I sit patiently in the chair across from General Hammond, avoiding eye contact, distracting myself with the awards that line his shelves and the touches of family that he's brought into his office. There are family photos depicting the passage of age, some posed, many more impromptu visuals of those he holds close to his heart. I hide my smile at the numerous crayon sketches, then sober suddenly at the tiny music box, hidden in the corner of the uppermost shelf that plays his wedding song. A tidbit he shared with me the evening when he met Sha're for the first time when Teal'c carried her lifeless body through the 'gate.
He and I spent many hours commiserating in this office. Watching the people you care for, your extended family, taking risks on a daily basis while you can only stand on the sidelines, makes for strange bedfellows. Sometimes we would talk into the wee hours of the morning when a team was overdue, but there were just as many times we sat in silence, words unable to convey our overwhelming emotions.
At the moment I'm finding it impossible to deal with the pain shadowing his expressive eyes. The tears he sheds and the slump of the shoulders that carry the weight of the SGC -- I've only seen this side of him once before. Tough and fair, a combination that has earned him the respect and love of the people, both civilian and military, who serve under him. He's one, if not the strongest, man I know, but at his point, the depth of his despair is beyond my friendship.
"You needn't be, sir. It wasn't your fault." I shift as he gazes right through me. "I was doing my job. The job I was trained to do."
"I'm going to ..." The rest of his conversation is cut off by the ringing of the telephone and General Hammond clears his throat before answering, and I go back to sitting, just waiting, trying to be patient.
"Tessa, hello honey." Though he straightens his shoulders and he's smiling at his granddaughter's voice, his eyes are still distraught and distracted during this conversation, and I believe my presence is hindering what he really would like to say.
"Goodbye, sir. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve with you." And even though it's frowned upon, I salute the man who has been a steadfast friend and supporter of mine. That's not enough for me, for him, our friendship deserves, or demands, more. Screw protocol, I'm only going to get to do this once, so I march over to him and plant a light kiss on his cheek. I'm pleased to say that some of the despair seems to dissipate with that simple touch and I head towards the office door, hiding my smile as he continues his conversation.
"Yes, of course, Tessa, I'm listening ... it's just that Grandpa is a little sad. I had to say goodbye to a friend today. No ... no, she won't be coming back."
I'm not young any more, and though I pride myself as being physically fit, I grunt in discomfort as I lower my body to the cement floor and struggle to get my legs into an exact mirror image of Teal'c's posture.
There wasn't even a flicker of an eyelash from Teal'c when I entered, and not even a glimmer of a smile as I bend and twist. Though he no longer needs to kel-no-reem, I believe he does so because it isn't always easy to leave a part of yourself behind.
I'm in awe of the ambience of the room, how the dreary dampness and coldness disappears under the multitude of flickering candles. I close my eyes and inhale deeply, once, twice and I feel absolutely nothing except extremely silly, like maybe I should be adding an 'ohhhmmmmm' and a mantra of some type.
"You are trying too hard," he instructs, and my eyes fly open at his statement.
I lean forward a millisecond and my hand hovers just above his knee. "Teal'c?" And then I wait, holding my breath, but when doesn't respond to his name, I shrug, telling myself I was hearing things. But out of curiosity, I do as he instructed, and relax.
And I'm back in my grandmother's kitchen, perched on a stool with my feet wrapped around its legs, absorbing her chatter, a glass of what I know to be fresh, iced-cold lemonade is sitting on the counter by my right elbow. I feel the heat of the Louisiana afternoon seep through my clothes and little wisps of hair escape from my ponytail and curl around my neck. There is a peace in that kitchen that has carried me through many a tough time in my life. I had searched for it for years, but only in the past decade have I been able to duplicate it. My grandmother looks up from cutting up the fresh carrots, and gives me a knowing smile.
"I've missed you, Janie," she tells me, and although she's smiling, there are tears forming in the corners of her eyes. "But I didn't need your company just yet, young lady."
"I've missed you, too, Grannie," but the rest of what I want to tell the woman who played such an important role in my youth, seems to stick in my throat and I gulp down half the glass of lemonade and close my eyes against my own flow of emotions.
I count to three before I hesitantly open my eyes, only to find myself once again in Teal'c's quarters, diffused with a warmth that has little to do with a 1960's Louisiana kitchen or with the tart, tangy taste of lemonade in my mouth, and everything to do with the man who sits opposite me.
He has just given me a wonderful gift and I'm unable to think of how to thank him, not only for this, but for all the sacrifices he has made for the people of Earth.
The room demands reverence and I acquiesce to both the man and the situation by whispering, "Thank you, Teal'c." As an afterthought, I place my hand on his knee and squeeze.
There is an imperceptible incline of his head, a simple acknowledgement or just a shift of positions. I'll never know the answer. I take my leave of his sanctuary, blowing out the flame on a dangerously low candle. "Stay safe, my friend," I order.
We stand side by side, squished in the miniscule bathroom in Sam's office, gazing into the mirror. She's a mess. When people who pride themselves in always maintaining control, lose control, they shatter into a million pieces. Her blonde hair is in disarray and the mascara that she swears she really never wears, is smeared and smudged under her eyes.
Sam's my best friend, my confidante, someone who I'm counting on to hold it all together and to be strong. But I'm rocked to my core at her inability to reign in her emotions. "I need you," I hiss, butting my shoulder into her arm. "I need your strength, Cassie needs your strength. Don't you dare do this."
Sam turns on the faucets and cups her hands under the running water, splashing cold water on her face. Then she grabs a towel off the bar and rubs the black streaks on her face until she's left with only reddened eyes and pink cheeks. She runs shaking hands through her tousled hair and sighs at her face in the mirror.
"Oh, Sam." I grab her arm and hug tightly as her eyes refill with tears.
"Stop it," she orders her reflection. Angrily she flings the towel onto the floor and turns off the running water, her gaze never wavering from the woman she sees in the mirror. A face I know well, one that has aged years in less than twenty four hours.
"How did this happen?" she demands loudly, searching for an answer from the blue eyes that stare back at her.
I shrug. There isn't any answer, at least one I can give her. I'm really not the best person to ask because when I woke up this morning, it never occurred to me that I wouldn't finish out the day.
"The Colonel almost died. And Janet, oh God, Janet's gone." She steps backwards and slides down the tiled wall, landing with a muffled thud on the floor. She then wraps her hands over head, burying her sobs against her raised knees.
"Please, don't do this, Sam." I squat down by her side, petting her bent head. "Shhhh." I'm at a loss at how to comfort her. I need her strength, am depending on it, but I realize that first I must allow her to regain control and grieve in private. I must remember she's human, full of emotions, and when I lost Daniel last year, I, too, locked myself away to shed tears of loss and failure.
"I'm sorry, I truly am." I sit next to her, resting my head against her shoulder. "I failed you, by leaving. Please forgive me."
I no longer push for her recovery, instead the two of us sit in the cramped bathroom on the cold floor and I'm hoping that she can sense enough of my presence to gain an iota of strength to get her through the next days.
I walk around and check the monitors surrounding the Colonel, reading the chart over the shoulder of the nurse who has just recorded his vitals. I nod my head at the numbers and smile as the man in the bed cracks open an eye.
"Doc?" he whispers, blinking at me, confused.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Colonel O'Neill. Doctor Fraiser ... she has ..."
I shake my head at the tears pooling in the eyes of this nurse, one of my most stalwart backbones when the going gets tough within these infirmary walls -- falling apart in front of a commanding officer.
The Colonel waves a weak hand at the nurse. "I remember ..."
She gives him a shaky smile, obviously glad that she doesn't have to be the bearer of this horrific news to Jack O'Neill. "Can I get you anything, sir? Dr. Warner said you can have ..."
"Of course. I'll be right back."
I open my mouth to issue a harsh reprimand as to why the bedside pitcher wasn't filled or why wasn't there a cup of ice chips by the Colonel's bedside and settle instead for exhaling loudly, begging my staff's forgiveness, they obviously had other things on their mind today.
The Colonel gets his water and the nurse takes her leave, pinning the call bell to his pillow. "You know the drill, sir, in case you need anyone."
I sit at the foot of his bed, studying the man as he studies the ceiling.
"I can't keep saying goodbye," he informs the ceiling tiles.
I smile at his reference to Daniel.
He sighs again. "I wonder if Oma ..."
We both say "Nah" simultaneously. I understand that I'm just a doctor, missing some intrinsic thing that Daniel has, that only Daniel has and nothing in my personality nor my life will draw the Ascended to me. That's okay. I shrug ... of course it has to be okay, I truly don't have any other choice. But if Daniel was still ascended I'm sure he would have welcomed me with open arms. Thankfully he isn't. The SGC needed him back, SG1 needed him back, and the man lying in this bed needed him back. Desperately. I saw, I knew. And always wondered if I was the only one who was aware how much Jack O'Neill missed Daniel Jackson. I wasn't even sure if the Colonel himself realized it.
Things have been different since Daniel returned. There is a peace around this hardened military man that wasn't there before. I'm his doctor, I'm Daniel's doctor ... oh, I was their doctor, I correct myself. My heart constricts, praying that my replacement treats these two men with the respect they deserve and awards them their hard earned privacy.
I didn't ask and they didn't tell, end of story. They were happy, I was happy, and more than a bit jealous of their relationship. Longingly, the Colonel glances towards the door and with a shock I realize the bedside chair is empty.
I pat his arm. "Don't worry sir, I'll find Daniel for you."
I sidestep Emmett as he leaves the darkened room and as he furtively scampers down the hallway, I note there is something clutched in his hands. The last place I choose to search, damn Daniel for selecting the hardest room for me to say goodbye to him in.
He's shoved himself into a corner, staring at his hands, turning them over as if he surprised they're empty. Eventually he fixes his eyes on the bed taking up the center of the room and, like Sam, he slides down the wall until his ass makes contact with the cold floor, though unlike his teammate, his sorrow is silent. It's the absence of sound that compels me to sit opposite him.
"I didn't mean to die in front of you," I apologize meekly to Daniel. The last thing I wanted to do was add to his list of heartache. "Please," I beg, "don't remember me with a hole in my chest." For the first time I feel the sting of tears in my eyes and I stroke his temple, stupidly believing that my mere touch will remove the images of me seared into his mind and heart. "Remember the good times." And I snort back a harsh burst of laughter. We're sitting in the room where Daniel wasted away from radiation poisoning, not one of my most shining moments, though it probably is one of my more memorable ones.
"I never thanked you, Janet," he whispers, "for being with me when I needed you. Can you forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive." I was doing my job as his doctor and his friend.
I was wrong in asking Sam to be strong for Cassie, because it will be Daniel who will hold this rag tag group together. Silently, like the tears he sheds, he will gather everyone around him, because finally, after years with the SGC, he has learned the importance of family. He, who has lost the most, will seek out and bury his hurt by helping others.
I stand and lay my hands on his bowed head. "Why don't you go see how the Colonel's doing? He'll never admit it, but he needs you, now more than ever."
Daniel wipes his eyes and his nose with the back of his hand and uses the wall for support as he pulls himself to an upright position. He runs his hand the length of the bed, patting the area by the head. "You were the best, you know. I'm gonna miss you."
"Not as much as I'm going to miss you, Daniel. Take care of Cassie, and Sam, the Colonel and the General ... and yourself. Please ... they need you more than you'll ever know."
Daniel has taken up residence in the once empty infirmary chair. The Colonel is studying Daniel while Daniel is examining the intricate design of the blanket covering the Colonel's legs. Slowly Daniel lifts his head and glances in my direction and for just a second I'm positive he sees me, but instead he hesitantly slips his hand under the railing and gently swipes his fingers over the Colonel's hand. There is no need for words between the two of them, as always, their courtship and relationship has been based on the spaces and touches between spoken words.
I hope they live long enough to retire to the Colonel's cabin in Minnesota and it slams into me that I will never know if they will live happily ever after, and I'm horrified, terrified and hit suddenly with an overpowering sense of loneliness.
Cassie is sitting on my bed, overflowing boxes of pictures strewn the length of the comforter. There are numerous piles of photos and three brand new photo albums to her right. A project I never got around to, putting those pictures in photo albums, "a place for everything, and everything in its place", as grannie would say. But there had simply never been enough time.
I sit at the edge of the bed and listen to Cassie hum a mindless tune as she opens a new album and grabs a stack of pictures. One by one she examines them, touching each one reverently before placing it in the book. As she flips through the pictures I move closer until finally I'm sitting by her side, in silent companionship, as I watch my life with Cassie pass before my eyes.
Only one photograph brings her to tears. The junior prom photo. Not the posed, professional one that sits on the mantelpiece, but the one I ordered her to take before her date showed up. The smile is forced and the girl in the picture is almost a stranger to me, old beyond her years compliments of the dress, makeup and hairstyle.
"I'm sorry," she sobs, clutching the picture to her chest, rocking back and forth.
We had argued, the type of argument that leads to words being said. Hateful, hurtful words when I saw the dress she had purchased with her babysitting money. In the end, we had both made some concessions, but our argument had sucked the joy from the occasion even before it had begun, and I had been truly sorry, meaning to apologize, but Daniel had had the accident on Kelowna a few days later, and suddenly neither the dress nor the accoutrements seemed of importance, and I had truly forgotten about it until today, just now.
Is this what she will remember? Is this what Cassie thinks I will remember? I want to snatch the photo from her hands and rip it into tiny shreds. "Look, Cassie," I scream, jumping off the bed, "look around you." I gesture to a pile of photos, the top one being a mug shot of Sam, Daniel and I playing volleyball. "This is what I want you to remember. Not the anger and the tears."
I plop down on the bed and slide over to her, gently fingering the apron of hair that hides her face. "I didn't mean to die."
"I hate you!" she yells, tossing the picture off the bed and she kicks out her feet, sending the piles of pictures fluttering to the ground. "How dare you go and die!"
"You're not alone."
"You left me alone. Again. I'm alone again. Two mothers ... two families, I lost all of you. How. Dare. You!" Her accusations are punctuated by sobs, expressions of emotions so out of control that I cannot comfort. There are no words to make this hurt go away, so instead I cry right along with hurt for the loss we both are experiencing.
Though she doesn't believe it now, life will go on. She will graduate in a few short weeks' time, go to college, move on with her life. Have a career and hopefully fall in love, marry and have children of her own. My time in her life, my memory, will be relegated to a blip, one that she will remember fondly and with longing on important days; her graduation, her wedding and when she holds her babies in her arms.
And to me, Cassie will always be stuck on the cusp of adulthood, never aging, and in her mind I will be frozen in my forties, and eventually she will surpass me, and I cry harder because of all the years I will miss.
The phone rings and Cassie clears her throat, wipes away her tears, then answers it. As I predicted, it's Daniel, checking up on Cassie. By her body language I can tell how relieved she's not forgotten. Her answers are short and clipped, but it's the wobbly smile that Daniel cannot see which clues me in that Cassie really doesn't want to grieve in private. I hear mention of a memorial service, but she declines those prying eyes, and readily accepts Daniel's offer of company later.
She hangs up the phone and surveys the mess of the once organized project. With a sigh, she tosses the errant pictures onto the bed and sits, beginning the task of sorting through the pictures one more time. I dry my tears and pay attention to her now, rather than to the pictures.
Cassie is the child of my heart and I had been blessed with being her parent, though many times the terrain had been rough and uncharted. I have defended her, loved her, argued with her and now I have to leave her. Totally unfair, uncalled for, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.
By tomorrow Cassie will have left childhood behind, being an orphan can do that, all you have to do is look into Daniel's eyes to see. She will get love from Sam, protection and support from the Colonel and Teal'c, a grandfather in the General, but from Daniel she will get understanding, which hopefully will be enough to carry her for awhile before she regains her footing in the world.
"I love you, mommy." Tears overflow as she smoothes out the wrinkles of a picture taken on her 11th birthday.
"I love you too, sweetheart," and I push the hair away from her face to kiss her cheek. "Remember me," I whisper to her.
"It's time, Janie."
"No." Furtively I search the large window for some purchase to grasp onto, and I step closer, plastering my body to the glass. I shut my eyes against the memorial service taking place below, I don't want to see that but I certainly am not ready to take my leave. "I don't want to go."
"I know you don't, honey," my grannie answers in the soothing voice she saved for skinned knees and childhood hurts. "But it's time."
I press the heels of my palms tightly into my ears. "I'm not listening. I can't hear you."
"But you can."
I sigh and drop my hands, because she's right, I hear her, but I'm still going to refuse to go willingly. "How can I leave them? Sam, Daniel ..." I turn to face my tormentor, but I find it impossible to shout at my grandmother. "How can I leave Cassie? To lose two sets of parents ..."
"We have to leave. It's time, honey."
"That's my family down there," I whimper, sobbing, gulping. "My daughter. How can you force me to leave my own daughter? Your great granddaughter."
"You've said goodbye."
I shake me head. "You're not my grannie. My grannie would never make me do what you're asking me to do."
"You can't stay here."
"Why? I won't bother anyone. I just --"
"You're dead and they aren't. Staying here will just --"
"I don't care about seeing God or heaven, I care about seeing my daughter grow up, my friends grow old ..."
"Medic! Oh God, Janet!"
Before me is a frantic Daniel, splattered in the airman's blood, torn between holding the IV bag and tending to my body.
"Help me!" he screams, and my heart breaks when he scrabbles to my side, one hand still clutching the IV as he presses shaky fingers against my neck, checking for a pulse.
The background noises, the sounds of battle become muted, but I'm still drawn to the scene of my death, and stand rooted until a tendril of warmth draws my attention.
I know who stands before me, there is no formal introduction needed.
"Janet." She extends her hand out towards me.
She points into the distance and I can make out my grandmother's kitchen, warm and inviting and familiar.
"The choice is yours."
Oma gazes at Daniel with an emotion I'm unable to decipher. "The flowers grow and bloom because of the depth and strength of their roots."
I think she's referring to me, but I'm getting the correlation. I glance once again towards grannie's kitchen and a part of me wants to spend eternity surrounded by warmth and love, but I find myself taking Oma's hand. No longer am I the little girl who is content to sit and watch. There are a slew of people I have to thank for my sense of adventure. A group of four who are my family, plus a grandfatherly general and a young girl who accepted me with open arms and heart.
As I step into the unknown, it is with the knowledge that I have loved, have been loved and that sometime in the future, our paths will again cross.
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