A/N: AFAM = AF Achievement Medal. MAJOR SPOILER: Heroes. Yes, that part. Also some "Lost City", where Sam worked after "Threads", and either "Unnatural Selection" or "New Order". A few other pre-Heroes cameos, but they blend in with beyond-canon if you don't know better.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, Or close the wall up with our English dead! -Henry V
Sam's eyes press together, squeezing on the memories of too many wounded in too long a war. Whether in order to keep them in or out, she wasn’t sure.
They flash before her, every SG team member, much of the SGC directly, a good number of too-green space pilots—to whom she owes her life and vice versa. Even in the Freeze alone, so many who’d stayed in the sky for them: who’d held the flanks, frozen, burning, dying, but never yielding …who’d trusted them, who’d put everything into her and the General and Daniel and Teal’c, against all realities. Trusted them handle all of what they must with only what they had …whose selfless and regularly batshit sacrifices didn’t earn them so much as a commendation. Because they weren’t the ones the powers that be were watching. Her head bows, anger at DC over mixing with sadness for the dead. Soldiers sleeping in the snow, some of them forever.
Everyone at the SGC knows the heroes among them rarely get the recognition they deserve, particularly with Kinsey’s caucus portraying them as the bastard, flightless, overspending stepchild. She remembered every one of them all too well. Every recommendation, every denial, every overridden approval, every fight. Flying back to lead young airmen through another too-long shift on another too-long night. To talk them through abasement by their peers for spending years in deep space radar telemetry without a single campaign medal or commendation to show for it. Damnit, it had taken her commanding the SGC through a foothold situation as an captain to scare up an Achievement Medal for anyone in here. Suicidally rigging two Jaffa-teeming Ha’taks to blow while on board and orbiting Earth was the standard for one Air Medal.
Yes, comforting a grieving widow who’d never know she’s missing a posthumous Silver Star or Service Cross had been a painfully familiar experience for all too many years. Still, they pull through it together, everyone who stands guard at and through the Gate day in and day out. They manage to console lieutenants who’d never see nor hear again, who’d watched their wingmen burn to death to save them… without the benefit of even Purple Hearts or POW Medals. They organize birthday parties for kids who’d never know the heroes their mothers were or the Medal of Honor or Distinguished Flying Cross they should have been buried with. They hold Dining Outs when half a room of POW/MIA Tables couldn't have seated all their missing. They rely on each other to know their merits and their minds without the aid of long-overdue unit commendations and achievement medals.
Sam squeezes on the tears. She’s driven distraught wives to Peterson, neither of them knowing that a then-stable husband would never see the sun again. She’s sung children to sleep as their father stares at his wife’s vitals ticking away on Earth-tech monitors. She’s watched her own friends, her family, the love of her life die, voluntarily laying down their lives in the most long-suffering and painful ways imaginable—to say nothing of her own deaths and tortures. She’s fought mind rape and otherwise, drugs and beatings to break ungrateful strangers out of prisons, only to be shoved back through the Gate and into another catastrophe. Nose to the grind. And she, especially she, hazard of the gender, has talked too-young spouses through broken friendships and broken families, talked too-young officers though shunned alliances and churlish refugees. Do the impossible, for the ungrateful. Repeat. She’d guided new SG combat engineers through their first block leave, unable to readjust to the Earth night sky devoid of rocket fire and burning flesh.
Every junior NCO she has here knows the SGC is held to a higher standard—unfairly, yes, but they’re proud of it. They strive for it, shine for it. She’s proud of them, every day. A tear hits her desk. Not for the first time, she struggles with how to explain a Medal of Honor to the two men in the infirmary, who both broken cover and lost limbs to save allies that even their symbiotes hadn’t been able to revive. Or to the doctor and lieutenant now benched in the research unit, but not dead, because their CO threw himself on that grenade.
Her personal wounds tug at her, and her thoughts drift to Janet, and to Cassie who's likely still asleep in her guest room… The daughter of a hero who’d stayed by a young man’s side—dozens of young heroes sides—knowing she was compromised…not even for an arguably utilitarian goal, but to save one life. A hero who’d stayed and died because she believed that a unit lived and died by the devotion we have for one another. That others may live. Never leave behind. De oppresso liber. Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever, ever, ever, stop. Sam nurses her head, unconsciously massaging her right leg.
“I’m sorry, Janet.”
But she’d watched too many great men and women live and die for this cause, burning away in ever-more voluntarily painful and overwhelming ways. Their scars and her own still keep her up nights, and keep her comforting others.