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22 March 2012 @ 12:12 pm
Fic: Endurance Past the Point (19/19)  
Summary, notes, and warnings are located in the Table of Contents.



Part 19

They all got together for lunch on Thursday. Sam found herself smiling and sometimes laughing as she listened to Daniel and the colonel banter back and forth; she even added her own comments a time or two, but mostly she just exchanged long-suffering looks with Teal’c and enjoyed the comfortable familiarity of being with her guys.

It had been a rough week thus far. MacKenzie was pushing hard in therapy in light of her weekend experiences. The sessions were leaving her feeling simultaneously drained and on edge. But sitting here with the three of them, she felt for the first time that maybe she would be able to return to some semblance of her prior life.

After lunch, Daniel dragged Teal’c off to help him review some pictures from an abandoned Goa’uld outpost and Jack offered to walk Sam to MacKenzie’s office.

“So, what have you been doing with yourself?” he asked. He had never known Carter to really do nothing, spending much of her free time holed up in her lab. He was a little concerned about how she was reacting to the prospect of such a long time without work.

“Not much, really. I’m thinking about getting a new bike, maybe something that needs some work.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “My current one is in prime condition, doesn’t need a thing done to it.”

One small corner of his mouth turned up. “That’s... too bad?”

She laughed and gently bumped his arm with her elbow. “Thank you,” she said quietly, feeling entirely inadequate at expressing the depth of her gratitude.

“Anytime.” They approached the elevator and he leaned forward to swipe his card.

“I was thinking I might go visit Mark in a couple of months,” she offered.

“That sounds good. Some time with your family would probably be... good. Why wait?”

“Well, therapy kind of takes precedence. MacKenzie thinks it’ll be a couple of months before I can take a week or so off. I don’t want to go out there only to have to rush back here after a couple of days.”

“If you want to go sooner, I could talk to MacKenzie for you.”

Sam’s step stuttered a moment as they stepped into the elevator. “No, Sir, thank you, but I... well, I’m...”

He finished the statement for her. “Not ready? I get that.”

Sam was relieved that he understood. She really was looking forward to seeing Mark and the kids, but she needed some more time to live with her new self before seeing him.

“So, you got any plans for the weekend?” Jack continued the conversation.

She made a face. “Not really. I haven’t quite gotten back into my old routine yet. Like I said, maybe I’ll look at some bikes.”

“Well, maybe I'll drop by, if you don’t think you’re going to be busy.”

“Yeah, sure,” she agreed. “I’ll be around.” The elevator doors opened and she got out with a smile. “See you then, Colonel.”

~SG1~

Sam woke abruptly Saturday morning, pulling herself out of yet another nightmare. The pale light of dawn was peeking under her bedroom curtains and sat up reluctantly. This last nightmare was a doozy and she didn’t see any point in trying to get back to sleep. She groggily stumbled out of bed and lingered in the shower, allowing the hot water to wake her up. Throwing on a tank top and yoga pants, she grabbed the newspaper off her front porch before returning to the kitchen to start breakfast.

Jack winced at the clock in his truck as he pulled up in front of her house. It was damn early to be ‘dropping by’ on a weekend morning. He looked up at the house, tying to divine whether she was up yet. The lack of newspaper in front of the house seemed encouraging.  He had just raised his hand to knock on door when he heard her cry out and a metallic clatter. He turned the knob and found the door open; he made his way quickly but cautiously through the house, one hand resting on his weapon. He entered the kitchen to find her standing in the middle of the room, one arm held tightly to her middle, the floor and stove dotted with tiny puddles of grease and a frying pan upside down on the floor alongside several strips of bacon.

Okay, just a kitchen accident, he thought, relieved as he removed his hand from his gun.  Looking back at her, he saw she hadn’t moved, even when he entered the room. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut and she was shaking slightly.

“Sam?” he called to her softly, trying not to startle her. No response. “Carter!” He reverted to military mode in the hopes of getting an automatic response from her. It worked.

Though she remained pale and shaking, she opened her eyes and took a deep breath. She could hear the tension in his voice and wondered what he thought of the pathetic scene in front of him. One little burn from bacon grease and she nearly went comatose. “I’m fine, Sir,” she said, not altogether steadily. 

“What happened?” he asked.

She grimaced as she looked at the wreckage that had been her breakfast. “I was cooking some bacon, Sir. The grease popped up and burned my arm.” She pulled it tighter against her, memories still playing behind her conscious mind. She shrugged half-heartedly, trying to downplay it. “I guess it triggered a little PTSD.”

Jack nodded and walked over to her. “Let me see your arm,” he ordered. 

She held it out for him to examine. “It’s nothing, Sir. A little bacon grease, see?”

He nodded his agreement and then gently maneuvered her to chair. Seeing a mug on the table already, he picked it up. Still warm, and smelling faintly herbal, he handed it to her. She took a small sip. “Why don’t you just sit here and drink this while I clean this up,” he suggested as he started moving around the kitchen. He tried not to notice how the weight she’d been recovering the last few weeks really made her outfit extremely attractive. He made short work of the bacon grease, got the pan in the sink and said, “Okay, Carter. Get dressed. I’m taking you out for breakfast.”

They ended up at the local diner, enjoying the food and the company. Now that she was over the embarrassment from earlier, Sam found herself smiling almost nonstop as she listened to Jack recount the latest travesty that had befallen the Simpsons.  She had missed this so much. She tried to soak it all in at once: the tone and timbre of his voice, his quick smiles crinkling his eyes, the way he talked with his hands. These were the things that she had missed most when he had distanced himself from her.

After paying the bill, Jack suggested that they take a walk. After a short drive, he pulled in to a park. They headed up one of the trails, Sam easily handing the lead over to Jack, following him on instinct as she soaked up the feel of the sun and the smell of the trees. They walked in silence for a while. Finally, Jack led the way off the path through some undergrowth which opened on a magnificent view of the Rockies.

Sam stopped short. “Wow, Colonel. This is amazing. I never knew about this place.”

He smiled, surveying the view.  “It’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? I come here sometimes when I need to think; it used to be stargazing up on my roof, but I think the cat’s out of the bag there.” She grinned in response. His rooftop observatory was now well-known throughout the entire SGC.

“I’m honored that you shared this with me, Sir.”

“Best of all, we’re alone and we’ll hear anyone coming long before they get here.” He settled down on a rock and motioned her to do the same. He paused before adding, “And Sam, for this conversation, let’s drop the ranks.”

She sat down, leaving some space between them, nervous butterflies dancing in her stomach.

“You probably know what I wanted to talk to you about, right?” Jack started.

She nodded slowly, looking out across the view. “I can guess.” She had been cleared of any wrongdoing in a professional capacity regarding her behavior up to and including the kiss. Now she was going to learn what the personal fallout was. While Jack had been nothing but supportive thus far, that could easily be the act of a commanding officer, holding back the personal outrage until his team member was on the right track.

“Relax, Sam,” he urged. She laughed shortly, trying to take a deep breath. Turning to look at him, she found him watching her patiently, his eyes warm and kind, with just a touch of his own underlying nervousness.

He seemed almost as unsure as she was how to broach the subject. Finally, he shifted a bit to face her squarely and spoke. “You kissed me,” he said, sounding both incredulous and amused.

“Yes.”

“Why?” All traces of humor disappeared from his voice and expression, leaving his face impassive. Even after all these years, she still had trouble reading him when he didn’t want her to.

She floundered a bit. His earnest attitude was throwing her. She had expected him to play it off with humor or possibly read her the riot act, but he seemed surprisingly serious.

“You read my report right? It’s all in there.” She had spent several days of the previous week compiling a report of the events that had occurred while she had been under Ugallu’s control, including her thought processes leading up to their embrace.

He answered carefully. “Yes, I read it. You thought a distraction would allow you to pass on the information.”

“Right,” she said in relief, hoping he would let it rest end there.

“But why me?” he followed up.

“Sir?” she questioned faintly, using the automatic honorific as a stall to buy time to try to get her heartbeat under control.

“Why? Me?” he asked again, enunciating each word carefully. The look in his eyes said he wanted an answer and would wait here all day if necessary.  “I mean, was I just the first person you ran into after you figured it out? Would Daniel or Teal’c have sufficed? Or Siler?” He tried to ignore the mental images accompanying his words.

She wanted to say yes and continue to pretend that they were just friends and colleagues, to keep the attraction locked away in that room. But she couldn’t lie to him. She swallowed nervously.

“No, Jack. I think it only worked because it was something that I already wanted to do.”

He felt some of the tension drain from him at her admission. It was what he had hoped she would say, but now that she had, he didn't know what to do with it. Seeing her chewing on her lip, he realized how much it had cost her to say it and decided to offer something in return.

“I don’t regret the kiss. I actually kind of enjoyed the kiss.” He pretended to consider for a moment, then nodded. “Yep, it was a pretty damn good kiss.”

“I guess so,” she replied absently, not quite meeting his eyes.

“You guess so?” he repeated. He tried for a teasing smirk, wanting to keep it light, but even he could hear the strain in his voice.

She suddenly realized how that sounded and hastened to clarify. “Oh no, not like that. I  just... well, my memories are kind of fuzzy. I remember it happening, but not a lot of the details.”

Well, that sucks, he thought, looking at her. He figured that he was now at least two kisses up on her, including the time loop. All the shit she went through and she didn’t even have that one good memory to show for it.

She flushed as he continued staring at her, his gaze soft and warm.

He considered his next words carefully. He’d always respected the boundaries she had drawn for their relationship and regardless of her current status, she was likely to come back under his command again and they would be back in the same boat.  Not to mention that it had been a year since they had admitted to having feelings for each other; things could have changed for her.

“You know, Sam, right now I’m not your CO.”

She felt her heart skip a beat and her eyes widened as she started to understand his meaning. He let it sink in, just holding her gaze.

Slowly she shook her head. “No, Jack, you’re not,” she replied softly, a small smile lighting her face.

He lifted a hand to her hair, letting his fingers run softly through the strands. She had let it grow longer now that she wasn’t on active duty. His voice was low when he spoke. “I’d like to remind you how that kiss went. If that’s a problem, I need you to wave me off now.” His eyes searched hers as he waited for her answer.

Her response was to slowly lean in to close the distance between them. As their lips touched, a dozen different thoughts exploded through her head: all the times they hadn’t done this, the time they had, Ugallu’s hand forcing her face to his. She froze for a split second. But this was something she wanted, something she was choosing, she reminded herself. And despite the terms they were couching it in, it was not an offer likely to be repeated. She narrowed her focus. This was Jack. She could smell him, feel his hands resting lightly on her shoulders, feel him waiting for her to decide.

He sensed it the instant she froze and figured he had a pretty good idea why. So he waited, keeping his lips lightly on hers, not rescinding the offer. Their previous kisses had not allowed him to enjoy the subtle shape of her lips against his or to savor the scent and warmth of her skin. Then she leaned ever so slightly farther into him, bringing her arms up so that her fingers teased the back of his neck and he felt her lips part under his, her tongue darting out to touch and taste and they both gave themselves over to the spreading warmth.

It was only by exercising a great deal of willpower that they were able to stop kissing some time later. They pulled back from each other only enough to rearrange their positions so that she could curl up against him, her head leaning on his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder as they sat quietly, looking out at the view.

When the sun had moved noticeably westward, they silently agreed that it was time to head back. Sam kept his fingers entwined with hers as they set an easy pace back down the trail and headed back to the truck.

Dusk had settled by the time they pulled back up in front of her house. She turned to look at him. “Would you like to come in?”

“It’s probably best if I don’t,” he replied. The kiss earlier (kisses, if he was being honest) had been fairly earth-shattering and he didn’t trust his willpower at the moment to keep him from taking things to the next level. A kiss he could justify to himself given the change in their professional relationship. But being that they both knew that change was temporary, anything more would make things entirely too complicated.

Sam felt a stab of disappointment at his answer, but understood that it was the best course of action at the moment. Dr. MacKenzie had advised her against making any dramatic changes in the coming months in order to keep her focus on her recovery, and she was pretty sure that beginning a just-this-side-of-legal affair would fall under the heading of pretty damn dramatic.

“Thank you for today, Jack. I had a great time.” The sparkle in her eyes conveyed that she was referring to some very specific parts of the day and he grinned back in answer.

She leaned across the seat and pressed her lips against his cheek. “I’ll see you at the Mountain sometime this week.”

He watched as she hopped out of the truck and let herself into her house. He stayed long enough to see her turn the lights on before he pulled away, a smile lighting his face as he thought on his renewed faith in their future, whenever it may come.

~SG1~

They continued to meet for occasional lunches when Sam came into the Mountain for her therapy sessions, sometimes with Teal’c and/or Daniel, sometimes just the two of them. At first, they drew a lot of attention, rumors still circulating around the base about Carter’s ordeal, but SGC personnel were nothing if not adaptive and it was chalked up to just another insane SG1 escapade and the rumor mill moved on.

As time wore on, the lunches became less frequent. Sam’s therapy sessions were reduced from daily to every other day, then twice a week. SG1 was back on regular mission rotation and often offworld when Sam was on base. After two weeks without seeing each other, Jack revived the Team Night tradition and was pleased to see the old camaraderie falling easily back into place.

Jack made sure to touch base with Sam, at least by phone, every day he wasn’t offworld. Despite the weekly reports he got from MacKenzie detailing her progress, he still liked the personal reassurance he could only get from talking to her, her voice telling him whether she’d had a bad day even if she couldn’t say the words. As time progressed, the bad days got noticeably fewer and farther between.

~SG1~

Jack had arranged for another Team Night her second night back from San Diego. It was a welcome event; San Diego had been fun, but not very relaxing, as visits with her brother tended to open old wounds. This one, in particular, had been fraught with tension between the two of them. Mark had been left with more questions than answers after the messages he had received from General Hammond and, later, their father, about Sam’s disappearance and recovery.

Sam smiled as Daniel’s and Teal’c’s voices floated up to where she was sitting on Jack’s rooftop observatory. As far as she could tell, the argument as to the best way to grill steaks had started up even before the coals had been lit. Jack had been very vocal at the beginning of the conversation, but she hadn’t heard him say anything for a few minutes.

“Hey,” came his voice from behind her.

She dropped her head and smiled. She should’ve known he wouldn’t let her hide away for too long. She turned and gave him a little wave as he climbed onto the rooftop deck. “Hi.”

He sat down next to her and looked up at the sky, just showing the first hint of dusk. “Everything okay?”

She nodded.

“How’s Mark doing?”

She shrugged. “You know how it is. He’s worried and frustrated and I can’t give him the answers he wants.” She sighed. “He never understood why I went military in the first place. I think he’s a little angry now because...” she trailed off.

“You made up your mind. You want to come back, don’t you?” Jack winced at the disappointment that came through in his voice.

“Yes. I think it’s something I need to do.” She turned to face him, and he thought that he saw a glimpse of the same regret he felt as she spoke. “If I resign, or transfer out of field work, it just feels like that’s one more thing he’s taken away from me. If anything, all this has just proven to me that we have to fighting them, we have to find a way to finish this.”

He nodded his acceptance of what she was saying. “When do you want to come back?”

“I guess that’s really up to you and the General, based on MacKenzie’s reports. I feel like I’m almost ready.”

He took a deep breath and leaned forward, gently capturing her face between his hands. “Then I guess I won’t have much longer to do something like this,” he said, as he softly kissed her. She grinned against his lips before returning the kiss, stepping up the pressure just slightly. They stayed that way for a few minutes, not allowing the embrace to build in passion, instead just sharing all the thoughts and feelings that they couldn’t put into words.

After a while, they sat back, quiet, and even in the fading sunlight, Jack could see the conflict and guilt in Sam’s eyes. She shook her head. “Jack, I... it’s not that I don’t want,” she waved her hand between the two of them helplessly.

“I know, Sam.” He grabbed her hand and held it. “It’s not the right time now. But someday soon, it will be.” It was a question as much as a promise, and he breathed a little easier at her answering smile.

They sat together, looking up at the sky. Then he heard her voice, quiet, almost as if she was talking to herself. “You were there, you know.”

He glanced at her but she was still looking skyward. When she didn’t volunteer any more information, he asked, “Where?”

She couldn’t quite bring herself to look at him as she answered. “When Ugallu had me in that cell. Whenever the pain would get too awful, or if it was a particularly slow death.” Her voice choked a bit over that word still. “I knew it was just a hallucination, at least I usually caught on pretty quickly, but still, it helped. You helped.”

She turned her face back to his finally. “Thank you.”

Jack’s voice was a little rough when he replied. “I’m just glad you had something to help get you through.” He remembered his own days in that damn Iraqi hellhole and the mental gyrations he had stumbled through to keep any shred of his sanity intact. That her psyche had conjured him up while she was stuck in her own personal hell made him feel a little bowled over.

Daniel’s voice broke the spell. “Hey, you two, the steaks are ready! Get down here before Teal’c eats all of ‘em.”

They grinned at each as they rose together to head back down to the others.

~SG1~

From that point on, Sam began spending more time at the Mountain, stepping up her conditioning routine and hanging out in Daniel’s office. Even without her security clearance officially reinstated, people were already dropping by anytime they heard she was on base to ask questions or guidance about projects. It was happening often enough that Daniel finally cleared a space for her to work.

As she neared the official end of her medical leave, she began to get antsy. So far, she had received no indication of whether she would be reinstated.

She was sitting in Daniel’s office one morning, reviewing a proposed experiment and waiting for him to return from a staff meeting. She gave him just enough time to sit down when he came back to the office before closing the folder in front of her.

“Daniel, have they said anything about me coming back?” She inwardly winced when her attempt to sound casual missed by a mile.

Daniel looked perplexed. “You’re in the therapy sessions, Sam. Hasn’t MacKenzie mentioned something to you?”
She shook her head. “Not to me. I mean, we talk about how I’m progressing on a personal level, which is good,” she hastened to affirm. “But I have no idea what he’s putting in the official reports that are going to Hammond and the colonel.”

“Are you worried about it?” he asked. It wasn’t unthinkable that she was putting on a good face around the base while still struggling emotionally, but he liked to think she wouldn’t feel the need to hide from him or the rest of SG-1. And as far as he could tell, her recovery was nothing short of miraculous.

“I don’t think so,” she answered slowly, turning the manila folder in lazy circles on the desktop. “I just feel like I’m ready. I want to be back out there.”

“That’s good to hear Major.” She jumped to her feet at the sound of the colonel’s voice from the doorway. She gave Daniel a glare before turning to see him leaning casually against the doorframe.

“Hello Colonel.”

He stood up straight, and she noticed a folder in his hand. He offered it to her as he said, “Major Samantha Carter, as of Monday you are recalled to active duty.  Mission briefing at 0930.” The official business out of the way, he gave her a quick grin. “Welcome back, Carter.”

“Thank you, Sir.” She glanced back at Daniel who was beaming at her. “You knew!” she mouthed at him. A blank uber-innocent look was her only response. When she turned away, she saw Teal’c had arrived as well, wearing his ‘I knew this would happen all along, but I still offer my congratulations’ look. She had to take a deep breath to try to hold back the tears as she looked around at her team. Her team.

~SG1~

A type of hushed awe seemed to permeate the gateroom and the control room as everyone tried not to stare at SG-1, complete again for the first time in nearly a year, stood at the base of the ramp as the wormhole opened before them. Sam looked at the shimmering event horizon, allowing herself to feel the anxiety and nerves, recognizing them and moving on. She smiled as she heard the colonel give the order to move out.

She fell into step beside as he strode up the ramp and, with Teal’c and Daniel just behind them, they stepped together through the gate.

~FIN~