Sam hasn’t left the base in three and a half days. It’s not a record (seventeen is the record, one she hopes never, ever to break), but usually when she does these little marathons it’s because she’s involved in solving a problem or averting disaster. The base is never quiet, but other than her ongoing lab projects, there isn’t a lot demanding her immediate attention. She’s been avoiding Hammond, avoiding the colonel, and even avoiding Daniel a little. Daniel always wants to know how she’s feeling, what’s wrong, how he can help. It’s usually sweet and she appreciates the gesture but she just wants to be left alone.
She shuts the lights off in her lab and closes the door. It’s nearly three am and she heads down the hall toward her quarters. She’ll catch a few hours of sleep and be awake in time for SG-1’s scheduled briefing. She hasn’t seen Jack since their dressing down. She’s caught glimpses of him - had once been on the other side of the gate room from him, but they haven’t talked, haven’t shared a meal, and haven’t been forced together by duty. The time apart has done her well, she thinks. She’ll face him in the morning and he’ll be her CO. She’ll be his subordinate and Hammond will sit at the head of the table watching them both for signs that they’ve disobeyed his direct orders. She wishes she could explain to the general just how strongly she’s been obeying his orders.
She takes off her jacket, unlaces her shoes, pushes her pants down her legs. After a moment, she peels her shirt off too. She should sleep in something more than her sports bra and underwear, but she’s suddenly exhausted and sliding between cool sheets sounds amazing.
She lets her eyes slip closed, sleep just within her grasp.
“I’m sorry. We can’t anymore.”
She opens her eyes and tugs at her bottom lip with her teeth. She doesn’t mean for this to happen, it’s just that every time she has time to think, she thinks of the strangled way he’d said her name, thinks of the sting of shame that Hammond’s words had offered, thinks of the way Jack had promised her something he had no right to give.
She sits up, the blanket sliding off her chest and pooling at her waist. Her sheets feel itchy. Too much skin against tough fabric washed over and over again with industrial detergent. Outside, there’s still snow on the ground but the base hovers around the same temperature always, the cold or the heat never quite piercing so deeply beneath the ground.
She gets out of the bed and stands with her bare feet on the cool concrete floor. She’s exhausted, she knows she is. She should just go home, sleep in her bed, water her plants, gather her mail but she can’t seem to leave this place. Can’t seem to perforate the bubble of the SGC and enter the real world. In the SGC, she’s a hero. In the world, she’s just another woman who can’t seem to get anything right.
She’ll shower. She’ll let the hot water tire her out and then she’ll still have enough time to sleep for three hours, maybe.
Pants back on, feet shoved into her boots without socks. She doesn’t bother to lace them, either. BDU shirt over her bra, buttoned enough to be proper. The women’s locker room is deserted at this time and the only sound that greets her in the restroom is the slow drip of a leaky faucet. She strips, leaves her clothes in a pile on a bench and turns on the shower. Her dog tags fall forward as she adjusts the water to be on this just side of scalding.
Two hands braced against the tiled wall and she lets the hot water hit her face, her neck, her breasts, and then she turns, letting it pummel her between her shoulder blades.
“It’s your ring, Sam.”
She closes her eyes, shakes her head. Makes the water a little hotter and hisses as it burns her skin. When she can stand that, she makes it hotter still, turning the knob until the cold water isn’t on at all. She grits her teeth and makes herself endure it. She’ll burn it out of herself, if that’s what it takes, and if this doesn’t work she’ll find something that does.
She gets to the briefing early enough that she’s the first one there. She can see General Hammond at his desk as she takes her seat, flips open her notepad to a fresh page, and then, feeling antsy, gets back up to fix herself some coffee. She has a long day ahead of her, especially if they’re gonna get the go-ahead for the next planet on the cartouche. She pours the coffee and adds a little of the powdered creamer, stirring it with a red straw.
Daniel comes in, his nose buried in a file.
“Hey, Sam,” he murmurs. He doesn’t look at her and she’s glad. She sticks the straw in her mouth and then drops it in the trash can. Daniel sits in his usual seat, across from her. Teal’c will sit next to Sam, Jack next to Daniel, Hammond at the head. Unless there’s someone else to accommodate at a briefing, this is how they always sit. She likes it, tries to hold on to the feeling of a normal routine.
“Want some coffee?” she asks.
“Sure,” he says. She pushes her mug over to him and he takes it with a smile and raises it to his lips. His face changes. “Powdered?”
“Sorry,” she says and he hands it back.
“Never mind,” he murmurs.
“Suit yourself,” she says. She takes a sip. He’s right, it’s pretty bad, but it’s hot, at least. When she looks at him again, he’s staring at her.
“You okay?” he asks. She nods. “You look tired.”
“A little,” she concedes.
“What time did you get here?” he asks, setting down his file completely which she thinks is probably bad for her.
“Slept here,” she says. He narrows his eyes a little as if trying to decide his next move in a game of chess.
“Where’s Jack?” he says, finally. She flinches. She doesn’t mean to, but she does and he sees it and he knows she sees him see it. “Sam?”
“I don’t know, Daniel,” she says. “Go find him if you’re so worried.”
“I’m not worried,” he says. “I was just...”
“Just what?” she snaps.
“I’ve barely seen either one of you since New Year’s, I was just wondering how you were. A mistake I promise to make never, ever again,” he says, slumping back into his seat and picking up the file. She presses her lips together in frustration.
Teal’c comes in with Jack at his heels and Hammond opens his door at the same time. She jumps to her feet, at attention, something protocol dictates but something no one ever really bothers with anymore. Daniel stares at her incredulously and then looks over to the big SGC seal on the wall and studies it intently.
“What?” Jack asks him, dropping into his seat.
“Just making sure I’m not in some alternate reality by mistake,” Daniel says.
“I have those days,” Jack says. Sam stares straight ahead until Hammond sits down and then she sits too. Jack seems normal, not that she’s looked at him. Good. Normal is good. Everyone is normal. This briefing is normal, they’ll put on their normal gear and go through the gate like normal, and things will be totally, blissfully normal.
“SG-1,” Hammond says. “I hope your holidays went well.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack says. Sam uncaps her pen and poises it over her sheet of paper.
“Good,” Hammond says. “It’s time to get back to work. Dr. Jackson, P4x-113. Please begin.”
Daniel’s briefing is thorough though it consists of little more than what the MALP and UAV sent back. Still, she takes notes on what he says, his concerns that the people there might be technologically advanced enough for the Goa’uld to notice them in the next several years. They’re not as far along as Earth, but there’s electricity and that’s always a sign of things to come. Daniel mentions a few anomalies - signs of strangely efficient agriculture and traces of elements that don’t seem to be native to the planet, but nothing off-putting.
“Standard first contact,” Jack says. “Got it, sir.”
Sam caps her pen and presses it into her palm hard. She can see the small red rings left behind, can feel the sting.
“You have a go for 1300,” Hammond says. Everyone stands. “Major. Colonel. A moment, please.”
Sam can’t stop the heat that crawls up her neck and she closes her eyes briefly before looking at Hammond. He looks concerned but not angry. Teal’c leaves and Daniel does too but not before looking over his shoulder.
“Sir?” Jack says.
“I gave you your go,” Hammond says. “But if you two aren’t ready to be in the field, we can give this mission to SG-3.”
“We’re fine,” Jack says. He glances at her. “Right, Major?”
She finally, finally meets his eye, but it’s just Jack. He doesn’t look wounded or angry or upset, he just looks like Jack. In a strange way, it’s comforting. It also tells her she needs to get her act together.
“Yes, sir,” she says.
“The other day,” Hammond says. “We all acted unfortunately. We all know what’s at stake here and there will be time enough for other things later on down the road.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack says, though he seems a little more reluctant now.
“Dismissed,” Hammond says. Jack looks at her but she just heads for the door. There’s time to work in her lab, time to eat lunch and then they’ll gear up. Once she goes through the Stargate, things’ll be fine. She always feels better going through the gate.
“Major Carter.” Teal’c’s voice comes in through the hallway leading into the women’s locker room where she’s gearing up.
“Come in,” she calls. There’s not an excess of women on SG teams and she almost always gears up in solitude. Occasionally, she’ll come in from a mission to see someone gearing up or down, but not usually. Teal’c comes in and he’s not even dressed, even though they’re due to gate in fifteen minutes. “What’s wrong?”
“Daniel Jackson has been injured. General Hammond has ordered us to stand down.”
“What? Is he okay? What happened?” she asks.
“He is not in any danger. He has lacerated his hand and is in the infirmary,” Teal’c says. “I am on my way to see him now. Would you care to join me?”
“Yeah,” she says. She wants to know how Daniel could have done this. She shrugs out of her vest and puts everything away back into her locker. Teal’c watches her.
“Major Carter,” he says.
“I’m fine,” she says.
“I did not ask.” When she looks at him, his eyebrow is raised. He is teasing her.
“Just a general announcement then,” she says. “I’m fine.”
“We will see,” he says.
One of the nurses is finishing up on Daniel’s hand when they get to the infirmary. He’s got a long line of stitches from the center of his palm to the inside of his second finger on his left hand. His pants are covered in blood but he seems okay.
“Daniel!” she says. “What happened?”
“The artifact that SG-11 brought back yesterday,” he says. “I was studying it and the thing came alive and bit me!”
“Bit you?” Sam asks.
“Well, it activated and something lashed out. It’s been contained but I was bleeding pretty badly there for a while.”
“Clearly,” Teal’c says, eyeing Daniel’s pants.
“You should see my office,” Daniel jokes. He looks a little pale. The nurse unwinds a roll of gauze and starts to wrap the hand. “Sorry about 113. We can go tomorrow.”
“Maybe,” Sam says, eyeing the wound. “You’re lucky it didn’t go all the way through.”
“I feel lucky to still have a hand,” Daniel admits. “Hammond wants to ship the thing to Area 51. I kind of say good riddance.”
“Daniel!” Jack’s voice from the door. “What the hell happened?”
“Oh, you know,” Daniel says, shrugging and smiling his little squinty-eyed smile. “I pulled a me.”
“Oh,” Jack says, looking around at the rest of the team. “So no gate?”
“Tomorrow,” Teal’c says.
“Huh,” Jack says. “Okay then. Good job on not dying, I guess.”
“Thanks,” Daniel says. He turns to the nurse. “Can I go?”
“Yes,” she says. “The Doctor will call you when your medication is ready.” Daniel slides off the bed and they all head for the door. Jack stops Sam in the doorway and Teal’c and Daniel don’t notice.
“Major,” he says.
“How long have you been on the base?” he asks. He probably knows. He has probably gone up to the surface to see when the last time she signed out and in was. But he wants to hear her say it. She won’t lie to him. She’ll answer him like a good solider should.
“Four days, sir,” she says.
“Four days,” he repeats. “Go home. Get some rest. Come back tomorrow.”
“Sir,” she says.
“It’s an order, not a negotiation, Major,” he says. “Do you have a problem following my orders?”
“No sir,” she says. Her fingers twitch at her side.
“Good,” he says and walks past her.
Stepping through the gate is like stepping from winter into spring. She feels like a new person the moment she gets to the other side. She breathes deeply, the unfamiliar air filling her lungs, her chest puffing out, her breasts pressing against her loaded down vest.
“It’s lovely,” Daniel says, walking down the steps. Green trees, green grass, blue skies. Sometimes there is variation but mostly the gates are put in hospitable areas just like this and for that Sam is grateful. There’s a path leading into the forest, obviously traveled but not so worn that they’ve been greeted with a welcoming party.
“Come on,” Jack says and heads down the path, his gun in his grip. Daniel falls in line behind him and she hesitates but she knows that Teal’c won’t budge until she starts walking. He won’t leave her back unguarded.
They’ve only been walking for half an hour when they come to the outskirts of the town. It’s strange how quiet it is though, no voices, no animals, no movement. She looks at Jack and he looks right back at her and it’s nothing but tactics passing between them. Jack hates it when they get somewhere and they can’t see or hear children - he thinks it’s suspicious and unnatural. She can see that he really doesn’t like this. She doesn’t either.
Daniel is the first to step forward and he is the first to fall. Jack rushes toward him and then crumples in the same way and even though she knows she should stay put, these are her teammates, these are her men, and she rushes to their side before her higher brain functions can take over.
It’s a little like going to sleep. She just closes her eyes and lets herself fall.
There’s a solid warmth at her back. It seems to vibrate against her.
There it is again. She can’t move her arms, which is unusual, and she opens her eyes. It’s dark. She tugs her hands again.
“Carter, you awake?”
“Jack?” she asks. She says it before she remembers anything - Daniel falling, the Stargate, the fight. “Sorry, sir.”
“Yeah, well,” he says. “We’re in prison, we have a little more to be worried about.”
“We’re tied together?” she asks. The warmth she feels is Jack. They’re sitting on the cold floor of the cell back to back, her wrists bound to his. Her feet are tied at the ankle and at the knees. She tugs at the restraints but they’re plastic and hard and don’t budge, only bite into her painfully. No weapons, no vests, and she can’t check her pockets, but they’d come up empty.
“Seems to be.”
“Where are Daniel and Teal’c?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “Somewhere getting ready to save us, I hope.”
“I saw Daniel go down,” she says. “I don’t know about Teal’c.”
“Me either,” he says. “Haven’t seen any guards, any captors.”
“How long have we been here?” she asks.
“I’ve been awake maybe twenty minutes,” he says. “But from how I have to pee, I’d say longer.”
“Yeah,” she says. “Okay. Do you want to try to stand?”
“Yes,” he says. “Though I’d rather neither of us end up on our face.”
“It must have been some sort of energy field that knocked us out,” she says. He grunts like he doesn’t believe that and she understands. They hadn’t seemed advanced enough from what the MALP had sent. “Or maybe a poison we couldn’t detect?”
“I miss the days we just got shot at,” he says. “On three.”
They push against one another and start to inch to their feet. It helps that she’s tall and they go slow, wobbling more than once, the small cell peppered with “wait, wait, wait,” and “sorry, try it now” until they are unsteadily standing. The plastic ring at Jack’s knees stays put but hers is loose. Her legs are a lot narrower.
“I have a Swiss army knife in my boot,” she offers. “If I can get it.”
“We need to get a hand free,” he says. “How are your legs?”
“Ankles bound but my knees are pretty free.”
He doesn’t say anything - he is thinking it through.
“How is your back these days?” he says.
“Any trouble since you threw it out?” he asks.
“No,” she says.
“Okay,” he says. “You’re gonna have to bend down and support me on your back while you get the knife.”
She pauses to think about the logistics of this for a moment, the idea of balancing a 200 pound man on her spine while twisting two arms to get her boot free.
“Oh boy,” she says.
“On three,” he says again.
She gets the laces undone before they topple. He hits the hard ground with a grunt and her cheek smashes into the packed dirt.
“Shit,” he says. “You get it?”
“Hang on,” she says. “Just stay still.”
“Not going anywhere fast, Carter,” he says. She has to wiggle her right foot to ease the boot off the left but she feels the moment it slips free. Then it’s just a matter scooting them close enough to reach the boot. He grabs it first, crowing with success. Her wrist bends awkwardly as he dumps the boot and the knife comes out. She hisses a little as he tries to grab it. It’s an awkward angle and the restraints are starting to seriously cut into her skin.
“What?” he asks.
“You got it?”
“Yeah, just let me...” he trails off as he manages to get the blade out. It opens with a snap, the tip of the blade sliding right into the side of her hand.
“Ow,” she hisses.
“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbles. “Hold still.”
“Strange how we still haven’t seen anyone,” she says, mostly to distract herself as he slices inefficiently at their bindings.
“It’s gotta be the middle of the night,” he says. “They’ll come at daybreak.”
“We still going to be here?” she asks.
“Hope not,” he says. “Almost... there.”
She twists her wrist and feels something snap and then her hand is free. She pulls it to her mouth, trying to soothe the sting of the cut. It’s not long, but it’s deep and she can see blood running into her sleeve. Jack frees his feet and knees and then goes to work their other arms. When that’s done, he crawls over to free her feet. She probably could have slipped free with the boot gone, but she allows it, watching him squint in the low light.
“Knife in your boot,” he says dryly. “I gotta promote you.”
“Knew it would come in handy one day,” she says softly. “I can’t promise it’ll get us out of this cell.”
“I got your hand,” he says, taking her palm. She flinches.
“I’m fine, sir.”
“You sure?” he asks, his thumb running lightly over her wrist.
“Yes,” she says, pulling her hand away. She can’t let him get to her, especially here. Nothing has changed and she has woken up in worse situations than this. They need to stay strong, figure out how to get free, and find their teammates. “Go pee. I’ll inspect the bars.”
He looks like he wants to argue but nods.
The bars are just bars, thick, iron, solid. No energy fields, no electric shock. She can’t do much more than peer down a dark hallway. She puts on her boot as Jack marks his territory against one of the walls. She starts moving bar by bar, trying to find any points of weakness.
“I called,” he says.
“Before I figured out that you hadn’t gone home. I called. I didn’t leave a message.”
“Sir,” she sighs. “We’re trapped, my hand is bleeding, and we don’t know what’s happening. Do we have to talk about this right now?”
“At least you can’t avoid me here.”
“I wasn’t...” She stops. “General Hammond was quite clear.”
“Yeah, I may have made a tactical error there,” he says. “You were right. We should’ve never gone to Hammond.”
“No,” she says, wrapping her uninjured hand around one of the bars and giving it a good shove. “It was the right thing. I needed someone to remind me of the rules, I think.”
“I broke the rules a long time ago,” he says, walking up to her. He doesn’t touch her, but he grabs two bars and puts his face between them. His head is too big to fit through, too big, she hopes to get stuck. “Do you ever feel like following the letter of the law means destroying the spirit of the thing?”
She wishes this world would shift beneath her feet and swallow her. She thinks about it absorbing her body into the soil and allowing her to nourish it in exchange for her not having to live through this moment anymore, to endure the way his words make her feel completely untethered.
Jack O’Neill is no type of wordsmith, but lately he’s been saying all the right things.
“Hey,” he says, when she doesn’t respond. “Give me the knife.” She hands it over and watches him cut the lining out of his jacket. He takes her hand without permission and wraps the warm cloth around her wound. The bleeding has stopped, for the most part, but she’s grateful nonetheless. With that done, he pockets the knife and turns back to the cell to perform his own inspection. When his back is to her, she lifts the cloth to her face and gives it a quick sniff.
And there he is - his scent up her nose like she’d pressed it into some secret part of him.
“What would you have said if I had answered the phone,” she asks. He looks back at her but it’s hard to see his face in such darkness.
“I don’t know,” he says.
Sam keeps almost nodding off and then jerking herself awake, too afraid to really go under. Jack hasn’t said anything in over an hour, but he is alert and awake and keeping an eye on her always. Her hand is throbbing and now she could pee, too, but for what Jack, Teal’c, and even Daniel have over her in strength and stamina, she can best them with her bladder every single time.
Her eyes feel gritty and heavy and she shifts, the cold of the floor seeping into her. Even the Goa’uld prisons usually came with a bench. This is just a square room of nothing.
“Carter,” Jack says. “Why don’t you get some rest?”
She thinks about lying, telling him she doesn’t need it or want it but instead she decides, because it’s just the two of them and because it takes so much effort to be mad at him, to tell the truth.
“I’m trying,” she says. “I can’t.”
He studies her for a moment and he gets that almost vacant look of deciding on a course of action. She can see him deciding something, see him making a plan. Finally, he snaps out of it and sits down next to her, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, boot to boot.
“I know I’m in some deep shit right now,” he says. “We both are but what do you say we call a cease fire until we get outta here?”
“I don’t know what that means,” she says tiredly. SG-1 is always in it deep, always just scraping by with their lives. They’ve been in far worse than this.
“It means that I think you should put your head on my shoulder and try to sleep. I’ll keep watch.”
“Oh.” He means them, that they’re in deep shit together and it has nothing to do with this cell in this prison on this little planet.
“You should be mad at me,” he says. “You should be mad that I made us go talk to Hammond. You have every right to be really mad. I’m mad. Everyone is... mad. But what happened in the truck... that’s not gonna change, Carter. I’m always going to feel like that, even if you don’t.”
She has to take a moment to process this. She dreams of his ring, thinks about it late at night, tries to imagine what her hand might feel like with the weight of it on her finger, what it looks like exactly, how it might feel to catch it out of the corner of her eye and be reminded that she is tied to another person who has promised to love her until death do they part.
“Truce,” she says.
“Truce,” he agrees. “Temporary. You can go back to being mad at me in the morning.”
“I’m not mad at you,” she says, resting her head on his shoulder. “I’m mad at me.”
“You shouldn’t be,” Jack says, angling his body so she’s a little more comfortable. For all the time they spend not touching, he seems to know exactly what her body needs.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says. “I just want to sit here with you.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I think that exact thing often.”
She snickers, turning her head into his arm to muffle the sound.
“I’m serious,” he says. “Sitting quietly next to you is like... living the dream.”
“You can’t even sit still for the length of a briefing,” she points out.
“I can sit still for you,” he says, putting his arm around her.
She doesn’t think she can sleep, but soon, she does.
Sam jerks awake when Teal’c comes into get them. It’s the sound of a key in a lock that wakes her. Jack still has one arm around her but he’s also got the knife in his hand and she can tell all his muscles are tensed and ready for a fight. Then he relaxes.
Teal’c has a child with him, a girl in a long wool coat, looking over her shoulder again and again. She can’t be more than eleven or twelve and she keeps wringing her hands. Sam gets to her feet and Jack doesn’t let go of her.
“We must move quickly,” Teal’c says.
“Who is your friend?” Jack asks.
“Please,” the girl says. “We haven’t much time.”
They follow silently. Outside, in the early dawn light, Daniel is draped over the back of a horse - at least it’s some kind of beast of burden. It seems like maybe it started out as a horse a long time ago, but had been bread stout and mean. The beast isn’t very tall - the legs are short instead of spindly and the face looks a little squashed, but it doesn’t seem to mind having an unconscious archaeologist slung across its back.
“They’ll be coming,” the girl says to Teal’c. “You must go to the stone circle at once.”
“I don’t understand,” Jack says.
“My people are scavengers,” the girl says. “We make offers of trade, but only steal technology and adapt it to our own use. We offered to meet with you under false pretenses.”
“No really,” Jack says. “Who are you?”
“I am Bianca,” she says. “My father leads the resistance. Please, you must go!”
“O’Neill,” Teal’c says. “She is correct. They will kill us.”
“Okay,” Jack says. “Well, thanks, I guess.”
“I will ride ahead with Daniel Jackson and dial the gate,” Teal’c says. “You must keep to the forest until you reach the gate. Do not walk the path, O’Neill, it is not safe.”
“We’ll see you there,” Jack says. Teal’c mounts the beast behind Daniel and they watch him disappear into the morning mist. Sam turns to ask Bianca a question, but finds that she, too, is gone.
“I get the feeling we missed a lot while we were in that cell,” Sam says.
They follow Teal’c’s advice and stick to the trees, but the trees start to thin out about half a klick from the gate. Sam wishes desperately for her gun. She feels totally vulnerable to attack and Jack must too, because he starts picking up the pace and by the time they can see Teal’c and Daniel, they’re heading for the gate at a dead run.
She doesn’t know why she feels so afraid, but the fear is hot and prickly on her skin. It seems silly to fear something she has no proof of - she hasn’t seen anyone, save for that girl who’d helped rather than hindered - but she’s terrified all the same. After all, these people had disabled her and locked her in a cell without showing their faces. They could be capable of much more.
She sees the gate activate and Teal’c lift Daniel. Her breath is beginning to burn in her throat and lungs. She’s tired, she’s starving, and she’s afraid but they’re practically there. In ten seconds they’ll be on the other side, barreling down the ramp at a totally undignified speed. They’re almost to the steps now. They’re close enough that Teal’c is moving, confident enough to walk through. He disappears with Daniel into the event horizon.
She’s right behind Jack and tries to speed up so they’re shoulder to shoulder. Her foot is on the first step.
Weapons fire. Maybe their own guns, maybe not, but Jack drops like dead weight and she doesn’t have time to consider her situation and has nothing to defend herself with. She can only keep going. She grabs the back of his vest and tries to lift, but he’s too heavy so she just pulls and pulls until they’re up the steps. Through the gate. On the other side.
She loses her footing when they emerge and when she falls, she angles herself to fall on top of Jack and then roll. Hitting the ramp is painful. The medics are already putting Daniel onto a stretcher and Teal’c is standing over them, looking confused as to how something could have gone so wrong in the short amount of time he was gone.
“Close the iris!” she yells, even though it’s already closing behind her. “I need help.”
At first, the medics swarm her because the front of her shirt is bloody. It isn’t her blood, it’s the Colonel’s, hot and sticky, transferred from when she’d fallen on his back wound.
“Not me,” she says, pushing the hands away. “It’s Jack, it’s Jack.”
She’s still sitting on the ramp when the frenzy dies down. Teal’c walks up to her and offers a hand.
“I don’ know what happened,” she says. “I never even saw them.”
“Rise, Major Carter,” Teal’c says. “It is out of your hands now.”
Hammond knows better than to expect a timely briefing when an SG team comes back injured. Teal’c and Sam head for the infirmary and hover in the doorway. Daniel is Daniel, unconscious but fine but there are so many people around Jack that Sam can’t seem to catch her breath. When they wheel him toward the operating suite, Sam grabs one of the nurses, her fingers curling around the woman’s wrist hard.
“Is he going to be okay?” she asks.
“They’re taking him into surgery to get the bullet out,” the nurse says, carefully wrenching her wrist free.
“Major,” the nurse says and Sam realizes she doesn’t even know her name. Carla? Kathleen? God, she can’t remember. “Let the doctor work. I’ll let you know.”
“Major Carter,” Teal’c says. “Come with me.”
“I pulled him through the gate,” Sam says as she follows Teal’c down the hall. “I was rough, he just... he just went down and what if moving him is what... oh god, what if I am the one who...?”
“No,” Teal’c says. “You saved his life. No matter what happens, that is what O’Neill will remember.”
She has followed him to the men’s locker room. She hesitates a little; there are a couple guys inside who all turn to look at them.
“Get out,” Teal’c says. Fascinatingly, they all finish up and leave, nodding at Sam as they go. Sometimes, these are the perks of being on SG-1. “You will feel better when you are showered.”
“I will wait for you. You won’t be alone.”
It’s surprisingly easy to let herself slip into his care. He helps ease her vest off and then, when she looks down to see the blood all over the front of her jacket and she can’t seem to do anything but tremble at the sight, he pulls down the zipper and removes the jacket, too.
“Teal’c,” she whispers. “I’m scared.”
“He will not leave you,” Teal’c says, crouching to undo the laces of her boots. “Not like this.”
As Teal’c rises, he pauses to remove her empty holster. SG-1 still holds the record for most artillery lost in the field.
She doesn’t know why she lets him keep going. Maybe because it’s Teal’c - because she is certain that Teal’c is the only person on the planet who won’t hurt her. She loves Daniel, but his unrivaled curiosity has landed her in bad situations over and over again and Jack... just thinking about him threatens to overwhelm her every time, but in Teal’c’s care, in his big warm hands, she feels safe enough to curl up and sleep.
He undoes her belt and frees her shirt enough to lift it over her head. She raises her arms and winces at how sore everything feels. When the shirt comes off, she can see that she has a big bruise along her ribs, like someone had kicked her with a boot while she was down. She helps him with the button of her pants and when those are gone, she follows him into the bathroom in her panties and her black sports bra. The silencers of her dogs tags click against one another as she moves.
Teal’c starts the shower and then, when it is ready, nods at her.
“I will get you a towel,” he says and walks away so she can take the rest of her clothes off in solitude. It isn’t a luxurious shower. She just rinses off. There’s a bar of soap, the rough kind the base provides that dries out her skin and she lathers up with it, carefully cataloging all the places that hurt along the way. Her ribs, her hand, her neck from sitting on the floor all night, her head leaning against Jack’s shoulder. Her calves from that last, mad dash toward the gate, her feet from her boots. She shuts off the water and stands dripping and cold. When she reaches out from behind the curtain, Teal’c puts a towel into her hand. She wraps it around her.
He has clean clothes for her, turns his back on her while she puts them on. She’s tired now, so tired, and he must be too, but he simply continues to shepherd her around - a pass through the infirmary (Jack is still in surgery, Daniel still asleep, a fresh bandage for her hand) - and then he makes her eat an energy bar before taking her to his quarters.
“You must sleep,” he says.
“I can’t,” she says. “I need to be there when he gets out of surgery. I have to talk to the general.”
But Teal’c ignores all of this and pulls the blankets away from his bed. Teal’c actually uses his bed now that he sleeps instead of meditating and when she slides between the sheets, it smells like him.
“I will stay with you while you rest,” he says. It’s a pretty big bed and it’s not like they haven’t shared tents, blankets, and body heat over the years so when she scoots over, he only hesitates a moment before sliding in next to her. She curls up against him like a cat seeking warmth and he allows this, she knows, because she is Sam Carter of SG-1, a warrior of the Tau’ri who has risked her life for his time and again. Because his first Christmas on the base, she kissed him without hesitation when they found themselves under the mistletoe instead of excusing herself even though he was a Jaffa and a traitor. Because on at least two planets in the universe, she is considered his wife by the leaders of the local, conservative, and primitive tribe nearest to the Stargate.
“Thanks, Teal’c,” she says. She closes her eyes. She tries to sleep.
“Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Teal’c’s voice is unexpected, smooth in the darkness of the room. It doesn’t startle her, she’d felt him take the breath to say the words, but she’d thought he’d been sleeping. She’d been just about there herself. Now, though, the worry starts to edge back in and she has to make herself think on his words.
“In his truck,” she says finally, because when she thinks of the future, she thinks of a time past all this. She thinks of a time where they can just be together, when he can ask her to come along with him and she doesn’t have to say no or invent a reason why it’s okay to say yes. “On the way to the cabin. With the windows down and the radio on.”
It’s such a simple answer. It’s such a simple, easy desire, but the ferocity with which she wants it makes her breath catch and she thinks if she weren’t already lying down she might feel dizzy. She tilts her head to look up at Teal’c. The one lit candle is across the room and the light just barely catches on his First Prime symbol. He looks gold, again, like he did in the beginning when he didn’t know which parts of his culture to keep and which to send away.
Teal’c leans down and presses his lips to her forehead softly. When he pulls back, she manages a small smile. He has offered her comfort and she has been comforted, and she has that to be happy about even if everything else seems to be coming apart around her.
“That day will come,” he promises her.
“I want to think that,” she says. “I want to believe it will.”
Her greatest fear is not that they’ll lose Earth to the Goa’uld or whatever threat comes after, her greatest fear is not even that she’ll die in the field or that SG-1 will go off on a mission and never come home. No, her greatest fear is that they’ll do all of this work and she’ll never get to have the life that comes after. She’ll work and work to save the planet from threat after threat, and she and Jack will never quite get to the point where they can just be together. The happily ever after that they’ve been silently waiting for will just never come. Never.
“Why did you ask me that?” she asks.
“It is something Daniel Jackson had asked me before we went through the gate,” Teal’c says. “I think he suspected something was amiss between O’Neill and yourself.”
“Jack and I...” she says, and then falters, because she’s scared to say it out loud. But this is Teal’c and she has to trust someone. “Jack told me he wanted to marry me.”
She waits for a reaction, but he does nothing, says nothing, just waits for her to continue.
“Not... now, of course, but... he gave this little speech about his grandmother and it was really sweet. But he shouldn’t have asked or said anything or mentioned it because it just has been between us like this big elephant in the room so last week we went to see the General together.”
“To resign from SG-1,” Teal’c says, sounding mildly alarmed.
“No,” she says. “Just to make a plan. Just to... have some sort of idea. It’s so hard just waiting and waiting with no end in sight and I think we thought that if we had some sort of goal to work toward it would be easier.”
“It did not go well?”
“Of course it didn’t go well!” she says. “We were stupid to even try. The General can’t help us, he can’t give us permission. All he could ever do was look the other way and now he can’t even do that because we were selfish and we weren’t thinking.”
“You were not selfish, you were desperate,” Teal’c corrects gently.
“Well, now we’re nothing,” she says and rolls over, her back to Teal’c and her face to the wall.
In the infirmary, Daniel is awake. Carter has been by his bed for the last forty-five minutes. Jack is still in the recovery room, but she wouldn’t hold vigil by his bedside on base, anyway. Especially not now. Daniel has been showing signs of waking up for at least fifteen minutes - his head rolling back and forth over his pillow, his feet twitching underneath the thin blanket. She leans forward and slips her hand into his, his fingers warm against hers.
“Daniel,” she says. “It’s Sam.”
He groans a little but squeezes her fingers and she squeezes back hard.
“Can you open your eyes, Daniel?” she whispers, knowing how waking up in the infirmary after a blow to the head feels. “Can you look at me?”
“Sam,” he says, squinting against the light. “You okay?”
“Am I okay?” she laughs. “Well, I’m worried about my friend Daniel, but otherwise I’m fine.”
He seems to realize, then, that he’s in the infirmary and that she’s holding his hand. He looks at their fingers for a long time before he tries to speak again.
“I’m okay, too?”
“You got a pretty nasty concussion,” she says. “What do you remember?”
“Throwing up on Teal’c,” he says. She smiles softly because Teal’c hadn’t mentioned that. Teal’c hasn’t told her much and honestly, she hasn’t asked. Too worried about Daniel and Jack and she knows she’ll hear it at the briefing. She and Teal’c will have to talk to Hammond without the rest of SG-1 and she doesn’t look forward to it one bit.
“We all owe Teal’c for this one,” Sam says.
“Where is he?”
“Sleeping,” she says. She had left him in his bed, slipping out. She thinks maybe he knew she was leaving. She thinks maybe he let her go.
“Where is Jack?” Daniel asks. He’s not wearing his glasses so maybe he can’t see her very well but she has to swallow a few times and her pause makes his fingers flinch against hers and she gives them a squeeze and then Daniel looks scared. “Sam?”
“Colonel O’Neill got hit when we were going through the gate,” she says. “He got shot in the back with our own weapons.”
“Sam,” Daniel says, a low moan.
“He’s alive,” she says. “He’s out of surgery but he’s still asleep. We can’t be sure of anything until he wakes up but there was a lot of internal bleeding and it took a long time to stop.”
“Jesus,” Daniel says.
“We were just running and we were side by side and I should have... I should have had his back and I had to drag him through the gate. I was covered in blood but it wasn’t mine and the med team ran at me even though I was awake and he was face down on the ramp-”
She’s rambling and Daniel’s hand squeezing hers stops her.
“You did the right thing,” he says. “You know you did.”
“You got him home,” Daniel says.
“They had us in prison all night. We didn’t even know if you were alive.”
“It’s pretty impossible to kill me,” Daniel jokes. Sam gives him a smile for his effort and raises his hand, presses her lips to his knuckles.
“I love you, Daniel,” she says. “You know that, right?”
“Hey,” he says. “We’re all alive. We’re all okay. It’s okay.”
“I just... how long can we do this? How long can we cheat death?” she asks miserably.
“Us? Forever,” he promises. “We’re SG-1.”
“Careful,” she warns, even though hearing him say it makes her feel better. “I know how you hate eating crow.”
Dr. Brightman comes in to check on Daniel, frowning at Sam for not alerting him sooner and she lets go of Daniel’s hand and stands back. Daniel is ordered to get more rest and Sam is ushered away. She hesitates outside the door of the observation room, but when she enters it, it’s empty. The isolation room is dim and Jack is sleeping - or maybe still unconscious - below.
She watches him for a long time, expecting something to happen. Expecting him to wake up and see her there, to smile at her or to frown. But he only sleeps, the monitors keeping track of his heart rate, his blood pressure, the subtle rise and fall of his chest. She’s still there at the shift change but as the place starts to become more populated, she decides to go.
She must dress and eat. She must, at the very least, brush her hair. In her quarters, she looks at herself in the mirror and is appalled at what she sees. No make-up, rumpled and exhausted. She has only bare essentials on base. There’s a foundation she bought that she doesn’t like much, but she rubs it into her skin anyway and it works even though it feels heavy. She has the kind of hair that, if it dries funny, she’s stuck with it all day. She brushes it, but it doesn’t help much. She puts on a clean uniform, laces up her boots tight. She even puts on her BDU shirt, feeling like having the extra protection. In the lab, the loose sleeves get in the way, but she’s just going to the briefing for now.
She doesn’t have a written report for Hammond. She tries always to have something on paper by the time the briefing rolls around and she’s had over 12 hours but has produced nothing. All she has done is shower and sleep, eat and sit in the infirmary. She feels a small twinge of panic, like she has forgotten an assignment and the class is passing theirs up to the front around her.
Teal’c knocks on her door when it’s time to go, saying nothing about how he knew where to find her. She doesn’t generally spend a lot of time in her quarters. He also says nothing about waking up alone.
There’s fresh coffee in the briefing room, god bless Walter, and she makes herself a cup with trembling hands.
When Hammond comes in, he gives her a hard look.
“Has Dr. Brightman cleared you for duty, Major?” he asks.
“Yes, sir,” she says. Other than a bandage on her hand, there wasn’t much to be done. She has come out of everything relatively unscathed.
“I see,” Hammond says.
They’re in the briefing over an hour and Teal’c does most of the talking. After all Sam had spent 90% of their mission locked in a tiny cell that contained nothing but her and her CO. And Hammond, rather pointedly she thinks, does not ask what they did to pass the time.
They’re interrupted when Hammond is informed that Colonel O’Neill is awake. Sam is on her feet and out the door before she considers her actions and then has to turn around and go back. Hammond just waves his hand tiredly and says, “Go ahead.”
He sounds a little resigned.
Jack is woozy, groggy, but when he motions for her to actually sit in the chair, she does. She hasn’t sat because she knows it will be tempting to just sit all night, watching him doze. She’s been checking in on him on and off all day. This is the first time he’s been both awake and alone.
“Come here,” he says and waves his hand until she leans in close and he can speak to her in a conspiratorial whisper. “I need you to do something for me.”
“What?” she says. “Anything. Want me to go to the house and pick up some stuff for you?”
“Here’s what I need,” he says. “Sam, this is important. I need you to do this for me.”
Jack on drugs makes her want to continuously roll her eyes until they pop out of her head, but she just steels her self and nods.
“Tell me what you need,” she prompts.
“I need you to take my wallet and go to the bank.”
“Sir, I’ve shown you how you can do your banking online three separate times,” she starts but he waves his hand so she shuts up.
“Go to the bank and get like... two hundred dollars out...” He grins and she knows there’s more. “In pennies.”
“Still?” she asks. “You and Daniel are still doing this?”
“Shhh, shhh,” he says even though it’s late at night and they’re practically alone in the infirmary. “Secret pennies, Carter.”
“And what would I be doing with thousands upon thousands of pennies?” she asks.
“Put them everywhere,” he says. “Locker, office, quarters. I want him finding pennies every time he opens a drawer.”
“Do you really think this is a good use of your money, sir?” she prompts, always the voice of reason.
“I really think it is, yes,” he says. He grins at her, a full-watt smile that is both rare and dangerous. He never smiles at her like this. He spares her the pain of it but he’s not himself right now.
“Sir...” she says, shifting in her seat.
“Hey,” he says. “Teal’c says you saved my sorry ass.”
“The way I pulled you through the gate was not exactly careful and I’m sorry for that,” she says.
“I’m grateful no matter how you did it,” he says.
“You have three months of rehab ahead of you.”
“I can move both my feet which is more than Brightman was expecting,” Jack says.
“Carter,” he says. “I’m high as a kite right now, don’t ruin it for me.”
“Yes, sir,” she says.
“I’m gonna tell Hammond that you should lead SG-1 while I’m on down time,” he says.
“Oh,” she says. “Okay.”
“I think you’d be fine with the three person team but Hammond will probably want to pull someone from another team temporarily for you but you should have a say in that,” he says.
“We don’t need to... just get some rest, sir,” she says. She knows he can recommend her to Hammond until he’s blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is, she’s just a major and every team has at least a Lieutenant Colonel at the helm.
“This is SG-1, Carter,” Jack says and she really thinks that maybe he can read her mind, or at least her face very well. “This is not something to screw around with by adding some stranger.”
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll take care of it.”
“I know,” he says, and the seriousness is gone again, replaced by a soft, drugged out expression. “Carter, we still have a truce?”
“Yeah,” she says, reaching out her hand. She doesn’t touch him, just lets it rest on the bed beside him. “I’m really glad you’re okay, sir.”
“I’m really glad, too,” he says.
Teal’c’s room is empty. Sam wants to talk to him about Jack waking up and the week that has followed, about what might become of SG-1 while Jack recovers and who they could add to the team if it comes down to that, but Teal’c isn’t there. She thinks she just missed him because the room smells faintly of hot wax and curling smoke.
Her room smells like bleach and that sandwich she left in the trashcan for too long. She knows this. She knows that if she goes back to her own room, she won’t sleep and so she simply gets into Teal’c’s bed and thinks that maybe just a few hours of sleep will help turn things around.
It’s Daniel who wakes her, crouched by the bed, his scruffy face right next to hers.
“You still have a house, right? It didn’t disappear and you not tell anyone about it?” Daniel asks.
“It’s there,” she says.
“Have you tried going to there?”
“It’s the middle of the day, I just needed a few hours of rest,” Sam says, pushing herself up.
“Here?” Daniel asks, but he says it so softly and gently that she knows she doesn’t really have to answer. “Sam, it’s almost eight o’clock.”
“At night?” she asks, pushing her hair away from her face. “I didn’t mean to sleep that long.”
“I’m going to drive you home,” Daniel says.
“But my car...”
“I’ll pick you up, too,” he promises.
“Jack is going to be okay, I got a clean bill, and you obviously can’t sleep in your own bed on base so consider this me doing Teal’c a favor,” he says. “Sam. Come on. I want to take you home.”
She nods. It’s hard to resist Daniel’s earnest face when he really starts to lay it on. He waits for her to put her shoes on, trails her as she stops in her quarters and her lab and the locker room. They ride up in the elevator and she scratches at the tag in her shirt. She can’t remember the last time she was in civilian clothes and this sweater smells like locker.
“You hungry?” Daniel asks.
She tries to decide, blinks at him. She should be hungry, probably, she knows. She remembers Janet when she first got onto the base, sitting Sam down in her office after one of her physicals and having a long talk about nutrition. About how Sam needed to remember to eat. About how she had to learn to listen to her body instead of ignoring in lieu of more lab time.
“I miss Janet,” Sam says. Daniel frowns a little.
“Let’s get some burritos,” he says.
Taqueria Jaliscos is a little more than a hole in the wall in the summer because they put two or three tables on the sidewalk in front of the place, but this time of year, the brutal end of winter, it’s almost unbearably crowded. Usually, when they go here, they have Teal’c to clear a path for them, but now Sam and Daniel get jostled by rambunctious children as they stand in line, waiting to order. It doesn’t bother Sam much, this generally bright and fragrant splendor - lots of people is a good sign for a restaurant and it reminds her, briefly, of what they’re fighting for.
“What are you gonna get?” Sam asks.
“I don’t know,” Daniel says, squinting at the menu.
“Look,” she says, grabbing his arm. “A table. I’m gonna...”
“Go, go, go,” he says, nearly shoving her toward it. It takes all her military training for her to get there before a teenage couple who glares daggers at her, but she’s stared down worse and simply ignores them. She trusts Daniel to order her something she’ll like.
He sets a plastic number between them and two beers with limes shoved into the long necks.
“So,” he says, settling across from her, their knees bumping underneath the table. “You ever going to tell me what happened with Jack?”
She chokes on her beer, which is unfortunate and telling, and buys her self a couple moments coughing the liquid out of her lungs.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she croaks, wiping her mouth with a flimsy napkin.
“Okay,” Daniel says. “We can do it that way, if you want. But I know you told Teal’c and I thought, Sam... Samantha... that we were as close as family, you and I, but if you don’t trust me enough...”
“Jesus Christ, Daniel,” she says. “Samantha?”
“Just tell me,” he says. “Come on. You might feel better.”
“Telling Teal’c didn’t make me feel better,” she points out, sliding her thumbnail underneath the damp label on the bottle.
“Wait, you really told Teal’c and not me?” he whines, his blue eyes wide.
It’s this moment that she decides she will go to the bank for Jack.
“I just... we just... are in a weird place,” Sam says.
“Sam, Chulak is a weird place. A Goa’uld mothership is a weird place. Thor’s bathroom is a weird place. You and Jack are...”
“Weird emotional place,” she corrects. “Look did you bring me here to talk or to berate me?”
“Both,” he says. A waitress comes and drops of a basket of tortilla chips and a bowl of salsa at their table. The salsa is clearly fresh, made in the kitchen perpetually throughout the day, and Daniel wastes no time in digging in. Black hole Jackson, as Jack says. She tries it and it’s spicy, but good. It leaves her lips tingling for a long time.
“Does it matter what happened between the Colonel and I?” Sam asks, eventually. “SG-1 is SG-1 and we can’t change.”
“Except for the next couple of months when Jack’s healing,” Daniel says.
“He’ll get better,” she says.
“I could quit,” Daniel offers.
“What?” she sputters. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“If I quit and Teal’c goes back to Chulak, SG-1 would be no more. Jack could retire, you could finally have your own command and...”
“Just shut up,” she says. Her voice comes out more harshly than she intended and Daniel blinks, his forehead creasing with the quick movement of his eyebrows.
“I just meant...”
“I don’t even want to hear what you meant,” Sam says. “I don’t want that from you, Daniel, Teal’c doesn’t want it and the Colonel certainly doesn’t want it so just shut the hell up.”
Daniel drives her home after they eat, but they still haven’t quite recovered from Sam’s outburst. She won’t apologize for it and he won’t ask for an apology. She sits quietly in the passenger seat, her hands on her knees and her eyes looking out into the dark night. He stops his car outside of her house. The house looks shadowed and lonely and she remembers acutely why she never wants to come here, anymore. Daniel touches the back of her hand lightly and she turns it over so they can web their fingers.
“I’ll be here in the morning,” he says.
“Okay,” she agrees.
He waits until he sees her front door open and lights come on before he drives away.
Teal’c works at his desk, his spine straight and he has both feet flat on the floor. Sam isn’t sure how he manages to look so regal while writing in a spiral bound notebook with a pencil, but he does. It had taken Teal’c a while to warm to the idea of turning in a written report but there’s no amount of time that will warm Teal’c up to computers.
So he writes out his report in his notebook and Sam types it up for him and they’ve been doing this for years.
She’s sitting cross-legged on his bed, her computer on her lap. She’s been working for hours now and the computer is hot underneath, warming her thighs and just, maybe, beginning to burn them. She knows the skin under her pants will be mottled and red when she pulls the laptop away. The fans inside of it turn loudly, trying to keep the machine cool despite her best efforts.
From the desk, Teal’c sighs and turns the pencil around, rubbing the eraser with even, measured strokes. The door to his quarters stands wide open but he is at the end of a long hall so there isn’t a lot of foot traffic to distract them.
It’s why they hear Jack coming long before he actually appears in the doorway. They hear the telltale shuffle thump of his slow walk and the rubber foot of his cane easing his journey down the long corridor. Sam feels herself tense and reaches a hand up to smooth her hair. Her body always tenses like this when Jack is near and that feeling seems only to ever increase. She knows she must look as rumpled as the bed around her. Her bangs are pinned back away from her face with a bobby pin and bare feet are tucked underneath her. She saves what she’s working on. Teal’c brushes the eraser bits off his page and then replaces his pencil in the wire mesh cup on his desk.
Together, silently, they wait.
Finally, Jack comes to a stop, his labored breath loud in the enclosed, windowless room. He’s leaning heavily on his cane. He’s only been on his feet for a couple days now, allowed to walk around the base for short bursts. There’s talk of him going home soon and Daniel has already dropped several hints about drawing up a schedule for them to check in on him. Jack looks at Sam and looks at Teal’c and then back at Sam. He seems to consider his words for a moment, seems to study her boots at the foot of Teal’c’s bed before finally, he finds a way to lean on his cane that looks both dangerous and casual.
“You know what people are saying, right?” Jack says, looking right at Sam. She has to fight the urge to leap straight to her feet. He looks normal but she has the sinking suspicion that he’s ticked off - why all the effort of the trip down here otherwise?
“To what do you refer, O’Neill?” asks Teal’c.
“Gossip, Teal’c,” Jack says. “Gossip is something I like to keep SG-1 out of but you two both seem hellbent on ruining that for me.”
“Sir?” Sam says.
“I didn’t even check your lab, Carter,” Jack says. “I didn’t even bother with the commissary or Daniel’s office or your quarters. You know why? Because me and everyone else knows exactly where you are and that’s right here in Teal’c’s room.”
“Major Carter and I are working on our reports,” Teal’c says.
“I don’t doubt that,” Jack says, but he’s still looking right at Sam and she has to work not to squirm under his gaze. “I don’t doubt that all the time you spend in here, Carter, can be backed up with a perfectly good explanation.”
“Sir, I don’t think I understand exactly what you’re saying,” Sam says. Except for Sam understands perfectly what he’s saying, she just doesn’t understand why he’s saying it. People talk - it’s a small base and people can’t talk about work to their families or the world at large so they talk to each other. Even Sam isn’t guilt free - she and Janet used to gossip with the best of them but Jack has never been one to involve himself in idle chatter.
“I don’t really care where you guys write your reports. Hell, to be honest, I kind of don’t even care if you write them at all, but for cryin’ out loud, do you think you could do it in a way that doesn’t make people think you’re up to no good?” Jack says.
“Up to no good?” Teal’c repeats. He doesn’t understand.
“What the Colonel means, Teal’c,” Sam says and she can hear her voice get that haughty, high quality that she hates in herself but cannot help, “is that people think we’re sleeping together.”
Teal’c raises an eyebrow.
“We are, Major Carter,” he says.
“Wait, what?” Jack demands.
“Well, I mean, literally sometimes we sleep together,” Sam has to concede because Teal’c still tends to take things quite literally. “But we’re not... you know....” She makes a wavy motion through the air with her hand and it comes out awkward and unclear.
“Intimacy,” Jack offers.
“Coitus,” Teal’c says.
“We’re not,” Sam blurts.
“I didn’t think so,” Jack says. “But I may be alone in that.”
“Oh come on, sir,” Sam says.
“You used to be so careful about this stuff,” Jack says. “You used to care about your career.”
“That’s not fair,” she says, stung.
“Then what the hell are you two doing?” he asks, his voice rising.
“We aren’t doing anything!” she says, matching his volume.
“Then why can’t you do nothing in your lab?” Jack asks.
“I do not see why her location matters,” Teal’c says, standing and stepping ever so slightly closer to Sam.
“Because I know Carter isn’t a bicycle, T, and I don’t want anyone thinking she is,” Jack says.
“I do not...”
“I can’t believe you just said that,” Sam says, lifting her hand to her chest. She can feel her heart fluttering wildly under her skin. “Jesus Christ, Jack.”
“How does a bicycle and Major Carter...”
“You know what I mean,” Jack says. “It matters where you put your boots at night, Carter, you of all people should know that.”
“I’m not putting my boots anywhere, sir,” she manages though it’s hard, because her boots are actually at the foot of Teal’c’s bed and it’s hard to defend against the metaphor when reality is so stark.
“O’Neill,” Teal’c says. “You look unwell. Perhaps you should sit.”
“I’m fine,” he says. He isn’t - he’s pale and sweating and his knuckles are tight and white on the handle of his cane.
“Why are you doing this?” Sam asks.
“It’s my job as your CO to inform you of your inappropriate behavior,” he says.
“You want to have this fight now, fine,” she says, sinking wearily back down onto the edge of the bed. “Lord knows we’ve been gearing up for it since that meeting with General Hammond.”
He looks at Teal’c who simply picks up the desk chair and places it behind Jack and then pushes on his shoulder until Jack has no choice but to sit.
“No one is fighting, Major,” Jack says.
“You should battle,” Teal’c says, sitting next to Sam on the bed. “Perhaps it will help.”
“No fighting,” Jack repeats.
“Come on sir, I know you’ve been aching for it, just say what you came here to say,” Sam says.
“I said no, Major!”
“Major! That’s enough,” Jack snaps. Sam narrows her eyes.
“All I ask is that you have it with me. Have it with Sam and don’t pull rank on me.” She looks at him, dipping her neck down to catch his eyes. “Are you mad at Teal’c? Are you mad at me?”
“I’m worried about your career,” he says. “Say I died on that planet? Who is going to watch your six? Daniel can’t stay conscious long enough and Teal’c just gives you whatever you want, even if it’s bad for you.”
“I would never hurt her,” Teal’c says.
“You’re hurting her by letting her rely on you so much,” Jack says. “You’re coddling her with this constant togetherness crap.” He looks at Sam. “You don’t need it, Carter.”
“I can’t decide if you’re mad because you’re worried about my reputation or you’re mad because you’re worried about yours,” she says.
His eyes go hard.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You know what I mean,” she says.
“Say it anyway,” he says.
“Really?” she says. She feels Teal’c beside her, tensed, ready to leap to her defense. “You really want me to say it?”
“Fine,” she says. “You hate that people think I’m screwing around with Teal’c because you know it means they know I’m not screwing around with you.”
He stares at her for a long time, the muscles of his jaw tightening and relaxing as he clenches his teeth. Finally, he glances away to look at the security camera mounted up high on the wall.
“We’re not going to do this on the base,” he says and struggles to stand. He fumbles with his cane for a moment but manages to get to his feet.
“Sir,” she says, but he just waves his hand and doesn’t turn back.
She watches him limp away.
“I am sorry, Major Carter. I did not know I was hurting you,” Teal’c says.
She doesn’t know how to console him or reassure him because everything does hurt. She aches all over, from the inside out.
The rain won’t let up and by the time she gets home, she’s pretty drenched. It had been a perilous drive with at least two instances of hydroplaning. She should have asked someone for a ride or at least called a cab. How ironic to die in a motorcycle accident after cheating death off-world for years.
She chuckles at her own stupid luck.
Her answering machine is blinking and she pushes the button to let the message play.
“Hey Sam, it’s Daniel. Look, so I was just at Jack’s and he was pretty... drunk, actually and I’m a little worried... I don’t want to... okay, look, could you just call me when you get this? It’s uh...Sunday morning at 11:45 so, give me a call. Bye.”
It’s already past seven now but she reaches for the phone anyway and dials Daniel’s number. He answers on the second ring.
“It’s me,” she says.
“Hey! Where have you been?”
“Base. Lab. Science,” she says. “What’s up?”
“Jack was stinking drunk at 9:30 this morning is what’s up,” Daniel says. “I’m not sure what you did to him, but it’s certainly not pretty.”
“What I did?” she snaps. “I didn’t do anything!”
“He was talking about you a lot Sam.”
“What did he say?” she asks.
“I think you should go over there,” Daniel says.
“What did he say, Daniel?” she demands.
“Something about you and Teal’c?” Daniel says. “Which, look, I think we both know people have been talking about your little habit but no one really thinks you’re having sex with Teal’c. If anything, I think most people are relieved that you seem to need friendship like a regular human.”
“But it’s really bugging him,” Daniel continues. “He also was talking about his grandmother a lot.”
Sam closes her eyes against the sharp pain that serves as herald for her more ferocious headaches.
“I’ll go talk to him in the morning,” she says.
“Or now?” he prompts and she sighs.
“That bad?” she asks.
“He was talking about drunk dialing his ex-wife when I finally left,” Daniel says. “That was over an hour ago.”
“Right. Okay. Now,” she says.
“Yeah,” she says.
“Did Jack give you something?” Daniel asks.
“Perhaps a family heirloom of sorts?” Daniel presses. “Did you two have a talk about the future?”
She winces and the headache has fully arrived, throbbing at the base of her neck and up through her sinuses to settle just behind her eyes. She’s cold and wet and the way that she sighs must be awfully telling.
“Oh Sam,” Daniel says. “No wonder the two of you have been a couple of basket cases.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” she says, admitting to nothing.
“Okay,” he says. “Night.”
She hangs up without saying goodbye.
He simply yells for her to come in, probably because he thinks she’s Daniel. She’s been standing in his driveway for long enough that she’s wet all over again. From the way her eyes sting, she knows her mascara has gathered beneath her lower lids and she hopes he doesn’t think she’s been crying. Her leather jacket squeaks as she reaches for the doorknob.
Her boots squeak too. She took off the chaps before she got in the car, but her jeans are still damp and heavy and when she steps into his living room where he’s propped up in the recliner, she decides that she must look even worse than she feels because the expression on his face is surprise mingled with concern.
“Did you ride your bike here?” he manages, finally.
“No,” she says. “It’s raining.”
“Did you swim here?” he asks.
The room is littered with beer bottles and snack wrappers and she can see a collection of pill bottles on the table, too. Pain meds, antibiotics, and maybe a third thing she doesn’t even know about.
“I’m not sure you’re supposed to drink with your pills, sir,” she says.
“Is that what Daniel told you to say?” he asks, reaching for the remote in his lap and shutting the TV off. The football game disappears.
“Nope,” she says, unzipping the jacket and taking it off. It’s warm in the house, a little stuffy, and she drops the jacket on the the arm of the sofa. “He did call me, though. You still drunk?”
“A little,” he admits.
“Did you call Sara?” she asks, sitting on the other arm of the sofa, the one closer to him.
“Daniel is a rat faced little snitch,” he says.
“No,” he says. “Yes. She didn’t answer.”
“Ah,” she says. “What would you have said?”
“I don’t know,” Jack says. She notices a little lag in his voice, probably from the pain pills and not the beer. She’s seen him drunker than this before but it doesn’t usually show quite like it shows now. “Seemed important at the time.”
“Have you eaten?” she asks.
He makes an gesture toward an empty package of Oreos.
“I’m going to order a pizza,” she says and goes to the kitchen to collect herself. They have a usual place an a usual order and she places it methodically, reciting his phone number and address as easily as her own. When she comes back into the living room, she has a glass of water for him and he takes it without arguing.
“Thanks,” he manages.
“Is this how you’re planning to spend your recovery?” she asks softly. “Drunk and stoned and telling Daniel all our secrets?”
“I’m not stoned,” he says after a moment. She picks up one of the bottles. Vicodin. She rattles it a little toward him and he rolls his eyes.
“You shouldn’t have confronted me like that. And you didn’t have to drag Teal’c into it,” she says.
“I was upset.”
“Everyone gets a ride, huh?”
“You’ve been sleeping in his bed,” Jack says.
“Because I can’t sleep in yours.” She sighs. “Teal’c is your best friend. We wouldn’t do that to you.”
“I know,” he says, laying his head back against the cushion of the chair. “I just lost it for a minute there.”
“You got shot and are off the mission list for three months,” she says.
“Two and a half.”
“You’re allowed to lose it a little,” she says. “But try not to do it at your friend’s expense next time.”
“I told Daniel I was thinking of not coming back,” Jack says.
“Daniel told me he’d quit,” Sam says. “Not because of your thing, he said that before. That he’d be willing to be the one to break up the team so you and I didn’t have to.”
“Carter, we’ve made ourselves a little mess here, haven’t we?”
She smiles a little. “Yes, sir.”
“Well,” he says.
“Can I see it?”
She surprises herself with the question - it’s out of her mouth before she can stop it and she hopes maybe he’ll play dumb but he doesn’t.
“It’s on my nightstand,” he says. She doesn’t think about the implications of that, of how long he’s had it next to him while he slept. She nods and climbs the stairs. His room is fairly clean, the bed sloppily made because of his decreased mobility but still made and she scans the nightstand. Burgundy red box right next to his reading glasses and a paperback spy novel.
She sits on the edge of the bed and takes the box in her hand. It opens with a creak of old hinges.
She wants to not like it, to find it dated and worn but instead she finds it elegant in its simplicity. The gold band shines and the diamond is small but achingly clear, sparkling even in the dim light of the bedroom. She pulls it out and holds it up to the lamp light and it glitters.
She shouldn’t put it on but she does and it slides on easily. It isn’t loose and it isn’t tight and when she flexes her fingers, it sits between her knuckles like she’s been wearing it for years. Jack’s ring. Jack’s grandmother’s ring.
She sits up there staring at her hand until the doorbell rings and then she listens to Jack shuffle to the door and pay the delivery driver. Listens to him pause at the foot of the stairs and then slowly, carefully climb them.
“Carter?” he calls. When he appears in the door she has a moment of panic about whether or not to hide the fact that she put the ring on but she decides no, let him see her like this. She’s been carrying around this pain for weeks now and he ought to carry at least his fair share. He clears his throat and she looks at him. He’s looking at the ring. “Looks real good.”
“It fits like a dream,” she says and then chuckles. “Like a glass slipper, right? You didn’t have to find the ring for the girl you just had to find the girl for the ring.”
“Something like that,” he says.
“I don’t want to take it off,” she says.
“I don’t want you to,” he answers.
“Well,” she says, closing the little box and tossing it onto the nightstand. “Here we are.”
“Yep,” he says. “Let’s eat before it gets cold.”
“You like cold pizza,” she says.
“You don’t,” he says. “Come on. We’ll just... pretend for an hour or so and figure it out later.”
“Pretend,” she whispers.
“Pretend it’s the future and it’s Sunday night and we’ve ordered a pizza and this is our life,” he says. “Don’t think about it, Sam, just come downstairs with me and have some dinner.”
Can she do that? Can she just put it on hold for a bit? Just for a moment it time so they could try on this other, future, looming life?
“Okay,” she says. They move slowly down the stairs and she can tell his hip is aching from where the bullet grazed the bone and at the bottom he pauses to catch his breath and she slips her left hand into his right one.
His thumb strokes across her knuckles and snags on the diamond there and his lips quirk into a little smile.
“Were you going to call Sara to tell her about me?” she asks.
“Yeah,” he says. Sara had called him over a year ago to tell him about her new engagement and they’d all had to deal with his foul mood for a week and a half and now he had tried to return the favor.
“Don’t you think that was a little premature?” she asks.
“No,” he says. “I’m not going back.”
“Jack,” she says. “I can’t live with myself if you’re doing this only for me.”
“Don’t be crazy,” he says. “I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me. Totally selfish.”
“Oh really?” she says, dryly.
“Really,” he says. “I’m like 103 percent sure I can’t live without you, Carter.”
“I still do not understand the point of this exercise,” Teal’c says.
“Well, no, you wouldn’t,” Jack says from the back seat of her Volvo. “You were on Chulak.”
Teal’c doesn’t argue with him, just ignores him and turns to Sam. “We have visited three banks already and now we are traveling to Larkspur to find a fourth.”
“It’s because we’re cleaning them out!” Jack crows gleefully and Sam shoots him a glare in the rearview mirror.
“When you were off-world, Daniel tried to get us to go to the Money Museum with him and now Colonel O’Neill finds it hilarious to remind him of this,” Sam explains.
“I attended the exhibition on the penny with Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c says. “I found it informative and enjoyable.”
Sam bursts into laughter - she can’t help it.
“You went to the penny exhibit with Daniel?” Jack sputters. “Carter! We should be pranking Teal’c too! How did he get on our team?”
“Someone had to carry all these pennies,” Sam giggles. Jack continues to mutter unhappily to himself in the back. Teal’c leans slightly closer to Sam.
“You seem happy, Major Carter. O’Neill does as well,” he comments.
“I am happy,” she grins. “Why shouldn’t we be happy?”
“You should indeed be happy,” Teal’c agrees. “Though I do, on occasion, miss your nocturnal visits to my quarters.”
“You miss cuddling with me?” she asks.
“Wait, what are you talking about?” Jack asks trying to lean forward. He’d made a big to do about being relegated to the back seat like a child, but Teal’c barely fits in the front of her car and it’s her car and Jack’s hip isn’t up to driving away.
“Teal’c says he misses cuddling with me,” she says.
“Oh,” says Jack. “I have to say I don’t like that.”
“You do not enjoy sharing a bed with Major Carter?” Teal’c asks. “That seems unlikely, O’Neill.”
“I didn’t say... wait a minute... I just meant...”
“Teal’c,” Sam admonishes softly. “Don’t give him a hard time.”
“On the contrary Major Carter,” Teal’c says, clearly ignoring her warning. “You are a formidable female warrior. I know no one who would not want to share a bed with you.”
“Look,” Sam says, flicking on her turn signal a little more aggressively than normal to pull off the highway into town. “Maybe we all just stop talking about who I am or am not sleeping with.” Her voice is loud and offers no room for argument.
“When you return to duty, O’Neill, what is your intended purpose with so many pennies?” Teal’c is always handy with a subject change but this one still keeps the uneasy charge hanging in the air.
In less than a month, Jack is supposed to report back for duty. They haven’t told Teal’c or Daniel yet. They haven’t told Hammond either.
But they will.