It had hardly been two days since Jack O’Neill had been bothered to pick up the phone – not red, unfortunately – after several months silence to call his former boss. At the time, he’d wanted to keep it short, sweet and simple. And as usual, the conversation had wandered for a few minutes before Jack returned to his senses enough to cut it short.
“Let me know if you finally decide to retire,” Jack told him, eyes already casing out the fridge.
George Hammond responded as he always did. “When you retire your Simpson’s collection, son.”
In other words, not a chance in hell.
And barely forty-eight hours later, there was no longer a man to stick it to. Not that he’d spent any of the last four years doing that for Hammond, but old loyalties died hard. He’d done his duty, turned up in suit and shook hands with people he’d never met, people who he’d rather forget and people with familiar old faces. One he didn’t expect was fresh from the Pegasus Galaxy, eyes dry and steely – only when she thought no one was watching.
“Hey, Carter. McKay finally get on your nerves?”
“Not a chance,” Sam answered firmly, though her voice wavered. “I can’t believe he’s gone. I mean…he was so strong. You just…you know, I should start getting used to this after all these years. Losing people. But…”
Jack waved her into silence. “Come on, you’re allowed to miss him. I miss him. He owes me a beer. But if I got used to losing people I know, I’d have more beer than I would know what to do with.”
“Thanks, Jack.” Her smile was genuine, but worried.
He didn’t ask why or how she was back on Earth, but right now he couldn’t care less. Jack took her into his arms for a hug, a little longer than he should have.
“Since when were we on a first name basis?” he asked lightly, trying to force a distraction into her thoughts.
Her shoulders sagged, and Jack could almost feel the weight of Atlantis there. But she still drew back to offer a watery smile. “Which do you prefer, sir?”
“We should probably cut this little rendezvous of ours short,” he sidestepped easily. “Teal’c and Daniel might get jealous.”
It was an excuse to give him some space. Much as she needed his support, he needed to take it all in, make it real somehow. Perhaps she knew this as she walked away to confer with her team mates. Jack watched her only briefly before making his way to the unguarded coffin. So this was where a man larger than life lay. Jack considered Hammond’s resting place for a few moments.
“Guess you finally retired.”
Cold silence responded, enough to send anyone away. But Jack wasn’t moving, tapping his fingers over the top of the coffin thoughtfully. He continued, “Look, you know me. I’m a man of few words. Usually. So I’ll keep this as short as possible. Take a break. Get a tan. Send a postcard. When I see you again, I’ll collect that beer you owe me.”
That was enough. The heavy air of the room closed around his throat and he ducked outside to his car. No point hanging around anymore. He’d said and done all he needed to. But as he was unlocking the driver’s side door, his eyes fell on the hockey stick lying across the backseat. Shrugging, Jack reached over and pulled it out. He flipped it over in his hands a few times, considering.
Then at last he smiled and took an almighty swing at his windshield.
For old time’s sake.