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14 February 2012 @ 11:09 am
Fic: Endurance Past the Point (18 of 19)  
Summary, notes, and warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Part 18

Sam let her mind wander on the trip home, losing herself in the colors playing across the sky as the sun sank toward the horizon. She was slightly surprised when a slight cough from Graham alerted her to the fact that they were stopped at the curb in front of her house. She stared at the small one-story house for a minute. It had always seemed so welcoming before, but now it just looked cold and lonely. She thanked the lieutenant and declined his offer to accompany her inside.

As she walked up the path, she took in the neatly trimmed grass and orderly flowerbeds with a smile. She had no idea when they had found the time, but she was sure that one or more of her team had been here to get everything in order for her return; maybe they’d even been keeping it up the whole time she was restricted to base.

She turned as she unlocked the door, waving to the young lieutenant who was waiting to make sure she got inside safely, and stepped into the quiet house. A quick glance confirmed that the guys had kept up inside as well. No dust, her plants were in fairly good shape, and the house had definitely been aired out recently, which she appreciated greatly after having breathed recycled air for weeks on end.

She fixed herself a small salad, loading it with chickpeas, feta, and black olives. Daniel had obviously been responsible for restocking her kitchen, which now offered a number of options reflecting his own childhood favorites. After eating, she wandered restlessly around the house. It was a bit overwhelming that she was free to do whatever she wanted to. True, the past couple of weeks she’d been ‘free’ in the sense that she wasn’t under guard the whole time, but with limited security and being unable to leave the base, her options had remained extremely limited.

A bath! A shiver of delighted anticipation ran through her as she headed to the bathroom. She undressed while the tub filled with hot water and slipped in, laying her head back on a folded towel. She closed her eyes as she felt the moist heat surrounding her and soothing the tension from her body. A small smile appeared as she remembered the last time she had done this, the bath leading the way to some more intimate stress relief. Candles and bath salts had filled the air with seductive fragrances as her mind had spun fantasies of how Jack would touch her, his hands and lips meeting her skin, in a world somehow devoid of war. It was a guilty pleasure she only rarely allowed herself to indulge.

She became aware that her hands were moving lazily over her skin as she reminisced. Giving a mental shrug, she went with it, reacquainting herself with her own body. One hand idly traced figure eights on her abdomen, moving lower toward her thighs, while she brought the other one up between the hollow of her breasts, dripping water across her collarbone and shoulder. As her fingers slid down her arm, her eyes flew open and she sat up abruptly, unaware of the water splashing over the side of the tub. Pulling her legs up to her chest, she sat still, trying to breathe through the nausea that had risen with her memories.

His hands on her; his breath hot on her face, her neck; the futile struggles; his weight pinning her down, the physical pain dull beneath the emotional agony.

As she sat there, shaking with remembered fear, three words kept repeating in her head. I was raped. She had experienced it, she had included it in her mission report, but until now it had felt safely removed from her, as if the woman it had happened to had been left behind in that cell. Her skin was icy cold even in the warm water. She angrily pushed up to her feet and stepped out of the tub, drying quickly, roughing the towel over her skin. She splashed some cold water from the sink onto her face and looked up into the mirror.

There was no remaining trace of the injuries she had sustained in the days prior to her rescue. She looked at her unblemished skin, her bright eyes; she was the picture of health. He had been obsessed with that perfection, waiting anxiously for her to be returned to her cell every time she was revived by the sarcophagus. He would extol her physical virtues as he forced her to her knees or pushed himself inside of her.

After the third time, she had begun to look forward to the physical torture. She knew by then that once he started marking up her skin, whether by fist or knife or fire, she would be spared any more advances until she was restored to perfection again. She trembled as she looked at her reflection in the mirror with more disgust and hatred than she ever remembered feeling before.

She felt her hand curl tightly around something and vaguely realized she was pulling her arm back to smash the mirror, to destroy her reflection and ravage that sickening perfection. She looked at the heavy incense bowl poised to hit the mirror dead center;Teal’c had given it to her years ago when she had expressed an interest in meditation. And just as suddenly, she put the bowl down and stepped back from the sink, her breath coming in shallow gasps. She leaned heavily against the wall, trying to rein in her emotions.

She remembered earlier in the week when MacKenzie had told her that she would need to rebuild her identity just as surely as her strength and stamina. “You’ve been a prisoner, both of the enemy and of your own command. You’ve endured torture. You’ve died and been revived. I don’t want you to dwell on these unduly, but you will have to absorb all these things into your self-image.”

Rape. It wasn’t that she had thought she was immune to the threat. She was under no illusions as to what would have happened in Turghan’s camp had her team not shown up before nightfall on that early mission. But the threat, the close calls, still hadn’t prepared her for the reality and she had no idea how to reconcile what had happened to her with who she was or who she wanted to be.

Well, she thought wryly. I’ll definitely have something to talk to MacKenzie about on Monday.

Not wanting to push her tenuous control any further, she retreated to her bedroom where she pulled on some old sweats. She did a quick sweep through the house to make sure the doors and windows were locked and then slid under the covers on her bed. She rested against a pile of pillows and picked up the book sitting on her bedside table. Opening to the bookmarked page, she realized that she had no real memory of what it was even about, so she turned back to the first page and began again.

The random noises of the house and the neighborhood had her jumping every few minutes, making it impossible to pay attention to what she was reading. Her hand hovered over the phone as she debated calling Janet. She pulled her hand back, steeling her resolve and telling herself that she could get through one night on her own. She did however pull her personal weapon from the nightstand drawer and load it. She placed the loaded gun on top of the table and turned off the light.

When she woke for the third time that night due to nightmares, she pulled herself to sitting and looked at the clock. 5AM. No point in going back to sleep. Mackenzie had warned her to expect the dreams to worsen with the change of environment. But these weren’t just the post-traumatic dreams she had expected. In this last one, she had watched guiltily as her team fell one by one, stranded light years from Earth, under fire, and desperate for rescue. Without her.

She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, trying to clear the images. There was nothing she could do for them right now. She had to trust Hammond and the rest of the SGC to bring them home.

By the time she had grabbed a quick shower and some breakfast, the sky was turning rosy. Determined to keep busy, as well as to return to her old schedule, she decided to go for a run. Although her stamina wasn’t quite back to normal, causing her to scale back the intensity, she still found a measure of comfort in the brisk dawn air, the repetitive movement, and the rush of endorphins. As she walked back down her block, she saw her next door neighbor walking out to pick up the morning paper.

“Samantha! I thought I saw you back last night.” Susan Jones smiled brightly at Sam. Being retired, Susan had appointed herself as the neighborhood watch; she always knew the comings and goings of nearby residents. Sam knew that her unusual schedule and frequent unannounced trips were of intense interest to Susan, but typically just smiled and changed the subject.

“You were gone so long this time, I just knew something truly terrible must have happened. Thank god you’re back, safe and sound.”

“Thank you,” Sam acknowledged the heartfelt sentiment, while ignoring the unstated questions of where she had been and why she had been gone so long. “How have you been, Susan?”

The older woman laughed. “Oh, I’ve been just fine. Especially when those handsome men would come around to look after your place and take care of the yard.” Sam bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing at the slightly lascivious look on her neighbor’s face. “Now which one is your young man?”

Sam’s eyes widened. “Oh, none of them. Really, we’re just teammates.”

“Oh, that’s a shame. They’re such nice-looking young men.” Sam chuckled to herself at Susan’s characterization of them. Daniel, she supposed, could be considered a young man, although with everything they’d been through in the last few years, she was pretty sure he didn’t feel young anymore. The colonel may act like a kid at times but he had definitely left ‘young’ behind a while ago. And Teal’c had a good thirty years on Susan, at least.

Susan shook her head. “Well, don’t let me keep you. I’m sure you must have tons to do now that you’re back.” Her hopeful look as she threw out one last feeler quickly turned to disappointment as Sam smiled and said goodbye.

Back in her house, Sam tried to ignore her answering machine stubbornly not indicating a new message as she gulped down some water and freshened up. She then spent the rest of the morning in her office, sorting through the piles of mail. All of her bills had been sorted and, according to the handwritten notes on them, paid as well. The notes were written by both Jack and Daniel, so she carefully added up each man’s share and wrote out checks to repay them.

The quiet of her house combined with her worry about her team was too much. When she had finished lunch and still had no word from the SGC, she finally broke down and called Janet.

“Anything?” she asked as soon as Janet answered the phone.

There was a pause on the other end of the line and then Janet’s reassuring doctor voice answered, “They’re not back yet, but I spoke with Colonel O’Neill myself just an hour ago.”

That piqued Sam’s interest. It wasn’t standard procedure for the CMO to speak directly with offworld teams, unless there was a problem. “Janet?” she asked, not too certain that she wanted to know the answer.

“He’s fine, Sam. There are some injuries and I’m monitoring them from here. He was just giving me the latest updates on their conditions.”

“Goa’uld?” Sam asked tersely.

“No, just some pretty angry natives. As I understand it, their weaponry mostly consists of bows and arrows.”

Sam half-smiled. “The colonel hates arrows.”

“He mentioned that. Several times,” Janet emphasized, rolling her eyes. The man could take gunshots or staff blasts and keep on going, but a little arrow in the shoulder and it’s the end of the world. She just hoped the goa’uld never found out about that little foible.

“Anyway, I was going to call you this afternoon,” the doctor continued, anxious to distract Sam from speculating about the injuries. “SG-8 came back with some sort of virus and it looks like I’m going to be for a while.”

“Lockdown?”

“Probably not. They reported their symptoms before returning, so we were already taking precautions. But I do need to stay and observe them for a bit. I was wondering if you would mind swinging by to see Cassie. I feel better if I know she has adult contact at least once a day.”

Sam’s mood brightened at the idea. “I’d love to!”

Janet thanked her with a decided air of relief and hung up. Sam grabbed her keys and headed to her car. She experienced another moment of disorientation as she slipped behind the wheel. These actions, buckling up, starting the ignition, checking the mirrors, should be so familiar, yet they felt so strange, every one reinforcing how very different she was now.

~SG1~

Sam knocked on the door and found her arms full of squealing teenage girl as soon as the door opened. For several minutes, they just stood there as Cassie held her tightly. When she finally let go and stepped back to allow Sam into the house, there were tears on her cheeks but a giant smile across her face.

They spent the afternoon sitting on Janet’s back porch sipping iced tea. Sam was more than happy to let Cassie take the lead in the conversation, as most teen girls love to do. She smiled at Cassie’s not-so-subtle hints that there may be a certain someone who had caught her eye at school, but the teen would not divulge any further details, no matter how much Sam prodded.

They ordered pizza for dinner and Sam brought up college plans, encouraging Cassie to think ahead even if it was ‘years’ away. They had moved on to what Cassie wanted for her upcoming birthday by the time Janet wearily walked through the door, a couple of hours after sunset.

The doctor hugged her daughter and her friend, shaking her head mutely at Sam’s questioning eyes. Sam swallowed down the fear and worry and simply nodded. After chatting for a few minutes, she excused herself for the night. Janet walked her to the door, putting a comforting hand on her arm.

“I’m sure they’ll be home soon, Sam.”

Sam dredged up a smile from somewhere. “I know, Janet. I’m just not used to being on this side of the mission.” She shook her head. “I honestly don’t know how you do it.”

Janet pulled her into a tight hug. “Friends and family, Sam. Just remember that we’re here for you.”

~SG1~

She skipped the bath that night, just washing her face and brushing her teeth before bed. She settled back into the pillows with her book and was surprised when she was actually able to read a few pages in a row before being distracted. Another last minute circuit of the house and she settled to sleep. And again, dreams of her own trauma gave way by dawn to dreams of her team.

She spent the morning working on her motorcycle. Not much needed to be done as it was pretty much in running condition; neither Daniel nor Teal’c rode, so she was pretty sure that the colonel had been caring for it recently. Once she had verified that everything was in good working order, she changed into riding clothes and hit the road. She chose her favorite ride, heading north up the highway and returning through Pike National Forest. It was a long one, but she reveled in the freedom of the open road, the feel of the wind flowing around her, the greenery, and the sun. For a few hours at least, she left the tension and worry behind.

As she was finishing a late lunch back at home, the phone rang. She felt a pang of alarm as she picked up the handset.

Janet wasted no time once Sam picked up. “We’ve got them all back. They’re safe.”

Sam couldn’t hold back her sigh of relief. “They’re okay?” she questioned.

“Some injuries, nothing to worry about.” Sam could hear the activity level increase as Janet was speaking. “I’ve got to go, Sam. They’re coming in now. I just wanted to make sure you knew.”

“Thanks, Jan.” She hung the phone up and leaned against the counter, feeling almost giddy. She smiled as she set about the rest of her day.

~SG1~

Jack literally growled at the poor nurse trying to confirm that he had his home-care orders straight. It was 2300 and he had been trying to get off base for the last six hours. He had gotten his men checked out, helped settle Daniel into an infirmary bed, debriefed Hammond, helped to re-sort upcoming mission rotations with two teams now on downtime for the next week, and now this little twig of a nurse was reciting information that Fraiser had given him three hours ago.

Taking the sheet of instructions and sling from her hand, he forced a polite thank you, which did nothing to make up for his previous behavior if her frightened face was any indication. He did his very best not to run for the elevator and tapped his foot the whole ride to the surface. All he had been able to think about once they’d stepped back through the gate was Carter. If he was brutally honest, he’d spent more time on the mission thinking about her than he should have as well.

She’d had to go home without them. While he wasn’t arrogant enough to think that she didn’t have anyone else to function as a support network, they were her team. It felt nearly unforgivable to him, even as he knew it was unavoidable.

So, now he had ended up parked in front of her house at nearly midnight on a Sunday. All the windows were dark and he wondered what he was doing here. He should go home, pop a pain pill, and sleep for the rest of the week. But instead, he was sitting, watching the dark house and waiting; for what, he didn’t know.

A few minutes later, he could see a shaft of light filter through one of the windows. He sat there for a while and then the living room light came on and he could see her silhouette through the lightweight curtains. He watched as she walked through the house, checking each room in turn and came back to the living room, where she stood at the window for a minute before moving away. Jack leaned his head tiredly against the cool glass of the car window as he debated whether to go knock on her door.

He jumped when his cell phone rang on the seat beside him. The caller id displayed CARTER.

“O’Neill,” he answered per his deeply ingrained habit.

“Sir, I have very nosy neighbors. Perhaps you’d like to come inside before they decide you’re stalking me and call the cops?” He closed his eyes and just let her voice wash over him.

Taking a deep breath, trying not to sound as emotional as he felt, he simply replied, “I’ll be right in.”

Sam watched with some concern from her now open front door as he slowly walked up the path. She stood back to let him through the door and locked it behind them. Turning back into the house, she stopped when she saw that he was just staring at her. His face was drawn and his eyes betrayed his fatigue, but there was also a measure of happiness as he looked at her.

“Welcome home, Colonel,” she said with a smile.

He pulled her in for a too-brief hug. “I should be saying that to you. Carter, I am so sorry that none of us were here when you were released.”

She waved him off. “I understand, Sir. Why don’t we go sit down? Can I get you anything?”

“Nah,” he answered as he made his way into the living room and took his jacket off before gratefully settling onto the couch. “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m fine,” she answered automatically, ignoring his dubious look. She sat down in an overstuffed armchair near the couch. She had seen the stiffness in his movement as he took off his jacket and could now see a bulky mass, bandages she would guess, around his left shoulder underneath his shirt. “Sir, they let you drive?” she questioned.

“Ah well, they might not have understood that I was going to drive myself. It’s nothing, really. Just a flesh wound.” He winced as he gestured.

“You probably shouldn’t be moving it like that, Sir. Didn’t Janet give you anything to immobilize it?”

“There might be a sling in the truck,” he admitted. At her look, he protested. “I couldn’t very well wear it while driving!”

She shook her head, smiling. “I’ll be right back, Sir.” She dug in his pocket for his keys and was out the door before he could protest. As he heard the door close behind her, he grimaced. He had come over to make sure she was all right, and now she was taking care of him.

She returned and handed him the sling. He slipped it on as she repocketed his keys. Then she gently sat down on the couch next to him.

She had still been shaking off the latest nightmare when she had seen him sitting out on the street. She had hesitated to call him, concerned that this would The Talk that he had alluded to after she woken up. But looking at the fatigue emanating from him, she felt pretty confident that it wouldn’t be tonight. It filled her with both a sense of relief and of disappointment.

“So, rough mission?” she ventured, searching for something to fill the silence.

He shrugged with his good shoulder. “Nothing to write home about.” He looked at her carefully. Being out the Mountain definitely agreed with her, although she showed signs of stress, avoiding his eyes and chewing on her lip. “How’s it going for you? You getting settled in all right?”

She was quiet for a minute. She wanted so badly to share everything circling around in her head, but he was tired and injured and she should really just suck it up and send him home. Then she looked up at him and the concern and compassion in his eyes was her undoing. Her own eyes filled with tears and then he was holding her with his good arm, rubbing his hand along her shoulder, and murmuring soothing noises until she got control of herself again.

She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder for a moment longer and then pulled back.  Grabbing a tissue from the end table, she wiped the moisture off her cheeks.

“So tell me,” he said.

She huffed a breath.  “It’s nothing unexpected, really. Pretty much everything that’s happening is what MacKenzie warned me to expect. I just didn’t expect you guys to be stuck offworld. I didn’t know a lot about what was happening, but I knew enough to know you were in trouble.”

He nodded. “We were. But I'm here now.”

“I can’t help but notice that you're the only one here. Are Daniel and Teal’c okay?” She was sure that he would have said something immediately if something serious had happened to either of them, but she needed the whole story.

“Yeah. Daniel's tucked in bed in the infirmary. Just a concussion.  Fraiser wanted to observe him for a night because he’s been walking around with it for a couple of days now.  I’m pretty sure our draconian doctor will release him tomorrow. Teal’c is kel-no-reem-ing. He pushed himself pretty damn near to exhaustion while we were away.” Neither of them mentioned that it was obvious that Jack had done the same.

“Can you talk about it?” She saw him hesitate and continued, “It’s just that I kept dreaming about what could have been happening to you guys, having nightmares really. I think I’d feel better if I knew the whole story.”

“Nothing much to talk about, just your typical SNAFU. The inhabitants of the planet had managed to figure out some of the technology left behind when the goa’uld abandoned the planet, which thankfully did not include weaponry.” He absently massaged his shoulder lightly as he talked. “They tend to be a little xenophobic so when SG-13 showed up on a standard first contact run, they got a little cranky. We were called in, Daniel tried his diplomacy thing which didn’t work, and we grabbed our guys and were heading back to the gate when they activated this forcefield thingy. It was kind of like that thing Hathor used a couple of years ago when she had us in the fake SGC.”

Sam was intrigued. “How’d you deactivate it, Sir?”

“Well, it took some trial and error,” he tried to make light of the attempts by Daniel to translate the instructions, hampered by a blinding concussion and under repeated rains of arrows and spears. He tried not to look her in the eye, remembering how many times in the past few days he’d cursed the fact that she wasn’t with them. She was obviously already feeling guilty and didn’t want to exacerbate it. “But we did it. And now we’re all back, Major. See?” He held his good arm out and grinned.

She sighed. They’d gone out with an incomplete team and it had nearly cost them and SG-13 their lives. “Colonel, you really need a fourth.”

“Uh uh,” he shook his head. “I’m not replacing you unless I am ordered to do so, and even then I'm going to appeal it.”

She tried again. “SG-1 is the flagship team. You need a full complement; you need someone with technical expertise.”

“God, Carter, do you really think you’re that replaceable?”

Part of her was warmed by the loyalty she heard in his voice. She knew that she had earned it over the past few years, but worried that he was letting sentimentality interfere. It had been a rough few months for all of them, but it was time to look to the future now. “I can think several officers at the SGC right now who have similar expertise.”

“Similar, yes, but they are not you.  Discussion over, Major.”

“I should have been there. It’s my job,” she said quietly.

He laid a hand on her shoulder, waiting until she looked at him to respond. “Sam, right now your job is getting better. We’ll deal with everything else as it comes.”

“You know that Janet and MacKenzie are going to recommend a six-month medical leave?”

He nodded. The recommendation had been on his desk when he breezed through his office that afternoon.

“Maybe I'll take someone on temporarily, as a mission calls for it. But it’s your spot as long as you want it.”

“And if I can’t come back?”

“Well, MacKenzie seems to have a lot of confidence that you’ll be back.”

She looked down, playing with a loose thread on the couch cushion. “What if I don’t want to?” she whispered. She thought over all the horrible things she’d seen and done since coming to the SGC. Ugallu was just the last, and definitely the worst in a long line of awful-ness. Why would she want to subject herself to any more of it?

Jack stilled. It wasn’t unusual for someone who’d been through what she’d been through to consider asking for reassignment or even resigning. Hell, he’d had the paperwork filled out a month after he returned from Iraq before finally throwing it in the fireplace at the cabin.

As a man, he wanted her to do what was best for herself. Additionally, he knew that if she resigned from a front-line position, the possibility of something happening between them got substantially easier; that was a very appealing idea. But as her CO, he knew how important she was to the SGC and to SG-1. They needed her back, fighting the war and pulling off miracles.

“Let’s give it the six months before we tackle that, huh?” He yawned suddenly and winced.

She nodded and smiled at him. “You’d better get home, Sir. It’s late.”

“Yes, it is.” They stood and walked to the front door. “It will all work out, Carter. You’ll see.”

“Yes, Sir.” She almost believed him. At least enough to see where the next few months would take her

As he was stepping through the door, he turned. “You appointment with MacKenzie are still right after lunch?” She nodded. “Why don’t you come by early some days and we can have lunch together, the whole team?

Her smile widened. “I’d like that, Sir.”