First published in Chaapa'ai 3 (2006)
“Can you believe how preserved these jars are? Some of the contents could still be intact.”
“You gonna open ’em and see?”
Daniel looked up at Jack with an expression close to horror. “Of course not! You don’t just open thousand-year-old sealed canopic jars like they were bottles of mayonnaise. We’ll X-ray them first, maybe do an….” He kept walking as they stopped at the locker rooms, oblivious in his admiration of the jar he held. Sam and the colonel traded a grin behind him.
“So, Carter, we know Daniel had fun. How ’bout you—find anything interesting?”
She already knew he wouldn’t want to hear about the unusual magnetic fields of the planet or the trace elements she’d found in the sand that she was looking forward to analyzing. But he seemed genuinely interested in how she felt, so she nodded. “I think so, sir.”
“Terrific. How ’bout you, Teal’c, had fun on P3X-2…?” O’Neill glanced at Sam for help.
“…32,” she jumped in.
“Right.” He raised an eyebrow at Teal’c.
Sam smothered another smile. Only two years now since Teal’c had been with them, and he’d already picked up a lot, especially from the colonel. Sam and Daniel sometimes wondered aloud if that was a good thing, but at the very least it could be amusing.
They shed gear and vests in the locker room. Daniel belatedly joined them, sans jar but still looking distracted.
“So, anyone up for steaks?” the colonel asked.
It was tempting, really tempting. She was starving, and post-mission downtime was about the only time she got out those days. She’d really have to find a boyfriend someday, Sam thought fleetingly again, preferably one who wasn’t an alien. But the thought was fruitless and she didn’t dwell. “I’d love to, sir, but—”
“Oh, come on, Carter—some beers, cooked meat, cheesecake—what could be better than that, right, Daniel?”
“Hmm?” The brown head bobbed up.
“Never mind. So…?”
Tempting, but… “I’m sorry, sir—next time. I’m just tired. Curling up in bed with a book is a better offer tonight.”
O’Neill shrugged. “Your loss, Captain. Daniel?”
“I’ll take that as a yes. Teal’c?”
“Guess it’ll be guys night out, then. You sure you don’t wanna come, Carter? Last chance?”
She smiled, appreciating being wanted. “Maybe next time, sir. Thank you.”
The colonel shrugged, and went back to taking his boots off.
Since the mission had been uneventful and both she and Daniel still had tests to run, not to mention that it was evening and even General Hammond went home sometimes, the debriefing had been postponed until 1400 the next day. That was just fine with Sam. Even her samples and readings couldn’t keep her there tonight, and skipping the shower in favor of an early exit, she was soon in civvies and heading for the surface.
“Goin’ home early, ma’am?”
The airman at the checkpoint smiled at her as Sam signed out, and she tried hard to remember his name. Nothing. She really was tired, after two missions in one week and a backlog of lab work. Sam gave him a smile she hoped was answer enough, returned his salute, and walked out to her bike.
It was a nice evening. She paused outside to take a deep breath. As much as interstellar travel never got old, no place they ever visited smelled quite like Earth. Sam didn’t miss it consciously, but unconsciously, there were times….
She got on her bike and set off for home, relishing the air again as it whipped past her. Maybe she wouldn’t miss Earth so much if she could took her motorcycle off-world. The thought of flying along on an alien world, the rest of her team staring in astonishment, made her smile. Yeah, right—but it was a fun thought, anyway. Of course, with the magnetic fields of P3X-232, machines built for Earth might….
Sam was pulling into her driveway at home before she even realized it.
The shower was tempting, but her stomach was starting to growl, and Sam detoured into the kitchen. The refrigerator was as forlorn as ever, a necessary side-effect of the kind of travel she did. But there was some take-out from the dinner they’d had after their last mission, and that would still be good. She heated it in the microwave, ate while reading the astrophysics journal she kept in the kitchen for just such occasions, and tossed the styrofoam container when she was done. The perfect meal: no prep time, no clean-up after. Sam sighed—she really did need to get out more. Maybe that major from NORAD she kept running into in the parking lot who seemed interested…
She stripped in the bathroom and took a long, soaking shower. They hadn’t actually gotten dirty on P3X-232, but the sand had gotten into just about everything. Between that and muscles that had carried a pack all day, the warm water felt good. It was with regret Sam finally turned it off and stepped out, into sweatpants and a T-shirt. At least if she was going to be alone, she’d be comfortable.
The book was less interesting than she’d remembered. Didn’t help that it had been days since she’d last picked it up, and already she was forgetting the characters. Sam made it through one chapter, then shook her head and tossed it back onto the nightstand. Maybe she’d swing by Barnes & Noble the next day before work. She needed a paperback for the overnight mission they had coming up on Monday. With a tired sigh, Sam flicked off the light by the bed and slid down under the covers.
Mark’s birthday was coming up. They didn’t buy each other gifts anymore, but she should at least send her brother a card. Another reason to go to the bookstore the next day, anyway. Colonel O’Neill’s birthday was soon, too, though she wasn’t sure when. Daniel would know. Not that Sam had any idea what to buy her CO, but Daniel might have some ideas about that, too. She’d never suspected when she’d first met the archaeologist that he’d have more in common with O’Neill than she did, but that was just one of the many things that made their team unique. Add to that a Jaffa, and sometimes even Sam wondered how on earth she had fit into such a motley group. But maybe that was the very reason why. Of all the other SG teams, she couldn’t imagine a better match with any of them. It brought a smile to her face, even as she slid toward sleep.
A quiet creak jerked her back to alertness.
Sam frowned, unmoving, listening. It had sounded close, but by the time she’d been paying attention, it was gone. Just the house settling? That didn’t feel right.
Again it came, softer this time.
And in her room.
Sam’s hand crept along under her blankets, toward the nightstand and the Glock inside.
Then the closet door crashed open, and a dark form hurtled toward her.
She gave up the gun and yanked her covers off to free herself to move, but the figure was upon her before she could do anything else. It landed on her, pinning her to the mattress with his weight, and her hands to her side with his knees.
This couldn’t be happening. Not in her own home.
Sam shoved the horror aside and started to wriggle her leg free for an attack from below, but her assailant anticipated it, tangling her legs in his own. She tried to roll next, to dislodge and topple him to the floor, but he had leverage on her there, and she couldn’t quite make it.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
A voice: male, twenties to thirties, midwestern. Familiar somehow. She couldn’t place it, and didn’t waste any more time trying just then. Sam forced herself to stop fighting, lying back, panting as she swallowed fear and bided her time. A moment, and her attacker shifted. One hand trailed suggestively down her side.
She felt ill at the violating touch. But the distraction was just what she’d been hoping for, and after those first moments of panic and surprise, she cleared her mind and let her training take over. As her attacker’s grip loosened, she wrenched herself to one side and managed to dislodge him, sending him toppling off the bed. For the first time, Sam screamed for help, knowing there was a slim chance someone would hear.
He recovered quickly. A knee slammed into her back even as she dove for the opposite side of the bed, bouncing her back flat onto the mattress again. Her shoulders were pulled back so hard, she thought her spine would snap. Sam twisted, pulling herself free once more, and whipped the side of her hand across where his throat should be. He ducked, her hand only skimming his face. Still, any damage she could cause would be good. Sam kicked backward with as much leverage she could muster from her awkward position, then kept scrambling away from him, finally making it onto the floor on the other side of the bed. If she could just get a little room to maneuver…
Her arm was caught, wrenching her around so hard that Sam cried out, her knee an explosion of pain as it twisted.
“I don’t want to hurt you!” Her attacker was starting to sound desperate, and a little unsure.
She used his grip on her arm to yank him closer to her, and punched him hard in the abdomen with her free hand. Even as she felt him fold, she brought the edge of that hand down on the back of his neck.
And for a brief second, she thought she was finally free.
With an outraged roar, he rose up again, pulling her down onto the floor on the far side of the bed. Was the guy even human?, Sam wondered in a moment of terror that was quickly subsumed again by training. Hand-to-hand—she’d done this, how many times? Not unarmed and taken off guard in her bed, but training was training. Even flat on her back, she coiled herself, ready for the next break in which she could strike.
The trouble was, the guy clearly had training, too, not to mention about forty pounds on her, and the element of surprise that had given him the upper hand from the beginning. Sam’s ribs groaned as he shifted his weight forward, holding her wrists down, trapping her body under his. She couldn’t breathe. “You’re gonna pay for this now, you—”
But he’d left himself vulnerable this time. Sam yanked her knee up as hard as she could.
Her attacker gurgled in mid-threat, and sagged over her.
Gagging now, Sam shoved him off her. He was whimpering as she scrambled to her hands and feet, and that meant he was awake and still a threat. Reaching up and grabbing the first thing she touched, the lamp beside the bed, she swung it at his head with all her remaining strength. A satisfying crack, and he lay still and silent.
With any luck, she’d killed him.
Coughing, hurt, and desperately needing to get out of there, Sam pushed herself swayingly to her feet and hobbled out into the bathroom. The leftovers geysered up, leaving her shaky and weak beside the toilet. It took a minute before she could manage to push herself up to rinse her mouth out. She didn’t look in the mirror.
The closest phone was in her room, but Sam didn’t want to go back in there. Instead, she dragged herself out into the kitchen, groaning, stumbling in the dark. Belatedly, it occurred to her she should have gotten her gun, but that meant going back into the bedroom, too. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while, anyway.
Sam nearly dropped the phone as she grabbed it. Her hands had started to shake somewhere between the bathroom and kitchen, her legs wobbling like when the team had gone to that planet with over three times Earth’s gravity, on P3… Oh, God, she couldn’t remember. Her breaths still came in gasps and hiccups, but a sob also strayed in. The phone. Sam clasped it hard. She could do this—this was the easy part now.
Nine-one-one? Or General Hammond? She let her fingers choose, and they dialed Jack O’Neill’s number.
It rang. He was at dinner. She should have gone with them. Daniel and Teal’c and… Her fingers tangled desperately in the phone cord. If Jack wasn’t home—
“Carter?” He sounded breathless, and like answered prayer.
Her legs, her bad knee, couldn’t hold her any longer and she sank down on the tile floor. “Sir?” She sounded horrible. She probably looked horrible, but she couldn’t even think about that.
“Sam?” His voice sharpened. He rarely called her that. It made her feel better somehow. “What’s wrong?”
She was an officer in the Air Force, a soldier, and a PhD, and it was all Sam could do to keep from crying. “I need some help, sir.” It only wobbled a little.
Sam squeezed her eyes shut. “Not anymore.”
“I’m on my way. If you can, go lock yourself in the bathroom until I get there, okay?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Hang in there, Captain.” The line went dead.
Fear rose in her like a tidal wave on a clear day, unexpected and drowning. Sam gasped, feeling terrifyingly alone. It was just her again, and him in the bedroom. He’d tried to suffocate her, to…
She climbed unsteadily to her feet, putting no weight on the wrenched knee, and hopped toward the bathroom. The colonel was coming. He’d see her for the embarrassing mess she was, but she didn’t care as long as someone else took over now. Her ribs hurt with the frantic breathing, and Sam made herself slow her pace and respirations. The bathroom at least wasn’t far; it took two tries for her trembling fingers to turn the lock. She backed away from the door in lurching steps, and sank down on the floor by the tub. It was still damp, but she was cold already and didn’t care. In fact, she couldn’t seem to stop shivering.
Sam was still wracked with shudders when the colonel finally arrived, calling to her to open the door, and her jumbled world finally sorted itself out the tiniest bit.
She just wasn’t sure anything could fix it completely again.
He’d probably stripped a few years off his engine’s life, the way he drove over to Carter’s. Jack yanked the steering wheel with one hand, dialed with another: Hammond, Janet, and Daniel, in that order. Daniel was just getting in, like Jack had been when he’d heard his phone ring, and he could hear the horror in the civilian’s voice as Jack relayed what little he knew. He himself stayed calm, in control: the CO. Someone had to be. Didn’t matter if he felt like a dammed volcano inside, ready to explode when the pressure became too great. One of his own had been attacked, in the one place they were supposed to be safe, and fury wasn’t a strong enough word for what he was feeling. Fury and helplessness.
Daniel only said what Jack himself had five minutes before: I’m on my way, then hung up. Jack belatedly realized he should have asked Hammond to have someone tell Teal’c, too, but maybe the general would think of that on his own. God knew Jack was having a hard time thinking straight. Carter was as competent as any soldier he’d served with, but she’d sounded…distraught. Near tears. And fellow officer or not, she was also a woman, and there was something about her being victimized that bothered Jack more than if it’d been Daniel or Teal’c. In her own home, at that. Jack cursed, slapping the steering wheel with one palm. If it was some sick monster who got his kicks attacking defenseless women—and, boy, had he picked the wrong woman, then—Jack would tear the guy limb from limb, and Hammond would probably back him on it.
He screeched up in front of Carter’s house, the windows dark, and sprinted from his truck. Already, there was the sound of a siren in the distance.
The front door was locked, which was neither a surprise nor a deterrent. He had a key somewhere, entrusted to him for emergencies, and still sitting in the jar on the mantel where he’d put it for safekeeping. He hadn’t even thought of it until now. No matter. A jab of his elbow broke the glass in the door, and he reached in to turn the lock, then swung the door open.
Pulling out his gun, Jack crept inside.
A sweep of the living room and dining room/kitchen turned up nothing amiss. Jack moved on, footsteps muffled by the carpet and his stealthy motion, back toward Sam’s bedroom. The bathroom was on the way, and he saw the crack of light at the bottom of the door. A glance at the bedroom revealed it to be silent and dark, and Carter had said the danger was neutralized. Well, not in so many words, but Jack was pretty sure what this was about. He made a decision, stopping at the bathroom door and grazing it with his knuckles. “Carter?”
There was a moment’s pause, then a scramble of movement inside. The door didn’t open, but he heard the lock turn. Then more movement, and silence again. Jack’s lips flattened as he drew his own conclusions, and carefully opened the door.
His second-in-command sat on the bathroom floor at the farthest corner from the door, her knees drawn up to her chest. Her T-shirt was torn, her hair mussed, and faint smudges of developing bruises stood out on the pale skin of her face, neck, and bare arms. Her eyes were red and didn’t meet his.
Jack took a breath; there were times when he really hated being right. “Where is he?”
It took effort for her to talk, her throat working a moment. “In the bedroom.”
He nodded. “I’ll be right back.” Jack shut the door again, hand clenching the doorknob for a moment, before he turned away and stalked his prey in the next room.
A flick of the light switch revealed a battlefield. The bed was torn up, blankets and pillows flung all over the place. The surface of one nightstand had been swept off, and a large desktop lamp lay on the ground, near a body. Gun at ready, Jack reached for the carotid and felt for a pulse, then flipped the guy over.
And frowned. The face was familiar, even with its split lip and the cut that oozed blood down his forehead and into his closed eyes. As Jack tried to place the guy, his eyes traveled around the room again, mapping the fight that had occurred. The closet door was open, clothes falling off hangers inside. Probably where he’d hid, waiting for Carter to go to sleep. Their struggle had gone from one side of the room, over the bed, to the other. And even though she’d been unarmed, lying down, off-guard and likely half-asleep, her attacker was the one sprawled there unconscious. Jack shook his head in admiration, then straightened and left the room. The guy would be out for a while from the looks of that head wound, and the sirens were close now. Figuring out who he was could wait. As much as Jack wanted to add a few bruises to the unconscious figure, he had different priorities just then.
Back at the bathroom, he knocked quietly again before opening the door. Carter had relocated while he was gone, hunched over on the closed toilet seat instead of on the floor. That was progress, Jack figured, but she’d flinched as he opened the door, and he moved slowly as he stepped into the small room, his handgun out of sight, and crouched in front of her to meet her eyes.
They shied away from him once more. Jack grimaced to himself, but spoke gently. “You wanna tell me what happened, Captain?” He used her rank on purpose.
She took a deep breath. Her arms wrapped around her middle in a gesture Jack figured was more psychologically guarding than physical. In fact, the only injury he could see besides the bruises was the right knee that was obviously swollen even through the sweatpants, and the ginger movements underneath the shivers and clumsiness. He was tempted to wrap a towel around her shoulders but had a feeling she’d rather stay cold than be touched just then. “He was in the closet,” Sam finally murmured. “I was almost asleep when he jumped me.” She finally looked at him, but to Jack’s dismay, her eyes filled, and she shook her head angrily. “I’m sorry, sir, I—”
“Hey,” he said with soft sternness. “No apologies.” Jack put a hand out before he thought about it this time, an automatic instinctive pat of reassurance, and cursed himself as she jerked away to avoid it. Right. Stupid move. He knew better. “The guy in there’s the only one who did anything wrong,” he continued, chastened, but was really, really glad when a moment later, Carter nodded.
There were voices outside now, coming in, and Sam pulled herself into an even tighter huddle. Jack frowned, wishing they’d had a few more minutes, but maybe this was a good thing. He turned and stepped to just outside the door, a barrier to both prying eyes and anyone entering the bathroom without his okay.
Two uniformed cops came first, guns training on him as soon as they caught sight of Jack in the light from the bedroom behind him. He’d expected that, and had his military ID out already. “I’m the one who called it in—your guy’s in there.” He nodded back at the bedroom. One of the officers went in to check, and called the other in after him.
Paramedics arrived next, and Jack almost put up a hand to stop them, but then saw Janet Fraiser bringing up the rear. Never mind how she’d gotten there so fast; he was just glad she had. “Doc,” he called over the heads of the medics, “You wanna go in first?” The question was phrased casually, but he didn’t budge as the medics tried to slip past him, earning him more than one annoyed look. Fraiser knew better, trading a significant glance with him as he moved aside to let her in. He gave the medics a flat smile as he stepped back into place after her, blocking their way once more.
Fraiser’s soft voice came from behind him, and Jack was heartened to hear Sam murmur something in response.
One of the cops came out of the bedroom and waved to the paramedics, who reluctantly edged past him in search of someone who needed their care. The officer waited until they’d gone in, then came up to Jack.
“That guy in there, he’s one of yours.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the wallet the policeman was holding open. The military ID was obvious even in the indirect light, and Jack held it up for a closer look. Airman Kevin Wallace. And suddenly he realized why the face was familiar. He’d given Airman Wallace a smile and a pleasant “good-night” not two hours before, as he’d walked out Cheyenne Mountain’s front gate. Carter had probably done the same thing a few minutes before him. And that sleazeball had gotten her address and followed her home, maybe crawling into her closet while she’d been showering or eating. The cops could figure that part out. Jack just wanted Wallace.
“He awake yet?” he asked tightly.
“Nope. Looks like she got him good—pupils are unequal, probably has a skull fracture.”
Jack’s eyes didn’t lose their hardness. “Cuff him to the gurney. I’ll get some MPs to take over at the hospital.”
“Sure.” The cop didn’t seem surprised by the request. “Is the captain going to need a ride in, too?”
Jack glanced back over his shoulder. Fraiser was holding one of Sam’s hands and with the other was pressing lightly on the swollen knee. Carter’s face was in her free hand, her arm propped on one leg. Jack looked back at the cop. “If she does, we’ll take care of it.”
The cop nodded, a look of sympathy on his face, and disappeared back into the bedroom.
Daniel’s strained voice snapped his head back up, to the sight of their team archaeologist hesitating at the end of the hallway.
Jack glanced behind him once more, and decided he could leave his post for a moment. He pulled the bathroom door shut and went to meet Daniel.
“She’s in the bathroom with Fraiser.” Jack’s jaw twitched. “It was the airman at the front gate, Daniel. He hid in her closet, jumped her as she was going to sleep.”
“Oh, my God.” Daniel looked as stunned as Jack still felt, deep inside, below the simmering rage. “Is she okay?”
“Looks like she knocked him out before he….” Jack waved his hand indistinctly; he was the one avoiding his friend’s eyes now. “But he did some damage first.”
Daniel shook his head, doing the same arms-around-the-middle thing Sam had. They’d all been hit that night, in a way. “Airman Wallace—I can’t believe it….” he muttered. Figured he would know the guy; Daniel always remembered people. Had Carter known who she was fighting off?
Jack dropped a hand on the archaeologist’s shoulder and kneaded lightly, allowing himself a moment of sharing the shock. At least Daniel wasn’t flinching away from him. “You know Carter—she’ll be okay,” Jack said automatically, because it was the thing to do, and saw Daniel nod for the same reason.
Fraiser’s quiet call caught both their attentions, and Jack went to meet her at the bathroom door, Daniel trailing behind him.
“She’s shaken up, of course, but physically, she’s not seriously hurt. Her knee’s probably the worst—I think she sprained it—and one of her shoulders is wrenched, and there’s a lot of bruising, including over some of her ribs.”
“Hospital?” Jack asked.
The doctor shook her head. “I’d like to take X-rays of the shoulder and knee just to be certain, but I can treat her at the base. That might be the simplest.”
He read the rest in her eyes: no police questioning, no invasive tests by strangers. Carter would feel more comfortable there, and probably safer. Jack nodded.
“And after that?” Daniel spoke up softly behind him.
Janet’s mouth pursed. “Whatever Sam’s comfortable with. I’d like to keep her in the infirmary for the rest of the night to make sure she gets some rest, but after that, I think we should let Sam decide.”
Right. One step at a time. He could do that. Jack chewed on the inside of his mouth for a minute. “Okay, Doc, you wanna take her in?”
“Actually, Colonel, she asked for you.”
He could feel Daniel’s surprised gaze on him. He couldn’t be any more startled than Jack himself was. “Me?” he said blankly. Carter hadn’t even wanted him to touch her, and he couldn’t blame her.
“You were the first one she called, sir. She trusts you. I’ll go in with you, but maybe it would be best if you drove.”
“Janet, can I see her?” Daniel asked. “Just for a minute.”
Jack barely heard Daniel’s question, didn’t listen to Fraiser’s soft instructions in response, just stepped aside absently as Daniel wormed his way between them into the bathroom. Carter trusted him. That would have been a given two hours earlier. Now, it surprised the heck out of Jack. He’d sort of figured the whole male half of the species would be damned in her book, at least for a while. But she’d asked for him…that meant a lot. Like maybe the deadness in her eyes didn’t go as deep as Jack had feared when he’d first caught a glimpse of it.
Like maybe his team was still intact, and he had another chance to do his job and keep them safe.
Teal’c sat in the SGC infirmary chair and looked at the book he was supposed to be reading, but Captain Carter was who he was really watching.
He had met his three teammates there late the previous night after General Hammond’s hasty summons, concerned to see Captain Carter looking shaken and injured, concern growing when he saw O’Neill’s and Daniel Jackson’s tight-lipped worry. They hadn’t insisted on being there when Captain Carter was examined and treated, as they usually did when one of the team was injured, and Teal’c had begun to suspect why. Then O’Neill had pulled him aside and explained what had happened, and Teal’c had become grim. If this Airman Wallace, with whom he was not familiar, had not already been seriously injured by Captain Carter, Teal’c himself would have invoked Kal’tor’val—the Rite of Vengeance. A poisoned dagger would have been only the first part of the rite. Then again, as leader of their team, O’Neill would have had first rights to Captain Carter’s assailant. From his expression, he seemed more than willing to seek his own vengeance.
So Teal’c had only been able to sit and wait with his two friends for news of the third. When Doctor Fraiser arrived to announce Captain Carter was indeed not badly hurt and was already asleep, the tension in their small group faded but a little. Teal’c knew as well as his compatriots that some injuries were far more than damaged flesh and bone.
“Okay, gang, listen up,” O’Neill had said as soon as they were alone again. “From now on, one of us stays with Carter, at least for as long as she’s on base. I don’t care if she says she doesn’t want us here, yells, throws things—we stay, got it?”
Daniel Jackson murmured agreement, and Teal’c bowed. He was uncertain if this was for assistance, protection, or observation, but he trusted O’Neill’s assessment. For his own part, Teal’c had learned over the last two years there was a certain peace in staying with injured comrades while they recovered, a luxury they had not been allowed under Apophis. It was one of the many things he appreciated in the Tau’ri.
“Good. And, uh, listen, no pushing her to talk, and no touching unless Carter starts it, okay? There’s being there and then there’s giving her space.” It seemed to make him uncomfortable to say it, and Daniel Jackson gave him a speculative look, as if he were surprised O’Neill had thought of such things. Teal’c was not. He had long learned there was much in O’Neill that was not evident on the surface.
“Shall I remain now?” Teal’c asked in response. He was not tired, nor was his spirit calm enough to rest. Captain Carter had long become more than a teammate and fellow warrior, and Teal’c did not take attacks on his friends lightly. Even his symbiote was uneasy, reacting to his emotional state.
“No, thanks, T, I’m gonna take first watch.” This time, it had been O’Neill eyeing Daniel Jackson. “Daniel, you wanna hang around for a while, keep me company? You can tell me all about what you found today on P3X…” His jaw suddenly tightened. Captain Carter was not there to assist him in remembering the planet designation.
“—232,” Teal’c said gently.
“I was gonna say that.” But O’Neill gave him a grateful look. “Teal’c, tomorrow, 0600.”
Teal’c had bowed his head and left. Daniel Jackson remained behind, and Teal’c expected no less. He would have been welcome, too, and his heart warmed at that knowledge, but it would allow them to speak more freely if the two of them were alone. Or rather, Daniel Jackson would speak and O’Neill would listen, Teal’c knew from experience.
And indeed, when he had arrived that morning, it had been to find Daniel Jackson and Captain Carter both sleeping peacefully, the archaeologist slumped against O’Neill’s shoulder, who sat watch over both. He’d shared a small, knowing smile with Teal’c before rousing Daniel Jackson, and their both stumbling off to get some sleep. Leaving Teal’c alone with Captain Carter.
Captain Carter’s face bore more bruises now than it had the night before, as time developed latent injuries. Teal’c looked her over solemnly. There were finger marks on her wrists and arms where the kral had held her down, and a longer bruise along her neck as if she’d been choked. Teal’c had seen her injured more severely than this, but that had been on missions, in battle. This…ambush angered him far more than any such honorable injury. The Tau’ri had their own laws to deal with such offenses, but Teal’c was once again tempted by his own idea of vengeance. Such was his right.
But denied his revenge, this was no small compensation, to be of help to his friend. Even if O’Neill had not asked him to be there—for it had been a request, Teal’c had known, not an order—Teal’c would have come. Perhaps he had not been present the night before to defend his friend, but he would be there now, to aid however he could in her healing.
And so he’d sat there and read until Captain Carter had stirred, starting awake a moment later. Her breathing soon quieted as she realized where she was and who was there at her side, then she eased herself wearily upright in bed, pulling her blankets up with her.
Teal’c shut the book and offered her a smile. “Captain Carter. It is good to see you awake.”
It took her a moment to answer, a moment in which she did not look at him. “Uh, thanks. Teal’c, where’s Janet?”
“Doctor Fraiser is in her office. Shall I summon her?”
“No…no, that’s okay.” Her hands pushed at her hair, pulled at her gown, as uncomfortable as her eyes, and she winced often from tender bruises. Teal’c would have risen to offer her further aid, but he did not think such an advance would be welcome, and so only sat and tried to look like he was…being there. She did finally glance up at him with a halting look and an appearance of embarrassment. “Actually, maybe that would be good. I’d like to get out of here.”
He inclined his head and went to get Doctor Fraiser, waiting in her office as she completed her exam and Captain Carter dressed. He only came out again when Doctor Fraiser called him.
Captain Carter was just testing her balance on a pair of what Teal’c knew to be “crutches,” implements used to assist in walking when one’s leg was injured. One knee was bound in a soft restraint Teal’c had seen O’Neill wear a few times when his own knee had been strained. Teal’c raised an eyebrow, wondering why Doctor Fraiser had not recommended use of a rolling chair for Captain Carter, then decided perhaps the doctor had wished to give her a greater sense of independence and control, of which he approved. Warriors did not recover by being treated as helpless infants.
“Teal’c,” Doctor Fraiser said when he arrived, “Sam wants to go to her lab for a while to work. Would you mind escorting her down?”
Captain Carter shot the doctor an unhappy look, then Teal’c, but she did not speak. Neither did he, merely nodded once. He would have offered even if he had not been asked.
The trip was slow, silent, and without contact between them. Teal’c could see motion hurt her, but Captain Carter showed no sign of weakness nor desire for help, and he did not offer. Still, he was as relieved as she when they finally arrived at her laboratory and she sank into a chair with stiff, but obvious, relief. She wasted little time in taking out what appeared to be a Tau’ri magazine full of text, and beginning to read.
Teal’c hovered, uncertain what to do next. “Do you not wish some breakfast, Captain Carter?” he finally asked.
“No, thanks, Teal’c.” Her tone was distant, and he wondered if it was from immersion in the article or in her own thoughts and memories. But he had nothing else to say, and so Teal’c took his customary seat nearby and opened his own book to continue his reading practice.
After some time, Captain Carter finished her magazine and immediately took out another. Teal’c glimpsed a stack on the shelf from which she’d retrieved these two. Did she intend to go through them all that day, perhaps to distract herself from what had occurred? Teal’c contemplated in silence.
Among his people, one did not often speak of what troubled them. Such a sign of weakness would have only brought scorn and disgust, and Teal’c had learned silence early on. The Tau’ri, however, were much freer in their speech and emotions. Even such as O’Neill, who did not share easily, had spoken more than once to Teal’c of the son and wife he had lost, and of friends fallen in battle. And Teal’c had found himself drawn into sharing some of his own pain in return. Instead of scorn, he had found a deepening of the bond between himself and the Tau’ri warrior as a result, and an easing of Teal’c’s own heart. A warrior was not to be swaddled like an infant, true. But it was not the weakness Teal’c had once thought it to be, to share one’s pain, either. Or to encourage such sharing.
But there was a time even for that, and it was not always when the injury was fresh. If Captain Carter wished to sit and read in silence all day, he would accompany her in doing so. There had not been much time of late to practice the letters and words Daniel Jackson had been teaching him, and some review would benefit him besides any comfort he might offer Captain Carter with his presence.
Upon finishing the third magazine, Captain Carter hobbled into the adjoining facilities, and Teal’c took the opportunity to call the commissary and order a meal for them both. He had observed in the past Captain Carter’s choice in food, and requested nourishment he hoped would appeal to her. Her surprise at coming out to find the tray of food waiting, however, left him uncertain as to his success.
Then her mouth pulled down, her jaw stiffening, and Teal’c knew. “Look, I told you, I don’t want any breakfast.”
“This is not breakfast, Captain Carter,” he said calmly. “It is lunch. We have recently passed noon.”
Her brow drew together: confusion. He had known little about reading others before his time with the Tau’ri, but had learned much in the last two years. “I’m not really—”
“Perhaps a few bites would be enough to satisfy Doctor Fraiser’s orders,” Teal’c interjected smoothly, with just a touch of a lie. The doctor had given no such orders, but he knew she would wish it so, as did Captain Carter. Her twist of the mouth showed as much.
She said nothing, but sat down and began to read again. A minute passed, then she idly picked up a spoon and swallowed some soup.
Teal’c smiled into his own lunch.
A fourth magazine was read and discarded. Captain Carter’s tray sat empty. Teal’c had just silently sounded out the unusually spelled “delight,” when he realized his companion had not taken out more reading material, but was watching him instead. He looked up at her, trying in his silence and expression to invite her to speak.
“Teal’c…” She worried her lip with her teeth. Her eyes rested on him sometimes now, but never for long, at least not while he returned her gaze. “Did the colonel tell you who the guy was?”
“Indeed. It was Airman Wallace.”
She paled at the news. “Wallace? At the gate? I thought I recognized his voice from somewhere, but I couldn’t… But…do they know why?”
“I do not believe they have been able to interrogate Airman Wallace. He sustained a serious injury to the head.”
Now she colored. Teal’c hurried on.
“You fought well, Captain Carter, under difficult circumstances.”
She tucked her hair back, a habit he’d observed on the rare occasions when the normally self-assured woman was uncertain of herself. “I let him pin me down, Teal’c, twice. It was like…I was a scared teenager instead of a soldier. I know better than that. I am better than that.”
“You had no reason to believe you should have been on your guard. You were surprised and at a disadvantage, yet you prevailed. There is no shame in your actions, Captain Carter, nor your fear.”
“I was scared, Teal’c,” she whispered, looking small, and Teal’c felt yet another stirring of compassion. “I’ve gone up against a lot of dangerous bad guys over the years, and I could handle that, but one creep I could take down in five seconds gets into my house and…I lose it.”
Teal’c frowned. “What have you lost, Captain Carter?”
A soft snort of amusement. Apparently, he’d bungled into yet another Tau’ri saying. But she answered, even more quietly than before. “Feeling safe.” She wiped her eyes with furtive motions, as if embarrassed by tears.
Teal’c watched her for a long moment, uncertain what to do. If it were Drey’auc, he would have taken her in his arms, but Captain Carter was not his mate, and O’Neill had said she did not wish to be touched. He did not say what Teal’c was to do instead, however.
He had few options, but sitting there while his friend endured her pain alone was not one. Finally, silently hoping he was not “pushing,” Teal’c rose and slid his chair over so it was to the right of Captain Carter’s as she sat at the end of the table. There, he sat down, silent and not touching, but only a hand’s breadth away. If this was not uncomfortably close, perhaps it would at least make her feel a little more…safe.
He could sense Captain Carter tighten at his approach. Then, slowly, relax again.
And it was she who reached out after a minute, and gripped his arm above the wrist briefly, before pulling back. Another five-count, and she pulled out a fresh magazine and began to read once more. Her hand still rose to wipe her eyes occasionally, but Teal’c knew tears were not always a bad omen. He left his arm there on the table, just in case.
Daniel appeared an hour later with an offer to take Captain Carter back to her home. At Teal’c’s raised eyebrow, he nodded: the house had been prepared, nor would she be alone. Teal’c nodded back once, understanding. Captain Carter saw none of the exchange, clearly hesitant about returning to her home, but at Daniel Jackson’s quiet encouragement, she accepted the jacket he offered and put it on, then stood and gathered her crutches.
And paused. “Teal’c…” She looked up at him briefly, warmly even through the woundedness that lingered in her eyes. “Thanks.” And she squeezed his arm again, this time near his shoulder.
He bowed, deeply, and watched her hobble out. Daniel Jackson hovered nearby, ready to help if needed, but also not touching. The parting glance he gave Teal’c said he’d noticed her gesture and was encouraged by it.
As was Teal’c. He had done little, but perhaps little was required besides…being a friend, as O’Neill had put it, after they’d spent days with Daniel Jackson as the archaeologist suffered the aftereffects of repeated sarcophagus exposure. But Teal’c had never shared such a bond with his friends and fellow warriors even as young, untried Jaffa, not even with Master Bra’tac. Captain Carter was not just a friend, though she was that. The rite Teal’c had wished to invoke, the intimacy of the vigil he’d held, had been as for a sister, a member of his Tau’ri family.
And now, Teal’c gathered his book with terse motions, he was going to go make certain this Airman Wallace was no longer a threat, and make it clear to all concerned that Jaffa did not take their familial duty lightly.
“So…Jack’s gonna come by later tonight, see how things are going.”
Silence from the seat next to him. Not exactly surprising; of the many ways Daniel had imagined this trip home, none were comfortable and pleasant.
“I’m going to stay until then, help you get settled in, if that’s okay.”
“Do I have any choice?”
The tight question matched her expression, and Daniel winced. He was trying to be gentle, but it seemed he needed to tread even more lightly. “Well, I can always stay out on the porch…” he said pleasantly.
No answer again, nothing but a tightening of her jaw. Sam hadn’t been angry the whole way; Daniel had pretended earlier he hadn’t seen her jump as a car honked next to him, or rub at her already reddened eyes. He’d read up on survivor trauma a while back, after Jolinar’s death, and had run through his notes earlier that afternoon, and all the resources were adamant: expect mood swings, give the victim space but be there for them, let them take things at their own speed, just be supportive. He understood the first, was good at the last, but the middle two were unhelpfully vague. What was the boundary between giving space and being close by if needed? And what was their own speed versus stalling? Because if anything, the Sam sitting next to him seemed a lot rockier than the one he’d come across in the lab, reading. Even Teal’c’s looming proximity hadn’t bothered her then, while here she was plastered to the door as if she couldn’t put enough distance between herself and Daniel. And yet, she’d turned down an offer to stretch out on the back seat. How were you supposed to help someone who didn’t even seem to know themselves what they needed?
Okay, Daniel, you’re over-thinking this. Jack had warned him of that the night before, too. The four of them had been together for two years now, going through an awful lot in that time. He had some pretty well-developed instincts now about his friends. Maybe it was time to forget the books and just listen to his heart.
He quietly cleared his throat, glad Sam didn’t flinch at that, at least, and said, “We cleaned the house up this morning. Jack had to go out and get a new lamp for your room, and, well, I think he decided your room needed a little more color.”
Sam glanced over at him, frowning, but there was a glimmer in her eyes of…curiosity? Amusement? Something good, anyway. Daniel’s mouth turned up.
“Remember that trip we took back to 1969? Let’s just say this lamp would’ve been right at home in Michael and Jenny’s trailer.”
She looked puzzled for a moment, and Daniel realized why when, a moment later, he saw her struggle with a smile. Probably the first time she’d remotely felt like one since…. He grew serious the same moment she did, as memory reasserted itself. Daniel sighed for both their losses, and, resisting the urge to rub Sam’s arm in sympathy, just clenched the warm steering wheel instead.
Sam’s leg started tapping as they entered her neighborhood, and Daniel soon saw her fingers tangling stiffly in the hem of her blouse. He’d questioned Jack’s idea about taking Sam back to her place so soon, even when Janet had backed the older man up, and wondered now anew if this was such a good idea. Yeah, they’d cleaned up the place, managed to get the blood out of her bedroom rug, replaced the broken glass in the front door, but the memories would be a lot harder to get out. How could you help but feel vulnerable and haunted in a place you’d been traumatized? There were still a few places like that he avoided for the same reason, like the New York Museum of Art.
“We, uh, we could go over to my place instead, just for tonight.” Okay, so Jack would have a few words to say about that, but Daniel couldn’t help making the offer. Whatever Sam was comfortable with, after all, right?
But she was shaking her head. “No, I…” Sam took a deep breath. “I need to do this. I’m not going to lose my home because of this guy.”
That didn’t silence every last misgiving, but it shut most of them up. If she felt up to this, Daniel certainly wasn’t going to talk her out of it. Besides, for a moment there, she’d sounded almost back to normal.
Back to normal. Years ago, he would have done anything to get away from life as normal. Now, it often seemed to be his most elusive goal.
Daniel just nodded. “Okay.” One step at a time, Jack had said. It wasn’t how Daniel’s mind worked, but he could do this for Sam.
Two minutes later, they pulled up in front of the trim little house. Daniel had liked it from the first time he’d seen it, from the flower boxes in the windows, to the ornamental grasses in the yard. For the small amount of time Sam was able to spend there, it still looked lived-in and loved.
And, right now, it was scaring the heck out of Sam Carter.
Daniel noted the paleness, faster breathing, and clenched hands, and then very deliberately ignored them. “Well!” he said cheerfully. “You ready to go in?”
A hesitant nod. Better than nothing. He smiled at her, jumped out and went around to open her door, then held Sam’s crutches for her while she slowly climbed out of the car. Her hand was shaking as it grasped the car frame, but he kindly ignored that, too. It wasn’t like they’d never seen each other afraid before, even irrationally, and she had cause this time. Space, but not too much space; he hovered two steps behind, and followed like a vigilant puppy as they made their slow way around the car and up the walk to the house.
The voice surprised him more than it seemed to Sam, and they both turned toward the house on the left and the small, grey-bobbed woman who stood in front of it. When she saw them looking, she waved vigorously.
“Are you all right, dear? I saw the ambulance yesterday.”
Probably not a conversation Sam wanted to be having at that volume in public, but she smiled gamely and gestured at her leg. “I’m okay, Mrs. Danby, thank you, I just…fell and hurt my knee.” Daniel wouldn’t have noticed the pause if he hadn’t known Sam.
“Well, you be careful now. I’ll bring you over some soup tonight. Is that your brother?”
The neighborhood mom, Daniel had already decided, but the last question took him by surprise. She clearly knew Sam but didn’t know her brother? Not that Daniel had ever met him, either, but surely he came over to see Sam sometimes, living in the area and all. Daniel himself was a fairly regular guest, and even vaguely recalled having seen Mrs. Danby before, but without an introduction.
“No, ma’am, Daniel’s a friend of mine,” Sam was calling back, a smile in her voice.
“Oh, well, that’s good. You look after her, Daniel.”
He smiled, too. “Yes, ma’am, I will.”
“Good.” Mrs. Danby nodded for emphasis, then turned and went back inside her house.
“Nice lady,” Daniel commented. “Reminds me of one of my neighbors.”
“She waters my plants when I’m gone for a while,” Sam answered, but already distance was creeping back into her tone. Well, it had been good while it had lasted.
“Actually, we didn’t think about calling Mark last night, but if you want—”
No hesitation there. Daniel didn’t comment, didn’t even react when Sam gave him a sharp glance before hopping up the steps to the front door, but he made a mental note to mention her reaction to Jack.
They reached the porch, and Sam watched with a frown as Daniel unlocked the door. “Did he break in?” she asked tightly.
No need to wonder who “he” was. “Uh, actually, the police think he jimmied a window.” All of which were now fastened with locks that couldn’t be tampered with from the outside. “Jack broke in,” Daniel added without humor. He could just imagine Jack’s frame of mind when he’d gotten there the night before. Which probably explained why the new glass in the door was expensive, unbreakable stuff.
A faint blush colored Sam’s cheeks, but she didn’t respond, just tottered inside.
There was a fresh smell in the entryway, probably a combination of their having aired out the house earlier, and the bouquet of flowers that stood in a vase by the door. Daniel saw Sam notice it with surprise, even leaning closer to take a sniff, before warily continuing toward the kitchen. Not the bedroom, even though her ribs had to be screaming by now. Daniel’s eyebrows rose, but he didn’t comment, just trailed along behind.
At the doorway, he slipped around her to go in first. “Are you hungry? I went shopping earlier—I could fix you something.”
Sam opened her mouth, clearly ready to say no, then seemed to rethink it. “Maybe something simple.”
Daniel ran down his mental grocery list. “Eggs? I could make you an omelet.”
The smile was forced, stiff, but an effort and he appreciated it. “Sure. Sounds good.”
Fixing some tea was first, and soon Sam was settled at the counter with a steaming mug watching him gather supplies, vetoing most of his suggested additions to an omelet until he ended up with only cheese and green onions. Then she sipped silently and watched him cook. It was a relief, both the silence and the cooking. It felt good to be doing something—anything—to help, and it was the first easy quiet they’d shared that afternoon. The tentative smiles he sometimes gave her were also getting some returns. Maybe Jack had had the right idea, after all, getting Sam back to the house as soon as possible. It wouldn’t be the first time the older man’s insight surprised Daniel.
“I’ve been thinking about selling the house.”
Or, maybe not. Daniel turned away from the stove with a frown. “Since when?”
A flare of anger in her eyes. “Before last night, if that’s what you’re thinking. I told you, I’m not letting him take my home away from me.”
He took a breath. “O-kay.”
Sam grimaced. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bite your head off, I just—it’s a seller’s market right now and I’ve been thinking about moving closer to the base, and after this…”
Daniel turned the stove off and left the spatula propped against the pan to lean against the counter opposite Sam. “That makes sense. But why don’t you give it a few more weeks, then see if you feel the same way? At least, you’ll be sure why you’re moving then.”
Anger, fear, sorrow tripped through those expressive eyes before she lowered them, chipping away with one nail at a non-existent stain on the counter. Her mouth was contorted. “I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be letting this get to me so much, but….”
“What? No, Sam, don’t even say that.” He wished fiercely he could take her hand, but limited himself to willing her to meet his gaze. “This wasn’t a mission or a battlefield here—you were attacked when you had every reason to think you were safe. You’ve got a right to feel whatever you’re feeling right now—don’t let yourself think anything else. And that sense of safety’ll be back, too, I promise. It’s just going to take a little while.”
“Voice of experience?” she asked with a wobbly smile and voice.
“Oh, yeah.” There had been a time when he’d thought he’d never be able to set eyes on Abydos again, not without Sha’re beside him, but just last month, he’d visited his father-in-law there and found sweetness among the bitter. Her being stolen from him had been a violation of the spirit, not the body, but the pain of betrayal and lost innocence was familiar. The support of his friends had helped a lot in dealing with that then, too.
A huff of sympathetic laughter, and Sam went back to contemplating her tea. Daniel smiled softly at her bowed head before going in search of plates and utensils.
“So, you wanna watch something while we eat? Maybe put a movie in? Jack’s not gonna be here for a few more hours.” The late watch, just like Jack always took when they were on a mission, safeguarding the team no matter what the threat. Like they all did.
“Okay.” Sam wiped her eyes unabashedly, and offered him a small smile. “Um, how about Mad Max?”
“Mad Max?” Daniel repeated disbelievingly. “I thought women liked stuff like Steel Magnolias, or Thelma & Louise for comfort movies.”
Sam looked mildly affronted by the idea. “Not this woman,” she retorted, and slid off the stool onto the crutches. Her brisk pace only lasted a few steps before aching ribs reasserted themselves, but her head remained high all the way into the living room.
“‘Not this woman,’” Daniel repeated fondly under his breath as he followed, balancing plates and glasses.
And when halfway through the movie, she leaned against his shoulder and watched comfortably from there, he didn’t say a word, just smiled and leaned back.
Sam fluffed the pillow up and gingerly turned onto her side, stifling a groan as bruised ribs flexed. It would be a while before she felt back to normal, and the unfamiliar mattress wasn’t helping, but there had been no question that she’d be spending the night in the guest room. The fact she was there at all in the house where she’d been attacked just twenty-four hours before was enough; she wasn’t trying to be Wonder Woman. The bedroom could just wait until she was ready to face it again.
A soft noise drifted in from the hall through her cracked door, and Sam smiled at the sound of her CO’s snore. Once Jack had made it perfectly clear he was staying over, she’d offered him her bedroom, but he’d opted for the couch instead. She’d tried to talk him out of spending the night, saying she would be fine, and she would have been. But Sam was secretly glad he was there. One night of indulging her fears wouldn’t ruin her reputation too much.
Not that any show of weakness seemed likely to make the guys think less of her. Sam had only had to raise the possibility once that she should’ve been able to subdue her attacker immediately, before the colonel had squashed it, hard. Given her a lecture, in fact, on victimization and ambushes and how proud he was of the way she’d handled the whole thing. Teal’c had basically told her the same thing, and Daniel had radiated only empathy. At some point, she’d actually take it to heart, but for now at least it was comforting.
She also wasn’t letting herself think about Airman Wallace much. The colonel said he was comatose and wasn’t about to get anywhere near her again, and that was enough for now. If he recovered, she would deal with him later. Besides, she knew three guys who would tear Wallace into pieces if he ever showed up anywhere near Cheyenne Mountain or her home again. None of them, not even soft-hearted Daniel, had made it any secret they were only awaiting her word to finish the job she’d started.
The guys—the thought brought another smile to her face. One of them had been with her every moment since the night before, occasionally suffocating, but mostly comforting. They hadn’t coddled, patronized, or pushed, just offered their love and support. In contrast, when she’d called Mark that evening to tell him the bare bones of what had happened, he’d ranted about the unsafeness of her house and her job until she’d nearly hung up on him, angry and upset. It was his way of expressing his worry for her, she knew, but the cup of cocoa and plate of Oreos Jack had silently nudged toward her after she’d hung up had gone a lot farther in making her feel better than the phone call had. Funny how somewhere along the way, her three teammates had become more of a family than her own flesh-and-blood. Real brothers made you feel strong and safe, not just cared for.
Brothers. Of all the ways she’d thought of them before, it hadn’t settled into her soul quite that way before. But why not? They’d shared so much together, bad and good. Seen her at her worst and vice versa. Taken care of her when she was hurt, and let her fuss over them when they were being all silently macho about their pain. It was more than most people shared with their blood siblings. She considered them her best friends, but funny how she’d never thought of the obvious. Brothers. For someone with precious little family left, it was a good thought.
So something positive had come out of the nightmare of the evening before. Sam lay silently in bed and hung on to that thought. It helped against the memory of the creak in the silent house, the dark shape looming above her, the weight that pinned her to the bed while his fingers…
From down the lit hallway, Jack snorted in his sleep, turning over. The light snoring started up again a moment later.
No, no creaking, no dark shapes tonight. Tonight it was just her in her house, her and family. No intruder would dare trespass on that.
A few tears still spilled out, but they felt good, not so hopeless. And then Sam curled around her pillow and drifted off to sleep to the ongoing testament that she was no longer alone.