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The Love That Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

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It's everything she's hoped for and nothing she could have imagined, and it's her job to imagine these things, specifically, this thing: the Stargate.

 

She was a part of Project Giza from the beginning, she worked alongside Catherine Langford and others to unlock its secrets, developing the technology needed to make the mysterious artifact function. She's lived and breathed the Stargate for years. She hadn’t been exaggerating when she told Colonel O’Neill that she felt like she had been preparing for this her whole life.

 

But to actually see the shimmering event horizon, to touch it, to walk through it and rematerialize light years away mere seconds later, well, there is really no way to prepare for that. Sam Carter had been amazed, breathless, and, apparently, really queasy.

 

She grimaces now as she recalls how she threw up on the other side of the gate. But no, she won't let herself feel embarrassed. It's because of her work that they were able to travel through the gate at all, and if she needs to throw up on the other side, then she's going to throw up, and they're going to deal with it.

 

She glances around the table at them, the boys, the rest of the team, and at their head, Colonel O'Neill. Her gaze lingers for a moment on her mission commander as he fidgets with his pen. He is proving to be everything and nothing she expected too - in some ways, totally predictable, and in others, completely unexpected.

 

He was all smarmy asshole male commanding officer in the pre-mission briefing, and she had said what she needed to say to make sure he understands he can’t walk all over her. She’d laid it on pretty thick, she knows that, because it’s true that you’ve only got one chance to make a first impression.

 

But then once they arrived on the planet, he was all hugs and smiles with the Abydonian kids, like a long-lost, friendly uncle everyone loves.

 

Colonel O’Neill's friendship with Daniel, a civilian, an anthropologist, and by all counts, a huge nerd, is also outside of what she’d expected of him, as was his willingness to lie about the first mission to Abydos, putting his career, such as it was, on the line, in order to protect Daniel and the people there he’d come to care about.

 

And all this borderline irreverent casualness - she watches as he taps the pen loudly on top of the pile of papers in front of him, then spins it on his thumb before tapping it some more and sighing audibly. This draws a glare from General Hammond, but doesn’t slow down Daniel, who’s explaining how Ra borrowed the religion and culture of the ancient Egyptians and used it to enslave them. Sam is 95 percent sure the Colonel’s act is less casual and more a calculated tactic to get others to underestimate him, giving him a perpetual strategic advantage. If that’s the case, he sure is committed to the strategy.

 

General Hammond turns his attention now to her. "Captain Carter,” he says, "you're confident that the Stargate will take us where we want to go with this new information?"

 

The discovery of the cartouche on Abydos had blown her mind almost more than traveling through the Stargate itself. A year ago, after Colonel O'Neill and his team returned from the first Abydos mission, her own team at the Pentagon had tried hundreds of symbol permutations using Earth as the point of origin, and nothing had worked. But now, armed with the cartouche and actually accounting for thousands of years of stellar drift, which she still can't believe she didn't think of on her own, it feels quite literally like a whole new universe is opening up to them.

 

“They're feeding the revised coordinates into the targeting computer right now,” she answers the General earnestly. She feels so much better now that she can drop the bluster of her first meeting around this table and simply revel in the shared buzz of a discovery of this magnitude. She feels so much more like herself. "It'll take time to calculate but it should spit out two or three destinations a month."

 

She's smiling, she’s beside herself with anticipation, but General Hammond looks somber. "People, let's not fool ourselves here,” he says. “This thing is both vast and dangerous, and we are in so far over our heads we can barely see daylight. We would all be much better off if the Stargate had been left in the ground."

 

Sam couldn’t disagree more, and she’s about to say so, but before anyone can continue, news comes through that Feretti’s awake and they all run off to the infirmary in a whirl to see if he caught the symbols the hostiles had dialed. He did. In a flash, they’re all back in the briefing room and Hammond is authorizing a mission to Chulak, a planet that, hours ago, they didn’t know existed. It’ll be the same team that went to Abydos, plus Daniel, minus Feretti.

 

Sam is once again struck by how completely her imagination has failed to envision this. Nothing she had thought of was so wonderful and so terrible.

 

Everyone is to report tomorrow at 0600 and depart within the hour. It’s already past 2200, and Hammond has ordered everyone to go get some rest. They rise from the table as one. Sam highly doubts anyone will actually be sleeping, despite the day they’ve had and the day that will surely come tomorrow.

 

Her thoughts are interrupted by the General calling her name. “Captain Carter, a word?"

 

He turns without waiting for confirmation that she’s coming and walks into his office. She follows, as do the curious eyes of everyone else in the briefing room before they move to disperse.

 

“Close the door,” he says. She does, and she stands, waiting for him to speak.

 

He’s still standing too, and he sighs deeply before he begins. “Captain, I would like to inform you that pending the outcome of this mission tomorrow, the president has ordered the formation of nine teams, whose duties will be to perform reconnaissance, determine threats and if possible to make peaceful contact with the peoples of the worlds we can now access through the Stargate.”

 

Sam can hardly believe her ears. “Sir, this is… wow. This is incredible. Think of how much we could learn, think of what we could bring back.” It occurs to her belatedly to wonder why he dismissed everyone else, why he's telling only her and not announcing this to the whole group.

 

"What you could bring back is precisely what I'm afraid of, Captain,” he says reluctantly. “Nonetheless, Colonel O’Neill has been assigned to lead SG-1. I’ll speak with him in the morning before the pre-mission briefing. For the moment, you’ve been assigned to his team as his second-in-command.”

 

Sam feels a wave of elation, followed swiftly by a wave of concern. “For the moment?” Is this temporary? Probationary? Has she done or said something wrong?

 

The General frowns. “I'll cut to the chase, Captain,” he says, straightening up a little. “Among the officers who have been assigned or are under consideration for assignment to the Stargate program, your situation is unique.”

 

Her situation. “Sir,” she says, “with respect, I can’t possibly be the only - "

 

He cuts her off. “Your specific situation, Captain, is unique. Now I've got orders telling me to put you on SG-1, but my gut is having a hard time with these orders.”

 

Sam narrows her eyes. “Because of my 'specific situation.’” She can hear the hostility that has crept back into her voice, but she doesn't quite care, because all of a sudden she feels like she's back in that first briefing again, a woman against the world. The General is out of line if he thinks his personal opinion should impact her assignment, especially if the assignment has already been issued, especially if it's an assignment for which she has worked so very hard and so very long.

 

The General sighs again. “You were out there today, Sam,” he says. She flinches at his use of her first name, and he notices. “Captain,” he corrects himself. “This level of risk and uncertainty is beyond even our comprehension, let alone our capacity to meet it. You've got to allow that.”

 

She nods, because he is right, but she sticks out her chin a little bit too. “I don't want any special treatment, sir.” It comes out like a reprimand as much as a request, because it would absolutely kill her reputation in this command if he's going to start coddling her.

 

“Believe me,” Hammond assures her. “Neither one of us needs it getting out that I've known you since you were in diapers.” She takes a deep breath and feels herself deflate a little. She does know George Hammond, she reminds herself, and he’s one of the good guys. “I'd like to think I'd have this same conversation with any officer who shares your circumstances.”

 

It just happens that there aren't any. It shouldn't be surprising, really.

 

“The point is, Captain, you've got your assignment orders but I want you to know that you also have options,” he says. “We needed you on this mission to Abydos. No one else shares your expertise with both the Stargate and the military. But I don’t mind telling you that your permanent assignment to a frontline team was contentious. Several of my superiors argued that you're too valuable an asset to risk in the field. I feel confident that if I were to weigh in heavily on the matter, I could convince the Joint Chiefs and the President to keep you on this side of the Stargate."

 

Well, this is news. “You haven't weighed in yet?” She says it before she can stop herself, because it's not the type of question a Captain should ask a General in the US Air Force. It's impertinent, too familiar. He doesn't owe her an answer. But it means a lot to her to know that he hasn’t actually let his personal opinion impact her assignment, that he’s actually taking the extraordinary step of asking her opinion. She feels a little bad for her earlier hostility.

 

Hammond allows a small smile and a slight tip of his head. “Like I said, Captain,” he says. “I wanted you to know you have options.”

 

Sam nods, swallows, meets his eye warily. Her anger is gone and what's left in its place now is fear, fear that the Stargate, which has just now finally been given to her, will slip through her fingers. “Sir,” she says earnestly. “I don't… I mean to say, the Stargate is... SG-1… it’s everything I’ve been working for. My entire career. My entire life.”

 

“I expected you to say as much,” he nods. “But I'd like you to think about it.”

 

“I don't need to think about it, sir,” she says, but he shakes his head.

 

“I’ll make it an order then,” he says, but his tone is soft as he takes a step closer to her. “I’m not saying we’d ship you back to the Pentagon. You’d have a position within this command, a scientific one. We’d look to you first to problem-solve on gate-related issues and questions, and you’d be the first to get your hands on new technologies that might come through the Stargate. You’d have the same opportunities for promotion and advancement. You just wouldn’t be in the field - the field on another planet.”

 

“Yes, sir,” she says, because she doesn't know what else to say. It would be a great assignment, really, maybe even a dream one. A month ago, hell, a week ago, she would've been over the moon about an assignment like that. But now... well, compared to actually going through the Stargate, nothing else measures up.

 

“Captain,” the General says, “go home. Get some rest. Go on this mission to Chulak tomorrow if you must.” He shakes his head reluctantly, and Sam suddenly wonders how he feels about his own assignment to this more or less unfathomable post. “But think about it. I’ll ask you for your decision in a couple of days, once you’ve had some time.

 

“Yes, sir,” she says again. Maybe she should think about it, out of respect for General Hammond, if nothing else.

 

“I’ll see you in the morning, Captain,” he says, and with that, she’s dismissed.

 

Sam squares her shoulders and walks out of the General’s office. He’s right, she decides. She knows what she’ll choose, but she owes it to herself, she owes it to… well, it will be best for everyone for her to know that she’s walked into this with a clear head and with both eyes open. Because god only knows where that Stargate might lead.

 

___

 

Jack looks across his living room at the unlikely form of Daniel Jackson, sitting in his arm chair holding a beer and quickly getting tipsy. Daniel Jackson. Who would’ve thought, after all this time, that Daniel would ever be sitting in his living room, in his house, on his planet? But the Stargate is open again, and Daniel is back. And the Air Force knows Jack lied about Abydos, and instead of being brought up on charges, he’s leading a team through the gate again. 

 

Daniel is going on about Sha’re, his wife, and Jack can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. It sounds like his life on Abydos was pretty near perfect for him, and then in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Jack knows how that can go.

 

Maybe that’s why Jack slips and mentions Sara. He only means to tease Daniel, already halfway drunk though not quite halfway through his first beer. “You’re a cheaper date than my wife was.” He’s still not used to the ex- part of their relationship, and the words tumble out before he can stop them. He silently prays Daniel won’t glob onto it and start asking questions. Daniel seems like the kind of guy who can get pretty caught up in his own thoughts. 

 

“Yes,” Daniel says. “When am I going to meet your wife?” Ok, so maybe Daniel is actually the kind of guy who will glob onto any interesting tidbit that passes his way. 

 

Jack sighs. "Oh, probably… never.” Daniel looks hurt, and in spite of himself, Jack feels compelled to clarify. "After I came back from Abydos the first time, she'd already left."

 

And there you have it. This conversation has officially taken a turn for the depressing, as if Daniel’s abducted wife wasn’t bad enough.

 

"I'm sorry,” Daniel says, and he sounds like he means it.

 

"Yeah, so was I,” Jack says. And then, for some reason, he keeps on talking. "I think in her heart she forgave me for what happened to our kid, she just couldn't forget."

 

"And what about you?” Daniel asks.

 

Jack doesn’t talk about Charlie. He doesn’t talk about his failed marriage. And he certainly doesn’t talk about how those two things make him feel. But there’s something about this guy. Back on Abydos, the first time, Jack had felt like he could talk to him. He’d kind of assumed at the time that it was mostly because he thought he was about to die. But now they’re on Earth and Jack doesn’t have a death wish, or a direct order to kill himself. So maybe they’re, like, friends?

 

"I'm the opposite,” Jack says. "I'll never forgive myself, but sometimes I can forget. Sometimes."

 

Jack takes another sip of his beer and stares unseeing at the curtains framing his floor to ceiling windows. He likes this new house, he really does. Charlie would’ve liked it too. He would’ve liked the deck and the yard. He definitely would’ve liked the windows. Jack got this house after the divorce and has no actual memories of Charlie here - for which is he grateful - but still he sees him everywhere. He sighs to himself. He doesn’t need to get shit drunk tonight. He needs to have a beer or two to wind down, he needs to sleep for four hours, and then he needs to wake up and lead a band of merry men and one merry Captain Doctor through a stable wormhole to the other side of the galaxy. 

 

“Like when you’re drinking?"

 

Jack looks up at Daniel sharply. Maybe they’re sort of friends, but that question crossed a line. No one gets to ask blunt questions about Jack's drinking, certainly not someone who hasn’t seen him in the last year. And certainly not when Jack has been holding it together so well.

 

“No,” Jack responds carefully. “I was thinking more like, when I’m on another planet."

 

Daniel chuckles at this, which is good, it’s what Jack was going for, though it’s not at all true. He thinks of Charlie every time he goes through the gate. The two are so connected in his mind.

 

“Good,” Daniel says. “Because you seem like you’re doing alright."

 

Jack nods and picks studiously at the label on his beer. That’s been his self-assessment too. He feels strangely pleased that Daniel agrees.

 

“So,” Daniel says. “How long has Sam been on your team?"

 

It takes Jack a second to realize that Daniel is talking about Captain Doctor Carter, though he’s grateful for the change in topic, however abrupt. “Not quite as long as I’ve known you were out of tissues,” he replies.

 

“Wow,” Daniel says. “I mean, I know you said you guys threw this all together pretty quickly, but wow. That’s quick.”

 

Jack nods. “She was at the Pentagon, apparently she built the computer thingy that dials up our Stargate."

 

“Wow,” Daniel says again. For a linguist, he’s not very eloquent when he’s tipsy. “That’s incredible."

 

Jack shrugs. Incredible, maybe, but it doesn’t mean she’s ready to be on a frontline team.

 

“I wonder why she didn’t go to Abydos with us, you know, the first time."

 

Jack hadn’t thought about that. She maybe would’ve been more useful at figuring out how to dial back home than Daniel himself had been. “She was probably too busy picking fights with her superior officers,” he says with a roll of his eyes.

 

Daniel chuckles to himself. “She didn’t really strike me as the type to pick a fight."

 

And that’s true, actually. The Doctor Carter who geeked out with Daniel about the cartouche thing was not the same Captain Carter who raked him and the rest of his team across the coals during the briefing. In fact, she’d gone from total jock to total nerd so fast he nearly got whiplash. 

 

“We’ll see,” he says. “I don’t think she likes me.” Not that that matters anyway. 

 

Daniel chuckles at this too. “I highly doubt you tried very hard,” he says, and that's also true. She assumed Jack would be an ass and Jack had risen to the occasion. He wonders how long he’ll be stuck working with her. Maybe this is all just a temporary thing.

 

“Well at least she has you,” Jack says, tipping his beer in Daniel’s direction before polishing it off. Daniel Jackson. Sitting on his living room. Working on his team. Going through the Stargate.

 

"So do you, Jack," Daniel says, in a comment that harkens more to their previous conversation than to this one. "So do you."

 

__

 

It’s nearly 2300 when Sam pulls into the driveway and kills the engine. The lights are all out in the front of the house but she knows she won’t be the only one awake, despite the late hour. Quietly, she closes her car door, walks to the front door of the house, and lets herself in. She makes her way to the kitchen at the back of the house, where a woman of about 60 is sitting at the table, sipping tea and reading a book.

 

“Hey, mom,” Sam says.

 

Jane Carter looks up from her book. “Sam,” she says. “I didn’t even hear you come in! Welcome home.” She stands up to hug her daughter.

 

You have no idea how far from home I’ve been, Sam thinks, hugging her mother tightly.

 

“I know you can’t tell me how it was,” Jane says with a cheeky smile. “But how was it?” She’s been an Air Force wife for decades, she knows a cover story when she sees one but she understands that top secret things are top secret for a reason, and she’s not resentful.

 

“Mom,” Sam says, finding herself at a loss for words. “It was… even if I could tell you, I don’t know how I would. It’s everything I’ve been working for. And I think it’s the start of something big."

 

Jane gives her one more squeeze and then steps back to put her hand on her daughter’s face. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been up to in that mountain for the last day but I’m so, so proud of you."

 

Sam chuckles softly. “I can’t even imagine it, mom."

 

She’s suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion that she can’t quite place. She and her mom took very different paths in life but managed to stay close in ways most of her friends never had with their mothers. None of this would have been possible without her mom’s encouragement and support. Sam knows how lucky she is, and doesn’t know what she would do without her.

 

Maybe it’s normal to get emotional like this the first time you travel across the galaxy, Sam thinks, trying to shake it off, but her mom must see something in her eyes. “You ok, sweetie?"

 

“Yeah,” Sam reassures her. “I’ve actually got to be back at the mountain in a few hours, but I wanted to come home and see you guys, see how you’re doing."

 

“We had a good day,” her mom tells her. “She’s sleeping now but you can peek in if you want."

 

Sam definitely wants to peek in. Quietly, she climbs the stairs and walks down the hallway, leaving the hallway light off and hugging the wall on the right to avoid a creaky spot on the floor in her parents’ aging house. At the end of the hall, the door to the guest room is slightly ajar, and inside, a small girl is sleeping soundly in a portable crib.

 

Sam leans against the doorframe and takes in the sight of her daughter’s peaceful face, the sound of her even breathing. She feels herself breathe deeply too. She remembers her conversation with General Hammond before she left the base. She’s the only single parent in the Stargate program, he said as much. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, really.

 

But it makes her wonder, does she owe it to her daughter to pass this up, or does she owe it to her daughter to see this through?