He knew as soon as the appointed time came and passed. But he still pretended that there was still some hope to salvaging the evening. He kept their plates warm in the oven and let the candles burn down as the wine breathed.
It was only when she called to breathlessly tell him she was going to be "a little late" that he snuffed out the flames and put away the food—they were well past "a little late", and that in itself said more than it didn't.
It had been like this for months. He came as often as he could, only to be left with words of apology and promises that she would stay if she could. Nothing specific, nothing forthcoming. He was no longer a part of that side of her life.
The double life took its toll on her as well. She often came and left again before he woke in the mornings, and when he did manage to sit down with her for a few moments, her thoughts were always elsewhere, circles dark beneath her eyes.
Each time he returned to Washington, his disappointment was tinged with bitterness.
But tonight, he would not settle for less than her. He cleared the kitchen and set himself down in front of the television, prepared to remain awake until she walked through the door. Because eventually, she would come home. She always did.
For hours he waited, phone perched on his knee, as though accusing him—accusing her. When the call finally came, he answered, already knowing what she had to say.
"You're not coming." More a statement than a question.
There was a beat of shaky silence before she answered. "No."
Beyond her voice he could hear the ambiance of a frantic base, knew from experience what each sound meant. Running, booted feet thundering up and down the metal staircase to the control room, the wail of blaring klaxons, and the ratatat of gunfire in the distance, just close enough to convey the very real threat that had kept her from coming to him.
"General..." It was he who spoke the forbidden rank. She was the leader now, the captain going down with her ship.
"The mountain is sealed, Jack." Her words were steady, but he could hear the fear, the apology of heartbreak. "The civilians and upper levels have been evacuated, but most of the SGC personnel stayed to give them time."
Now he could discern the ominous, thrumming countdown, the steady meter that kept time with the rest of the chaos. "Sam..."
"I'm sorry." She was breathless now, regret strangling her voice. Too much time wasted, too much left unsaid. Too much still unfulfilled.
He tried to reassure her, but his voice failed to comply. He wanted to demand a sitrep, find out what the hell was going on, but the officer in him was nowhere to be found. All that was left was silence.
"Jack, I love y— "
The line cut out in a wash of static, quickly silenced to the flatline of a call lost. He kept the phone pressed to his ear, listening to the tell-tale beep until the house shook around him half a minute later, echoing the explosion that ripped his world apart.
He numbly ended up on the deck, phone still in hand, staring as a pillar of smoke and dust rose to blot out the moon. He stared until the sun rose, but still the column lingered, the breeze as dead as the phone in his hand.
When the government car came, he rode it to what was once a mountain. Now it was a crater, devastated by an explosion fed by naquadah—just enough to ensure not a single threat broke free of the base. The collateral damage was minimal, proof that the self-destruct had been engineered by the greatest mind on the planet.
But the planet would never know. That afternoon a statement was issued by the United States Air Force, declaring the incident a result of natural gas build-up, from within the tectonic vents deep under the mountain. Those lost were declared KIA in a doctored training mission halfway across the globe.
The world moved on, the planet kept turning. Its people forgot, never knowing the price paid in blood to keep them safe. The Stargate was moved, the only thing recovered from the bowels of the mountain, leaving nothing but scorched earth behind.
Nothing else remained. Nothing but the remnants of 136 souls, interred within the heart of an unwitting Earth.
Once a year Jack returns, himself an echo of the morning he stared into the abyss of an empty future. Every anniversary, he lays flowers at her graveside, thumbing a wallet-sized photograph of her smiling face. He remembers the short time he'd had with her, and envisions the future they'd almost had, always bitterly wistful.
Carrying on not in the need to serve, but for the duty of remembering, he remains with Homeworld Security just long enough to be awarded his fourth and final star. But his spark has long since faded, leaving his remaining friends with little more than a shell of whom they'd once known. His only comfort comes once a year, when he returns to the mountain-no-more, knowing he is one year closer to joining her.
He lasts eight years longer than anyone expects of him. And when General Jack O'Neill is found dead of a heart attack in his bed, it is a graying Daniel Jackson who lays flowers on the edge of the crater, now nurturing a thin sheen of grass across its belly, the first sign of new life. Appropriately, two handfuls of flowers are now left.
One for him, one for her... side by side.