There are some places they don’t go. No matter how long they’ve known each other, no matter how far they’ve been together, no matter how much they love each other, there are some places that they don’t go.
Why she got engaged to Jonas Hanson. The details of those four months in Iraq. Her short-lived career as a pilot in the Gulf War and what it cost her to walk away. The dark, terrible days after Charlie died.
They don’t talk about Jolinar or Kanan. They don’t refer to how they felt all through those years of deny, deny, deny. They don’t mention what it took to keep it in the room, or how it felt to watch her date someone else, how it felt to find out he hadn’t just waited for her to come to her senses.
A careful balance was developed in those years spent between admission and realisation; walls, paper thin, but walls nevertheless, that hold back the dust and partition their spaces.
Sometimes the balance swings.
She’s young and the world is new to her, fresh to her skin as the breeze trails across it. Wisps of blonde hair teasee her cheeks in the wind, and she pushes them back. A deep breath brings the scent of burnished heat off desert sand.
“How do you feel?” Her companion watches her, dark eyes warm and soft.
With her eyes closed, she tests her balance on one ankle then the other, stretches out her arms and arches her back. Her fingers skim over her curves - warm, solid flesh at last! Everything feels so strange, yet myriad memories tell her how she should feel in the body, how the body should feel to her.
Her eyes open at his laugh, and his fingers trail her forearm, from elbow to wrist - warm, lean fingers that entwine with hers before he holds their clasped hands up.
“Do you feel it?”
She looks from their hands to his face, and sees what he means in his eyes. Yes, she feels it - the difference, the separation, the confusion behind the confidence. They are new to these bodies, new to these lives, with a lifetime spanning thousands of years before them, and an empire to uphold.
Memories curl and coil, twining about her consciousness, presenting thoughts that the mentors of her childhood would have considered strange, even heretical. She remembers things that she has never seen, never felt; can recall situations that she has never known, actions she has never taken.
Another set of memories intrude - a community that lived in the river delta, sowing and growing, their daily lives marked by the march of the sun across the sky, by the rise and fall of the river’s flow, by the calls to worship and to tithe. A life she has never lived - yet the only life these hands, this body, this face, this host has known.
“This is how it begins?” She asks, and she sees the future in his eyes - their future, together and apart.
He smiles. “Yes.”
The transition from SGC to Atlantis is stark - from the functional grey of the military installation, to the green-blue angles of the city on the sea. The light of the setting sun through the stained glass window at the back softens the lines of the room, but nothing can soften this blow.
And it will be a blow.
He knows it by the silence that prevails all through the city, by the way the marines stand too-stiffly to attention, by the grim expression on Sheppard’s face, by the compassion on Teyla’s as they move to intercept him.
“Don’t sugar-coat it,” he tells the man as they head for the infirmary. Forget the niceties. He wants to know the worst and he wants to know it now.
They exchange a look between them, almost like a dare. You tell him! No, you.
Teyla is the one to bite the bullet, her voice gentle. “She has not woken up yet. Carson says it is a standard coma state, but her EEG suggests she sleeps and dreams.”
“She’s dreaming? Of what?”
“We don’t know. Rodney’s working on the device to try to find out...”
Jack bites back his instinctive retort. Is there anyone else? This is Atlantis, McKay is the best they’re going to get. That Jack doesn’t get on with the man has nothing to do with his competency. Just keep the man away from him and he won’t have to keep a hold on his temper. “How long?”
“Four hours since she we found her,” Teyla says.“But we believe she was there overnight.”
They’re passing through the rooms and halls of the city, familiar and unfamiliar, with the nagging sense of welcome that Jack always feels in the city, but which doesn’t grip him the way it seems to do Sheppard. People see them coming and move out of the way, their faces showing a mixture of respect and pity. Jack doesn’t care about the first and he doesn’t want the second. But if it gets them to Carter sooner, then he’s not complaining.
A gaggle of scientists wave them through to the transporter, a wheelchaired patient spins himself off to one side of the corridor with a sympathetic grimace, and it’s not long before Jack’s standing beside her bed.
Blonde hair trails across the pillow, brushed back from the fine bones of cheek and jaw. Blue eyes are closed, her lashes surprisingly dark against the smudges beneath her eyes. Jack’s woken to that face many mornings now; he’d hoped to have many mornings more.
Across the bed from him, Beckett’s explaining what he’s done, what they’ve found out about the coma. Jack only half-listens.
At this moment, all his focus is on Carter.
She’s lived among the Malkshur for nearly five years now, a trusted and encouraged member of the human community there.
There are those among the Tok’ra who dislike living among the humans, seeing it as beneath their skills to pretend humanity. Perhaps they do not intend domination as Ra and the System Lords do, but they see themselves as superior to the humans -the reason that they try to throw off the mantle of Ra.
Yet in these people, Jolinar sees the seeds of growth, of change. They have been worn down by the Goa'uld, but they are not beyond rebellion.
And she finds it...pleasurable to live in the moment, rather than in the Tok'ra's great plan for freedom.
Something that not everyone understands.
“Surely you are not serious!” Lantash’s outburst is soft, but fierce.
“Morrigan and her Jaffa take little interest in these humans.” Jolinar gestures at the town behind her. People pass them, familiar and friendly. They smile and wave but do not approach. Aware that she had a life before she came to live among them, the Malkshur do not concern themselves with what came before - what matters is the now. “There is no danger and much information to be held, simply by listening quietly.”
“And you can be content with this? With standing quietly to the side? Jolinar, this is unlike you!”
“The humans here have a saying, Lantash. ‘What does not change and grow is surely dead.’”
What Jolinar does not tell him is that she wishes for this time out of the fight; that this is her way of sidelining herself for a while, until the need to re-enter the fight is reborn - or until the Goa’uld come and realise that this one woman of the town is not like the others.
Here, in the village beneath the Morrigan’s castle, Jolinar learns much from the human slaves whose wounds she binds and whose sicknesses she medicates. She has inflicted pain before, she knows the easing of it now; and she has learned to listen - and, more importantly, to hear.
It is a way of biding her time.
“It will not last more than a decade,” she tells Lantash with a smile. “I would not stay out here forever.”
The eyes of this host - Pirthas - are grey like stormcloud skies, and his mien is intense as he looks down at her, but she can still see Lantash’s love for her in the unfamiliar expression. “Just as long as you do not.”
“All right,” McKay says. “Now, we think that what’s happened is that the device released a gas when Sam first touched it. Luckily, nobody else was affected by the gas. It looks like there was only just enough to overcome Sam when she touched the device, and the device needs time to make some more. The gas, however, seems to have been just a way of ensuring the target doesn’t move from their initial position once the bombardment starts.”
Jack has no time for the roundabouts of McKay’s conversational style. He’s not a patient man when it comes to things that are or might be hurting the people he cares about, and ‘bombardment’ sounds worrying. “What’s it done to her?”
“Well, working that out is the difficult part--”
“What. Has. It. Done. To. Her?” Carter learned not to bore him with the technobabble; clearly Sheppard allows McKay to run on a longer leash.
“We think - and it’s just a theory right now, but it fits the data we have--”
“It’s giving her a nightmare, General.” Beckett at least understands that Jack doesn’t have the time or patience for long-winded explanations. “A long one. Look, usually, dreaming states don’t last more than a couple of hours at most. She’s been in REM on and off for the last four hours and we can’t wake her up. I haven’t yet tried a chemical stimulant - given her brain activity, there’s no telling just what she’s seeing or dreaming, and what might happen if we break her out of it.”
“And the bombardment?”
McKay opens his mouth, sees Jack’s warning expression, closes it. Beckett answers again, the compassion clear in his eyes. “We think it induces dream-states within the brain. From what we can tell - and a lot of it’s only come clear in the last hour - the device is using electromagnetic frequencies to stimulate brainwaves that inspire dreams.”
He wants to ask ‘how,’ but that always gave him a headache when Carter answered it - and she knew him. “Can we get her out?”
“The problem isn’t getting her out. The problem is that we don’t know what state she’ll be in once she comes out.”
“But she’ll be awake.”
“General, other personnel who encountered the device have developed adverse reactions to it - migranes, cognitive dysfunction - one man went into epileptic convulsions. It creates a conflict between the conscious and unconscious mind - the signals that the brain are giving off are usually only for sleep states, but the person is awake and functional.”
“So we turn this thing off.” Jack looks to McKay. “You’ve had five hours.” Carter would have done it in three. Of course, she would have done it at his asking, because she was Carter.
“We’ve only just started looking at it! And people have gone into convulsions!”
“He was epileptic, Rodney!”
“It was still convulsions!”
“Uht!” The two fall silent at his outburst, unnerved by the cutoff. He bets that Sheppard waits for them to finish their issues first. “Work out how to turn that thing off. Make it stop sending out the cosmic rays or whatever it’s doing. If it’s influencing our people, it’s dangerous beyond what it’s done to Carter.”
“And Colonel Carter?”
He hesitates, then makes his decision. “Leave her as she is for the moment.”
They accept that without question. It’s just dreams.
The difference is that Jack knows his own dreams.
Sometimes the crudest ways are the most effective.
Water pours over her face, stifling breath, a tickling trickle runs down her nasal passages into her throat. She would scream, but that would take air she doesn’t have. Her wrists dragg aginast the tightened loops of twine as she struggles, instinct overcoming reason, and the raw agony of her skin is burnished by further pain.
She is drowning, gagging, choking on the water as it pours into her mouth and nose, unstoppable.
When it does end, it is not of her doing. Surcease only comes at their will, she has no control of it.
Five pants if she is lucky; ten at most. All of it spent spluttering, instinct trying to clear her throat and nose, her chest screaming for air before the water starts again.
This time, however, there’s a momentary break, and a tall man, pale and blonde bends over her, his eyes measuring and cold.
Her water-bleared eyes stare up at her captor. Her thoughts are dizzy, her perspective skewed. In the back of her throat, a drop of water lingers and she coughs, helpless to stop herself.
“What were you doing on my planet?” The modulated voice is cold and cool, inquiring, as though he has only misplaced a glove. “Where is your ship? Who do you work for?”
He waits for no answers - this is not the interrogation but the lead-up. She can see the pattern of things - a conditioning to think about what is being done to her, why she is here. The delicate planting of the possibility that this torture will end, the allure of the promise that it will stop if only she reveals her mission.
Revelation would cost more than her life.
With a nod to the torturer, Lord Ba’al steps back, and the thin, bloodless stick of a man - human, not even Goa’uld - lifts the refilled bucket over Jolinar’s head.
She struggles against the drowning as the water begins again.
Jack’s given access to Sam’s quarters, but he doesn’t stay there.
It’s her space; there’s no avoiding her absence for even a moment as long as he’s there. And Jack was always better at denial when it came to his emotions.
The bed was left unmade - the blankets tossed back like he’s seen her do so many mornings, and the indent of her head is still clear in the pillow. He’s usually the one who makes their shared bed; sometimes he wonders if she takes a kind of pleasure in not being domestic - if it’s a defiance against the ‘traditional’ path.
Outside her window, the horizon is hazy - the morning fog hasn’t completely burned off the sea. And Jack remembers other mornings in this room.
He gets out of there before the memories overwhelm him and goes back to the infirmary.
Bad enough to be pestered by everyone, to know the pitying looks that take place above his head, behind his back, when they think he’s not looking. Worse to go somewhere where she was, but isn’t and wonder if she’ll be there again.
“General.” She steps into the transporter just before the doors close.
“Teyla. How’s your son?”
“He is well. Learning to say ‘no’ and how to throw a tantrum to best effect.” There is a resignation about Teyla’s voice that Jack remembers from Sara, a long time ago. Terrifying to think that Charlie would have been twenty-four this year. Was it that long ago that the gunshot changed the direction of Jack’s life?
“Yeah, I remember that.”
“You have a child?”
Her surprise take him by surprise. Often it’s felt as though everyone knows what brought him into the Stargate Program - it’s not easy being a legend in the SGC.
“Had,” he says, quietly. It doesn’t hurt the way it once did; but there’s an ache in him, and Teyla turns, her expression compassionate.
There’s no pity in her; the loss of a child is a terrible thing, but she accepts the presence of death without horror or shame. It’s not an aberration, but a fact of life.
“No.” He doesn’t answer beyond that. The memory is far too painful for him, as is the memory of the subsequent days and weeks and months that marked his life until General West’s men came and used him in the Stargate program.
He and Sam have talked about children. They agreed that their lives were complete without the addition of a child. Plus, they’re a bit old; Charlie was born over twenty years ago, when Jack was a younger man, able to keep up. He can’t imagine trying to keep up with an energetic toddler now - and he’s met Torran Emmagan, who’s precocious, intelligent, and spoiled rotten by a city in which he’s the only resident child.
Walking into the infirmary, with Teyla a silent step behind, Jack wonders if it would make it easier or harder to bear this if he and Sam had a child - something tangible out of their relationship.
Screams and the wailing ululation of grief drag her from her housework. Cold dread pits her stomach as she stands on the porch and sees the line of people wending their way through the edge of the forest to her house.
Her fingers dig into the rough railing, sharp splinters sliding into tender flesh as she stares at the procession, funereal, tense.
No. She saw him off this morning, waved him goodbye as he went. He is the image of his father - long and lean with dark eyes and an easy smile in a solemn face. He laughed at her caution as he stepped off the porch, and went on his way to see his traps, treading lightly, as though the earth itself buoyed his steps.
One of the girls pipes up. “We found him beneath one of his traps, like he’d fallen. He wasn’t breathing.”
And never will again.
Her heart shivers within her chest as she gathers him against her - too young, too light, too awkward in the circle of her arms where he once lay as a baby. My son!
Grief shakes her, too powerful for mere tears. The ground is hard beneath her knees and her son is cold in her arms, while the villagers look on, uncomfortable with this spectacle, but not so uncomfortable that they would leave her to her sorrow. Some even try to comfort her with words false and true.
Platitudes catch at her ears, but none catch her tongue until one of the men murmurs of the will of the gods.
“This is the will of the gods?”
Too late, he realises his mistake.
Her voice rings out through the now-silent midmorning to echo across the glade. “If this is the will of the gods, then let them come and speak their will themselves! Let them come and face me and my son!”
Then the thunder peals.
Above them, the blue sky sears with fire and flame, and clouds billow in unfurling wrath. The villagers gasp and shriek, some stare, their eyes wide and terrified as a huge ovallic form is revealed in the sky, moving gracefully, awfully across the sky - over the village, over the fields and forests, over the hills to the far-distant temple, whose pointed tip spears into dark shadow.
And a sense of destiny - of doom - rests heavily upon her as the stares at the flaming sky.
She comes out of the dream-state with a choked cry.
Jack’s already there to ground her. “Carter!” When his hands touch her, she shies away. “It’s okay, Carter. You’re here!” There’s a moment when she’s looking at him with a stranger’s eyes, blurred from sleep and whatever nightmare held her in its sway. His heart clutches at his chest. Then her fingers snake around his wrists, gripping with enough force to leave bruises.
Pain is a welcome relief - she’s here, she’s awake, she’s Sam.
“Jack.” It’s just one word, hoarsely voiced, like she screamed herself raw in her dreams. Then she sags, leaning into him and he slides an arm around her cold shoulders and gives her shelter.
But something in him rages.
This is Carter. He’s heard her grunt behind a gag when tortured, has seen her teeth clench around the pain. Even in the worst situations, she keeps it together, she hardly bends, and in all the years he’s known her, she’s never broken. Nobody needs to talk to her about discipline because her life has been about discipline, from the first time Jacob ever had to tell his blue-eyed baby daughter ‘no’.
Whatever happened to her - whatever that device did to her, and they still haven’t worked out what - it reduced her to this. For that alone, Jack would order it dismantled and destroyed beyond the risk of anyone else being affected.
He glances at Beckett, who nods in understanding and pulls the curtain around the bed, blocking out the people standing beyond, their expressions relieved after the hours of anxiety.
Jack appreciates them, but she wouldn’t - not right now.
The curtain gives them the illusion of privacy, at least. He waits for the moment of relief to end - because this is Carter, she’s so driven, it will end - and then, when her shoulders are stiffening beneath his arm, he eases back. He'll let her detach herself, but stays close enough to touch. And Sam, in return, separates herself, but doesn't retreat.
Space is a valuable commodity in this relationship.
Her hand presses against her forehead and her voice is rough with pain, but her report is military terse. "I was taking a look at the device for Dr. Fisher. She noticed emanations from the machine that resembled naquadriah wavelengths - not the radioactive ones," she hastens to add when Jack's eyebrows rise. "I remember touching the device - I didn't turn it on."
"Did I say you did?"
Her look indicates she knows it passed through his mind. They know each other far too well after all these years. "And then?"
"And then I was..." She hesitates and her eyes drop from his face, stare into some hazy space of memory between them that Jack can't reach any more than she can reach his memories of Iraq and Charlie.
Darkened blue eyes look up to his, steady and unflinching. "I was reliving Jolinar."
And Jack's stomach lurches.
The cell is spacious and cold. Yet, behind the chill austerity of her confinement, Jolinar can exult in the knowledge her host has given her, in the realisation that these people are a far greater power and threat to the Goa'uld than has ever been seen among humans in this galaxy.
The Tok'ra High Council must learn of this planet and the people who defeated Ra and Apophis. Yet at this moment of greatest opportunity, she is captured and locked away, unable to reach the Chappa'ai, unable to appeal to those in authority.
What will it take to reach them? She asks her now-silent host.
Nothing that you can give, comes the response. Not after what you've done.
It was needful, Jolinar says, regretfully. The advantage she took, she can almost regret - it saved her life, but lost her the goodwill of this host, and through this host, her people.
Needful or not, there's nothing you can do which will make them let us go. The host is quietly defiant, yet also resigned. They think we're a danger to the planet - at best, we'll spend the rest of our lives imprisoned.
And, at worst? Jolinar senses the shudder of her host and needs no further insight into these people.
In truth, they are much like the Tok'ra: insular and passionate, loyal and protective.
Now, more than ever, she regrets the necessity of taking this host in the manner she did. Perhaps she can make amends; if it is information about the Goa'uld these Tau'ri want, then she has much and to spare.
They won’t, says her host. You know too much about Earth now; they’ll never let us go.
They may have to if they want you alive. There is still the Ashrak to consider.
And yet her host isn’t convinced. I’m one wheel in a big machine - nothing that they can’t replace.
Touching her host’s memories, Jolinar disagrees.
Jack watches as something in her relaxes once they’re out of the city and soaring through the sky. Thankfully, this isn’t like flying any craft he learned to pilot on Earth. All he needs to keep it aloft is thought, and so he can fly and watch her at the same time.
The setting sun off the sea gives her profile a fiery glow - not a diabolical gleam, just a radiance that’s a little more stark than the usual light, carving shadows and curves into crisp relief.
She’s been quiet since she woke. Not mousey, because Carter isn’t mousey. But quiet in the way she was after Jolinar’s possession and death.
“I’m not going to shatter.” Carter turns to look directly at him. Not a woman to beat around the bush.
“I’m just looking.”
Her mouth twitches, softening, becoming more like the woman he’s become accustomed to, and less like Colonel Carter of the US Air Force. “Like what you see?”
“Does that even need a response?”
Blue eyes twinkle at him. “I guess not. Really, Jack, I’m fine.”
“Fine for a value of ‘not in any way traumatised by what happened to me’? Or ‘fine’ for a value of ‘no longer having nightmares about Jolinar’?”
He doesn’t have to beat around the bush either.
“I never said they were nightmares.”
“That was an avoidance.”
“Yes,” she agrees. “It was. Jack...”
“It’s okay,” he tells her, hurriedly. His own bad memories aren’t something they talk about - why should he expect her to talk about hers?
“Okay for a value of ‘I don’t want to know’? Or ‘okay’ for a value of ‘You don’t have to tell me’?” Okay, so, fair play includes a turnaround on the question.
“What do you think, Sam?”
It’s not entirely a joking question. If she wants to talk about it, she will and Jack will listen.
She’s not that kind of woman.
They skim across the sea in a hypnotic silence as the ‘jumper eats the miles like Jonas Quinn still eats on the occasions he visits Earth.
“Remember when the Tok’ra wanted me to stay with them and find out just how much of Jolinar’s memories I had?”
Jack remembers. He nearly flipped his shit when the suggestion came up, trying to hold everything together after the za’tarc incident, trying to pretend everything was normal between them. It was a private shit-flipping, of course, but almost as afraid of losing her to the Tok’ra - to the memory of Martouf and the possibility of knowledge that was more than Earth and the SGC could offer her.
“Yeah,” is all he says.
“I’m glad I didn’t.”
“You thought about it?”
“Dad encouraged it. And...it was tempting at the time.”
Even before she answers, he knows why she didn’t go.
“It would have been running away.” And Carter’s no coward to turn and hide, whether from her fears or from her emotions.
“You can run, but you can’t hide?”
She snorts. “You’ll regret that when I burst into song.”
“You burst into song and I’m turning this ‘jumper around. I wanna be in sight of the city when my eardrums shatter.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome, Carter.”
The moment of levity takes them into comfortable silence; the peace of two people who don’t bare their hearts and don’t need to.
“I don’t... I’m not ready to talk about what happened,” she says after a while.
There are things he could say - clichés, all of them.
The truth is, he’d worry if she was ready to talk about the life and times of Jolinar of Malkshur. They got through four years of working together through the familiar and careful tools of silence, denial, and repression. It left a lot of pitfalls in their relationship that they’re still working through - not even counting the stuff they don’t talk about.
Ultimately, though, Jack wants to be with her; and she wants to be with him.
Maybe it wouldn’t be enough for some couples, but it’s enough for them.