He sees her as soon as he steps through the gate. With just one glance he understands why Daniel had urged him to go to the planet, to go to her. She is stood with someone that he assumes is a member of the P4X 331 government, a tall, thin, pale man in a grey robe. She nods as he speaks, her expression tells him that their conversation is not an easy one. She looks utterly exhausted, he can’t remember ever seeing her look so tired. He watches as she glances up at him, he’s impressed that she only conveys her shock for a second before she straightens up and greets him.
“Sir, what are you doing here?”
“Daniel told me what happened.” Anyone else would have missed the brief second in which her armour slips but not him, he watches as her shoulders sag and her eyes drop to the floor before. She recovers quickly and introduces him to Gortan, the Prime Minister of P4X 331.
“I’m sorry about what happened here,” Jack offers after his introduction from Carter. The Prime Minister nods, turning to Sam with what can only be described as a look of disgust.
“You are aware that Colonel Carter may not leave until the enquiry tomorrow?” Gortan asks, unsure if the commander of the woman in front of him is here to fight for her right to return to her planet.
“I am aware of that, yes.” Jack understands that the man is under great pressure but his words bother him. “Are you aware that after the enquiry, no matter what the outcome is, Colonel Carter will be coming home with me?” he asks, his tone leaving no room for uncertainty.
“You are staying General O’Neill?” Gortan asks with a raised eyebrow, he looks from the man back to the woman.
“Carter,” Jack manages to catch up with her as she walks towards her quarters. He can’t help but notice how the few remaining members of the town stare at her and move away from her as she walks past them. “Hey, Carter-“ he reaches for her elbow as she refuses to stop.
“General,” she spins to face him, “you don’t need to be here. Gortan has said that I can come back to earth after the enquiry.” There is no anger in her voice, she sounds just as anyone would expect a soldier to speak to their superior.
“I know. I just wanted to come for some support.” He watches her again, anyone else would be fooled by her tone, anyone else would suspect that she was taking this in her stride, that this was just like any other mission but he knows better. He knows her better. He sees that she is on edge, that she is barely holding it together. He wants to take her home now, he wants to tell Gortan to screw the enquiry, he’d shoot his way out of there if he had to but he knows she doesn’t want that. She wants to do what is expected of her, she wants to do her duty, no matter how detrimental to her wellbeing it may be.
“You!” Both Sam and Jack turn to see one of the village elders walking towards her. Jack takes a step forward so that he is at her side. She visibly stiffens next to him as the older man approaches. “You dare to show your face here?”
“I’m just going back to my quarters.” Her voice is void of any emotion.
“Is there a problem here?” Jack asks, unsure of the history between Carter and the man. The man turns to him, disbelief written all over his face.
“We have not finished burying our dead and she has the audacity to walk where they once walked?” The man is clearly distressed, tears fill his eyes.
“She didn’t do this,” Jack answers before Sam can respond. His voice is calm, he knows a grieving man when he sees one.
“None of this would have happened had it not been for her, their deaths are on your hands Colonel Carter.” In mere seconds he is gone and she stands
still, taking in his words, allowing them to soak in. The other villagers stare at her, she knows that they feel the same way.
“Carter,” Jacks starts before he is cut off.
“I’ll show you to your quarters Sir,” the good little soldier in her returns. She moves and he follows.
Sam had been excited when General O’Neill had told her that SG1 would be officially visiting P4X 331 for a second time. Their first visit had been successful, a trade agreement was fixed and the people had been welcoming and intrigued to hear stories of the Stargate and its potential.
They were an advanced people but not as technologically advanced as Earth. Within hours of their arrival Sam had been introduced to a young scientist named Mae who had been working on a way to shield the town from their enemies, a vicious group who wanted the land of Gortan’s people. Sam had listened as Mae told the story of her parents’ bloody murder at the hands of the enemy, the Amaleks, when she was just twelve years old. She explained that the Amaleks thought nothing of murdering hundreds of people if it meant the land would be theirs, they had proven that in a reign of terror lasting more than fifty years.
Mae also explained that she and several other scientists had come up with a way to temporarily shield the town from attack, preventing people, bullets and bombs from reaching their town but that the shield was temporary and that its power supply would soon run dry.
Sam had grown attached to Mae over the few days of their mission. She had spent hours discussing science with the younger scientist and listening as Mae discussed her hopes for the future of her people. Something about her reminded Sam of Cassandra, someone who had faced multiple tragedies and chose to use those experiences to better themselves.
Sam had promised that she would work on an idea to further protect the town. Mae had wrapped her arms around Sam and whispered, “I prayed for a guardian angel, and here you are.”
Sam had kept her promise and thought of a way to cloak the village, to hide it from the Amelek’s forever. However, it would have required the current shield to cease before the new one could be created and the village elders and Gortan deemed it too dangerous. Mae had been furious but Sam understood the risks, she tried to explain them and promised that she would think of another solution.
Mae asked for Sam to explain how she would have set up the cloak had their suggestion been approved.
Hours later she had woken to the sounds of blood curdling screams.
The only available room is one that connects to hers, he’s been lying in his uncomfortable bed hoping that she may come to him to talk about what had
happened and how it’s impacting her. He knows that she won’t. He’s grateful that Daniel and Teal’c are home and safe and he’s counting down the hours until he can say the same for her. He remembers his panic as only Daniel and Teal’c stepped through the gate. He was on his way to the planet within an hour.
He knows that Daniel and Teal’c had only left her because she had ordered them to, he’ll let her deal with that when they get home. He shudders when he thinks of the word Daniel used to explain what had happened,
“Jack, it was a genocide.”
He snaps to attention as he hears a loud smash coming from Carter’s room. He’s out of bed and in there in seconds. She’s up as well, her chest heaving as she stares at the source of the noise, a rock that had been hurled through the window. Glass is shattered all over the floor.
“You okay?” he asks, stepping over as much of the glass as he can to search for the culprits. There is no one outside, whoever it was is long gone.
She doesn’t answer him, she simply stares at the glass covering the floor.
“Come on,” he offers, gesturing to his room. She can’t sleep in here, not now. He moves towards his room but she’s still. “Carter,” he gently grasps her elbow. She meets his stare for the first time since he entered her room and nods, swallowing the lump in her throat. He keeps a hold of her arm and leads her towards his room.
She says nothing as he leads her to his bed and sits her down. She says nothing as he checks her skin for any cuts. She says nothing as he gets into bed next to her. He doesn’t have to ask, there’s nowhere else for him to sleep and she trusts him. She has a fiancé at home, and to anyone one the outside this would seem like a horrific idea but this isn’t sexual, she has nowhere else to go.
It’s been almost 48 hours since she was woken to the sound of screams and she’s sure she hasn’t had even an hour of sleep since then. She’s so tired but she can’t close her eyes without seeing bloody bodies and without hearing the screams. She lies with her back to him, aware of his every breath as he lies across from her on his back. They have never shared a bed before and if she had any energy at all she would have felt deeply uncomfortable about it.
“This wasn’t your fault,” he speaks from the other side of the bed after a few minutes of silence. She feels a deep pain in her chest as a wave of grief washes over her. She hadn’t realised how desperately she needed to someone to say that after two days of harsh stares, accusations and anger, but she doesn’t believe him. It was her fault.
She resents him for being here, for trying to soothe her. She’s just about held herself together for the last two days but now she feels as though she’s seconds from losing it. She knows that he came to help, to make sure that she’s okay but she wishes he hadn’t. She doesn’t want his comfort, not now, not while she’s still in the firing line, not when she doesn’t deserve it.
“Carter, it wasn’t your fault,” he repeats when he gets no response, he knows that she won’t believe him but he needs her to hear it.
“They slit their throats,” she speaks for the first time since he entered her room. “They slit their throats as they slept, anyone who was under fifty. The kids, babies…” her voice breaks but she regains composure instantly.
“You couldn’t have known that she would-“
“I should have known.” They speak calmly, almost monotonously. “She was so passionate about saving her people. I should never have told her how I would have set up the cloak.”
“It was her choice Carter-“
“She wouldn’t have been able to do it without me. I gave her the idea, the materials, I told her how to set it up even after The Elders said no.” She feels him shift behind her, unsure if he’s turned towards her or away from her.
“She shouldn’t have done it, but even she couldn’t have known that they’d be waiting for the shield to go down. They knew the shield was temporary, they were happy to wait.”
“She must’ve been so scared…” Sam closes her eyes as she thinks about Mae’s last moments, she had found her in her lab covered in blood. She had been one of the few people who had been awake during the silent attack and she had fought back, but she had lost. She was already cold when Sam got to her. “I should have known.” Hundreds of innocent people are dead, slaughtered in their sleep and it’s because of her.
She tenses as she hears him behind her, closer than before. She feels the heat from his body against her back and knows that is millimetres away from having his chest pressed against her.
It had seemed like common sense to put her in his bed but as soon as he got in with her he realised how stupid it was. If anyone were to walk in on them like this their careers would be over, but for this moment he doesn’t care, he needs to be here. He needs to be close to her.
He reaches for her slowly, his thumb gently strokes her elbow in comfort. He wants to wrap his arms around her and to hold her until she believes that this isn’t her fault but this isn’t about what he wants, it’s about what she needs. He’s trying to comfort her without crossing any boundaries.
His thumb glides along her arm, a soothing act. He is careful to keep his body as far away from hers as he can whilst still being able to touch her like this.
“Don’t do this to yourself,” he whispers, his voice thick with emotion as he feels the guilt radiating from her.
She bites her lip as the first tear escapes and the walls that she had put up to ensure her she didn’t fall apart begin to slowly fall. She reaches and grasps his hand as the grief threatens to overwhelm her. Her fingers tighten around his as a sob escapes.
He pulls her close until her body is against his and holds her as she finally falls apart.
“They blame me,” Sam speaks softly. The tears have subsided but he is still right there, his chest pressed against her back and his arms wrapped around her.
“They’re grieving, they need time. They need someone to blame. They can’t blame the bastards who did it,” he knows that she, Teal’c and Daniel had killed every last son of a bitch who forced their way into the village. He won’t tell her this now but he’s relieved that they had been sleeping in Gortan’s guest quarters, in a new building that the Amalek’s didn’t know about. The situation is horrific but it could have been even worse. He can’t even begin to think about what would have happened if one of SG1 had been a victim of this attack, if she had.
“I wish she had told me, I wish she’d told me what she was going to do.” Their hands are still intertwined. “I hate that this is how she’ll be remembered for. She doesn’t deserve this, none of them did.”
There’s a moment of silence and she thinks about releasing his hand, about initiating a break in their contact but she can’t bring herself to do it. She can feel his body against hers, his fingers are resting against hers and his head rests in the crook of her neck. He had held her tightly as she’d allowed herself to react to horrific act of terror and he still holds her as tightly now.
She’s utterly exhausted but she’s scared to fall asleep, afraid of the nightmares, afraid of waking up to find him back on the other side of the bed. His thumb begins to stroke hers and she releases a shaky breath.
He’s so glad that he’s here, that he followed his instinct and that he came to get her. He’ll deal with the consequences of leaving without permission when he gets back. He’s lucky that Hammond was visiting and didn’t try too hard to stop him from leaving when Jack asked him to take control of the SGC for twenty four hours but he’s sure his other superiors won’t be as easy to convince.
He’s shaken from his thoughts as Sam shifts, her hand slips out of his and she turns to face him. They stare at each other for a few moments, no words are shared between them.
He reaches up cups her cheek as his thumb wipes away a stray tear.
“I’m so tired,” she admits. She is, she’s been awake for days but it isn’t just that, she’s tired of pretending, of fighting. She mirrors him, placing her hand on his cheek. She slowly presses her lips against his. She opens her mouth against his and just when she’s frightened that he isn’t going to let them do this he moves his mouth against hers and responds to her kiss. It lasts for just a few seconds before he pulls away and rests his forehead against hers.
“Carter.” Duty. Honour. Fiancé. “Sleep.”
She shifts against him and rests her head on his shoulder as he wraps his arms around her. There are so many things that they could say but now isn’t the time. He knows that she understands that now isn’t the right time for them, not while she’s vulnerable, not while she’s engaged. He’s scared that there won’t ever be a time for them, that he’ll never get the chance to show her just how much he cares for her, but he pushes that fear to the back of his mind. They’ve allowed themselves a moment of weakness but he knows it won’t happen again, she won’t let it.
He closes his eyes, ready to try to sleep when he hears her whisper,
“Thank you for coming,”