Sam knew she should be paying attention. After all, Daniel was discussing information that was important to their mission today, her first mission in over a month. For some reason, though, Sam felt herself incapable of focusing. Part of her was awake enough to acknowledge that this was exactly the sort of distraction that could get you into a lot of trouble in the field.
The thought made Sam shift uneasily in her chair and she hissed as her leg began to cramp, almost as if trying to remind her of specific dangers. She must have made some audible sound because Jack glanced in her direction. Sam pasted a smile on her face and stared raptly at Daniel’s forehead until Jack finally looked away.
As circumspectly as possible, Sam rubbed at her protesting muscle under the table. It had been more than a month since her injury, but it still bothered her more than she would admit to her team, let alone Janet. It wasn’t like it was the worst injury Sam had ever had, but for some reason this one lingered and Sam was finding it hard to bounce back as she always had before.
Even the dreams were persisting longer than they usually did. She woke up far too often breathing heavily, feeling the need to flee the super soldier that she knew, with absolute certainty, would never stop hunting her.
When her dreams weren’t filled with the hopeless feeling of a preyed upon animal, they would turn to her father, long absent. She had been barely cognizant when he had come to say goodbye, explaining why he needed to stay with the Tok’ra, to try and mend their relations with Earth. They had heard nothing at all from their former allies in the intervening weeks and they had since changed base locations. There was now absolutely no contact between the two peoples and Sam dreaded that her father might need her and she would never know. Or worse, that he could be out there dying, and no one would even bother to tell her.
Needless to say, Sam avoided sleeping these days. But there was another sort of waking nightmare that haunted her thoughts, primarily focused around the man who was sitting next to her, stealing what he surely thought were covert glances. He was concerned and she knew exactly why. On that damn planet with the super soldier, she had given everything she had to escape it, knowing it would never tire, but knowing that she had to try. She had run and hid and schemed, trying to find any way to save herself, even as her energy seeped out with every drop of her blood. Her last ditch effort had been the missile. But when that thing had crawled back out of the dirt, completely unharmed, not ten feet from where Sam rested, she had done the unforgivable.
She had given up.
It had only been for a moment, for a split-second, but it was long enough that if Jack and Teal’c hadn’t shown up when they had, she would be dead.
The worst part was that he knew. He had sat there with her in the aftermath, his arm around her and she knew that he had seen her quit. And it had scared him just as much as it had scared her. Sam tried not to think of how safe she had felt, leaning against him, feeling his fear for her translate into fingers digging almost painfully into her shoulder.
He had been relieved and pissed and worried, and he still was. She imaged that she could feel it emanating off of him. Once she had finally left the infirmary, though, he had silently driven her home and she hadn’t seen him again for two weeks.
According to Pete, Jack had come by to see her once during her forced leave from the base. At hearing a knock at the door Sam had slowly crutched her way out of her room, only to find Pete in the living room. When she had asked who was at the door, he had just smiled that teasing grin and said, “Your Colonel.” Sam had nearly tripped over the edge of her rug and Pete ran to her side to steady her. Then he had shaken his head, said something under his breath about ‘a big waste’ and gone to the kitchen to make her some hot chocolate.
Sam closed her eyes at the thought of Pete, no longer even bothering to pretend to be listening to Daniel. When she had been stuck on the planet, no one had bothered to call Pete and during her week in the infirmary, Sam hadn’t thought to remind anyone. When she’d finally gotten home, she’d found multiple messages from him and had instantly felt terribly guilty. She’d told herself that she just wasn’t used to having anyone to come back to, but it rang hollow, even to her own ears.
Pete had immediately driven out to her place, taken one look at her, all pale and weak with stitches on her forehead and her leg in a brace and said, “I don’t think I can do this, Sam.”
Sam had just nodded, trying to ignore the swelling feeling of failure. She couldn’t really blame him.
He had kneeled down beside her, one hand gently brushing her hair back from her face, and held her as she cried. For some reason, she had never had a problem crying in front of Pete. Maybe because she never felt like she had anything to prove to him.
They had talked for hours, when at one point Pete finally confessed, “You know, it’s not just the danger you’re always in. Sometimes I feel like you were never quite here with me.”
Sam had just stared at him for a moment in confusion, even as images of Jack’s arm around her flashed unbidden in her mind. But that was something she wasn’t even allowed to think about, let alone confess to her ex-boyfriend of five minutes.
Pete had stared at her for long moments before saying, “When you have nightmares, you always ask for him.”
Sam could feel color filling her cheeks, even as she said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Pete didn’t push, he just said, “You really don’t, do you?” in a sort of sad, awed voice, before he got up, tucked a blanket around her and brought her a bowl of ice cream.
He stayed with her for the next week and half. He kept her supplied with chick flicks and ice cream and cooked for her. At night, he slept in the guest room and carefully avoided Sam’s taboo topics, mainly anything having to do with her CO.
When she was finally off her crutches, he had packed his bags and said goodbye. At the door, Sam had grabbed him into a hug and said “Thank you,” in his ear.
For taking care of her, for being there for her, for being so understanding. Her list went on and on. “For being you, Pete,” was all she had ended up saying.
He had smiled warmly at her, given her a kiss on the cheek and made her promise to check in with him every once and a while.
Staring at his back as he walked away, Sam had felt a strange mingling of grief and relief. She tried not to think too hard about the relief.
A soft sigh escaped her lips before Sam could remember her surroundings. She felt those eyes on her again and tried to refocus on Daniel only to realize that the room had emptied of people.
Tightly controlled concern was hidden beneath his slightly mocking tone. He had noticed her lack of attention and was wondering if she was really ready to get back in the field. She knew this because she was wondering the same thing.
It made her irrationally angry at that moment, though, the fact that they always spoke in undertones, every word loaded with questions and concerns that might be, God forbid, misinterpreted by someone if they ever spoke them out loud.
He stiffened beside her, reminding her that he could read her better than anyone. She willed the anger away, knowing he didn’t deserve it.
One deep breath and she met his eyes, forcing a smile on her face. “Sorry, sir. Must have let my attention wander.”
He stared at her a moment longer than was probably proper. “Well,” he said, “Daniel’s reports tend to have that effect. Nice to know you’re as human as the rest of us.”
Ah, Sam thought, a gentle reminder not to push herself too fast. “Guess I just fell out of practice there for a bit. Shouldn’t take long to get the hang of it again, sir.”
He smiled and she knew he had gotten her message. I just need to get back in the field and then everything will be fine.
Pushing back from the table, he stretched his back. “Well, want to rejuvenate over some coffee and cake?”
Sam nodded and sent him a genuine smile, probably the first since all of this had begun. But as she followed him out of the briefing room, something in the back of her mind nagged. Jack had accepted her reasoning, trusting her to know her limits. She just hoped they were both right.
* * *
Daniel adjusted his pack one last time, mainly as an excuse to circumspectly watch the rest of his team. He was glad to be back with them after having been farmed out to various teams for the last few weeks.
His position as a member of the infamous SG-1 and the fact that he was the one to get the gate working in the first place lent him a certain amount of prestige in the SGC. He had even managed to earn some respect in the eyes of the military members (Especially once he had finally learned all those hand signals they used. Hey, he was a linguist.). But somehow, no matter all that, Daniel always felt like an outsider on other teams, someone the military CO had serious problems relating to more often than not.
He had missed Jack’s exasperated understanding, Teal’c’s reassuring companionship and Sam’s warmth. It was a little like coming home to have them all together again. But, if he kept with the ‘home’ analogy, something was a bit off about the command unit of their little family. He could use the ‘parent’ analogy, but he was somehow convinced that Sam would know he had even thought it and hurt him badly.
Jack was worried about Sam, Daniel could tell. He kept stealing glances that Sam was obviously aware of but chose to ignore. Daniel got the distinct impression that this first mission back was a cakewalk (mineral survey on an uninhabited planet) specifically for this reason.
Daniel knew Sam had been through a lot this last month, her injury, saying goodbye to her father, and as she had just finally confessed to him, her break-up with Pete. But it was still Sam and he had a hard time believing that she couldn’t handle anything.
His train of thought was abruptly derailed by the grinding spin of the gate and the smooth swoosh of a wormhole.
“Unauthorized off-world gate activation,” Walter’s voice called out over the PA as the iris slid efficiently closed.
Jack looked up at Walter in askance as the room flooded with guards. Walter shook his head. “We are not receiving an IDC, sir.”
Jack automatically turned to Sam, who started up the stairs to see what was going on when they were all frozen by the most hated sound in the SGC: a dull thud against the iris.
The wormhole blinked out an instant later. Daniel glanced at Sam in the ensuing horrified silence. Her face was ashen and she looked frozen to the spot.
“Major,” Jack called and Daniel saw that he had also been watching Sam. “Find out what that was.”
Sam nodded. “Yes, sir.”
In the distance, Daniel could hear Sam calling for a radiological team to analyze the residue on the iris.
“I really hope that wasn’t a person,” Daniel muttered to Teal’c.
* * *
“The Pangarans,” Sam said to the control room at large, the final analysis in her hands.
“Um…not an actual Pangaran, I hope,” Jack said with a wince.
Sam smiled slightly and shook her head. “No, but the radioactive signature matched the Sagan box we gave them.”
“Haven’t we given out dozens of them? How do we know it’s them?”
“Because Sam designed them each to have a unique signature so we’d know who’s who,” Daniel said with exaggerated patience.
“Ah, of course,” Jack replied with a special glare he reserved just for Daniel. Then he mumbled something about not getting his memos.
“Are not the Pangarans the people who developed tretonin?” asked Teal’c.
“Yeah, Teal’c,” Sam answered. “I wonder what they could want? And why didn’t they just contact us by radio?”
“Well, only one way to find out. General?” Jack said, turning to Hammond.
The General nodded. “Send through a MALP.”
None of them had quite been prepared for what they found. The MALP telemetry brought images of spectacular wreckage and towers of smoke deep in the distance. There were dozens of people huddled by the gate, many with serious injuries.
One man eventually pulled away from the small crowd to speak into the MALP.
“Hello, this is General Hammond of Earth. We received your message.”
The man looked a bit frazzled but deeply relieved to be hearing from them. “General, thank you for responding so quickly. I am Ovron, Senior Minister of Agriculture.”
“What’s happened?” Sam asked. “And where is Dollen? Or Tagar?”
The man’s face seemed to crumple for a moment. “I am not certain. They have not shown up among the survivors. I fear I am the senior-most government official left. They… There was no warning…”
“Ovron,” Hammond said, “tell us what’s happened.”
“They attacked from the skies. The factories and ministry buildings were hit first. I never saw a single enemy, but I have heard reports that they ransacked the National Museum and the Temple on foot. Also…it seems clear that many people were taken.”
“Yes, a young boy who hid in the bushes nearby claims he saw our people herded through the Great Ring by people with glowing eyes. But he is very young and was terrified, we cannot be sure.”
Daniel shared a glance with Sam. Goa’uld.
“We are perilously low on shelter, medicine, and food. I hate to ask, but we would be eternally grateful for any aid you could provide.”
“Of course,” Hammond said. “We will be in touch very soon.”
Ovron’s shoulders seemed to sag with relief. “Thank you,” he said with a low bow.
The wormhole shut down and Hammond gestured for SG-1 to follow him up to the briefing room. “Observations?” he asked as they all sat down.
“This attack does not seem to follow the typical procedure of the Goa’uld,” Teal’c offered.
Sam nodded in agreement. “Yeah, why bother flattening the city, taking a few slaves and then leaving? Wouldn’t they typically claim the planet as their own?”
“It is possible that it was a minor Goa’uld with limited resources who simply needed a supply of humans,” Teal’c conceded.
“They were looking for something,” Daniel said. Everyone turned to look at him. “Ovron said that there were ground troops in the Temple and the National Museum. Maybe the damage was just to distract the Pangarans.”
“And the kidnapping?” Hammond asked.
Daniel shrugged. “Slaves? Plain old maliciousness? Who knows? I’d just bet anything that there was something on that planet that they wanted.”
Hammond looked at Jack who just waved his hands in a ‘you’ve got me’ gesture.
“Well, SG-1, we’ll gather supplies and send them through. It will be your job to figure out what the Goa’uld wanted with that planet. Take a medical team and SG-3 as backup.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack replied, gesturing widely at his team. “Let’s head out.”
* * *
They met with Ovron near the edge of the city where a makeshift outdoor hospital had sprung up.
Jack took quick stock of the situation. “Alright, SG-3, you stay with the medics. Lend a hand where you can. Daniel, Teal’c, you check out the museum. See what’s missing; see if you can find any clues as to what the snakes wanted. Carter and I will check out the temple.”
Everyone nodded and went their separate directions. Sam followed behind Jack and Ovron. The temple was back near the Stargate, well outside the now smoldering city. The fifteen-minute hike passed in silence, with Jack occasionally glancing back at Sam. Her eyes were taking in the destruction as they passed and he wondered if she was even aware of the way she almost compulsively rubbed at her thigh. He opened his mouth to ask her if it was bothering her, but he knew she wouldn’t tell him anyway. He made a mental note to have a talk with her when they got back to the SGC, though. Remind her that she wasn’t superwoman.
When they finally reached the temple, Jack was surprised to see quite a few people going in and out of the main chamber. A sort of small city of tents had grown up around the area, now flooding what had once been a processional way for one pompous Goa’uld or another.
“What’s all this, Ovron?” Jack asked, waving one hand at the assembled crowd.
Ovron grimaced uneasily and looked almost embarrassed. “The people are incredibly frightened. Nothing of this magnitude has befallen out planet in centuries. They are grasping at whatever they can to make themselves feel better.”
By this time, they had entered the main chamber and could see what Ovron was talking about. Dozens of people milled about, many of them pausing to place lit candles against the back wall. The wall itself was plastered with images of men, women and children. The dead and missing, Jack realized with a jolt. It was like an impromptu shrine and the floor was littered with flowers and other small tokens. Some people kneeled together nearby; their heads bowed as if prayer.
Sam had wandered over closer to the wall, stretching out one hand to touch an image of a small child’s smiling face.
“Some people have begun to believe this is a punishment for turning our backs on the old gods,” Ovron explained sadly.
Jack felt anger burning low in his gut. “The Goa’uld are not gods,” he reminded him in a low, tight voice that carried throughout the chamber.
“Yes, I know,” Ovron said. “They will remember that, too, hopefully. Maybe when this darkness passes.”
Jack didn’t say anything, knowing that this kind of darkness took a long time to pass.
Sam had finally torn her horrified eyes from the images that seemed to stare back at them in the flickering light. She briefly touched Ovron on the shoulder. “I am so sorry, Ovron.”
Ovron smiled slightly and patted at her hand. “Yes, well, we have all suffered, have we not?”
“Yes,” Sam said and Jack watched as she tried to hide a grimace and her hand that twitched toward her leg. That clinched it for Jack; they were definitively having a talk when they got back. He had wanted to believe her that she just needed to get back into the swing of things, but something else was clearly bothering her. Not that she would share it with him. Maybe he could get Daniel to talk to her about it. But for now, they needed to figure out what the damn Goa’uld wanted from this place.
“Carter, why don’t you check out those tunnels? I’ll head that way,” he said gesturing behind him.
“Yes, sir,” Carter said, her voice steady.
* * *
The tunnels wound around in the darkness, occasionally opening up into small chambers. The walls were covered in Goa’uld script and looming figures representing the gods. Sam’s wavering flashlight seemed to make the images come alive and she had to suppress a shudder. She really hadn’t been afraid of the dark since she was two, but there was something about this place…
She’d felt strange ever since she set foot on this planet. She had convinced herself she was just imagining things; that she was just out of practice. The wormhole had probably just messed with her system after so long. Not quite trusting herself, she didn’t bother saying anything about her unease to her teammates.
Now the strange feeling burgeoned into a nagging tingle in the back of her brain. It was familiar, somehow, but she couldn’t place it, not here in the dark with the heavy thud of her heart as her only companion. She realized she was beginning to panic and her leg chose that moment to seize up painfully. Suddenly it was all too much and she pressed her back against the nearest wall, raising her weapon with a paranoid jerk.
Her harsh breathing filled the small space and she was finally convinced that someone was watching her. Something was hunting her in the darkness. She twisted to the left and her flashlight illuminated an empty hallway. Twisting to the right, she almost dropped her weapon as a ghoulish face seemed to jump out of the darkness. But it was just a wall carving of a jackal-headed demon, his inlaid eyes glimmering red in the light.
Panic clawed at her throat, but she forced her legs to move, her back sliding roughly against the wall. Compulsively, an inexplicable urgency kept pushing her forward, even as each step filled her with more dread. She had to keep ahead of it…at any cost.
She didn’t even hear the voice on her radio.
* * *
“Carter, come in, this is O’Neill.”
His only answer was static.
“Carter!” he demanded once more. “Dammit,” he swore under his breath, before toggling his radio again, this time on a different frequency. “Daniel, Teal’c.”
“O’Neill,” came Teal’c’s quick reply.
“I’ve lost contact with Carter. She went to check out some tunnels. I’m going in after her.”
“Understood, O’Neill. We will meet you in the temple.”
Jack walked down the silent corridors for almost fifteen minutes before he finally noticed a flicker of light. He picked up his pace and entered a small chamber that was barely larger than a storage closet. At the back stood Sam with one hand pressed to the wall.
Jack barely had time to register her trembling fingers and harsh breathing before she spun around, her eyes wild, with her gun pointed straight at him.
“Carter!” he cried out, even as he knocked her gun to the side. Two rounds impacted the wall next to his head.
Jack ripped the gun from her hands. “Jesus, Carter! What the hell are you doing?”
Sam blinked a couple of times until her gaze finally focused on him. Her hands flew to her mouth in horror. “Oh my God…,” she rasped, leaning back against the rough wall behind her.
Jack watched her cautiously, still keeping one eye on the entrance behind them. “What happened, Carter? Is there something here?”
He wasn’t prepared for the slightly unhinged laugh that bubbled up from Sam’s throat. She was still trembling, her chest heaving, but she was shaking her head. “No…there’s nothing.” The unsettling laughter stopped abruptly and one of her hands snaked out to latch onto Jack’s arm. “What’s happening to me?” she whispered.
Jack was more than a little disconcerted by her behavior; fear was something one rarely saw in Sam Carter, even when she had more than ample reason for it. He covered her hand with his, noticing the icy chill of her fingers. “Carter…,” he started.
“O’Neill,” crackled Teal’c’s voice through the radio.
Jack resisted the urge to swear at the Jaffa’s impeccable timing and pulled his hand away from Sam’s. “I’ve got her, Teal’c,” he answered, watching Carter withdraw and move a few faltering steps away from him. “We’re heading back now.”
By the time Carter turned back to him, her face was an impenetrable mask once more. “Awaiting your orders, sir,” she said in a coolly formal voice.
Jack knew her well enough to see the slump of defeat in her shoulders beneath the rigid stance. She had crossed a line today that neither of them could forget. Falling back on protocol seemed to easiest way for her to hold together, he imagined.
Jack sighed once more, ran his hand through his hair and handed Sam back her P-90. He saw her eyes flicker in surprise for a moment, moving from the shell impacts in the wall to his face, but she reached out one numb hand to take it.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jack said. As they left the chamber he saw her pause and look back one more time, visibly shivering. They walked the rest of the way back in utter silence.
Daniel and Teal’c were waiting for them in the main chamber, taking in the various shrines and mourners.
Jack walked up to them, aware of the Major still quietly shadowing him. “What did you guys find in the Museum?”
Before Daniel could speak up, Sam interrupted.
“With your permission, sir, I’ll wait by the gate,” Sam said in a firm, but slightly dead voice.
Daniel was surprised to see Sam’s hands shaking and noticed that she wouldn’t quite meet Jack’s eyes.
Jack considered her for a long moment before nodding. “Good idea, Major,” he said gruffly. “We’ll be there in ten.”
Sam nodded once and exited the temple.
Jack glanced at Teal’c, who inclined his head and quietly followed Sam. Jack watched them retreat and ran one hand through his hair in frustration.
“What the hell was that?” Daniel asked.
“I wish I knew, Daniel,” Jack replied wearily, shaking his head. “I wish I knew.”
* * *
Teal’c was still unsure what exactly had transpired between Sam and Jack in the temple, but it was obvious that whatever had happened had shaken them both. After returning to Earth they’d all sat through their usual post-mission check-ups, but he hadn’t missed Jack pull Janet aside for a moment. Nor had he missed the fact that Sam had been subjected to a more thorough exam than the rest.
Now they all sat around the briefing table, relaying what little they had been able to discover to General Hammond.
They had just begun to discuss the Museum and the fact that it would take a couple days to figure out what exactly was missing when the klaxons began to wail. Their discussion was quickly abandoned as they all moved as a one into the control room.
“Receiving Tok’ra IDC, sir,” Walter supplied.
“Great, now what?” Jack grumbled to no one in particular, even as he began to head down to the gate room.
The wormhole rippled silently for several minutes, but nothing came through. Just when they were all sure nothing would, a single figure stumbled through the event horizon before sinking to the ramp with a soft thud.
The wormhole blinked out and they rushed up the ramp to find Anise, her face ashen and her body trembling. Sam knelt down by her side, pressing her fingers to the woman’s throat. “Her pulse is erratic, sir.”
At the sound of Sam’s voice, Anise’s glazed eyes momentarily cleared. With surprising strength, the Tok’ra grabbed Sam’s hand, pressing a small crystal into her palm. “Keep it safe,” she rasped. “Trust no one!”
With that cryptic warning, her eyes rolled back into her head, leaving Sam holding an unconscious Tok’ra and a mysterious crystal.
Teal’c could only muse that he had a really bad feeling about this.