Fic: A Halfway Moment

Title: A Halfway Moment
Genre: angst, episode tag, friendship
Rating: T
Spoilers: Tag for Scorched Earth, so...
Disclaimer: Mine? No? Damn.

"Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second where it can be recalled and perhaps remedied." - Pearl Buck

Even before General Hammond warns him he’d better do something about the tension crackling between his team members, Jack’s making plans to make things right with the others.

Teal’c is easy. He’s been toeing the fine line between doing as ordered and doing the right thing for longer than Jack has been alive. He gets that sometimes there’s no such thing as a good choice, only a less unpalatable one. All it takes is a few words and their friendship is rock solid again.

Daniel’s more complicated. This is just the latest in a long series of fundamental differences they’ve run up against lately, and even after the apologies are made, the strain on their friendship lingers.

Daniel’s pissed that Jack wouldn’t hear him out. Jack’s pissed that Daniel put him in a position to choose between his life and the lives of every last Enkaran.

In his own way, Jack apologizes for his short sightedness. Daniel pushes the issue for a while, trying to appeal to Jack’s better angels, before accepting that they’ll never see eye to eye. Then he apologizes for running off half-cocked, and that’s that, all is forgiven.

At least it is until the next time they wind up on opposing sides of a moral dilemma playing out a few thousand light years away.

Jack intentionally leaves Carter for last. He knows he needs to have a talk with her, to apologize, but he’s not entirely sure what he’s supposed to be trying to fix. She’s definitely angry with him, but not in the way he’d expected. He’s been bracing himself for harsh words and bitter accusations about the way he dragged her into the near murder of one of her best friends. Instead, she’s been sullen and withdrawn from everyone, not just him.

The fact is he can’t put his finger on what’s wrong or what he has to do in order to fix it. That’s why Jack shows up on her front step with a box of pizza and a six-pack of Guinness. He’s not above resorting to bribery to get a foot in the door.

When she answers his sharp knock, Carter’s face is schooled into a carefully neutral expression. She looks worn out, much more so than when she left the briefing room three hours ago.

“Sir,” she greets in a tightly controlled voice that matches her tightly controlled expression.

“I think we need to talk,” Jack says bluntly. “I brought dinner.”

She looks resigned, but she opens the door wider and steps back, granting him entrance. Jack steps inside, handing over his peace offerings. Carter doesn’t say anything, just accepts the boxes and heads into her living room. Jack closes the front door and toes off his shoes before following.

She settles in her favourite armchair, sinking into the familiar comfort. The pizza is still safely tucked away in its box, but there’s a beer in her hand. Jack knows he’s in plenty of trouble, but at least his offerings haven’t been rejected outright.

He makes himself comfortable on the far end of the couch, slouching into the corner. Carter passes him a beer and lets him take exactly one sip before getting down to business.

“What do you want, sir?” She’s trying to maintain her professional, neutral tone, but there’s no missing the chill creeping in.

“For starters, you can drop the ‘sir’.” Carter frowns and appears ready to protest, but Jack cuts her off. “I already pulled rank once today. I figure you’ll appreciate the chance to say what I didn’t let you say earlier.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“It does to me.”

“It’s too late now, sir.”

“Sam. I’m trying to make things right. Throw me a bone,” he requests gently.

She pins him with a level stare and takes a slow sip of her beer. Jack can hear her swallow in the silence that stretches between them. It’s just starting to get awkward when she speaks again. “What do you want me to say?”

He rolls the chilled bottle between his hands, carefully avoiding her gaze. “Whatever’s on your mind.”

“What good will it do?” she demands, voice bitter now. “The Gadmeer and the Enkarans are both going to live happily ever after and we’ve got our next mission scheduled. It’s over.”

“If it’s over, why are you still so angry with me?” Jack can be patient. He doesn’t do it often, but when it’s important, he can wait indefinitely. This is one of those rare things that matters enough to wait out until the end of time, if need be.

Sam is silent for a long while, carefully looking anywhere but at him. He can practically hear the wheels in her head turning, so Jack lets her think, waiting her out. When she’s ready, she’ll talk. If she weren’t already more or less prepared to spill, Jack would be out on his ass.

Finally she asks, “You really don’t realize what we did today, do you?”

“Apparently not.”

“Sir, we detonated a bomb thousands of times stronger than any nuclear weapon ever developed. That explosion today made the bomb dropped at Hiroshima look like a Roman candle on the Fourth of July. Do you really think the powers that be will leave it at that?”

“This is about ordering you to build a bomb?” He should have known.

“No, sir. It’s about all the other bombs that are going to follow.”

Jack sighs and rubs a hand over his gritty, tired eyes. “Carter…”

“I’ve spent the last three years warning that naquadah is too unstable to use in a bomb at our current level of technology. After seeing what a particle of potassium reacting with a particle of naquadah was capable of, just about everyone agreed with me and left it alone because the risks outweighed the rewards.” Sam meets his gaze again, her eyes swimming with guilt and self-recrimination. “Today I proved that there’s a low-risk way to construct a naquadah bomb. How long do you think it will be before the Pentagon places its first order?”

Jack flinches because, as uncomfortable as it is, it’s the truth. “I didn’t…”

“I did,” she interrupts. “But you made it pretty clear you didn’t want to hear it.”

“Hey, I have always listened to your input,” Jack snaps defensively. “Just because I don’t always act on your recommendations…”

“You didn’t even want to hear my recommendations! You just assumed I was going to side with Daniel and shut me down!”

“What would you have done?” he demands, frustrated now. “If it had been your call, who would you have chosen to help: the Enkarans or the Gadmeer?”

Carter shifts uncomfortably, her eyes sliding to a spot just above his right shoulder. “I don’t know.”

“Fence sitting isn’t a luxury I’m allowed,” he retorts waspishly. “I made a call and right or wrong, I stand by it.”

“No matter what?”

“Yes.”

“Will you still feel that way the first time we use a naquadah bomb to kill millions of innocent people? They can do that, you know. Wipe out millions of people with a single explosion. Tens of millions, if you set it off in the right place. And that’s just the blast itself. The environmental damage will kill a lot more.”

It’s Jack’s turn to squirm in his seat. “We’ll never use it like that.”

“You don’t believe that any more than I do.”

“Hammond will never allow it.”

“Even if he has a say, he won’t be running the SGC forever.” She pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs. “I wish I hadn’t done it.”

“You were following orders,” Jack reminds gently.

“Unlawful orders,” she corrects. “I could have refused. No consequences.” It’s a confession of a truth they’ve both carefully avoided acknowledging since the moment he issued the command.

Jack rises from the couch, pacing the length of her living room. He can feel her eyes on him but he avoids looking at her because he’s not really sure what will come out if he stops thinking and starts speaking uncensored.

She lets him burn off some of his agitation in silence. Countless laps later, with his thoughts in slightly better order, he asks, “Is there anyway to prove how big the explosion was?”

“No, sir.” No hesitation. It’s a good sign. “We have no idea how far out Lotan actually sent the bomb. Without some frame of reference, it’s impossible to calculate the magnitude of the blast.”

“What about radiation levels on the planet? Could you figure it out it that way?”

Carter shakes her head. “No, sir. We’ve measured minimal radiation levels on the planet’s surface, but again, without a frame of reference, they don’t tell us much.”

“Why not?”

“The levels are low. If the bomb detonated at ten thousand feet, then our readings mean that a naquadah blast of that size emits very low levels of radiation. But if the bomb detonated at ten million feet, then the readings would indicate that detonating the same bomb on a planet’s surface would poison a huge area, rendering it uninhabitable.”

Jack nods thoughtfully, turning the information over in his head. “And you’re sure there’s no way to prove how close the bomb was when it went off?”

“Not without detonating a series of similar yield bombs under controlled conditions and making observations of the results, no, sir.”

“What good would that do?”

“With enough data, we could extrapolate backwards and calculate the magnitude of the explosion.”

“So we make sure that doesn’t happen.” Jack shoves his hands in his pockets and finally looks her in the eye again.

A frown wrinkles her forehead. “Sir?”

“As far as anyone else is concerned, Lotan told us exactly how far out he sent the bomb,” Jack says firmly. “We set it close enough to the planet that it’s too dangerous to test on Earth or anywhere else, and we make sure no one ever winds up in a position to prove us wrong.”

Her clear blue eyes widen. That brilliant brain of hers has finally jumped on board his train of thought. “You want to lie in our reports?”

Jack shrugs. “I’ve done it before.”

“I haven’t.”

“I know.”

Carter sets her beer on the table and leans forward, resting her head in her hands. Jack lets her think in peace. She’s running through his plan, searching for holes that can be poked in the story, considering the science that might prove them liars. He knows she’ll identify any weaknesses in his tactics before deciding to commit, one way or the other.

Whatever she chooses, he’ll go along with it. He trusts Carter to do the right thing, every time. She’s his conscience when his own fails him.

Long minutes later, she warns, “I’ll need a few days to do the math.”

“We’ve got time.” Hammond doesn’t need their reports until next week.

There’s a beat of silent indecision and in that moment, Jack is sure she’s going to tell him to forget it. To forget they ever even had this conversation. But then she squares her shoulders, straightens her spine and makes her choice. “Okay.”

Because she’s never done anything even remotely like this before, because she’s got a near spotless record and she’s an outstanding young officer with a bright future ahead of her, Jack gives her one last opportunity to change her mind before they put this plan in motion. “You sure?”

Sam nods decisively. “I’m sure.”

“Okay.” Jack returns to the couch and drops onto it gracelessly. He sprawls once more, taking up as much space as possible. Casually, as if it’s an after thought even thought he’s been planning it ever since the conversation took this unexpected turn, he adds, “Major, I’m ordering you to falsify data that will make a case against any further testing of naquadah bombs.”

“Sir…”

“That’s an order, Major,” Jack insists firmly.

Be that as it may, it’s another unlawful one, and they both know it. She can disobey without consequence because there’s no way Jack can impose any form of discipline on her under these circumstances. He knows it. She knows it. But Jack makes it an order anyway, because it’s all he can do to protect her from the fallout they’ll face if their actions are ever brought to light. It’s meager cover, but it’s the best he can offer.

Carter isn’t happy, but she accepts that his mind is made up and that nothing she says or does will change it now. Besides, there are other, more pressing issues, to tend to.

“What do we tell Daniel and Teal’c?”

“Nothing.” There’s no need to drag the others into this. While the Enkarans were busy packing up their belongings, he and Carter had a few minutes alone with Lotan. It’s plausible that they discussed the bomb when Daniel and Teal’c weren’t around.

There’s a troubled frown on Carter’s face. They don’t lie to one another; SG-1 is built on trust. But they do protect each other, even, at times, from one another. This, Jack knows, is the reason she nods her agreement, despite her reservations about withholding the truth from the others.

He knows he’s asking her to go against so much of what she holds dear, so much of what she’s been raised to believe in, but he’s only doing it because he truly believes it’s necessary. If there were any other way, he wouldn’t be asking.

“Are you going to be okay with this?” Jack asks gently.

“I’ll have to be.”

Sam Carter is Air Force, born and bred. It means a lot that she’s willing to put her integrity on the line to follow his lead. The fact that she’s willing to risk everything, no matter how good the reason, makes Jack wonder if she wouldn’t be better off if he put as much distance between them as possible.

The woman he met four years ago would have never agreed to falsify an official report. Jack is rubbing off on her ways he’d never intended.

He just hopes Carter doesn’t wind up paying for her unshakeable faith that he’ll never lead her astray. “If you change your mind…”

“I won’t.”

“But if you do,” Jack insists pointedly, “You can do it right up until the moment we hand in our reports. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Jack sits for a while, allowing them both the opportunity to process the reality of what they’ve committed to. After a few minutes, he announces, “I should get going.”

“What about the pizza?”

“Keep it. At least I’ll know you actually ate dinner one night this week.”

“Stay for a while?” Carter suggests hopefully. “I think there’s a hockey game on tonight.”

“You sure?” They try so hard not to do this, not to wind up alone, especially since the zatarc fiasco a few months ago.

Carter nods and reaches for the remote.

Jack slides the pizza box between them and gets comfortable. He came here tonight intending to abandon ranks and the chain of command. He might as well make the most of this brief reprieve from their responsibilities.
 
Oh, I liked this - Sam considering the future implications. Jack being his devious self to find a way out. And now I'm trying to remember if Bauer is before or after this, heh.
Ooh - I didn't even think of the implications for the whole fiasco with Bauer! I just looked it up, and that ep ("Chain Reaction") comes *after* "Scorched Earth."

Thanks for reading and reviewing! Now if you'll excuse me, there's a plot bunny on the loose... :)
This leads beautifully into Chain reaction. Sam would be thinking of the future implications - and dreading it. Nice pick up!

Very nice fic, and a good look into the issues they bring up, even the show ignores, the fallout of things they do and miracles they work.
Very right. Jack's initial order was illegal, and I was a bit surprised that Sam followed it. I'm not at all surprised that she's willing to follow this new one. She's absolutely right, and I think Jack has the only solution at this point.
I love this. Watching the team hash out how to deal with the consequences of their actions. Also, it's a fantastic glimpse and Sam and Jack's private dynamic. I've never really been able to see how they fit together alone and this helps quite a lot!