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19 January 2012 @ 10:27 pm
Fic: Endurance Past the Point (9 of 19)  
Summary, notes, and warnings are located in the Table of Contents.


Part 9

Hammond met SG-1 as they returned through the gate.  They stopped at the bottom of the ramp and Jack reported, “Successful mission, General.  We went, we saw, we brought home souvenirs.”  


The general nodded.  “How was the planet, Colonel?”

“Whole lotta nothing, if you ask me.”  He pointed to the box Daniel was handing off to the waiting science team.  “Although the geology department might be over the moon about the rocks we brought back.  Who can tell with those guys?”

Hammond suppressed a smile.  He had known that Jack would find this survey mission to be incredibly boring, but he had thought it best to ease them back into the mission schedule to give them some time to acclimate to functioning with Major Carter.  “All right, everyone.  Go get cleaned up and checked out.  Written reports will suffice for this one.”

He watched them head out for the locker room, concerned at the lack of chatter and joking that would normally be bouncing between them after a milk-run mission like this one.  He shook his head as he walked back up to his office  Their making the adjustment to working with Carter had become even more important than he had originally thought.  He grimaced as he recalled his conversation with Dr. MacKenzie earlier that morning informing him that her recovery could take longer than any of them had considered.

“General, I am fairly certain that she is holding back.  Until she begins to participate fully in the therapy, I can’t even begin to guess how long this process may last.  And if she recovers enough to be reassigned to active duty,” MacKenzie began.

“If?” the general interrupted sharply.

MacKenzie took a breath and nodded.  “Yes, General.  If she is able to return to active duty, I would recommend that she not be placed with her original team.”

Hammond’s surprise was betrayed only by his widened eyes.  Somehow the idea of the major serving on another team was almost harder to picture than pulling her from active duty permanently.  “Are you sure, Doctor?  I have found that more than most, members of SG-1 tend to draw both strength and comfort from their own team.”

MacKenzie was unwilling to divulge specifics based on one session and nodded.  “Well, it’s still very early, General.  We will know more as we progress.”


~SG1~


As they entered the locker room, Jack finally spoke.  “Man, I miss Carter on missions like these.”

Daniel looked over from his locker where he was pulling out his shower kit.  “Yeah, it’s not the same without her.”

Feeling ornery, Jack snapped at him. “No, I just meant that I can order her to wade out into the river to get a water sample, whereas you, Daniel, have to be cajoled and bribed.  And we still had to listen to you complain for hours.”

“Well, I had water in my ears.  Do you know how annoying that is?”  Daniel closed his locker with more force than necessary.

“If you had paid more attention to what you were doing, you wouldn’t have dunked yourself.”

“Whatever, Jack.  I am going to take a hot, hot shower and go to bed.”  Daniel shouldered past him and headed for the showers.

Jack called snidely after him.  “Watch out in there, Daniel!  You might get wet!”

Teal’c watched Daniel stalk off muttering in what sounded like several different languages.  He silently reflected that truly, he missed Major Carter most of all.  She provided pleasant distraction during Daniel and O’Neill’s more childish interactions, such as the one that had just occurred.

Jack looked at the showers but decided it wasn’t worth the effort right now.  He would either get into another fight with Daniel, or they would ignore each other.  It felt like most of the last twenty hours had been spent in silence, the three of them only speaking when absolutely necessary.  Jack figured that was probably his fault; as team lead he set the tone for the mission.  Leaving after that argument with Carter had put him on edge and he had a feeling that he’d been taking it out on his team.  With a shrug and a nod to Teal’c, he headed back out in the corridor.

Daniel stood under the hot spray and tried to relax.  Why the hell was he giving Jack a hard time?  Maybe because they’d spent the better part of the mission trying to pretend everything was normal when Sam’s absence was practically screaming at them every time they turned around.  It was like trying to function without a limb.  First they couldn’t get the readouts on the MALP to work right.  Then they had to try to decode the scientists’ requests by themselves.  Sam always made it look so easy: at x coordinates we obtain samples of y; at z coordinates, we need samples of n.  How the hell she got that from the scribbled notes they’d had to work with, he could not fathom.  

Leaning into the water, he felt the tension start to ebb.  He really had been an ass.  Jack had too, of course.  But Daniel realized that, while Jack would try to deny it, not having Sam there was bound to be harder on him than pretty much anyone else, with the exception of Sam herself.  


~SG1~


After a quick checkup in the infirmary, Jack headed to Sam’s lab to see how angry she still was about the day before.  He walked briskly down the corridor, mentally trying out different opening lines to break the ice.  As he rounded the doorway, raising his hand to knock, he froze, all senses on alert.  

Carter and the new lieutenant were standing facing each other in the middle of the room.  Blaine’s voice was surprisingly steady in the face of Carter’s glare as she said, “Major, you’re miscalculating the vector coefficient.  It would skew the whole result.”

“Oh really,” Sam replied coldly.  If Jack was honest, it even sounded vaguely threatening.

The lieutenant paled slightly but stood her ground.  “Yes, ma’am.  If we look at the equation this way...”

Sam took a few steps toward the young woman.  “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Jack was disturbed by what he was seeing.  There was an edge to her voice, a sense of barely suppressed violence in her movement.  This wasn’t an impassioned Sam Carter emotionally defending an hypothesis.  This was either a calculated attempt to intimidate or his 2IC was about to lose it.  Either way, he had to get her out of there.

Jack cleared his throat and said firmly, “Major, time to take a break.  Let’s go.”  

He watched her take one more step toward her assistant.  Just as he decided to physically intervene, she stopped and turned a puzzled expression toward him.

Sam heard his voice, heard the no-nonsense command tone and looked toward the doorway.  When the hell had he shown up?  And for that matter, why did Lt. Blaine look so unsettled?

“Carter,” Jack echoed more gently from the door.

She thought for a second.  He wanted her to take a break.  “Yes, Sir.”  She nodded toward Blaine.  “I’ll be back in a little bit.  Just... just do whatever you think needs to be done.”  She walked out of the room and started down the corridor without waiting for the colonel.

After she left the room, Jack looked at the vaguely shell-shocked young woman.  “Lt. Blaine, meet me in my office in an hour.”

Blaine watched the older officer leave, putting her hands over her face as she heard him join Carter down the corridor.  Great, not only had she been damn near insubordinate to a superior officer and one of the best-known members of the SGC, she had done it in front of one of the most-feared members of the SGC.  I am so screwed, she thought.


~SG1~


They ended up in the commissary.  Jack wasn’t hungry, but Carter seemed to have a decent appetite for which he was grateful.  She was still painfully thin and had gained almost no weight since being released from the infirmary.

He waited while she started to eat to see if she would say anything.  After five minutes of silence, he finally broke down.  “What the hell was that back there?” he asked

She put down her fork as she shook her head, still confused by his apparent uneasiness and the nearly angry look on his face back in the lab.  “What do you mean?”

“You looked like you were ready to beat the crap out of Lt. Blaine.“

She chuckled.  “I think you’re misreading the situation, Sir.  We were just having a difference of opinion.”  

Jack stared at her.  What he had witnessed left no room for interpretation.  But nothing about the woman sitting in front of him was consistent with being only minutes away from a nearly murderous rage.  He toyed with the idea that she could still be feeling the effects of withdrawal from the sarcophagus.  

“Well, was she right?”

She bristled a bit.  “I don’t think so, Sir.  Can I ask why you’re so interested in how I handle my staff?  You’ve never gotten involved before.”

Because he doesn’t trust you anymore, a voice whispered in her head.  

“I’ve never seen a need to before.  But that situation just had bad written all over it.”  

“Yes, Sir.”  She looked away from him trying to control her reaction.  MacKenzie’s voice echoed in her head, “...some part of you is perceiving them as the enemy.”  Her eyes focused on the table in between them and fragments of her dream hit her when she saw his hands.  Swallowing against the sudden wave of nausea, she pushed her half-full tray away.  “Sir, I need...  I’d like some time alone.”

He saw the look of panic and frustration in her eyes and nodded.  “Go on, Carter.”  He leaned back in his chair watching her rush from the room.


~SG1~


Jack was seated at his desk when Lt. Blaine entered.  She stood silent and still waiting for the colonel to acknowledge her.  She had spent the past hour thinking of all the arguments and defenses she could present but didn’t know if she’d even have the chance.  Colonel O’Neill was notoriously protective of his team.  That, coupled with Major Carter’s seniority and the fact that she’d saved this and other worlds multiple times, did not give her much hope that the colonel would give her side much more than a cursory hearing.

It felt like forever before he looked directly at her and said, “At ease, Lieutenant.”  She relaxed infinitesimally.  At least he hadn’t started out yelling.  “Why don’t you tell me what it was I walked in on earlier?”

She took a deep breath.  “We were working on analyzing the fragmentary data recovered from Ugallu’s device, Colonel.  There are several remnants of navigational log data and Major Carter theorized that we could extrapolate a possible heading or maybe even location that he favors.”

“But you disagree?”

“No, Sir.  The theory is sound, although I’m not sure we have enough extant data to really narrow it down.”

“So what was the argument about?” he asked, keeping his voice calm and quiet.  Blaine looked terrified and the last thing Jack wanted to do was make her clam up.  His conversation with Carter had gotten exactly nowhere and he needed to know what was happening.  

“I disputed some of the major’s calculations, Colonel.”

Jack’s couldn't entirely suppress the dumbfounded look that crossed his face.  A hint of amusement colored his voice as he replied, “Not many people have successfully challenged Major Carter on her math skills, Lieutenant.”

“But she was wrong, Sir.”  Blaine’s eyes snapped front as she realized that she was being more aggressive in her stance than she had meant to be.  However, Jack barely noticed.  Years of working with Carter and Daniel had accustomed him to this brand of stubborn scientist.  

“How can you be sure?  The major’s been doing this a lot longer than you.”

The lieutenant gave him a nearly-Carterian look.  “Do you really want me to explain it to you?”

He thought for moment and decided he didn’t need a math headache on top of the one already building.  He shook his head briefly.

“Ok then.  Basically, she’s ignoring a constant that she herself defined.”

He looked at the lieutenant.  Her nerves had given way now that she was in an area where she was confident.  Of course, confident didn’t necessarily mean right.  But he was satisfied that she had no hidden agenda and was honestly trying to do the right thing.

“What would be the upshot of this mistake?”

“We’ll be looking in entirely the wrong area for Ugallu.  And Sir...” she trailed off.

“Lieutenant?” he prompted.

“Permission to speak freely, Sir?”

There was no way he was going to like this but there was no way he could ignore it.  “Granted.”

“I only met Major Carter a couple of times before she went missing.  But I’ve read everything she’s ever written, at least that’s available to my security level, and I don’t see how it’s possible that she is making this type of mistake.”

He looked closely at the younger woman.  “What are you saying?”

She stuttered for a moment before her courage reasserted itself.  “Is it possible she’s doing this deliberately?  I mean, she’s making assumptions that have no basis in fact, ignoring contradictory formulae.  At first, I assumed it was just that she was making intuitive leaps that I wasn’t following.  She’s certainly well-known for that, but this is... It’s different.”

Jack took a deep breath, giving himself a moment to control the wave of anger at her implication.  He couldn’t just dismiss her concerns though.  Mistakes were one thing; willful rejection of facts was something different, something that just wasn’t Carter.  

Jack thought for a moment and then issued his order.  Carter is going to hate me for this.  “Lieutenant, I want to compile a report of your own, independent of Major Carter’s.  You will deliver it to me personally.  No one else is to know about this.”

She nodded.  “Yes Sir.”  

“Dismissed, Lieutenant.”

She left his office and he sat for a long time thinking.  A phrase from an old James Bond novel kept dancing through his head: Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action.  The anomalies were piling up.  

He considered reporting this incident to Hammond or Fraiser, but all he really had were a workplace dispute and a lieutenant’s gut feelings.  Memories of MacKenzie railroading Daniel into a ‘mental health facility’ when he was actually suffering the effects of Machello’s nanites made Jack reticent to make this official.  So it was up to him, for now.  He picked up the phone and dialed Teal’c, asking to meet him in Daniel’s office.

Daniel and Teal’c both noted Jack’s agitation the minute he walked into the room, closing the door behind him.  They exchanged a concerned look at the heaviness of his step, the slight stoop to his shoulders.  

“Jack,” ventured Daniel cautiously.  “What’s happened?”

He leaned against Daniel’s desk.  “Have you guys noticed anything weird with Carter lately?”  He sighed to himself.  The whole situation for the past two months was beyond weird.  He tried to clarify.  “Beyond what we would expect given everything she’s been through.”

Teal’c looked thoughtful but shook his head briefly.  Daniel looked apologetic.  “I haven’t really had much of a chance to see her in the last few days.  I was planning on dropping in on her this evening.  But you’ve seen her and obviously  something is worrying you.  What is it?”

“I walked in on her laying into her new lab assistant earlier.  Carter can’t give me a coherent explanation of what led up to it, but Blaine gives a fairly convincing account that put Carter in the wrong.”

“And you believe her?” Teal’c inquired.

Jack screwed his face up.  “Let’s just say that I believe it enough that I think we should maybe keep an eye on her for the time being but not quite enough to officially report it.  I’d like you two to try to just pop in on her throughout the day and just give me a heads up if something seems off.”

“Well, sure, we can do that,” Daniel answered for the both of them.  “But why just us?  What are you going to be doing?”

“The same, more or less.”  Maybe a little less than he wanted Daniel knowing right now; he just couldn’t handle the inevitable argument.  As her CO, he was already stretching protocol in not reporting this afternoon’s events.  By allowing Teal’c and Daniel to take point, he could maintain a little bit of distance and try to preserve his objectivity should further action be warranted.

Silence fell for a while before Daniel asked, “Jack, we obviously don’t know the whole story, what happened to her,” he gestured as he spoke, indicating himself and Teal’c.  “But you do?”

Jack nodded.

“Is it, was it that bad?  Are we going to lose her?”

Jack tried to assume a reassuring face.  “Jeez, Daniel, this is Carter.  Of course...”  His throat closed around the blatant lie.  He had no idea if she was going to come back from this.  “I don’t know.”  Daniel thought he had only seen Jack look this forlorn once before.  

“How bad are we talking?  She’s off the team, out of the program?  What could happen?”

A muscle in Jack’s jaw twitched.  “Any of the above.  I’m sure someone, somewhere is already talking about it.”

The three sat in silence again trying and failing to find words of comfort.


~SG1~


By the time Daniel came around, Sam had been back in her office for a couple of hours.  She had reviewed her notes from earlier time and time again trying to find the problem in her math.  She knew that something in the calculation was wrong, but couldn’t identify it.  Blaine had even told her what it was but the memory just danced on the edge of her consciousness, refusing to enlighten her.  

Once the numbers, formulae, and math had been part of a complex and beautiful language that had delighted her.  They sang to her from the page, the white board, any surface handy to scribble an equation.  This evening, the more she looked at the notebook in front of her, the more dull and deadened they looked.  Her brain felt numb, her intellect muffled.  For a quick instant, she thought she saw the problem, but then it hid itself once more.

Daniel stood for a moment observing her.  She looked broken, there was no other word for it.  The spark that he always associated with Sam was missing entirely.  She idly traced her fingers along the lines of the notebook in front of her, but showed no signs of taking any of the information, or indeed any outside stimulus, in.

Daniel’s knock on the door caused her to almost jump out of her skin.  He smiled sheepishly.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She tried to compose herself, closing the notebook and attempting a smile.  “No, Daniel.  I was just concentrating.  What can I do for you?”

“Nothing, Sam.  Haven’t seen you in a few days, just thought I’d drop by.  Are you okay?  Do you want to talk or something.”

Yes.  She opened her mouth and all she could force out was, “I...  I can’t.”

Daniel looked at her sympathetically.  “That’s okay.  It’ll come in time.  You want to grab something to eat?”

She shook her head.  “I’m not really hungry.”

He thought.  “Chess?  Gin rummy?  Chutes and Ladders?  I’m pretty easy here.  I’d just like to spend some time with you if that’s okay.”

A ghost of a smile crossed her face and the fog in her head lightened just a bit.  “My quarters?” she suggested.

He nodded and waited for her to close up.  Back in her room, they sat on the bed together, eventually shifting so that he was leaning against the headboard and she laid down with her head pillowed on his thigh.  He gently stroked her hair as they spent the next couple of hours alternating short chats with a semi-companionable silence.  He told her about their latest survey mission, including his unintentional swim and picked her brain for shortcuts to reading the science request forms.  He saw her eyes begin to grow heavy and allowed the silence to stretch out as she slowly fell asleep.

He sat quietly reading (or attempting to read) the astrophysics journal on her night table, wanting to give her enough time for sleep to really take hold before he tried to slide out from underneath her.  Just when he thought it would be safe, he felt her twitch and heard her breath catch in her throat.  Looking down, he saw her eyes moving behind her lids, tears beginning to fall down her face.  

He leaned over to try to gently wake her when she cried out so abruptly that he drew back immediately.  Listening to her sleep-addled words he could make out, “No, stop.”

He murmured her name softly, trying to wake her without shocking her, running his hand down her arm but froze at her next words.  “Jack, please stop.”  Then the words stopped and an awful painful keening hit his ears.  

Gentleness be damned.  He stood up, crouching next to the bed and pulled her sitting upright.  “Sam, wake up.  You’re dreaming.  You’re safe.”  

She started awake, Daniel’s intense expression inches from her face, his hands tightly locked around her arms, the insanity of her dream still ringing through her senses.  She pushed out against him and scrambled back across the bed.  A litany of “no, no, no, no” continued as she shook, pressed against the headboard, trying to make herself as small as possible.

Daniel sat up from where he’d sprawled backward on the floor.  He waited until she quieted, rocking back and forth, knees drawn up and secured within her arms.  Keeping his voice low, he said, “Sam, it’s just me.  You were having a dream, a nightmare.”

She looked at him and he was relieved to see the inexplicable fury had receded. Licking her lips, she replied, “Yeah, a nightmare.”

“I think I know the answer to this, but do you want to talk about it?”

She shook her head, her lips pressed together tightly.  

“Do you want me to stay?”

She shook her head again, even more vehemently.  

“You want me to go?”

He tried to reconcile the look of pain in her eyes with her deliberate affirmative nod.  Slowly, he stood, keeping his posture neutral, his hands in plain sight and moved toward the door.  Before he opened it, he turned back.  “I’m going to be staying here tonight.  So, if you change your mind, or if you need something, just call me.  Okay?”

“Thank you, Daniel.”  She surprised him by actually speaking but he took it as a sign that she was recovering from the dream.  “Good night.”

“Good night, Sam.”  The door closed behind him and she couldn’t suppress a slight sigh of relief.  She reached over and grabbed the team picture off the night table, not looking at it as she slid it facedown into the drawer.  Then she curled up tightly on the bed and willed herself not to fall asleep.