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09 January 2012 @ 09:54 pm
Fic: Endurance Past the Point (6 of 19)  
Summary, notes, and warnings are located in the Table of Contents.



Part 6

The next few days were difficult as Sam wrestled with fluctuating depressions and rages.  Jack, Daniel, Teal’c, and Jacob kept up with the visitation schedule to ensure that one of them would always be available if she wanted company.  Often she didn’t and whoever was there would be relegated to the hallway or Janet’s office.  Each felt it was worth it though, to have someone on hand for when the tears would start and she would reach blindly out, holding on to them like a lifeline.

General Hammond started every day with a report from Dr. Fraiser, keeping very close tabs on Carter’s progress.  Finally, the fourth morning after the ill-fated chess game, she had good news to report to Hammond and O’Neill.

“The worst seems to be over.  Her test results are all normalizing and it appears that she actually slept through the night.  Additionally, her physical recovery is on schedule and I am starting her on real food today.”

Jack asked dryly, “And what constitutes ‘real food’ in this case?”

The doctor hesitated before answering.  “Low-sodium chicken broth.”

“Delicious,” Jack commented. At Fraiser’s look of exasperation, he held up his hands in a placating gesture.  “I know, Doc, I know.  Start slow.”

Hammond interrupted.  “This is very good news, Doctor.  I’m sure we all thank you for your hard work.”  He cut his eyes to his 2IC while stressing ‘all’.

“Of course we do, General,” agreed O’Neill.  He spared a warm look for his favorite doctor.  


~SG1~


Jack was working on paperwork in his office after lunch.  With SG-1 not active at the moment, he had actually managed to get through a large chunk of the rather imposing backlog of reports that constantly littered his desk.  He would have rather spent all of his time sitting with Sam, but thought that might not be the best of ideas on a gossip-prone base.  So, he kept himself occupied and productive.

He looked up as Daniel knocked briefly on the open door to get his attention.  “Yeah?” he asked, going on alert.  Daniel was supposed to be on Sam-duty.  Fraiser would have called if there was an emergency, but just the same, he felt tension building in the split second it took Daniel to speak.

“Hey, SG-6 has apparently gotten themselves locked inside some structure on P7R-396.  Hammond asked me to go out and see if I can, I don’t know, read the instructions.”  Daniel’s annoyance that they hadn’t thought to read the instructions first was obvious in his voice.  “Anyway, I’ve got to head out, like right now, so can you check in on Sam?”

Jack stood up and stretched.  “And leave all this paperwork?” he asked with a smile.  

Daniel grinned back at him.  “The sacrifices you make for your team.  I’ll see you when I get back.”

As soon as Jack stepped through into the infirmary, he saw a paper cup flying through the air, crumpling against the wall, liquid splashing out.  Tracing its trajectory back, he saw Carter’s face set in anger which quickly changed to remorse when she saw him.

“I wasn’t aiming at you, Sir,” she stammered out, trying not to let her voice betray her emotions.

He glanced at the liquid spot on the wall well over two feet away from him and replied, “I hope not, Major.  Otherwise, we need to talk about your aim.” He wandered over to her bed where she was sitting up, with a laptop open on the tray table in front of her.

“You want to talk?”

She sighed in exasperation.  “No, god, no I don’t want to talk about it.” She laid back turning her face toward the wall, trying to regain her composure.

He shrugged as he eased down into the chair.  “No problem. I brought some knitting to keep me occupied.”  She whipped her head around in confusion, her eyes seeking out his noticeably empty hands.  “Just kidding, Major.”

She only barely resisted rolling her eyes.  “Very funny, Colonel.”

“What, you don’t think I could knit?”  Saving her from the forced banter that wasn’t going anywhere anyway, he indicated the laptop.  “Whatcha working on?”

“My report for the general,” she said quietly.

“Carter, seriously, you know you can do that anytime.  There’s no rush.”

She smiled weakly.  “I just want to get it over with, Sir.”  She had hoped that perhaps by putting some of it down on paper, it might stop rattling around her head.  It seemed that every time she closed her eyes, she would see Ugallu; every time she slept, she returned to that cell to feel him touch her, torture her.

He nodded.  “Mind if I look?” he asked.  If she didn’t want to talk about it, maybe he could get a clue from reading what she was writing when she decided that the poor cup needed to die.

She absolutely did not want him reading it.  However, she acquiesced, knowing that he would read it eventually anyway in his capacity as her CO. “No, Sir.  Go ahead.”

She turned her face away from him again as he pulled the laptop closer.  She didn’t want to see his expression as he read what she had experienced.

Jack put on a neutral face and didn’t worry about reading the beginning.  He would read the entire report in detail, alone, when she completed it.  For now, he guessed that whatever was bugging her was closer to where she had stopped writing.  Her final paragraph before the blinking cursor was about Ugallu burning her.  Jack froze as he read her descriptions of the instruments he used and the duration of the torture.  He concentrated on controlling his breathing before he attempted to say anything.  

“Sam, look at me.”

She reluctantly turned to him, but refused to meet his eyes.  She wished desperately that she could suppress her emotions, hide away the pain and the shame, but even with the worst of the withdrawal passing, everything still felt raw and too huge for her to contain.  

He looked at her carefully, trying to divine her mood without making her feel on display.  A faint flush on her cheeks, eyes cast down, hands open but fidgeting.  Guilt? he wondered. She wouldn’t be the first survivor to feel that.

“Carter, you are not responsible for what that psycho goa’uld did.  You were amazing, what you withstood without breaking...”

She looked up sharply.  The look in her eye confirmed his suspicion of guilty feelings.  “You don’t understand, Colonel.  You don’t know.”

“Know what, Major?” he asked gently.  

“When he...”  She nodded at the computer.  Jack indicated that he understood she was referring to the burning incidents.  Her lip trembled.  “I would’ve told him anything.  Anything at all to make it stop.”  She looked at him, lost and scared.  “He just never asked any questions.”

Tears formed in her eyes as she waited for him to voice the condemnation she had been heaping on herself for days.  She wanted, almost needed, to hear it from him.

He sat back for a moment, scrubbing a hand through his hair.  This was a delicate situation and he didn’t want to say the wrong thing.  He had seen his fair share of soldiers returned from enemy captivity.  Coping mechanisms varied from person to person, but it wasn’t unheard of for the captive to become used to the treatment they received at the hands of their captors. Even being treated badly could be reassuring when it was the only thing left to count on.  The look on Carter’s face was practically begging for him to reprimand her, to tell her she was weak or a disappointment.  It was obvious to him that she wasn’t.  But would she believe him if he said anything else?

“Maybe you would have, Major.  We’ll never know.”  He saw the protest in her eyes.  “Aren’t you the one who keeps telling me that infinite possibilities exist in any given moment?”  Her eyes flashed at having her own words thrown back in her face.  

“Carter, you don’t know what you actually would have done if he had asked you anything.  The upshot of it is that he didn’t get any information out of you and for that, you can be proud.”  He could see the disbelief in her eyes.  

“But Sir, how can you...  I mean, if I’m ever cleared for active duty again, how will any of you be able to trust me?”

“Same way we did before, same way we do now.  You will always have my trust.”  He caught her eyes and held them for a moment before she looked away.  He hoped that he had caught the faintest look of understanding there.

They were quiet for a while.  She knew, without a doubt, that she would have answered anything in those days.  But the colonel made sense: ‘would have’ didn’t matter, only what happened mattered.  So why didn’t she feel better?  

“Colonel, I never asked.  When you got me, did you... was he...?”

Jack shook his head, wishing he had better news for her.  “No, he was gone before we got there.  Took almost everything with him, left a few Jaffa behind to give us a hard time, and scrammed.”

“Almost everything, Sir?”

Jack half-smiled.  “Yeah, Ferretti’s team brought back some sort of doohickey.  No one seems to be able to make heads or tails of it.  Maybe you can take a shot at it when you’re out of here.”

She tried to suppress the uncomfortable feeling in her stomach at the idea.  “Sure, I’d love to.”  She even managed to inject a shadow of her typical enthusiasm into her voice.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.  She spoke up.  “Sir, I’m feeling pretty tired.  If you don’t mind, I’m just going to get some sleep.”

“Not at all, Major.”

She laid down on her side, her back to him.  He waited for her to ask him to talk to her like she had every other time he’d been there when she tried to fall asleep, but she said nothing.  So he sat quietly, watching as her breathing eventually evened out.  He checked his watch; he still had a few hours to go before Jacob would be down to relieve him.  

He thought about the conversation they’d just had, her desperate cry for punishment.  All this time, his thoughts had been focused on getting her home.  He’d acknowledged, at least academically, that she was undergoing an horrific experience and that there would be long-term consequences.  But he had swept that under the mental rug with vague promises of ‘we can get past this.’  

He realized that he had seen other flashes of this type of behavior in the last few days, but he had put them down to the withdrawal symptoms.  With that excuse rapidly fading, he had to face the fact that they were looking at probably months of therapy and even that was no guarantee that they’d get her back.  Taking a deep breath, he pulled the laptop back over and scrolled back to read her report from the beginning.  

It took him over an hour to get through it, due to his need for frequent breaks.  Even decades of military training couldn’t help him to separate the words on the screen from the woman lying a foot away from him.  Her report was thorough, not just in detailing her experiences at the Goa’uld’s hands, but in assessing possible strategic weaknesses: patterns, layout of the compound, number of Jaffa.  Despite his overwhelming sense of revulsion, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride that she had kept her wits about her for so long, cataloguing and memorizing everything she witnessed.  

After he finally finished, he found himself pacing around the infirmary, picking up and playing with objects that he was sure Fraiser would rather he left alone.  He checked his watch again.  Another half hour.  He was itching to get away from here, to get away from the heavy blanket of agony that was smothering him.  He needed to find a place where he could release it without worrying about it blowing back on her.  But he wouldn’t leave her to possibly wake alone.  He couldn’t.

He was playing with a blood pressure cuff, depressing the bulb with aggravated contractions of his fist.  Suddenly, he noticed the sounds from Carter’s monitor changing in frequency.  He hurried back to Sam’s bed.  The numbers on the monitor were going crazy, her heartrate surging, blood pressure; nothing was staying the same.  Fraiser came running out of her office.  

“What happened?”

He shook his head.  “She’s been asleep for over an hour.  I don’t know.”

Fraiser stepped back.  “She’s dreaming.”  She looked thoughtfully at the numbers on the monitor, debating the wisdom of administering more sedative.  Sam suddenly sat straight up and letting out an ear-splitting scream, nearly animalistic in its tone.  Her eyes opened and her hand flew up to her cheek, frantically feeling the still bruised, but intact skin under her fingers.  

Janet leaned in, speaking softly.  “Sam, honey?  We’re right here with you.  What do you need?”

Her breath coming in frantic gasps, her cheek still stinging from the remembered burn, she stammered out, “A mirror.  I want to see.”

Janet looked uncertain, but based on their earlier conversation and having read her report, Jack was pretty certain what Sam had been dreaming about.  He nodded at the doctor.  She retreated to her office quickly and came back with a small makeup mirror.  She handed it silently to Sam.

Summoning her courage, she slowly brought the mirror up to eye level.  Sam had never considered herself overly vain; she certainly took pride in her appearance, but did not place the premium on beauty that society at large did.  But she didn’t know if she could live with seeing the evidence of what he had done to her day after day after day.  She let out a sigh of relief.  The face staring back at her was still recognizable.  Much of the swelling had subsided and the bruises were mostly nasty shades of purple and green, but it was her.  The burns had been washed away by the sarcophagus.  Trembling, she handed the mirror back to Janet.  

Looking at Jack, she asked, “Could you tell me another story?”  Janet smiled and returned to her office, while Jack settled in his chair to regale her with the tale of his first time fishing.  He had learned over the last few days that it did not matter what he talked about, as long as it was something he could inject true feeling into.  Her eyes were growing heavy when Jacob stepped into the room.

“Dad?” she said sleepily.

“Hey, Sammie.”  He nodded at Jack who stood up and offered his chair.  

Jack leaned down and said quietly, “I’m going to go for now.  I’ll be back later.”  She nodded slowly.  As he walked out, he could hear Jacob talking softly to her.

He walked out into the corridor, anxious to find a space to clear his head but instead almost walking right into Sgt. Harriman.  He nodded to the gate tech and made to step around him, but Harriman said, “Colonel O’Neill, the general would like to see you in his office.”

Jack stood frozen for a minute, resentment welling up inside.  Was it too much to ask for a few minutes to himself to find a way to dispel all the anger and worry that he’d been suppressing for the last few hours?  He rubbed his hands across his face.  “In a while, Sergeant,” he replied tersely.  

“Sir?” Harriman was stunned at the colonel’s response.  

O’Neill said coldly, “Tell the general to wait 30 goddamn minutes.  I’ll be there.”  He turned on his heel and stalked away, leaving the confused tech wondering how to relay that message.

Teal’c was observing a mission briefing outside the general’s office when the very unhappy sergeant returned.  The general looked up from his desk.

“General, Colonel O’Neill said he would be here in 30 minutes.”

Hammond nodded his acknowledgement and Walter scurried from the office.  The general sat back, taking a deep breath.  He had been trying to cut his 2IC some slack given the stressful circumstances, but the rope was running out.  

Teal’c was also concerned when he overheard O’Neill’s response to the summons.  He quietly stood and left the briefing.  It did not take him long to find Jack assaulting the heavy bag in the base gym.  He stood there as O’Neill continued to work out his frustrations, his punches sloppy and unfocused, each movement fueled by raw emotion.  After a few minutes, he noticed Teal’c standing to the side.  

“The general send you to come get me?” he asked.

“No, he did not.  I came to find you because I am concerned about you, as is the general, I believe.”

O’Neill shook his head and headed for the locker room.  Teal’c followed behind him.  The brief workout did not seem to have been particularly effective.  Tension still radiated from the colonel.

“You feel great responsibility.”

Quickly toweling off the sweat, O’Neill grabbed a fresh shirt from his locker and started getting dressed.  He glanced at Teal’c.  “Yeah, I feel responsible.  Carter feels responsible.  We all feel responsible.  The only ones who don’t feel responsible are the Goa’uld, who are actually responsible for this shit!”  He slammed his locker door shut, the clang reverberating around them.  

Teal’c said, “There is nothing you could have done.”

Jack sagged back against his locker, resigned.  “I know that, Teal’c.  I just can’t help feeling...”

“You are not the only one who wishes that he had been in a position to prevent these events.”

Jack looked up.  On the surface, Teal’c appeared stoic as ever, but he could see the pain and regret in the Jaffa’s eyes. Another team member in pain that he hadn’t helped. “I guess I haven’t been the greatest friend lately?”

“Your priority has been Major Carter, as it should be.”

“My priority should be my team.  All of you.”  He couldn’t remember the last time they had all been in the same room together.  Probably waiting during Carter’s surgery.  

“O’Neill, the purpose of my visit was not to seek comfort, but to offer it.”  Teal’c nodded.  “After you have spoken with General Hammond, of course.”

Jack took the gentle nudge and heaved himself off the locker.  They walked slowly back down to the general’s office.  On the way Teal’c reflected.  SG-1 had been quite distant from each other lately.  He, Daniel Jackson, and O’Neill were no longer meeting together every night.  At first, Teal’c had thought that would no longer be necessary now that Major Carter was back.  In the Jaffa armies, it was a simple matter: either one was present and able to fight or they were not.  The Tau’ri took much greater pains with their injured warriors.  It occurred to him that perhaps the need for support among the rest of the team members was as great as ever.  And that support could only come, as it always had, from the unity of the team itself.  

Outside of Hammond’s office, Teal’c suggested, “I will spending some time with Major Carter this evening.  Perhaps you would join us?”

Jack nodded slowly, a small smile hovering at the corners of his mouth.  “Yeah, sounds good.  Maybe if Daniel’s back, he could make some time too.”

“I look forward to it.”

Jack tapped on the general’s door, mentally wincing at the dressing down he was sure was waiting for him.  He entered at Hammond’s acknowledgement.

“Have a seat, Colonel.”   Hammond pushed aside the report he had been reading and looked at O’Neill.  “I understand a little of what you’ve been going through over the past month, Jack.  Every commander loses people to death or injury and it is always hard.  Particularly so, in this case.  I will readily admit that the bonds SG-1 shares are unique and stronger than most other units.  I have tried to recognize that and be patient as you all deal with what has happened.”

“You have been most patient, General.  It is appreciated.”

“That being said, Colonel, when I request your presence, it is at my convenience, not yours.”  

“Understood, Sir.  I apologize for my behavior.  It won’t happen again.”

“Good.  Now that’s out of the way,” Hammond relaxed back into his chair after handing a folder over to O’Neill.  “Ferretti’s after-action report.  I’d like you to review it, let me know if you have anything to add.  I also wanted to bring you up to date on the interrogation of Ugallu’s Jaffa.”

“Let me guess, they’re not saying anything,” Jack commented.

“No, they aren’t,” the general agreed.  “However, our interrogators and Bra’tac both believe that it’s because they don’t know anything rather than loyalty to the goa’uld.  He never meant for them to rejoin him.”

“Damn,” Jack swore softly.  It had been a long shot, but he had really been hoping to get a shot at the bastard himself.


~SG1~


Daniel did indeed make it back and joined the others in the infirmary that evening.  When Sam looked up to see all three of them walking in, a genuine smile crossed her face, only for a few seconds, but it was there.  

With his talent for defusing tense situations, Daniel took charge of the conversation as they tried to feel out the new group dynamic.  Sam tried to participate, but often found her mind wandering and would spend long periods without saying anything at all.  She did laugh briefly at Daniel’s retelling of his adventures earlier that day which apparently centered on a mistranslation of ‘down’ as ‘up’.  All he’d had to do was hike several miles to read how to flip a switch.

Eventually, she settled back on the bed and just let them talk around her.  It felt right and wrong at the same time, but their voices were soothing and reminiscent of what her life had once been like.  For a minute, she let herself believe that she might get to have that again someday.