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Here is another entry in Challenge 115 over at sj_everyday, this time to write a response to a graphic. This one is to the graphic by regularamanda seen (hopefully, I'm still a bit of a noob at linking) above.
Author: Thothmes

Title: Dog Tags

Summary: All that's left is to mourn.

Episodes: Set far in the future. Mentions of events in Solitudes, Threads, Fragile Balance, and a few others, I think. Characters from the sweep of the series. Is it a spoiler that Daniel dies? A lot?

Rating: Teens? Not salacious, just that death is a tough subject for kiddies.

A/N: In a favorite book of mine - alas, out-of-print - The Revolt of Sara Perkins, by Marion Cockrell, a town on the Colorado frontier is treated to a perfomance of Hamlet by a not-ready-for-primetime troupe of players ("Horatio Hand was a fiery, confident Hamlet...") and after the ending, a voice is heard in the audience saying "By golly, they killed every God damned one of 'em, didn't they?" I'm afraid that is what I may have done here, but although this piece deals with death an mourning, I think it ends on quite a positive note, so please don't be put off by this.

Super sekrit message for a_loquita: In January, when you have time to breathe, find a library that has a copy of The Revolt of Sara Perkins. It is definitely something that the creator of the Cast Your Fate to the WindVerse will enjoy. It would be so fun to cast it using Stargate/Atlantis/Sanctuary actors!

Dog Tags

by Thothmes

The flag-draped coffin lying in state in the echoing marble room was alone now, except for one solitary figure, seated on a metal folding chair before it. The officer’s formal overcoat was deposited neatly to one side of the chair with the matching cover atop it, at almost as jaunty an angle as it usually occupied on its owner’s head, but there was nothing carefree in the figure of the seated white-haired officer in formal dress blues. The seamed face was pale and care-worn, and while the still slender figure sporting general’s stars and fruit salad that told a tale of a lifetime of service and bravery in many far-flung lands showed no concessions to age in its posture, the shoulders were slumped and the head bowed in grief, the eyes open but unseeing, lost in the past, as slender, wrinkled, blue-veined hands played endlessly with a well-worn set of dog tags. A closer look would have revealed the name – Samantha O’Neill. The tags had no bands to silence them, and they’d been rubbed together so long and so frequently that parts were oddly polished, and parts were nearly worn away. Over and over the officer rubbed them together, twirled them, shook them like keys on a ring, arthritic hands never still, the familiar and comforting sound they generated with the tags echoing from the marble surfaces and completely masking the only other sound in the big room – the officer’s irregular breathing.

It was their first anniversary when she gave them to him, as a gift. Her one and only foray into deliberate and pre-meditated lying after the age of thirteen. She had told the Air Force that she had lost them, and had been issued a new set, but she had not lost them. She’d bought a nice box from a jeweler, put them inside, wrapped them up and given them to him, her way of announcing that after a year of marriage, when she had kept her maiden name professionally, that she had opted to change and be known as Samantha O’Neill.

Jack had never said anything when she announced that, of course, at work she would continue to be known as Colonel Carter, and had acquiesced without a word to her request that they keep their marriage a need-to-know secret, to keep her career free of whispers of favoritism. The hallucinated version of Jack and the real man had agreed wholly on one thing. They would never ask her to give up her career for him, and they both would never stand in her way in anything having to do with her career.

But scratch Jack O’Neill the iconoclast, and underneath there lay a pretty traditional man, dedicated to old-fashioned ideals, and shaped by a Catholic upbringing. She knew this. It was the reason she’d worn a traditional white dress and veil for their wedding, when she could have worn her dress blues. She hadn’t been wild about the veil after her experience on Simarka and a few other chauvinist planets, and Jack would have been proud to have stood up with her wearing the dress blues she’d earned beside his new black (“Hello! Retired!”) suit, but she’d wanted to please him, and the expression in his eyes as he watched her come to him had been her reward. His reaction to the dog tags had surpassed that. His eyes had teared – actually teared! – and his voice had been low and rough as he had asked her “Are you sure?” She was sure. He had clutched them in his hand, pulling her to him, using his other hand to grip her firmly at the back of her head guiding her to him for a passionate kiss. As one thing led to another, the tags were deposited in his pants pocket, where they were to remain, moving from pair to pair, for the next forty-six years. His restless hands fingered and fidgeted with them constantly, and their sound announced his presence to her like a bell on a cat.

She had told him once that he could always locate him by that sound, that comforting clink-clink, and he had laughed, allowed it to be likely, and then disappeared into their bedroom, only to emerge in triumph, clutching another set of tags, this one his own, which he slipped around her neck with a grin.

“Now we’re even,” he’d said.

Those tags were still around her neck, no longer accompanied by her own duty tags, not needed since her own retirement, many years ago now. They would never leave her now, and soon they would be joined by the set now being worried in gnarled hands. In this one way Jack O’Neill and Samantha O’Neill would never be separated, not by death, not by time, not by anything.

“Always!” he’d said, and he’d kept his word as well as any mortal could. But even the advances in medicine gleaned from the Asgard repository – not cloning, they’d held back that knowledge to save young humanity from itself – could only do so much, and death comes for us all. They had known they would have to part sometime, unless they were lucky enough to slip into death together, but that was not to be.

Jack O’Neill had outlasted so many in his long life. In his forties he’d buried his son. As an officer he’d attended so many funerals. Charlie Kawalsky. Henry Boyd. Frank Cromwell. Martouf. Janet Fraiser. Jacob Carter. George Hammond. And that was only the beginning. As they had aged there had been others. Siler, ironically electrocuted by a downed power line biking his way home one evening. Walter Harriman, suddenly gone after a massive heart attack at sixty-three. Cassie’s husband (Jack with dry humor almost always referred to him as that or “Whatshisname”) in the line of duty on PX8-427. Cameron Mitchell in a skiing accident. And only last year, finally and for good, Daniel, so many years younger than him, and dead of old age, his trusting heart worn beyond service, and his quick mind fading at last. That had been a bitter blow, but this was worse, far worse.

The sound of footsteps could be heard, one set the tap, tap, tap of heels, and the other more shuffling, and accompanied by a thump, thump. The quick ones would be Grace, their miracle child, born after doctors had told them that children would not be possible due to the naquidah in Sam’s blood (“Maybe it’s my Ancient gene,” Jack had said.) They’d only been able to have the one at their age, and Jack, once he’d gotten over his original terror of failing as a father a second time, had loved every minute of it. She’d been Daddy’s girl, and Sam had never resented that, indeed she’d encouraged it. She’d told him he deserved it. The second set of steps would be Teal’c, fully white-haired now, a little stooped, but still proud and flat-stomached. The staff weapon that was once his deadly tool, and then his badge of service, was now a walking staff to support him in his old age. It must be time.

Soon the young men and women of the honor guard would be coming to carry and escort the coffin to the funeral, with its mass of dignitaries and world leaders, the media circus, and the masses selected by lottery from among the millions who wanted to be there, out of curiosity, hoping to catch a glimpse of the remaining members of the original SG-1, perhaps for the final time, or out of a sense of history. A small proportion were invited guests of the family, who had known, or served with, or been coached by the deceased.

This was the last moment of privacy between them, the last opportunity to be just the two of them, physically together for the last time before the day when they were both side by side in the plots Jack had bought for them on the other side of Charlie from Sara and her second husband (“One big happy family!” he’d said with irony, as he signed the papers for the additional plot by his own). Now the constant clinking and clacking of the dog tags stopped for a moment, as the officer rose and moved with careful steps to stand by the head of the casket. Both veined hands reached out to rest over where the head and the heart would lie. This would be the final private goodbye. Out there the necessity to hold back the threatening tears would take all the energy available, leaving none for goodbyes. Summoning up a memory from when they were team mates, Jack tall, strong, and glorious in his dress blues, hiding those betraying eyes behind dark glasses, ever-disobedient hair hidden beneath the dress cap with its carefully polished decorations, so alive, so young, so…him, she spoke softly to the man who could not hear her.

“Good bye, Jack,” she whispered. Then, remembering a promise from long ago, she returned his vow. “Always,” she said. Then she turned and faced her daughter and her oldest and dearest friend, forcing a wobbly and damp-eyed smile to show her thanks for their support.

Grace was the first to reach her, an inch taller than her mother, and resplendent in her own dress blues, her hair, as graying and unruly as her father’s had once been, pulled back and restrained in a French twist, the first little lines of age by her eyes accentuated in grief. She enveloped her mother in a wordless and heart-felt hug.

“You inherited your Daddy’s gift for great hugs, Gracie,” Sam said, using Jack’s preferred nickname with deliberation, as she pulled away to bestow a hug on Teal’c. He might be older, frailer, and less muscular with age, but it was still like hugging a massive, safe, and immovable grizzly bear. He too was a master of the comfort hug.

“O’Neill lived long, and died free. He does not suffer,” Teal’c offered.

“And he died well,” Sam answered. And he had. After a lifetime of terrorizing any medical personnel with the temerity to limit his activities or confine him to a bed, Jack had faced his last year, with its routines of bedpans and sponge baths, bed sore checks and wheelchair outings with unexpected calm.

She’d asked him once, why he took it all so well, and he’d smiled at her, and taken her hand in both of his, rubbing at her wedding and engagement rings with one finger.

“Back then I was younger,” he’d said, “I was able to heal, able to move, able to do more than the doctors thought I could. Now I can’t. I’m an old, old man, Sam. I’ll be one hundred and five in a few days. One hundred and five! This is about the best I can expect. Besides, I have everything I want.”

He’d gazed fondly at the picture of Grace in her Academy hockey uniform on his bedside table, and then deeply into her eyes. But Sam’s blood ran with liquid nitrogen. It hurt to see him like this, so frail and so weak. She never wanted to lose him. Never!

His eyes softened still more, and he reached up a hand to run one thumb softly down her cheek.

“I know it’s hard, Sam. I know it’s selfish of me to be content to go first, but I could never outlive you. Not now. It would break me.”

“Just promise me you’ll fight to stay with me as long as you can,” she’d begged, and he had. And Jack O’Neill never made promises lightly. He’d kept his word, until one night, she’d watched him in the moonlight, struggling for each breath, weary, unutterably weary, and she’d realized how selfish she was.

She’d reached across his middle to hug him, careful not to add the weight of her own frail arm on his chest, and remembering Antarctica that first time long ago, she’d given him her blessing.

“You can sleep now, Jack. I’m here. I’ll be alright. It’s okay to let go.”

He’d reached up a hand to hold her by the back of her head for a kiss, and she’d obliged.

“Love…you…Sam,” he’d gasped. “No regrets.”

And in the morning he was gone.

That he’d died at home, in his own bed, with her by his side in ripe old age had been more than he’d expected, and a great comfort to Sam, but that didn’t do anything for the black hole of grief that spun in her chest when she’d realized at the Irish wake they’d held for him that she was listening, listening for the clink of her dog tags in his pocket as he played with them. A voice in the soundtrack of her life was forever missing, and a room crowded with friends, neighbors, and family was suddenly too quiet.

Sam drew herself back to the present, and the three warriors moved carefully to one side as the honor guard marched slowly in and began the stately ritual of moving Jack to the hearse. With her daughter on her right hand and Teal’c on her left, she prepared to walk behind the coffin, to where the three of them would get in the black limousine that would follow. The second limo would hold Gracie’s husband Jeff and their boys, Cassie and her children would occupy the third, and the President would be relegated to the fourth. But as they were about to set off, Teal’c held her back for a moment.

“Samantha, I feel that I should warn you. One of those who will be present at the burial, although perhaps not at the funeral, due to the media attention, will be familiar to you.”

She’d looked at him quizzically, and he’d elaborated.

“Jon O’Neill. I was concerned that if you encountered him without warning you would be distressed.”

“Thank you, Teal’c,” she’d said, and they had squared their shoulders almost in unison, and set off.

The state funeral had been almost as difficult as Sam had feared, the only saving grace being that those who spoke had not served with him or known him well. If that had been the case at her father’s funeral, that would have upset her, but Sam, Cassie, and Grace had chosen not to speak, and were content. It was fitting for such a private man not to be publically displayed in such a public event. Enough of the speakers had spoken to those who did know him, or studied the historical record that there were occasional stories or moments that captured the important public facets of Jack O’Neill, and brought the occasional fond smile to their faces. It was enough.

Finally it was over, and a much more select group boarded a reduced fleet of limos for the trip to the grave site, and it was there that Sam saw him. Her breath caught hopelessly in her throat, and she was unable to draw in air for a moment. She had not thought. He was older now, not much older than the age that Jack had been at their wedding. He stood there, alone, also in his dress blues, with a chest full of ribbons and medals. With an expert eye she read them over. They were his own, earned in this second life time. Naturally, they would be. He could hardly wear the Vietnam ribbon when his birth certificate says he wasn’t even born until long after the war had ended! Sam’s eyes had widened as she noticed one decoration that her husband had never earned, although she knew he deserved it as much, if not more, than Cam Mitchell had. The Medal of Honor. Well, he’d started with good material, the best. But that medal steadied her. He might look like Jack to the life, and he might in some sense be the man she’d served with, but this was not her husband of forty-six years, or the father of her child. He had lived his own life now for some fifty years, and he was not Jack anymore. He was Jon.

Then had come the interment, with full military honors, and a missing man flyover. The moment she received Jack’s flag had been tough, but Sam had managed to get through that by remembering Vala’s moment of puzzlement as she received Daniel’s. How she’d managed to live to be the longest active member of SG-1 without knowing about the custom was a bit of a mystery at the time (“I try not to attend funerals,” she’d admitted afterwards. “Too depressing!”), but she’d brought a moment of relief from the solemnity for those who knew her, and a moment of shocked offense for those who didn’t, by asking loudly, “And what am I supposed to do with this?!!!”

Sam had been offered the spot in Arlington next to Daniel and Cam – Daniel had been allowed there, although he was a civilian, by special vote of Congress in honor of his years of service under combat conditions – but she had asked that they use the plot they offered her for Vala instead, when her time came. She would want to be beside Daniel, and Sam had no intention of resting anywhere but by Jack’s side, in Colorado.

After the last of the rituals ended, the media and the remaining dignitaries packed up and left, and those remaining broke into small conversational clumps, exchanging greetings, expressing condolences, sharing a few cherished and well-burnished memories before drifting off a few at a time. Sam remained for a moment, clutching Jack’s flag to her chest like it was her last hope of heaven, or a cherished child. She could see Grace receiving a consoling hug from Jeff, their boys surrounding them, uncharacteristically still and solemn. Cassie and her children were a little further on, talking to a close friend she had met in her support group, who had lost her husband at about the same time. The friend’s boys, who had not known Jack, were climbing a nearby tree, intent on making as much of a shambles of their Sunday best as they could in as short a time as possible. She knew without looking that Teal’c was standing guard behind her, ready to step forward and protect her she should need it.

Intent on getting a last glimpse of the carefully polished casket with its sprinkling of tossed flowers and few meager handfuls of earth, she was taken by surprise by the voice that sounded suddenly in her right ear. It was his voice, his beloved voice, and yet it was not. This voice had the same tone, the same texture, the same register, but there was hardly a trace of that unmistakable Minnesotan accent that had so characterized Jack’s. His second education and training in Colorado had somehow given him a local accent.

“General Samantha O’Neill, I hear,” he said.

“Yeah,” she replied quietly, smiling wistfully.

“But I thought you were all liberated and stuff,” he teased.

She gazed up at him, noting how glaring the lack of that little chip in his left eyebrow was, now that his glasses were off.

“With him, I found I didn’t need to be,” she replied at last. On impulse she drew both sets of tags out and showed them to him.

He bent to read them, and gently ran an index finger over one of the ones that bore her name.

“He would have been so pleased.”

“He was,” she breathed, touching again, for a brief moment, that precious memory of a time when she’d made him truly happy. She drew herself back up, and tucked both sets of tags away.

“So, play your cards right, take better care of yourself than he did, and you could might even make it to the dawning of the next century,” she said.

“Ohh, I doubt that,” he said, with that familiar O’Neill sarcastic tone.

“One hundred and five!” she offered.

He looked wearily into her eyes, and then shrugged.

“Do you know why he lived so long?” he asked.

“The Ancient gene?” she asked. His “advanced genetics” had been a family in-joke for decades.

“No,” he said softly. “He had you.”

He had come alone.

“Don’t you have anyone?” she asked. “A wife? Kids?”

“No,” he said, and then rubbed a hand over his face in a gesture she knew indicated discomfort.

“Being a fifty-plus guy hanging out with cheerleaders and college kids…It was just too weird. And attempt to even think of making a move on a teacher or a prof. really creeped them out. Go figure.” His voice moved a few notes lower, and became much quieter. “And none of them was you.”

Well, her husband was a very stubborn and persistent man too. She was used to dealing with that.

“Jon O’Neill!” she said sternly. “Thor would be so disappointed in you! Don’t you remember he said you were the future of the human race! I am not the only woman in this world that is right for you. I’m one woman. There are, what, four and a half billion others by now! I’m too old for you, and Grace is off limits and married, but that leaves 4.5 billion minus two women out there. Do the math, stop your moping, and get to work, young man!”

“I’m older than you are!” he protested.

“Your memories are. You aren’t,” she countered. “Stop stalling!”

“4.5 billion minus three,” he said, looking over at Cassie and her friend.

Her tall, willowy, blond, blue-eyed friend. Sam was inspired.

“She’d be perfect for you,” she said.

“CASSIE! Carter, that’d be…” words failed him. “Eeewww!!!”

Sam took a moment to recover her composure. It had been many, many years since Jack had used “Carter” as anything but a bedroom endearment, or very occasionally as a warning in a moment of crisis, and it took her a moment to master the rush of feeling that hearing it evoked. But really, Jon’s face was priceless!

“Not Cassie, her friend! She’s a widow and an Air Force major, teaching Physics at the Academy now that she’s out of the field.”

He rolled his eyes in relief, and then surreptitiously checked the other woman out. At least he thought it was surreptitious. Jack had thought that too. Sam was onto them both. This one was definitely his type. She went for the clincher.

“See those two boys in the trees? Those are her boys. They need a guiding hand, but so few men want to date a woman who already has two such active and time-consuming boys.”

The hook was set. Now to reel him in.

“They’re both demon hockey players, I hear,” she said.

He looked wistfully for a moment at the two little boys.

“Your husband was a braver man than I,” he said.

She glanced over at Grace, remembering, knowing what he meant. She reached out and fingered the medal on his chest, with its legend, “Valor”.

“No,” she said quietly, looking solemnly into his eyes. “He wasn’t. When we found out I was pregnant with Gracie, he was terrified. He nearly went off the deep end. But in the end, after he turned and faced it, he loved every minute. Every single minute. Even when the boyfriends started coming.” She had a sudden flashback to Jack, tall and immaculate in the dress blues that he’d retired to escape, three stars on his shoulder, mirrored sunglasses hiding his eyes, every last medal and ribbon he’d earned visible and lovingly placed, coming to the door to meet Grace’s young men. “Especially when the boyfriends started coming,” she amended.

“You always were the brains of the operation, Carter,” he said. He looked fondly down at her, then gently gathered her into warm, encompassing hug. God he even smelled the same!

He stepped back and released her. He smoothed one curved thumb down her seamed and wrinkled cheek, and then moved away.

“I’ll give it a try, I guess.” Then softly, ever so gently, “Goodbye, Carter.”

He turned and strolled with deliberate nonchalance over to where the two women stood. He tipped his cover to them.

Sam could hear him from where she stood, aware now of the warmth radiating from Teal’c who had moved up to stand just behind her.

“Hello, Cass,” Jon said. Then turning to the other woman, and extending his right hand, “I went to high school with Cassie. I’m Jon O’Neill.”

He had his back to Sam, but she was sure he’d flashed the woman his most charming smile. If Cassie’s friend wasn’t charmed, she was made of much sterner stuff than she herself was. Sam hoped that if Thor was right, and she personally believed he was, that Jon would someday do his bit for the evolution of the human race. Jack had always hated the possibility or the reality of other versions of himself, but as far as Samantha Carter O’Neill was concerned, more Jack O’Neill was just what this or any other universe needed. With a last look at gaping hole where he would await her, Charlie by his side, she allowed Teal’c to take her by the arm and slowly lead her to the waiting car that would take her home, to the occasional clink of the double set of tags nestled under her shirt.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 19th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
*sob* Oh that was wonderful! So sad but wonderful the same! Thanks! :D
Sep. 19th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
So glad you liked it. Considering somebody kinda hadda die, I think it was as happy an ending as could be expected.
Sep. 19th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Aw. This story really brought tears to my eyes. It was so beautifully written, though. And I'm glad it ended on such a lighter note. :)
Sep. 19th, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Death. It's kind of a downer. Go figure. I really worked to find a way to not just leave everyone in black crêpe weepers clutching their handkerchiefs. Glad you enjoyed it.
Sep. 21st, 2009 03:16 am (UTC)
Absolutely heartbreaking....beautifully written...but heartbreaking just the same!
Sep. 21st, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, you kinda figure anything that involves folded flags & dog tags probably isn't gonna end all that well, since the discovery of DNA rules out the "Oh woops! They buried my buddy. I was in a coma and face-covering bandages with his dog tags on for the last three weeks" excuse. I suppose I could have killed off the clone instead, but the poor guy seemed put-upon enough, what with loosing out on Carter.

Actually I cling to the desperate hope that Thor did the right thing and made Mini!Jack a Mini!Carter, but then I'm a hopeless romantic.
Sep. 24th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
This is wonderful. It's sad, but it makes me happy to think of them having such a long life together. And Daniel dying of old age after all those times he didn't. This is really beautiful, and I love the last line.
Sep. 24th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Clearly with dog tags and a folded flag to work with, it wasn't going to be the Uplifting Fic of the Decade, but I tried to end it all as well as could be expected under the circumstances.
Oct. 1st, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
That was really beautifully written.. heartbreaking and lovely.
Oct. 2nd, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you. All things considered, I tried to send him off kindly.
Oct. 6th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
oh WOW! that was amazing.

heartbreaking, but beautiful. the littany of a full and content life.

that Siler got in made me smile widely (and would offer a squish if knew you better, lol) even as it made me sad, if that made sense..

the tags. Grace and the ATA gene, lol. T' {hugs him}. Daniel. The lottery. Jon, so perfectly sad. and yet Sam, matured by all her years of marriage, pulling him into line, was wonderful -the eww moment was joy :D-, carter in the bedroom! LOL. and dress blues for the b-friends (eg)

sigh. the tags.

well done
Oct. 8th, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it. I wanted to give them all a good send off, considering, although I guess I was a little harsh to Cassie's husband, who didn't even get a name. I didn't want to get into the whole was he/wasn't he Dominic thing, since I think that twu wuv at sixteen is not too likely, but I didn't want to stomp on someone else's ship in what was meant to be a happy fic under the circumstances!

And Stargate SG-1 isn't Stargate SG-1 without Siler and Walter!
Oct. 8th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
lol, I liked Jack caling him whatshisname. definitely got the 'not good enough for my little girl' vibe
Jun. 15th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
awww. that was just so cute, and bittersweet
Jun. 16th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
Given the graphic I was starting with, I'm afraid this piece was never going to be a fluff fest, but I tried to send Jack off in a way that would have pleased him, given that he is now out of the field and not likely to go quickly on a battlefield saving others. I did my best not to make this a downer, and I'm glad that it worked for you.
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:59 am (UTC)
I don't like death stories, but this one was worth reading--especially the hope for Jon, at the end.

Melissa M.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )



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