When she wakes, he is sitting at her side. Her hand is resting in his, and he is moving slow circles along the back of it with his thumb. Around, and around, and around.
It’s wonderful, oh so wonderful. And her heart clenches just a little bit because she realises he remembers everything Jolinar left her with (and without), and he’s seeing parallels here.
She remembers the aftermath of that forced blending, where the sensation of rolling her beer bottle between her palms wasn’t enough. When the sensory deprivation of being trapped in her own head, without control, had led to her running her hands up and down the roughened wood of his back porch, until he got the picture, and pulled her into his arms, her hands free to bury themselves in the beautifully gentle texture of his flannel shirt. He understood.
He’s remembered it now, and soothes her aches, even in her sleep. And she’s filled with a dozen feelings that have only ever belonged to him, really. If she squeezes her eyes tight enough, she might be able to fall back into the haven of an underground work-camp, with his large hands curled gently around hers, as though clutching a secret, a secret neither of them ever really remembered. She could find herself tucked into corners, hiding away from the sparks and the steam, grinning into the neck of this man.
Instead, she opens her eyes further, and drinks him in. His hair tells the tale of frustration, and fingers brushing through it in panic. She can picture him dragging a hand through the top of his hair, can feel the lasting air of hopelessness.
The infirmary is almost in complete darkness, and her little corner is closed off to the outside world. At some point, somebody must have moved her from the observation room, and placed her here, with a curtain as her last defence against harm tonight. It must be the middle of the night, and she knows he shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be sitting in the shadows with his 2IC, tenderly reminding her that this is not a dream, she’s really here.
She lets out a breath at that, and his eyes dart up, focusing on hers. He’s so open for a moment, so utterly broken just for that split-second before he’s closed off again. But she’s already seen too much, and the ache in her chest makes her remember that she shouldn’t.
“Carter,” he whispers, practically mouths, his breath barely stirring the air between them.
“Sir,” she replies, because that’s all she can say, really.
“You okay?” He asks, moving to disengage his hand from hers, as though hoping she hadn’t noticed yet.
She stops him.
“No, don’t. Please, don’t let go, please.”
He pauses, but nods his assent, because they both know there isn’t much Jack O’Neill will refuse her, and the knowledge of that power is often dizzying in its enormity. His thumb takes up its movements again, around, and around, and around, and the breath she releases now is the most relieved of sighs.
“Does it help?” He asks quietly, dark eyes unreadable.
“Yeah sure you betcha,” she murmurs, letting her eyes fall shut as her fingers curl around his, and she is just clutching onto him now.
“You gave everyone a bit of a scare, you know,” he begins, oh-so-pseudo-casually. “Thought Daniel would have a coronary. And Teal’c? We almost had to sedate him, he got so wound up.”
She throws him a wan smile, because that’s their routine, and she is always scared of missing a step in this little dance.
Sometimes it’s nice, however, to change the tempo a little bit.
His face gives nothing away, but she feels his fingers jerk reflexively around hers. “Oh, you know, confused by all the technical stuff that was going on. You were in a computer after all.”
He’s dodging and evading, and at this time of night, when his hands are seeking hers in the darkness, and her heart is full of stolen moments in a labour camp under the ice, it wears a little thin.
“You shot me.”
His right fore-finger spasms as he tries to hide his reaction, but the panic has bloomed in his eyes before he could stamp out the seed, and she knows that twist of his mouth, the one that spells out his guilt.
“You heard about that?” He’s careful, so careful, they always are.
“I saw it, when I was in the mainframe, I saw.”
“Ah.” His free hand is on his knee now, and she can tell he’s bouncing that foot up and down, trying to ease that pent-up energy and panic out into the linoleum floor. “You know, Carter, I’m really sorry, I didn’t know what else to do.”
“If you hadn’t, the SF’s would have filled me with bullets,” she accedes, simply.
His expression is filled with gratitude for the out that he just can’t hide. He’s nodding, looking away from her. “Exactly. Wouldn’t have been so easy to get you back.”
“Why didn’t you switch off my life support?”
And oh, his expression is agonising now. God, at what point of this conversation did he lose so much control.
“Jesus, Carter, are you saying I should have?”
“You didn’t know I’d make it out of this. You know my wishes.”
He snarls a hard laugh now, and it’s so loud in the darkness of their little space. “Are you saying you wish I’d plugged you out, Carter? Is that really what you’re saying right now?”
“I’m asking why you didn’t.”
“Because I couldn’t,” he snaps.
“Why couldn’t you?” She presses. She knows to apply pressure until he breaks, until he opens into pieces before her, and there is something so inviting and new about it that she’s almost gleeful with anticipation.
He pulls on her hand, hard, tugging her closer to him, so that she is slightly angled upwards and he is crouched above her. She could kiss him now, but she refrains, she’s not quite ready to break both of them yet.
“Because I will not be the man who takes the last breath from Samantha Carter’s lips, I will not be the person who destroys you.”
His eyes are fierce now, and she loves him for it (yes, she loves him, that acceptance came quite some time ago), and simultaneously loathes herself that she brings out this spark in him that will someday set fire to everything they’ve pledged their lives to. Samantha Carter knows she has the power to make him break every subsection of the regulations handbook, and a few other rules besides that, and oh if that isn’t utterly terrifying.
She pushes. “You did it in the hallway, you had the gun in your hand. Isn’t it easier just to pull out the plug, or even better, tell Janet to do it?”
His hands have left hers, and his fingers bite into her shoulders. She feels him give her a little shake, his fury at her over-spilling. “I think I’d reached my quota on killing my second-in-command for one night, Carter,” he growls.
“I asked you to do it for me, when the time came. You promised.”
“That was over two years ago, Carter, things have changed.”
“Not that, I relied on you to keep your promises, sir.”
“Well, jesus, I’m sorry I’ve put you out so much by not killing you,” he hisses.
“I was braindead, Jack. It would’ve been a mercy.”
His fingers are gripping her arms so tightly that it’s really starting to hurt, but she says nothing, just keeps her eyes on his, drawing the answers from him like blood from her enemies.
“I couldn’t do it.”
“Because it wasn’t some alien in your body lying in that bed, Carter. It was you. 100% Major Samantha Carter who was lying there on life support because I put you there. There was no threat this time, nothing. Just the knowledge that once I gave the go ahead, I’d have to listen to the last breath leave your lungs and know that I would never ever hear your voice or see your smile again. So no, Carter, I didn’t fucking unplug you.” His breath is coming too fast, too heavy, and the strain of the day caught up with him many hours ago, he can’t keep holding together for very long.
She needs to break him.
“You’ve been compromised,” she whispers.
And that does it, because his hands melt away as his arms band around her, holding her tight against his chest. His face is pressed against her neck, and she does nothing to deny the wetness she feels on his cheeks, the ragged breaths he’s drawing, leaving his back shaking under her palms.
She falls back against her pillows, bringing him with her, and he is crawling under the sheets with her, wrapping himself around her. There’s an agony to the way he clutches her, and she wishes now, so late, that she hadn’t pushed him, because Jack O’Neill is weeping (actually weeping) into her neck now, and it’s making her soul ache.
“I shot you. I fucking shot you,” he mumbles in disbelief, and she feels his lips on her skin brushing out every syllable.
She wonders if everyone else knows how this day broke the full-bird Colonel into itty bitty pieces, if they saw enough to understand.
“God, Carter, I was trying to be objective, trying to prove I could see past you. But there’s nothing past you, and I’m getting so tired of that.”
She understands, of course she does. Sometimes she wishes she’d never fallen in love with her commanding officer, because the pretence of it all is just so exhausting. The act they play every day is more draining than the fieldwork could ever be. Sam is tired of lying to herself, of pretending she doesn’t care, of waking up in the middle night with tearful eyes and pangs of loneliness because she dreamt of Jonah. It’s not fair.
But she can’t tell him this, so she gorges herself on touch, hands skimming along the smooth planes of his BDUs, brushing up his neck, into his hair. Being starved of her senses leaves her famished, and she knows she’s free to take all she can from him.
He gives a little shiver when her fingers bury themselves in his hair, and pulls back, face hovering above hers.
He could kiss her now, but he won’t, because now is not the time. The war is still raging on, and they are dutiful soldiers who both deserve something better than imploding in sheer desperation.
She can see him assessing the situation, and realises he’s about to flee. She wouldn’t blame him, but she won’t encourage it.
“Stay. Please. Just for a little while longer, I just need…” she trails off there, because she isn’t quite sure, his proximity plays havoc with her carefully ordered mind (oh, what a power he has), but she lets her hands explain for her as they stretch out against his shoulder blades, embracing the beautiful sensation of the fabric.
He just nods, because he gets her. People don’t get that. How do they fit so well? It’s an endless mystery to her, the one answer that eludes her reach, but she likes not knowing something, and she doesn’t want to ruin something as instinctive and lovely as this secret thing they share. He moves to her side, stretching out beside her before pulling her against him so that her back is to his chest. Her lips slip into a soft smile at this because she remembers this routine from the work camp, and it’s insane that it feels like home to go back to this part of her memory. Damn him, but he’s quickly becoming everything she’s ever wanted.
His hands are cradling hers now, fingers tangling in hers as his thumbs take up their dance once more. She can feel his breath on her neck, and his heart thumping steadily against her spine. While she knows he will be gone long before the nurses will catch him, she doesn’t mind, because he’s here now, and he knows just what she needs. And she loves him so much for that, and in this moment, that love doesn’t make her chest sting quite so badly.
If she closes her eyes tight enough, Jonah is holding Thera, and he loves her.
But his thumbs keep moving around, and around, and around, and Sam realises she doesn’t have to keep her eyes closed anymore. Not in this moment.