She doesn’t exactly know how it happened, but the fact that she is hanging from a tree limb off of a cliff off-world is a fierce reality she feels deep in her bones. She takes a look down, over her body, and the fear is piercing and real. A shuddering breath follows as she rights her head back, looks straight at the sky that is bluer, and brighter, and more beautiful than she had noticed before. She feels that under the circumstances, it should be dark and menacing, and the beauty laid before her is a little like a slap in the face.
“Carter?” she hears him, is beyond relieved to hear his voice, but she can’t quite place its location, hadn’t known until this moment that he had indeed fallen with her, and that he had indeed survived.
“Sir!” She answers, unsteadily. She’s a little afraid that raising her voice too loudly will displace her from her spot on the limb; she’s not even sure exactly what her position is.
“Carter, don’t move!”
Crap, is all she can think, and his order makes her freeze even more, stopping her breath from becoming too big in her chest. “Sir,” she tries again, “what’s your position?”
“I’m safe, Carter,” he says immediately, “I landed on a ledge,” he looks down assessing if he can really call it that. “It’s not much of one, but my feet sort’a fit… sideways.”
She follows the sound of his voice and can see him, finally, to her right. His body is plastered to the rock formation behind him, and she can see that his feet are indeed sideways, awkwardly fitting on the small ledge the cliff has provided. She has no idea how he managed to land there, if he scraped his nails down the cliff until he was able to stop himself from falling all the way, but she doesn’t really care, as long as he’s here. He’s about five feet from her, and the proximity grounds her in a way that nothing else could.
“And what’s my position?” she asks, “Sir,” she adds, though she knows it’s completely habitual.
She hears him sigh. “You’re hanging from a limb, Major, like a tree root of some sort. Your pack is caught on it,” she hears everything he says and everything he doesn’t say. It doesn’t look good, she’s not exactly safe, and both of them are in a shit-load of trouble.
“Daniel and Teal’c?”
“They’re running back to the gate to get help.” The planet was uninhabited, and they had walked a least 20 minutes to get to their present location. She calculates in her mind how long it will take for them to get there, dial Earth, get help, run back. She feels something drip down her forehead, trail down the left side of her face. Gently, carefully, she lifts her left hand and trails her fingers on her face, follows the path of the liquid until she encounters a bump, a cut, right along her hairline on her forehead. She pulls her hand back and looks at it, and gasps at the sight of all the blood.
He hears her. “Major?”
“I’m fine,” she deflects. When he doesn’t say anything, she can feel his eyes on her, on her bloody hands, and confesses instead, “I’m slightly injured… my head.”
“I know,” he answers. “You passed out and scared the living hell out of me,” she hears the weight in his words, the depth of his worry. There’s a moment where she actually relishes his tone, his concern for her, then thinks about how sick a sentiment it is for her to have at a time like this. She wonders if she’ll ever get over this man, the feelings he elicits within, and she thinks about the days, other days, when they might be able to feel, really feel, if they ever get out of this alive.
“Does it feel like your usual brain injuries?” He cuts into her musings, asks it like that because Sam’s accustomed to head injuries, gets concussed often, and as her CO, he really should force her to keep wearing the ridiculous helmets from the first couple of missions, especially considering the value of her brain to the whole SGC, nay, the whole Galaxy.
She doesn’t answer his question.
“Sir, it doesn’t look like I’ll be leaving this rock in one piece.”
“That is not happening, Major,” he says, his voice full of command. “You can swing this way, I’ll grab you by the waist and hall you onto—”
“That’s a bad plan, Sir, and you know it. You have no grip. Hell, you have no space to rescue me at all. My weight and the inertia would throw you off and we would both land in a few pieces at the bottom of this cliff.” She chances a look down again, horrified at the view, hundreds of miles of expanse, no bottom in sight. “Shit,” she curses, being taken aback by the height, her fear, the entire situation.
“Major, we have to try it, if your pack slips further I will have no choice but to--”
The pack slips further and Sam falls forward, six or seven inches, but it feels like a million. A cry escapes her lips and she hears Jack utter a string of curses. The propulsion forward scares her. She has no grip on her feet, arms, legs… is just hanging there, limp, completely powerless, completely out of control. She looks down through her legs again, sees the abyss with no end, and the whole situation takes her like a shockwave. She trembles with the power of her emotions, the tears spilling over her and her body giving into the fear, the helplessness, the inevitable.
“Carter, snap out of it!” he yells at her, but the command seems to take no effect on her. She’s in shock, frozen in fear, given over to defeat in a way he’s never seen. It scares him, seeing her like that, and in a moment of weakness he reaches for her, his left hand going for her right leg. The movement shifts their balance and it causes his feet to shift forward, sending a pound or so of dirt and rubble careening down the cliff.
“Don’t,” she says when she hears it, hears his movement, looks to watch him reaching for her.
He backs away, obedient, his back receding to the cliff wall once again.
“Sam,” he says instead, tenderly. The shift in his voice gets to her, and she turns minutely to try to meet his eyes.
“Jack,” she says, weakly. “I’m scared.”
If the look of desperation in her eyes could kill, Jack would be a dead man. They’re falling off a cliff but they’ve already fallen in so many other ways.
“I know,” he answers, tries to reason with her. “I am too. But you can’t give up. Promise me you won’t give up.”
She doesn’t answer, once again, but the exchange causes her to stop her hysterics and breathe deeply once again, and Jack is glad to see the tree root holding strongly to a piece of her pack.
“Daniel and Teal’c will be back soon,” he adds. “They’re gonna get us out of this mess.”
They’re silent for a while, looking out to the sky. It’s sundown, apparently, and the sky which once was all blue begins to be cast in pinks and purples, the most amazing thing Sam thinks she has ever seen. She ponders more about her life, thinks about this being her moment of death, thinks about all the things she hasn’t done but still wants to do. She thinks about them, the them that can’t ever be talked about, and wishes wistfully that there was once a them to talk about before she meets her end. She sighs and blinks against the sight before her. It’s not just an incredible sunset, It’s perhaps the most extraordinary thing Sam has ever beheld. There are at least twenty different shades of pink in the sky, and the purple is dancing around, casting shadows on the pink streaks and making her mind forget that she’s hanging on a cliff, hanging for her life, waiting for her death.
“I never learned to ice skate,” she says to him, and it’s spoken so softly, he’s almost sure he imagined it.
“Ice skate?” He repeats, waits for a full minute. When she doesn’t speak further he adds, “Carter, how hard did you hit your head?”
“No,” she says forcefully. “Listen: I never learned to ice skate. I’ve always loved it, I’ve always tried. But I could never do it,” she says, confessionally. “I always fall.”
He gets it, gets what she’s saying, so he lets her continue, waits to see what else will come out of her mouth. She’s watching the incredible light show created by the setting sun and he watches her face, entranced by her features, but she doesn’t say anything else.
“I never smoked pot.”
“What?” she asks.
“I’ve never smoked pot,” he says again, nonchalantly. “You know… cannabis.”
She grunts. “Really?”
He nods, but he knows she can’t see him.
“Surprised?” he asks her.
He nods again, watches the pinks and purples. “Have you?”
There’s a beat of silence and then, “oh, yeah.”
He laughs, grins into the setting sun. “Maybe that’s why you can’t ice skate.”
She laughs too, hard. “Shut up,” she says when she can speak again, trying to control her laughter and the effects on her movements. “Don’t make me laugh.”
He smiles, a big smile that reveals his teeth to the pink sky. “I much prefer to hear you laugh than to hear you cry.”
Their eyes meet, across the five feet of cliff distance, and they stare unashamedly at each other, pouring feeling and regret into it.
Something happens, a wind, an invisible force, and Sam falls forward again, the pack still holding her, but Jack can see that she’s barely on anymore.
“Sam!” he cries out, tries to reach for her again.
“No!” she replies. “Do not reach for me,” she commands him.
“Sam,” he pleads.
“Jack, promise me you won’t reach for me,” it’s a request and a plea; she can’t lose him, even if she has to die, she can’t die with him.
The heated exchange continues with their eyes. They’re communicating so much in silent body language, it almost means more than the real words, than the real confessions.
“Sam,” he breaks the silence, and she tilts her head and cants her mouth open, slightly. “I’ve never…”
She shakes her head at him, willing him not to speak, not to confess what she already heard him say in a room with just her, him, and a scantily dressed Tok’ra.
“I know,” she whispers, “I…”
“Sam, I have to—”
“Guys!” they both hear from above. “Sam! Jack! Are you still okay?” It’s Daniel’s voice, they both know. The tear of emotions, the divide between elation at the sound of rescue and hatred against an interruption at the potential confession war at her. She drops her head while he looks up.
Suddenly, there’s a shift, and she can’t hear her emotions anymore, becomes numb to them.
Jack feels his own instead.
“Daniel!” he says, sedately. “Sam needs rescuing, STAT.” He tries to inflict emergency into his tone, but he’s still caught in what was happening below the cliff’s edge. They stare at each other, the looks sealing their understanding of what each one was about to say, and knowing that now, upon their rescue, it has to remain unsaid. The room they lock stuff in is getting crowded, and they’ve just added pinks and purples to it in large bucketfuls.
When he finally makes it up, over the edge of the cliff and safely on solid ground, he surveys the area, finds the rescue team, finds Daniel near a gathering of rocks, Teal’c not too far from him. On the ground, resting on the rocks, is Carter, her body covered in dirty, her head being attended by a rapid response person Fraiser undoubtedly insisted on sending along, and a look of resignation on her face. She’s tired, he can see that, and beyond having a nasty head injury, she’s just been face to face with a very early death. He knows that this type of experience can push any seasoned soldier over the edge.
He walks over calmly, nods at Daniel and Teal’c who get him, understand he needs a moment with his Major. They none-so-gently shove the nurse, EMS, medical person over, engaging them and walking with them back to the gate. Sam watches the happenings with eyes that are glazed over, haunted, unwell. He approaches and gracelessly drops next to her on the floor.
“So, Major,” he prefaces what he can only guess will be an awkward conversation.
She just stares at the floor in front of her, studies the dirt at her feet with amused intentness.
“You ready to head back?”
She shakes her head. “No,” she answers, swallows. “I just need a minute, Sir.”
He nods. “Sure,” he says easily, and offers her his shoulder, offers her his whole heart. She sees his offer, takes it for what it is and rests her head on his shoulder. With steady hands, he moves his arm to draw her close, closer to his heart. They sit there for a moment; they end up sitting there for a while. He thinks of all the times he’s wanted to do this, wanted to offer her this kind of comfort but couldn’t, wouldn’t. He wonders when the charade will end and when people will start pointing out what he knows already. He’s in love with her, has been for years. He can’t live without her, wouldn’t want to, and he can’t imagine a life where Samantha Carter has fallen off a cliff, doesn’t exist, doesn’t control his future. He wonders at their near death experience, wonders at their near confessions, the moment where things could have changed for real. It’s all a ruse, really. She knows and he knows that their lives are intertwined, their lives are linked. He was about to tell her that he loved her, has never really told her so, has never kissed her until her knees gave out. He sighs, lets out a large breath, braces himself for the life he must keep on living, the fight he must keep on fighting.
“That was a close shave, Major,” he says instead, because really, he can’t tell her that he loves her more than life itself.
Her head moves up and down on his shoulder, on his chest. She’s nodding, sure, but he also imagines that she’s rubbing up against him, gaining some kind of comfort from his nearness.
“It was really close,” she says finally, her voice nothing but a whisper.
He runs his right hand over her head, down her hair. This is all he can have right now, this is all he can give.
“I was thinking,” he speaks casually, running his hands up and down her hair, “that when we get back, have some downtime, that maybe you can find us some weed.”
She freezes, lifts her head from his chest and looks oddly at him. He looks right back at her, and one side of his lips quirk up in her favorite grin.
“We could go ice skating,” he adds to his offer, “I’ll teach you the best way to stay off your ass.”
She doesn’t laugh, but her lips quirk up too, and it’s the closest to a smile he’s going to get from her on this particularly shitty day.
“Can we wait to get high after we finish ice skating?” she asks, returning to her spot on his chest.
He nods, settles in against the dirt prepared to wait with her until she feels ready to get back up.
“We can get high and fall down in any order you want, Carter. I’m all yours,” he says, truth in every word.