.
In and out.
One breath at a time. As she so often did, and was unfortunately so very good at, she began to set it aside. Easing the grief and pain to a corner, she let the command part of her brain step forward. Things had to done. Decisions to be made.
People to call.
A woman's heart to break.
She took two shaking steps around the desk and then stopped, sinking into one of the visitor's chairs in the room as the reality of the rest of the conversation sank in. Jack. Oh, God. He doesn't know. Won't know until . . . "Chief!"
"Colonel?" Walter Harriman arrived so quickly that Sam wondered if he'd been standing outside of the office door. Then she wondered if he knew. She gave him a quick, sharp look and realized that no, he didn't yet know. None of them did.
"Chief, have you ordered the car yet for General O'Neill?" When Harriman shook his head she nodded. "Good. Fine. Don't. I'll be . . ." Sam took a deep breath. "I'll be picking him up, so I'll need his ETA." She knew it was unusual that she, acting CO of the SGC, would make the trip to retrieve a visiting General officer, but she didn't care. She couldn't risk having him hear the news from anyone else. Wouldn't take that chance. George Hammond had been too important to him–to both of them–for him to get the news this way. Then she looked again at Harriman. This fine NCO had served under Hammond since day one. Had grown with him, with the command, and demonstrated time and again his competence. His dedication. His love of both country and his team. He, too, deserved to know, privately, what had happened. Sam cleared her throat and blinked back a fresh wave of tears.
"Chief," she paused, then started again. "Walter." She watched Harriman's face soften slightly at the use of his first name. When she'd begun stepping in, first for Reynolds as base Second, and then for Landry when necessary, she'd moved away from personal, informal terms of address she'd used for so long. She modeled her style on Jack to some degree, though she'd chosen to go with addressing her colleagues by grade rather than last name. It was appropriate . . . most of the time. The move from 'Walter to 'Chief' had been necessary for them both, just as the reverse was true now.
Harriman gently cleared his throat and Sam realized he was waiting for her to speak. "Sorry, I, ah . . . sit down, please." Sam waved to the other visitor's chair adjacent to the one in which she was sitting.
The surprise on the Chief's face was clear and Sam realized that this, none of this, was going to get easier. Not anytime soon.
"Walter, that was Major Davis on the phone," she began unnecessarily. Sam ran a hand through her hair, trying to focus. "Sorry, 'course you know that. He, ah . . . oh damn." Despite her steely resolve, tears slipped past her guard and down her cheeks. Instantly a soft white handkerchief appeared in her hand, pressed gently to her fingers until she took it. Sam accepted it gratefully and dabbed at the dampness, appreciating the subtle scent of Old Spice on the cloth. Just like . . . Sam took a long, steadying breath and dove in. "Walter, Major Davis called to tell me, to let us know that . . . that . . . General Hammond died this morning." She forced the last five words out in a rush and waited, her fingers clenching the damp kerchief he'd loaned her.
Walter froze before her, the expression of gentle concern for her draining from his features, replaced by a shocking paleness. His mouth dropped open in a soundless "Oh," and his bright blue eyes swam behind the silver steel-rimmed glasses as he struggled for control. Sam reached out and clasped his hand in support, support for them both. "Oh, no . . ." Walter's whispered gasp wrenched at her heart.
"Yes." Sam squeezed his hand again. "I'm sorry. I know how . . .. I know," she finished sadly. They sat together in silence for a long minute, each lost in their thoughts of the man who'd mentored them both. Sam, though she was aware of every minute ticking by, sat quietly, letting Walter absorb the news as best as he could. Sam watched with pride as he did just as she had done, controlling the pain, putting it aside and focusing on the now.
Finally, after clearing his throat twice, Walter looked up her, his eyes swimming. He slipped his hand from under hers and slowly stood until he was at attention before her, his eyes focused, as hers had been, on an invisible spot on the wall. "What . . . what do you need, Colonel?"
I need for this to not be true. For it to be a dream. A terrible nightmare. Sam sighed and stood as well. "We'll need a meeting right away with the senior officers. All of the team leaders and all of the department Heads. A-sap. Then, as soon as I return with Ja– with General O'Neill, we'll want an all-staff call in the Gateroom."
"What about his daughter?"
"Jack and I," Sam answered, giving up any pretense about her relationship with her former CO, "will inform her. That was one of Major Davis' reasons for calling me directly. We'll stop by the house on the way back from Peterson." Sam paused and took a breath, again forcing her emotions down. "He was with him," she whispered and then looked away as understanding dawned on the Chief's face. "Davis. He was with General Hammond. They were at a breakfast meeting, and–" Sam choked back a sob and straightened suddenly. "Walter, I need a minute or two."
Walter nodded, his eyes still on hers. "Understood." He nodded sharply and turned away, then paused by the door. "Colonel? What do you need?" He asked again, and this time the emphasis was clearly on her.
And this time, Sam gave voice to her thoughts. "Me? Walter, I need . . . to wake up."
"Yes, ma'am, me too."
"Thank you, Walter." Sam glanced at her watch. "I'll meet the seniors and the Heads in the briefing room. Everyone's there, no excuses. And Walter? Let's keep a lid on this for now. I don't want the news out before we tell folks."
Again Harriman nodded, then he turned and left the room. Sam heard the door click closed behind him and then sank again into the chair. Her eyes drifted to the brass nameplates mounted on the far wall. She didn't know whose idea it had been, but when Hammond had retired his brass nameplate had been retired to a place of honor. Jack's had followed not long after. Someday Landry's would be added to the chain. Sam rose and walked over to the first plate, tracing her fingers over the name engraved in the cool metal.
Lt. Gen. George Charles Hammond
Sam barely noticed the brass plate below Hammond's engraved with her husband's name and grade. She had eyes only for the Hammond's. Walter's voice came over the PA system calling those to the meeting that she'd requested and Sam stepped back from the wall, her fingers trailing one last time across the shiny brass surface before she dropped her hand to her side.
She had five minutes. Five minutes to gather herself, to collect her thoughts.
Five minutes to mourn.
Colorado Springs, CO
The trip to Peterson passed in a blur, and Sam was grateful that it was still fairly early in the morning. She was passed through security with a minimum of fuss, sure that Walter had smoothed the way for her. She drove across the base toward the flight line, her mind on the meeting she'd just left. The officers and civilians that she'd met with in the briefing room had reacted with varying degrees of shock and sadness. Most had worked with Hammond, only one or two had come on board since he'd moved to Washington, but everyone knew of his impact at the SGC, and everyone was feeling the loss. As she thought again of what she'd said to them all, Sam felt her throat closing up once more.
No. Now is not the time. Sam showed her ID to the NCO at the chain-link fence that enclosed the flight line and eased the car into position about one hundred yards inside. The perks of picking up a General, especially the Head of Homeworld Security, included positioning the pickup car fairly close to where he'd be disembarking. As the C-130 lumbered to a noisy standstill, Sam took another long, steadying breath and opened the door. She left her cap inside as everyone did on the line, instead standing at a relaxed parade rest beside the nondescript black car. She'd chosen to go with a vehicle from the motor pool, knowing she'd have less hassle on the line here. She also knew that Jack wouldn't realize it was she until he got close.
It took forever, it seemed, for the props to wind down and for the forward doors to open. Finally she saw the crew chief swing wide the door and drop the ladder, then felt her breath catch as a familiar figure appeared in the framed entrance. Sam watched as he jumped down from the last rung, his movements perhaps not as catlike as they'd been in the field, but still limber enough. He exchanged handshakes and salutes with the crew chief, then looked around for his ride. Spotting the nondescript car behind Sam, he lifted the small duffle over his shoulder and began walking toward her. Sam knew the precise second when he realized it was her and not a regular driver. His steps paused, then quickened. His face lit up, making Sam's heart ache. Ache with love, and ache with pain. For the pain she was about to share with him.
As Jack drew near his expression changed from light happiness at seeing her to wary concern when she didn't return his smile. She watched as the familiar mask slid in place and she knew he was doing what she had before, steeling himself for bad news. "Sam?" He asked as he drew near enough to be heard.
Sam looked up at him, happy to see him despite the news she bore. "Jack." She gave him a weak smile and waved him toward the car. "Not here. Get in and I'll explain."
Sam Carter/Jack O'Neill residence
Sam settled herself onto the couch with a soft, grateful sigh. It was over. One of the longest days of her life was over. Then she sighed again. This day might be over, but the rest of it was not. Not by far. They still had to get through the funeral and interment, but that wasn't for another two days. Sam closed her eyes and tried to put out of mind the minutiae that would come with the event in two days. Like her dad's service, but . . . more. General Hammond might not have been a serving, active officer when he died, but he had been a special advisor to the President; therefore there would be . . . more. Lots more. And Sam was extremely grateful that she was not responsible for it all. Or, really, any of it, any more.
With the news of Hammond's sudden passing, everything had shifted. Landry was heading back right now, and Jack was going to handle the arrangements, leaving Sam free to command until Landry's return. She had only to worry about keeping the planet safe, Jack had the hard job.
"You okay?" Jack's soft voice pulled Sam from her thoughts.
"Yeah, just tired." She lifted a hand in invitation and felt a wave of love and belonging flow through her as he slid into place beside her, his hand warm and soft around hers. She gave him a tiny smile and rested her head against his shoulder. "I'm . . . God, Jack, I'm so glad you're here."
"Me too," was his quiet response.
Sam lifted her head and looked at him, waiting for him to meet her gaze. "Not just 'cause I need you, you know. I'm glad you're here for you, too. I . . . well, I wouldn't have wanted you to get the news from anyone else." She squeezed his hand.
Jack leaned over and brushed his lips across her forehead. "I know. Me too," he said again.
Tucking her feet up under her, she shifted until she was leaning on him. Jack's arm lifted and encircled her, the move so automatic neither noticed. "What's next? How's Karen?" She asked, referring to Hammond's daughter. They'd left General's daughter's house after just an hour because Karen was due down at the girls' school to be the "classroom mom," and Sam still had to inform the SGC as a whole. When they'd gotten home Jack had followed up with Karen on the phone and had been talking with her while Sam was showering. She felt Jack's shrug against her shoulder.
"She said she'd call tomorrow, and she's doing as well as you'd expect, I think. Tom's taken the girls to dinner to give her time to . . . well, you know."
"I do." Though it had been two years, Sam still felt the raw, aching pain of her dad's passing. "It won't go away for her, not for a long time. Sometimes I'll think of something Dad would find funny and–"
"Yeah. I know."
And Sam knew he did. Knew that twelve years later, Jack did the same with Charlie. No, it never got easier. The initial pain might fade, but the ache would be there for a long time to come.
"Did you call Cass?" Jack's head was bent low, his lips close to hear ear.
Sam nodded. "Yes. She's coming home tomorrow. She told me not to pick her up, that she'd rent a car or call a cab. She'll come right to the SGC from the airport. She was . . . okay, I guess. I'm worried that she's just waiting for something to happen to all of us."
Behind her, Jack blew out a long sigh, making Sam's upper body rise and fall with the motion. He tightened his grip on her briefly. "You know we can't protect her from it never happening."
"I know, but–" Sam shrugged again. "Can't help wanting to."
"It's a parent thing. Doesn't matter how old they are, I think."
"I'm glad she's not driving tomorrow." Sam felt more than saw Jack's nod of agreement. They fell silent and then Jack slowly began to chuckle, the sound and vibration running through Sam. She twisted in his arms and pushed herself further down onto the couch until her head rested on his lap, his arm lying lightly across her chest and stomach. "What?"
Jack, his eyes bright with tears shook his head. "Just remembering something. You know that time loop?"
Sam narrowed her eyes at him. He'd confessed to his actions during the loop to her late one night not long after he'd given her his ring. "When you kissed me senseless in the control room?"
"Yes." Jack chuckled again and then looked down at her, his expression wistful. "It was, I don't know, the sixteenth or seventeenth time we'd done that damned loop and reset. Could've been more, lost track. Anyway, T and I took the loop off and played. Actually, we took several off. But on this one . . . well, let's just say that nobody holds a longer driving record than yours truly."
Puzzled, Sam could only stare at him. "Driving?"
"Golf, Carter. Golf. Only thing worthwhile about the hockey offseason. You mentioned 'driving' and . . . well, I'd forgotten about that part of the loop 'til just now."
"What does that have to do with . . . wait, driving? You didn't." She peered up at him in disbelief. "You opened a wormhole and . . . what do you call it?"
"Shot a boomer off the tee."
"Alaris." Jack's voice was as smug as his expression. "T figures it was a couple of billion light years."
"To say the least." Sam began laughing softly with him. "Did you get caught?"
"Oh, yes." Jack's grin slipped a little. "We'd done it, I dunno, for four loops, maybe? The last time I was lined up and Ha–" Jack paused and cleared his throat. "Hammond shouted something along the lines of 'Colonel O'Neill, what the hell are you doing?"
"Yes," and now Jack was slightly indignant. "And in the middle of my backswing!"
Despite the pervasive sadness, Sam dissolved into weak giggles. She could just see Jack, dressed in his Payne Stewart best, lining up for a shot when . . . "Poor baby." Sam lifted a hand to his cheek, glad the memory made him smile. "Remember when we went back to 1969? His hands shook as he touched mine. You know, when he uncuffed us in the back of the truck?"
"Yeah, he called you 'Miss.'"
Sam smiled. "Yeah." Sam thought fondly of the then-Lieutenant Hammond. He was so young, so willing to trust.
A long moment passed, each lost in their own memories of the man who'd had such an influence on them, personally and professionally. Finally, Sam asked him, "Remember Hathor?" She watched and felt Jack shudder.
"Yeah. Who could forget?"
"Well, the first time, you know, with Daniel? When she was on base? I, ah, I–"
"Conked him on the head."
Sam's eyes widened. "You knew?"
"'Course I knew." Jack reached up and brushed a strand of hair from Sam's forehead. He tipped his head to gaze into her brown eyes. "Carter, I was the base Second, you know. It was my job to know."
"I know. Just didn't realize you read all those reports."
"Not all of 'em." Jack tapped her nose and then returned his hand to her belly, his fingers slipping under Sam's cotton shirt and lovingly caressing her belly. "Just the ones that featured you. Especially when it featured you doing something juicy, like you taking out your CO."
"Ah." Sam felt another smile steal across her face. "I was sure my career was over. Said as much to Janet." And Sam fell silent again, realizing she was remembering two lost dear friends now instead of one.
Jack touched her cheek, then brushed away the tear that fell. "The second time with Hathor. When Hammond and Teal'c rescued us? Teal'c told me that the Old Man let out a helluva war cry as he blew up the ion cannon thingies."
"Yup. T said it reminded him of the tribal cries of the Jaffa. Very . . . enthusiastic."
Sam turned her face toward Jack's warm belly, snuggling closer. "How 'bout the time you took a hockey stick to his car window?"
"Oh yeah . . ." Jack grimaced slightly as he remembered. "Or, what about . . ."
And they were off. Trading stories and memories of the General, and of the man. Sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. Together they celebrated the life of a man they'd both loved.
Jack opened up more than Sam could ever remember him doing before. He spoke of his love and respect for the man who'd led the battle against the Goa'uld. Who'd given him latitude and shown remarkable forbearance while always having his back. Who'd taught him to lead more than had any other officer before him.
Sam shared her memories of Hammond from her childhood. He was a longtime friend of her dad's and had been such a loving presence in her life for so many years. Always kind, always willing to listen. It had been George Hammond and his wife who had stood by her family as they'd said goodbye to Sam's mother. It was he who had yanked the stick out of Jacob's rear when it had been Sam who'd applied to the Academy and not Mark. He'd been there when she graduated, Sam recalled, standing alongside her dad and brother. His loud whoop had brought a smile to her face as she'd walked across the stage to receive her commission. Standing behind then-Colonel Hammond at his wife's funeral, wanting so much to reach out and comfort and not knowing how. More tears escaped as their stories wound down and this time Sam didn't try to stop them.
Jack caressed her cheek, catching each tear as it fell and brushing it aside. "Shh, Sam. It's okay to cry. It's okay to miss him."
"I know," Sam sniffed into the worn soft cotton of his t-shirt. "I just . . . it doesn't seem real. He's been a part of my life for so long and now . . ."
"I know." Jack's hand stilled as he held her close. His voice was hoarse with his own tears. "You remember when we found Earnest?"
Sam sniffled again and drew back slightly, puzzled by the question. "Of course. Why?"
"Remember Daniel and that . . . thingie? The Ancient projector thing?"
"Sure." Sam dried her tears and smiled slightly. "Daniel was convinced that the device held the secret to, well, everything."
"Yeah. 'Meaning of life stuff.'"
Smiling softly, Sam nodded. "Yes. I'm not sure he ever forgave us for bringing him back."
"Hammond said something about that to me, not too long ago." Jack shifted on the couch and slid his hand along Sam's cheek, tilting her face so that she met his eyes. "He ran across the tape Daniel made that day and told me to tell Daniel that the 'meaning of life stuff' he was looking for wasn't lost on that planet."
Jack paused, a half-smile on his face as he remembered. He absently caressed Sam's cheek, clearly lost in the memory. Finally, Sam tipped her head and kissed his hand, bringing his attention back to her, to them.
Jack shook his head slightly and smiled apologetically. "Anyway, I asked him what he meant, and he said that having somebody love you whom you love in return would reveal more about the meaning of life than any stone three-D projector ever could."
"The General said that?"
"Did you ever tell Daniel?"
"No. I suddenly realized I had something more important to do." Jack shrugged at her look. "I went and asked you to dinner instead."
Author's note: I have no idea what George Hammond's middle name was, but in honor of Charles, it is now . . . Charles. Additionally, Hammond was a Major General (two stars) when at the SGC but was promoted to Lieutenant General (three stars) when he went to HWS. Therefore, he left the SGC as a Lieutenant General and his nameplate reflects that.
Written in loving tribute to Charles Sibley. Codladh sámh a solas síoraí.