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26 January 2012 @ 01:06 pm
Fic: Endurance Past the Point (17 of 19)  
Summary, notes, and warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Part 17

Jack nearly bounced into the infirmary bright and early the next morning. He knew that Carter still had a long way to go in dealing with what had happened, but they were finally back on familiar ground and he was confident that they could do whatever needed to be done. He had gotten his first guilt-free night of sleep in his own bed for the first time in nearly two months. As he stepped in, his smile was replaced with confusion when he saw her empty bed.

“Doc?” he called out. “Are you missing a patient?”

“I’m here, Sir,” came Carter’s voice as she emerged from the changing area buttoning the last buttons on her shirt. She was still pale, still too thin, but she was standing on her own two feet and smiling at him. He didn’t think he’d ever seen anything more beautiful. He swallowed roughly as he nodded hello to her. 

“Good to see you up and about, Major.”

She smiled back, a bit uncertain. In some ways, it felt like they had just rescued her and she was desperately trying to re-align her sense of self in light of her time with Ugallu. With the colonel standing here, staring so intently at her, she felt off-kilter. Not uncomfortable, exactly, just unknown.

Janet came up behind her, smiling at the colonel. “I’m releasing her, Sir. As she has pointed out several times over the last couple of hours, there’s no reason to keep her here.” She stood next to Sam and looked up at her. “Provided, of course, that your first stop is breakfast.”

Sam nodded. “I’m starving.”

Jack motioned for Sam to ahead of him to the door. “Sounds like a plan.”

They walked the halls in a semi-companionable silence, their strides awkwardly mismatched at first until their natural synchronicity began to reassert itself. By the time they had loaded up their trays and chosen their seats, Sam was even comfortable making limited eye contact without her mind jumping to the kiss and what he say whenever they had ‘the talk’ he had promised.

She fell into her recently acquired habit of ignoring everyone at the other tables, but Jack hadn’t eaten with her since Ugallu’s plan had been revealed. He dismissed the curious stares as a hazard of being a member of SG-1. But he noted the each suspicious look that was thrown her way. He knew there wasn’t much he could do about it, officially. Nevertheless, he met each glance with a look of his own, and sure enough, the airman in question suddenly found that he or she was urgently needed somewhere outside of the commissary. 

She glanced at her watch as she finished her meal, then looked at Jack reproachfully. “Sir, you really need to get to work.”

He leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out under the table, just a hair from touching hers. “Not a busy morning, Major. I’m in no rush.”

“Sir, I’ll be fine,” she answered, jumping to the heart of his procrastination. He looked at her skeptically. “Really, Colonel.”

He sighed, reluctant to leave her on her own. “What are you going to be doing while the rest of us are off working?”

“Thinking,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do; a lot to process.” As she spoke, she remembered her nightmares from the night before. They were garden-variety compared to what she had experienced recently, but waking up in a panic several times throughout the night was enough to convince her that she had a lot of work ahead of her. She almost mentioned the dreams to the colonel, but he looked worried enough as it was. “And I’m going to see MacKenzie this afternoon. Maybe we can make a real start at trying to work through this.”

Despite his reluctance to let her out of his sight, he had to appreciate her desire to resume some measure of independence. He straightened up in the chair. “Okay.  You know where I am if you want me. To talk to,” he clarified quickly. 

“Yes, Sir,” she replied, biting back a smile at his juvenile sense of humor. 

“And how about we have a little team night this evening in your quarters? I’ll bring the food. If you think you’re up to it.”

She smiled openly now. “That sounds great, Colonel.”

~SG1~

Daniel tapped nervously on Sam’s door. Jack had mentioned the team night/dinner to him earlier in the afternoon and his stomach had been tied in knots ever since. He finally gave in and closed up his office early in the hopes of getting some time to talk to Sam before the other two got there. If she wasn’t going to be comfortable with him there, he would make his excuses and let her have her space.

His first thought when she opened the door was how tired she looked. “Daniel,” she said, surprised. “I wasn’t expecting you guys this early.” She stepped back to let him in.

“It’s just me. I was thinking we could talk for a bit,” he said as he stepped into the room, stopping when he saw the unmade bed. “I’m sorry, Sam. You were sleeping.”

She shrugged. “More like, not sleeping.” She sighed as she bent to straighten the covers. “It was a kind of rough session with MacKenzie this afternoon. I thought some rest might help, but it’s going to be a while before I get to that point, I think.”

Finished, she turned around to see Daniel sitting at the small table, huddled in on himself. Alarmed she took a seat next to him. “Daniel, what’s wrong?”

“I, I know that Jack talked to you about how we determined what Ugallu did to you.” She nodded. “I just need to know that we’re okay, you and me.”

“Oh!” Sam sat back. “Of course we are, Daniel.”

He looked at her. “Don’t blow me off, Sam. There were reasons you didn’t tell us everything before, things that you wanted to keep private, and now...” He kicked himself mentally to stop talking.

She paled slightly and her voice shook a little when she answered. “Look, Daniel, you did what you had to do. Would I rather that you didn’t know every detail of what happened? Maybe, for now. I don’t have any doubt that I would have talked to you about it eventually. Am I creeped out that you had to read it from his perspective? Yeah, a bit. I don’t even want to know what he wrote. And I can’t imagine how it was for you to read it.

“But you can believe me when I say that we are okay. I’m not going to let him take you away from me on top of everything else.” Her voice was strong and defiant, making him smile as he saw a shade of the Sam he knew.

He leaned forward to hug her. “Never.” He chuckled as he pulled away. “I don’t think you’re supposed to be the one consoling me, however.”

She waved a hand. “We’re a team, right? Besides, this whole damsel in distress thing gets old after a while,” she said, rolling her eyes. She was relieved to see Daniel relax a bit.

A firmer knock on the door announced the arrival of Jack and Teal’c with pizza, sodas, and movies. They all grabbed a slice and Teal’c put the movie in. To try to avoid triggering any flashbacks for Sam, they had selected several slapstick comedies. First up was Fletch. He set the second film on top of the television.

Sam settled on the couch between Teal’c and Daniel. Jack sprawled in the armchair. He was pleased to see that Sam was genuinely laughing at Chevy Chase’s antics onscreen. By the time they had switched the movies, watched all the previews, and started watching Airplane!, Sam’s eyes were drooping. Teal’c felt her head resting against his shoulder soon after and gently moved his arm, allowing her to lean against his chest, replacing his arm around her shoulder, holding her firmly as she slept.

Jack couldn’t deny a twinge of jealousy as he watched them, envying the fact that Teal’c could enjoy that level of physical closeness with her without constant worrying about regulations, perceptions, or crossing an invisible and ever-moving line. He was watching them almost as much as the movie, so he noticed pretty much immediately when she grew agitated.

Teal’c looked down when he felt Sam’s head jerk. She was uttering small sounds of pain, her lower lip trapped between her teeth so tightly, he was afraid she would draw blood. She kicked her foot out against Daniel’s leg. He looked over to see Teal’c softly stroking her arm, speaking in a soft, comforting whisper. Daniel rested his own hand on her ankle and looked over at Jack, watching them intently. He nodded to let Jack know they had it under control, even as he felt the tension in her leg easing.

Surrounded by gentle touches and a familiar voice, Sam’s nightmare slowly receded and she once again snuggled back into Teal’c. All three men relaxed enough to enjoy the rest of the movie, but stayed alert to her every movement. When the movie ended, Jack quietly suggested that they should call it a night. Sam woke as Daniel and Teal’c moved, blinking sleepily as she slowly remembered where she was. 

“Hey guys,” she smiled as she pushed herself to sitting, shaking her head to clear the sleep fog. “Sorry for falling asleep.”

“It was not a problem, Major Carter,” Teal’c responded as he helped Daniel gather together the remains of their dinner.

Jack stood up and offered a hand to help Sam to her feet as well. “We’re going to get out of your hair and let you get some real rest.” She did her best to hide her discomfort at the thought of being alone, but he caught the brief flash in her eyes. He squeezed her hand. “We’re just a phone call away.”

She held on to his hand for an extra moment, taking comfort in his touch. Reluctantly, disengaging from her, he stepped back to let Teal’c and Daniel say their goodbyes, hug her, and leave. When they were alone, he leaned against the table and stated, “You had a nightmare earlier.”

She nodded. The memory was a little hazy; their quick reaction had provided enough comfort to chase away the distress before it had really impacted her.

“Was it like before? Were we in it?” She hesitated. “You don’t have to answer. I just want to know if our being here is making things worse.”

She was torn between laughing and crying. “No, Sir. You all make it seem bearable. The nightmares are horrible, but it’s not...” She swallowed down the memory of those horrible hybrid dreams. “They’re just memories now.”

“Good. That’s good.” He stood up again and was heading toward the door when her voice stopped him.

“Colonel, do they stop?”

“Major?”

“The dreams, Sir.” She hated the fear that even these relatively more innocuous dreams instilled in her.

Looking in her eyes, he saw the fatigue and the fear hiding behind the brave military front that had been drilled into her, into them, over years. He walked back to her and pulled her into his arms. He could feel her resist at first, but she quickly gave in, dropping her cheek against his shoulder and he felt her hands on his back as she hugged him as well.

He spoke softly. “It’ll get better, I promise. I know that you will get through this.” He held her for another minute, one hand stroking her hair, wishing he had more to offer her.

She nodded, letting his strength buoy her flagging spirits. All too soon, however, he was pulling away. The reluctance she saw on his face mirrored her own feelings.

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Anytime, Carter.” He smiled. “Try to get some sleep, okay?”

“Yes, Sir.” She closed the door behind him, took a deep breath and readied herself for bed.

~SG1~

The next two weeks passed in a similar manner, each day giving more credence to the validity of Sam’s recovery, and General Hammond was more than happy to provide the final approval that would lift her restriction to the base. Her physical recovery was progressing and Sam had added a daily trip to the gym to her routine by the second week, working on rebuilding her strength and agility. She also found the physical workouts to be helpful in focusing and relaxing her mind.

She was leaving the locker room two days before her base restriction was to be lifted when she saw Daniel. She was surprised to see him in full gear as he anxiously waited for her.

“Hey, Sam.”

“Daniel,” she answered. “You going somewhere?”

“Yeah,” he answered, looking at his watch. “In about 15 minutes.”

“Cutting it a little close, aren’t you?” she asked, herding Daniel toward the elevator. She knew how cranky the colonel got when someone was late to the gateroom. 

“We had an unexpected... thing... come up.  Uh, technically, I’m not supposed to be able to tell you about it.”

She nodded her understanding. It had to be a little weird for Daniel and the others, not being able to talk to her about missions. Her security access wouldn’t be restored until she returned to active duty, which was dependent on the pace of her recovery. At this point, it looked like MacKenzie and Janet were leaning toward mandating a six-month medical leave with recommended intensive therapy.

He smiled apologetically. “I know you’re going home day after tomorrow. I just wanted to let you know that we’re scheduled to be back before then.”

She smiled at his concern, as much as the fact that he knew her well enough to be concerned. She had to admit that it the idea of leaving the base after all this time was a little daunting; it would be easier if she had her friends with her. She swiped her card to call the elevator. “Thanks for letting me know, Daniel.” The elevator doors opened and she let him step past her to enter.

“See you soon!” he called as the doors closed. She sighed, trying to dislodge the irrational feeling of panic that lodged in her chest at the idea of none of them being around and headed to the commissary for lunch.

~SG1~

She wasn’t surprised to not see them at all the next day, but when she hadn’t seen or heard from them by lunchtime of the day she was supposed to go home, she started to get a little worried. So when she returned to her quarters after her daily visit with MacKenzie to find General Hammond waiting for her, she felt her heartbeat stutter in her chest as she forced herself to walk the last few steps to stand in front of him. Her eyes searched his face and she breathed a little easier as she noted concern but not distress in his expression.

“Major Carter, I wanted to let you know that SG-1’s return has been delayed,” he said quickly, wanting to assuage the worst of her apprehension.

“Is everything okay, Sir?”

She caught his slight hesitation before he answered. “I have every confidence that they will be back soon.”

“Yes, Sir.” She wanted to push for more information but she realized that the general had already stretched protocol by telling her as much as he had. She didn’t miss the fact that he hadn’t mentioned their condition or a timeline for their return. Obviously, they were off-plan at this point. And she wasn’t there with them, for them.

“Thank you, General, for letting me know.”

“I know that they were planning on escorting you home tonight, Major; I understand that Colonel O’Neill moved your car back to your house some time ago. I assume you still want to leave?” he questioned.

She considered it. The thought of returning alone to an empty house was disheartening but still more attractive than the thought of spending even one more night on base when she didn’t have to. She nodded. “I do.”

Hammond smiled. “I’ll have an airman ready to drive you home at 1700 hours. You can take the weekend; when you return Monday morning, we’ll discuss how to proceed from this point. Now I really should get back. If I don’t see you before you leave, have a good weekend, Major.”

~SG1~

No news came that afternoon. Sam made her way to the infirmary for her final checkup before leaving. From this point on, she would be only be required to check-in with the doctor once a week. She loved Janet dearly, but was more than happy to cut back on their professional interactions. She waited until the doctor had given her the all-clear before she asked about her team.

“Janet, have you heard anything?”

“Sam,” she sighed, her reluctance quickly overcome at the sight of the pensive look on the blonde’s face. She kept her voice low. “All right. All I know is that there’s some kind of technical problem keeping them from getting near the gate. We’ve been able to contact them via radio when we’ve dialed in, but until they get past whatever it is, they can’t get home.”

“Is anyone hurt?” Sam asked.

“I have been told to expect casualties when they return, but I haven’t been told about anything serious at this point,” she hastened to try to comfort Sam.

Sam tried to breathe normally, tried not to let her mind run to the worst-case scenarios. She had asked, after all. “Okay, Janet. Thanks.”

She hopped off the table and started for the door, but Janet’s hand on her arm stopped her. She turned back.

“Do you want me to drive you home, Sam? Maybe have dinner?” Janet offered.

Sam shook her head decisively. “No, Janet. I want you here. For them.”

Janet nodded. “Remember, you can call me any time for anything, okay?”

Sam smiled and hugged the smaller woman. “Thanks,” she said and then hurried out.

She barely remembered to stop by the locker room to grab her house keys before leaving. She stood in front of her open locker, keys in her hand, staring at them as if she had never seen them before. How long had it been since she’d put them in there? She tried to remember what it felt like to turn the key in her front lock, to step into her own home, but it seemed so far away. She sat down suddenly, feeling overwhelmed and alone.

Alone. Her mind wandered to her team trapped offworld. Were they alone? Were there other teams there? Enemies? She felt like she should go barging into the control room, find some miracle way to get her team back, but she couldn’t. Not only was she not allowed, but she found that the very thought filled her with terror. What if everyone was wrong and she was still a liability? She would make things worse; they could end up permanently stranded... or dead. How the hell was she supposed to make the right choice when she couldn’t trust herself?

Taking a deep breath, she wiped the few tears that had spilled down her cheeks away and stood up. There was no choice to make right now. She wouldn’t be able to get near the control room anyway. She grabbed her jacket and slipped it on, dropping her keys in the pocket.

She signed out once she reached the surface, looking over her shoulder, waiting for someone to come tell her she wasn’t allowed to leave. Graham Simmons walked up to her. “Major Carter, General Hammond asked me to drive you home. Um, if you’re ready.” Even after all this time, the young man still was quite enamored of Sam; apparently, the recent questions about her loyalty had done nothing to dampen his admiration.

Sam looked back toward the elevator, wishing someone would come running out to tell her they were back and everything was fine. She bit her lip and turned back to Graham. “Let’s go, Lieutenant.”