Author's Note: And once again I must apologize for delaying the posting of this chapter for so long. RL has been nothing but a string of minor disasters just lately, and then crunch week and finals snuck up on me, then there was a serious illness in the family... Then ff.net was less than cooperative due to the upgrades, though I have to say I like the changes in spite of its habit of removing spacers and breaks.
At any event, here's the final chapter (and much longer than the others by way of compensation). Sorry again. Hope it was worth the wait.
Jack examined each of the assembled soldiers grimly and for far longer than he normally would have before moving out. It was not so much that he lacked faith in them, they were some of the best officers on the planet and he knew it, it was just that he doubted he would ever be able to forgive himself if they proved less than up to the impossible task they had been set. The look on Jacob's face at the news that Sam had been captured had been heart-rending. Jack was not sure if he could handle having to tell the man that he had been unable to recover her.
In the observation room above, Jonas and Daniel were staring grimly down at the strike-team. As Hammond had predicted, the two men had been less than happy to be excluded. Jack understood that, and he could relate. If it had been grounded for this particular mission, he would have been furious. But that did not change facts, either. Neither of them had any special forces training, none. That stood to make them both very serious liabilities on a mission where nothing could afford to go wrong. Besides, the safest way to do this would be with a very small group, surgically.
And if she's got a snake in her head when we find her? a voice in the back of his head nagged. Will we be able to handle that surgically, too?
Shivering and closing his eyes, he gave a brief shake of his head before looking up at the small group again. "You all know what our objective here today is," he informed them. "You all know Carter and you all know how important she is to the SGC. Hell, she's saved most of your asses more than once. She's saved mine, too. Let's bring her back alive."
"Go ahead, Captain."
"Sir, what if she's already been infested?"
"Our objective is to bring her back alive. The Tokra have already offered to help out with any.... guests she brings along for the ride. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," they chimed in unison.
"Okay. You have your assignments. Move out!" he directed, heading through the wormhole.
Delphi was as beautiful and serene-looking as he remembered it. It also still had no Jaffa guarding the Gate. Typical Gua'old arrogance. Not that he was complaining...
"You, you, and you secure the Gate. The rest of you, with me."
Marching across the farm-dotted countryside, Jack was struck by how similar it really did look to the Land of Light, exactly as Jonas had said. Except for the fact that those mountains in the distance were being mined by thousands of slave-laborers. The farms, too, for that matter. Every human and Jaffa on the planet was slave to a despot so trivial that not even the System Lords had bothered to take note of his existence.
Well, they would once they found out what he had planned, Jack would see to that. There was, after all, a lot to be said for petty revenge.
They quickly approached the palace complex and split up, three to search the prisons, two to search the temple. Which left Jack and Teal'c to check out the palace. The groups were small on purpose. They would not stand a chance in a fire-fight, but they were small enough to avoid the kind of notice that led to them, too. They could not afford any fire-fights, now less than ever, and all had standing orders to fall back through the Gate immediately if things went south. They were taking a big enough risk without further compounding the problems at the SGC by getting everyone in the party killed as well.
He stopped in his tracks as he realized that he had actually started to attach the phrase 'acceptable risk' to his own death or the death of one of the men with him. Hammond had been right, his emotions were getting the best of him or he would not even be here right now, leading almost half the remaining combat-ready members of the SGC into what could easily be a trap.
"O'Neill?" Teal'c asked quietly.
He shook his head faintly and kept walking, ignoring his self-doubt. It was too damned late for second thoughts, justified or not. The only way they were getting out of this alive was with Artemis as a hostage.
He winced at the thought, Artemis, not Sam, but he knew it was true, too. There was no reason for Apollo to waste time on the implantation. The life of the previous host would not have meant a thing to him or Artemis and the longer Sam remained an uninfested captive, the greater the likelihood of a rescue attempt. It might not even have occurred to Apollo that they would try to recover her once she was a host. He would know now that he had access to Sam's memories, of course, but he could not have before.
Apollo had access to Sam's memories... another disturbing thought. Artemis might already have revealed all manner of sensitive information to him. What he found bothering him more than that, though, was the thought of some snake having every last one of Sam's memories of him. Not that there was anything sensitive in those, at least not in terms of military intelligence, but it bothered him all the same. Private moments spent with a friend were meant to be private, pure and simple.
He had no desire for Artemis to know how many times he had invited Sam to go fishing with him, or teased her about her boyfriend, or just teased her on general principle. He did not want Artemis to know how many times over the past two weeks he had held her in his arms until she slept. He certainly did not want Artemis to know about how they had been sitting in the commissary the other day, joking over dessert, and Sam had gotten some whipped cream on her cheek without noticing, how he had wiped it off without thinking. He especially did not want Artemis to know that, once, when Sam had started making advances towards him while under the influence of an alien illness, his first words had not been 'stop it', but 'not like this'. Or what he had revealed in front of her during Zat'arc testing...
He was jealous of all those memories, had to be. He certainly could not be jealous of the woman herself, not when the only thing about her he could lay claim to were those memories. Shaking his head in disgust, he gestured to Teal'c to take the right hallway while he took the left.
Five minutes later, hugging a shadow and watching 'Sam' sweep by with an honor guard of Jaffa and various servants, he almost wished that he had sent Teal'c that way instead. Seeing her like that, the arrogance in her normally-sweet expression...
"Tell my Lord that I will soon be ready for him," Artemis directed Cybil.
"So soon, my Lady?"
"Yes. The virus was not completely purged from the host's system. Recovery of the Sight comes more rapidly as a result."
"Our Lord will be pleased."
"Mmm," Artemis agreed. "The child may well be conceived this night."
"Carter!" Jack called, stepping into clear sight.
The thought of her actually sleeping with that snake-infested bastard was just too much. Her feelings towards the Gua'old were almost as strong as his own. It was not a memory he wanted her to have to spend the rest of her life with. Hell, that was not a memory he would have wished on Kinsey. He had known the relationship existed from everything Daniel had told him, but he had not stopped once to consider that anything would actually come of it where Sam was concerned.
Artemis turned to face him, her expression indolent. "O'Neill. We knew you would come. She held out so much hope that we knew it could not have been otherwise." Smiling faintly, she turned away again, murmuring, "Jaffa, kree," in a voice that was far too much like Sam's. "Bring him before my Lord, a gift from his Queen. Then kill him."
As she walked off with her retinue of servants, a half-dozen Jaffa leveled their staff-weapons at him. Jack stared after her in shock, calling her name in spite of the fact that he knew it was useless, only peripherally aware of the warriors as they roughly propelled him towards the throne-room. Jack glared loathingly at Apollo as the Jaffa forced him to his knees on the marble floor.
"Give her back, you son of a bitch or, so help me--"
"You are in no position to make demands," Apollo interrupted, his voice bored. "My Queen assured me that you would return," he added, smirking. "She much doubted it would be alone."
He made an idle gesture with one hand and, to Jack's horror, several Jaffa herded the rest of the team into the room, everyone but Teal'c. Of all people, Teal'c would be the one to know how to avoid a Jaffa patrol.
"Yup, that's all of them," Jack said in a bored voice of his own, hoping that none of the others had let on about Teal'c's absence. "Or, at least, the whole first wave."
"You lie," Apollo answered, rising and stepping down from the dais his couch was on. He casually backhanded Jack, sending him to the floor. "There are not enough men and women left at your Stargate Command to form another team. Their deaths at the hands of Anubis are proof of the folly of opposing a god. Now, you must learn this lesson yourself. Take them to the camps," he ordered his Jaffa, returning to his couch.
"My Lord," one of them began.
"Kree!" Apollo snapped. "I gave you an order!"
"Our Lady wished his death..."
"Did she?" he asked, amused. "The host must have cared for you very greatly indeed," he told Jack. "Call an assembly," he ordered the Jaffa. "His execution will be a public one. Our Queen and I will preside jointly."
"As you command," the Jaffa answered, saluting before gesturing to the others to lead the prisoners from the throne-room.
Artemis was issuing orders to her retainers to make her ready for her Lord's pleasure when Cybil looked up sharply.
"Milady, danger approaches..."
"Danger?" the Gua'old repeated.
The oracle was on the ground, courtesy of twin Zat-blasts, before she could reply. Artemis looked up, smiling faintly as a familiar face made itself seen. Not, perhaps familiar to herself, but more than familiar to the host. Her retainers instantly formed twin lines between herself and the Jaffa.
"The sho'va, Teal'c," she greeted him casually. "We knew you would come as well. Let me guess. You are here to request that I relinquish your friend's body..." she said in mocking parody of his own formalized tone and manner.
"It was not to be a request."
Teal'c eyed Artemis contemptuously over the heads of the handmaidens. It was typical of the Gua'old to employ human shields in such a manner. And each and every one of the young women were probably firmly convinced that it would be a great honor to die protecting Artemis. On Delphi, as on many Gua'old worlds, freedom was an unknown virtue. Only loyalty mattered.
"Leave us," Artemis snapped to the girls, her lips curling into an arrogant smile at Teal'c's startled expression. It was matched by the horrified expressions of her retainers.
"But, Milady!" one of them protested.
"Acte, kree!" Artemis snapped, making a dismissive gesture. "The sho'va and I have much to discuss. Take Cybil and prepare her body. Inform her successor to ready herself for the scrutiny of her gods. Go."
The handmaidens left reluctantly, four of them bearing Cybil reverently from the curtain-draped bedchamber. Artemis smiled up at Teal'c.
"So, the sho'va comes to plead for the life of his friend?" she purred, shaking her head.
She could feel Sam mentally protesting the taunting and chastened her with a searing dose of pain. The human female, it was obvious, viewed Teal'c as hero, not traitor, an honorable warrior to be respected. It did not take Artemis long to isolate easily a dozen incidences in which Teal'c had saved Sam's life, that of her entire team, even. Other intimacies were more cherished by the human, crying in the arms of the Jaffa over the death of Daniel Jackson among those moments. Alien or not, he was more than friend to Samantha Carter. Teal'c was brother to her. For that reason alone, Artemis was determined to make him suffer, exactly as she was determined to make Jack O'Neill, far more than CO to the woman, die. The host continued to resist, had to learn, even if it be the hard way.
Let him go! He never hurt you!
Ah, but he would, yes? For treason against his god Apophis alone, he should be long-dead.
Artemis met this last with another dose of pain, smiling to herself at Sam's mental screams.
"You will relinquish the body of Major Carter," Teal'c ordered with what Artemis knew from Sam's own memories was his typical uncompromisingness.
"But I find this body most suitable." She smiled faintly. "As does our God, Apollo."
"Apollo is no god."
Artemis sighed, bored. Taunting the Jaffa was both too easy and overly tiresome: repetitive, even. As the host's mental protests were becoming. The punishments she was capable of bringing to bear seemed only to strengthen the resolve of the human female, excruciatingly painful or not. It hardly mattered, of course. This human was in the prime of her life, healthy, and most importantly fertile. Nor did it hurt that her loss was a great blow to the Tau'ri who had been a thorn in the side of all Gua'old for far too long. Taking Samantha Carter as a host, killing her friends, these were a good start to dealing the next, more crippling blow.
And when she herself was with child by her Lord, she fully intended to have a nice, long discussion with her host, extracting such information as would allow them to deal the killing rather than crippling blow.
I won't tell you anything!
You have little choice in the matter, human.
Bitch! Sam repeated.
Sighing to herself, Artemis returned her attention to the lone Jaffa before her. Remembering her earlier threat, the repugnance that the host had shown towards the idea, she decided that her Lord was, perhaps, more suited to deal with the woman's persistent defiance. A night with him was all it took to cow most humans.
Then cooperate, Major, Artemis suggested lightly. Perhaps I will even let your other friends live.
Go to hell!
Witness the price of defiance.
Shaking her head, Artemis lifted her ribbon device and released a burst of energy at the Jaffa, knocking him across the room and to the floor.
Daniel rushed into the temple, stopping in his tracks at the sight of Teal'c, face-down on the ground, a toga-clad Sam sneering down at him. She was dressed much as he had been earlier, toga augmented with a Zat and her pistol.
"My God, Sam, what happened here?" he gasped.
Artemis stepped over Teal'c, sneering as she approached Daniel. "Bow to your god. On your knees."
No! Get out!
Silence. You bring this on them yourself by your continued resistance...
"Sam, don't do this. I know you're in there."
"Nothing of the host remains, insolent boy," she answered, raising her ribbon device.
Stop it! Sam pled as Daniel went to his knees. Don't. You can't. He's my friend, damn it!
Artemis ignored these pained protests. The host was stronger than any she had yet taken. "On your knees," she ordered Daniel, firing a blast of energy from the ribbon device.
"Sam!" Daniel gasped. "Don't!"
Artemis scowled at his continued attempts to reason at the host, as if that would help. "You are not worthy even to serve. Except, perhaps, as an example." Sneering, she raised the ribbon device again, eliciting a prolonged howl from Daniel and an even more pained response from Sam.
She was suddenly aware of the sensation of cold metal against the side of her head. Her smile faded and she made a mental note to kill such of the temple guards as remained alive. She did not, however, cease her torment of the archaeologist. It was simply too enjoyable listening to the host's cries of protest.
"O'Neill," she greeted the man holding a gun to her head. "I thought my Jaffa had killed you..."
She scowled at the host's triumphant response to the situation. She did not think herself saved, except of a lifetime as a host, but it did not stop her from gloating at Artemis' expense, either. She had, after all, known he would come to free her. One way or the other...
"You have Sam's memories," Jack replied grimly. "You should know I'm a hard man to kill." He frowned at Daniel's pained cries. "You should also know that I will kill you if you don't let Daniel go."
Artemis diverted her attention from the younger man to the older. "I do have the host's memories," she agreed, turning towards Jack and slowly drawing her side-arm.
No! No, not him, too... You can't!
Jack looked down, startled to feel the barrel of a gun suddenly pressed against his stomach.
"And so I know that you will kill me anyway. We die together, our love."
Jack's eyes widened, but he dismissed those words immediately as a Gua'old ploy. "Sam," he breathed, shaking his head. "Come on."
Sir! Sir, please!
He can not hear you...
"Carter, damn it!" Jack snapped, shaking his head but never lowering his own gun. "Fight!"
"Nothing of the host remains to fight me," Artemis sneered, shaking her head. Her malicious smile widening, she leaned forward and kissed Jack, her own weapon never wavering. Perhaps she would take a page from Baal's book and use the sarcophagus on him, torturing him to death repeatedly...
Jack's eyes widened. "That's the spirit, Carter. Fight it!"
"She can not prevail over me. Nothing of the host remains."
"Sounded a lot like Carter to me," he answered, sliding the gun from her head to her neck, where the Gua'old lived. "Give me one good reason, Artemis. I know where you people keep your sarcophagus. I can kill you and still bring Sam back."
"Nothing of the host remains. We die together our love."
Jack tensed against the bullet he knew was coming, only to feel one painful sensation instead of the other. Instead of hot metal tearing into him, it was electricity, carried down the barrel of the gun pressed against his stomach and up that of the one against her neck. He fell at roughly the same moment Artemis did, closing his eyes as gentle hands bore him to the floor.
"It's okay, Jack," Daniel murmured, making him comfortable and looking up at Jonas who had dropped the Zat immediately and moved to catch Sam whom he was cradling against his chest at present. "We've freed the others and the palace and Stargate are secure."
Jonas' contribution was for Artemis' ears alone, a quiet, "Bet you didn't see that coming."
"Jonas?" Sam whispered weakly. The momentary shock had forced Artemis to abandon supremacy. For now, at least.
"It's okay. You're going to be fine. Sorry," he added as he quickly restrained her.
As he was doing that, Daniel was leaning over Teal'c, shaking him awake. "Hey, you okay?"
"I will recover," the Jaffa assured him. "What of Major Carter?"
"The Tokra are going to try to get that thing out of her."
Teal'c nodded weakly, then frowned up at Daniel. "Explain your presence here. You were ordered to remain behind."
"Yeah, well, the General changed his mind," Jonas answered, shrugging. As Artemis reemerged and started struggling, he deftly produced a syringe and emptied it into Sam's arm. She soon went limp.
"Let me guess," Jack groaned, sitting up and rubbing his forehead. "Vision?"
He had not had time to ask when the two had waged a near-suicidal assault on the cell that he and his men were being held in. There had been fighting to do and a Major to rescue.
Jonas gave a blithe shrug, rising and hefting Sam's body into his arms. At Jack's glare, he grinned. "Hey, I'm not going to be able to carry her all the way back to the Gate. You can have her as soon as you recover from the Zat. Sorry about that, by the way."
"Just don't do it again," Jack groaned, hauling himself to his feet and following the other two.
"So the Tokra say that they'll have her back to us in a few days. Minus one uninvited guest," Janet announced, refilling Jonas' wine-glass. "No, Cassie," she added as the girl held up her water glass.
"Oh, come on, mom. It's only toasting the fact that Sam's still alive and not one of them."
"She has a point, Janet."
Rolling her eyes at Jonas, Janet poured a small measure of wine into her daughter's glass. "And don't expect this to become a habit.
"I know, mom. I'm just glad that she's okay. I was worried."
"I think we all were," Jonas agreed, raising his glass. "So, let's drink tonight to one of the bravest women out there, to her speedy return to us, her full recovery, and... well, to whatever it is that makes Sam Sam."
Janet smiled and nodded. "Amen to that."
"It'll be good to have her back," Cassandra agreed, taking a sip of her wine and making a face. "Yuck."
Jonas smiled faintly, shaking his head.
"And it is officially way past someone's bedtime," Janet announced, glancing at the clock. "Come on, Cassie, you have school tomorrow."
"God, you'd think I'd get a day off for having my best friend taken over by an alien..."
"You honestly expect me to put that into a note to the principle?" Janet asked with a mock-glare.
Cassandra smiled and rose, kissing each on the cheek in turn. "Night, mom. Bye, Jonas. It was good to see you again."
"You, too, Cass," he answered, hugging her.
He sighed softly as he watched her go. It would have been nice to have a little girl of his own to say good night to every night. He was starting to wonder if he would ever be allowed the luxury of a wife and children, though. Not when he found two women in the universe appealing. Especially not when one of them had her affections firmly engaged elsewhere and the other, sitting on her couch with him...
God, but the Fates could be cruel...
"You okay?" Janet asked.
Jonas nodded faintly, forcing a smile. "Just not looking forward to leaving all of you again, I guess." It was true, even if there was more to his low mood than that.
"Well, you should at least stay until the Tokra bring Sam back."
"Those quarters at the SGC--" he began, only to be interrupted.
"You can stay in my guestroom."
"Oh, I couldn't." He shook his head, startled and more than a little flustered by the invitation.
Janet raised an eyebrow. "Jonas, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure. Maybe I can even answer it," he answered with a crooked grin.
"The other day, when you kissed me. You... saw something, didn't you?"
"Yeah. I saw a brave, compassionate soul who would do anything to help those under her care." Jonas stared down into his wine-glass. "Sorry about that. It was out of line."
"No, it wasn't. Surprising: yes. Out of line: not really." She shrugged. "When I joined the Air Force, all I wanted was for people to stop looking at me like a woman and start looking at me like a soldier. But it's nice sometimes, too. Now I've been a soldier so long I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be a woman."
"Duties and obligations," Jonas sighed. "Wonderful things, aren't they?"
"Oh, yeah," came the sarcastic reply. "I'll miss you when you go, Jonas. I've missed our talks."
"So have I."
It was not lost on Janet that the younger man was still upset. Sighing, she slid across the couch and looped an arm around his shoulder. "She's going to be fine, Jonas."
"I know." He nodded.
"You could always tell her how you feel..."
"Not even if the Colonel weren't a factor. Besides, I don't feel how you think I feel. She's a dear friend, but it would be wrong to try to replace Sarah with her, too, just because they look alike. Sam is not Sarah. And she has the potential to be happy some day. She could never be with me and we both know it."
Jonas shrugged and the two lapsed into silence for some time. "I'm going to miss you," Jonas told her finally, sighing deeply.
"It won't be forever," Janet pointed out gently, startled by how upset he seemed about leaving.
"Nothing ever is. But some things are more long-term than others, too. I should go now."
Janet sighed. "Jonas, you saw something else, didn't you?"
"No," he lied. "I just... God, you're beautiful, you know that? Inside and out. And if I can be blunt, your husband was an idiot."
"No shit," Janet muttered, shaking her head. She looked up abruptly as the rest of Jonas' statement sunk in. "You think I'm beautiful?"
He shrugged apologetically, nodding. "Sorry."
"For complimenting me?"
"For a lot of things." He rose, pulling her to her feet and into a hug. "I should go now," he repeated, pressing his lips to her cheek.
"Stay the night, Jonas. You've had a lot to drink. You should be driving."
"That the only reason you want me to stay?" he asked, blushing bright red as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He had had too much to drink, obviously.
"Maybe. I'll leave that ball in your court. You know where the guestroom is and you know where to find me if you need anything. Night, Jonas."
The young Kelwonan watched her go with wide eyes, wondering how to proceed from there. One too many drinks, one tempting offer, one ugly set of facts...
Shaking his head, he left the living room, bypassing the guest bedroom in favor of a far more inviting one.
Sam came awake with a gasp, horrified to once more find herself on a hard metal surface.
"Hey, take it easy," Jonas' voice soothed. "Hey, nurse, could you get the Colonel?"
She opened her eyes slowly, moaning.
"Headache? I can get Janet. She should still be awake."
"She didn't sleep here again?"
"I tried to stop her. Don't worry. She's slept in her own bed the last three or four nights."
Three or four? "How long was I gone?"
"Five days," Jonas answered apologetically. "A lot's happened." He looked up as Jack entered the infirmary and started in their direction. "I'll let the Colonel fill you in," he added, kissing her cheek and giving her hand a squeeze as he rose. "You know where to find me if you need me. Bye, Sam."
"Do you have to leave so soon?"
"I wish I didn't. But I'm needed. Things are flaring up in Council."
She nodded reluctantly. "Don't be a stranger."
"Don't you be one, either."
"Jonas, thank you."
Nodding, he gave her another kiss on the cheek, then started for Janet's office. She sat up abruptly at his entrance.
"Hey, sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't. Is she..."
"She's awake, talking to the Colonel. She's herself again."
"Good." Janet smiled faintly, nodding. "Hey, you... mind if I visit some time?"
"Any time," Jonas assured her, pulling her into a hug. "I'll miss you," he whispered.
"I'll visit when I can. And you don't have to be a stranger, either."
"I'll try not to be," he promised, tightening his hold on her. "Don't ever change, okay?"
"Jonas, do you..."
"Yes. Yes, I do. And if I weren't needed so badly on my world, if it weren't my mess to clean up, I would not go back." He shrugged. "Problem is that I am and it is, you know?"
"I hate long-distance relationships," she sighed. Half a galaxy apart. It hardly got more long-distance than that.
"Well, don't consider yourself spoken for or anything if something more stable comes along. I'll understand. Just... I want you to be happy, Janet."
"Something'll work itself out. These things always do."
"But not always in the ways we foresee," Jonas sighed, shaking his head. "Janet, I want to thank you for everything." He kissed her tenderly. "Don't be a stranger."
She nodded, hanging on to him for a few more minutes before resigning herself to the inevitable. "Walk you to the Gate?" she offered.
Jonas sighed softly and nodded, knowing he would not see her again and hating it. "I'd like that."
"You okay?" Jack asked Sam gently after he had filled her in on the details of her rescue, Janet's reintroduction of the retrovirus, the help the Tokra had given her, the vengeance the System Lords had taken after they had somehow mysteriously found out about Apollo's plans, that Daniel and Teal'c were currently relocating the entire prison-population of Delphi. minus Calpurnia who had been sent beack to Delphi shortly before the System Lords had arrived.
"I'll get Janet," he offered, rising.
"No." Sam shook her head, catching his hand in hers. "It's not that kind of pain." She sighed softly. "I thought it was bad with Jolinar... I didn't understand. I couldn't have. This was... oh, God, sir. If you could know what she..."
"I'm sorry," he whispered, squeezing her hand. Sighing, he reached up and wiped away the solitary tear making its way down her cheek.
"It's like she wanted to destroy everything good or pure that could possibly remind me of life before her!" Sam cried, shaking her head. "Teal'c, Daniel, you..." She trailed off, not wanting him to know what Artemis' plans for him had been. He already had nightmares about Baal. She was not about to add the twist to them where she was the one repeatedly torturing him to death.
"It's okay, Carter."
"I need to get out of here," she announced abruptly, struggling to rise. "I..."
"Carter," he said firmly, rising and pushing her back into the bed. "It's okay. It's over."
"It'll never be over..."
"You're strong. You can fight this. She's gone. She didn't make it. She can never hurt you again," Jack assured her.
"Get me out of here," she pled.
"Where do you want to go?"
"Topside. I... I want to see the sun, just the one of them..." That way she would know. Delphi had two suns. She had to see that single one.
Jack nodded his understanding and helped her to her feet. "Okay. Come on. Janet'll probably be awhile saying goodbye to Jonas." At her confused look, he shrugged. "Guess they're an item now."
"Good. They deserve to be happy. Especially Jonas. He's had a lot of heart-ache."
"He's a good kid. He saved our lives."
"I remember. He was right. I didn't see it coming." She smiled weakly up at him as they stepped onto the elevator. "Too much time with you last year, sir. He's turning into a smart-ass."
"Good for him." Jack smiled down at her.
They spent the rest of the elevator ride in silence and ignored the looks the guards were giving the hospital-gown clad woman as the two made their way to one of the compounds many wooded areas. Sam stared at the setting sun with a smile, inhaling deeply. Just the one...
"It was like a nightmare," she said after awhile.
"So how do you cope? How do you forget?" Jack agreed, nodding. "I have a few of those experiences under my belt."
"Probably more than I ever will," she answered quietly, bowing her head. "Worse, too."
"Don't do that, Sam," he sighed.
Her head shot up at his casual use of his first name, as well as the compassion and affection in his tone.
"No matter how much pain anyone else has been in, it doesn't change how much you were in. It doesn't change how much you're in now." He gave her an understanding smile and squeezed her shoulder. "Maybe we should get back. Janet'll go ballistic if she realizes you're not still in the infirmary."
"I don't care. It's so beautiful up here..."
"I take walks up here sometimes at night."
"Sometimes you need other people. Sometimes it helps to be alone."
"I don't want to be alone right now. I can't." She shook her head.
"Then it's a good thing you aren't," he murmured, steering her deeper into the woods. "This is a good place to sit," he added, gesturing towards a fallen tree.
"Thank you, sir." She smiled up at him and sat down, her smile widening slightly as he sat down next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
"Dawn may be a long way off, Carter, but the nightmare's over."
She looked up at him, startled, wondering if he knew how eloquent the statement had been. He usually eschewed even the pretence of eloquence, preferring to be an abrasive, sardonic smart-ass. At least in public.
"You're going to be okay," he promised. "A lot of people care about you and'll do anything to get you through this."
"I appreciate it, sir," she whispered, leaning against his arm.
"We'll get you through this," he promised again, squeezing Sam's shoulder and leaning into her as well. "You're okay," he promised, wrapping his other arm around her as well. "You're going to be okay."
Sighing softly, Sam closed her eyes and nodded, gratefully drawing support from him. Part of her had doubted that she would ever get over the events of the past month. That part was effectively quelled by her absolute faith in her CO, her friend.
Dawn was a long way off, but the nightmare was over.
She would be okay. They all would, by working together through the hard times, laughing together in the good times, and drawing strength from one another always.
Exactly as it had always been. Exactly as it always would be...