Sam fumbled with her keys beneath the light of her porch.
A long, hot shower, and then her bed for a few hours before she went back in to the SGC to check on the Colonel.
Not that he'd be aware of her presence. It had taken the doctors nearly an hour to find the source of the problems; a hematoma near the kidney. During that time, SG-1 had been checked out by various orderlies, ordered to bed by General Hammond and fallen asleep on various infirmary furniture while they waited for the operation to finish.
Teal'c had even snapped a photo of her and Daniel sleeping against each other. The flash had woken them up to the news that the Colonel was in a stable condition. He'd be off the team for over a month, and grumpy as hell, but after recuperating, he'd be fine. Fit as a fiddle and ready to take the team out through the wormhole again.
As she shoved her keys into the lock and opened the door, Sam paused. There was a light on in her living area. She'd been pretty sure she'd turned everything off before she left this morning. Cautiously, she shut the door behind her, trudged along the corridor, and slid open the door to her living room.
Candlelight greeted her, small tea-lights set around the dining and coffee table; soft music playing in the background, and a small nest of bedding that had been set down on the floor of the living room. A small box of roses sat on the table next to two wine glasses.
Pete got up from the couch to greet her, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Hey, Sam," he said, approaching her slowly, his arms open for a hug. "I thought you might like to wind down a bit after everything that happened today."
Sam stared at the setup, almost too shocked to return the embrace he gave her. When she didn't respond to his overture, he pulled back, "Sam?"
It wasn't that she wasn't glad to see him, it was just that...she wasn't glad to see him.
She'd thought she'd made herself clear, earlier, when she left the community centre with her team. She'd call him later, deal with the issues between them later rather than after the long, tiring day. Had she said that? Or was that just implied?
Whichever it was, he'd pre-empted her, giving her no space to find her footing and consider the situation between them. It was a familiar complaint.
Pete's actions might be sweet, but they were highly unwelcome as far as timing went. She was tired, grumpy, and not inclined to deal with him right now at the end of a long day.
Which said something about their relationship right there.
Sam opened her mouth to ask what he was doing here - an inane question, it was blatantly obvious what he was doing here - and stopped.
The day's events had compressed all the issues and problems and regrets about her relationship with Pete into a hot, hard ball of aggravation and dropped it into her stomach.
It wasn't just the day's stresses, either; it was a cumulative aggregation of the months they'd been dating. From Pete's inability to understand the importance of her professional work, to the way he didn't seem to be able to permit her personal boundaries. From the way he was charming and polite and lovely and sweet, but beneath it all lurked the memory of words said in anger, and sulks worn in peevishness. From his greeting this morning to the setup this evening...
Abruptly, Sam realised why she'd fallen so easily into her relationship with Pete.
She'd been here before.
The man had been much the same; handsome, with a magnetic personality, and a way of charming you over to his point of view. The younger Sam had followed Jonas Hanson like a star in a binary system followed the black hole its companion had become. And, like a black hole, Jonas had sucked away the edges of her personality, moulding her likes and dislikes to his preferences, overruling her desires and persuading her towards his own.
How galling to discover that, in ten years, her essential taste in men hadn't changed.
Sam looked at Pete, seeing the smooth, soft lines of his jaw, the growing expression of hurt on his face as she failed to respond to his overture. She sighed, audible in the silence, and bent forward to blow out the tea-lights on the table before she straightened and addressed him.
"Pete, we have to talk."
Sam sat in the silence of the infirmary and stared at the Colonel's serene visage beyond her laptop screen.
Freedom was a strange feeling.
The fact that she felt free at all was damning testament to her relationship with Pete.
In the end, she'd found she didn't want to stay home after all. So she'd showered, collected some journals she'd wanted, and driven in to the SGC, ignoring the raised eyebrow of the evening guard at the gate of the complex.
But her lab had seemed too quiet, the gentle hum of the background mainframes failing to comfort her as she looked over the work she'd been doing that morning, before the call came in. So she'd descended to the infirmary, ignoring the duty nurse's startled look, and setting herself up beside the Colonel.
He was stable. The nurse had assured her of that. She'd checked through the charts while the man stood by, watching her with a little disbelief as she confirmed what he'd told her. Seven years of travelling through the Stargate, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of infirmary stays meant Sam had a more-than-passing acquaintance with the infirmary and the charts that listed a patient's state of body after operation.
There was nothing wrong with the Colonel that time and rest wouldn't fix now.
So she let him rest and tried to write up a report on the day.
She couldn't think straight.
She didn't want to think about the day and everything that had happened in it. Even the most basic of descriptions, shorn of emotionality, made her stomach squirm uncomfortably.
When Pete and the SWATs surprised her, she hadn't been thinking at all. She'd been reacting on a hair-trigger. If it hadn't been for the Colonel's intervention, she would have killed those men and done it without thought of right or wrong or any remorse.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For those minutes, she'd been invincible, capable of doing anything without consequences. She'd forgotten morals, tenets, ethics; the only measure of right and wrong had been her desire to inflict destruction and her ability to channel her will.
She'd come so close to becoming a monster. Again.
There was a reason she'd never practised using the ribbon device. General Hammond had initially suggested that she might like to try working with it, but Sam had resisted the suggestions and he'd never made it an order. The kind of power the device gave her could too easily become an addiction, and Sam had been afraid she wouldn't be able to stop, so she never started.
In spite of her heavy jacket and the warmth of the infirmary, Sam shivered a little. The silence of the infirmary seemed oppressive, and was only broken by the breathing of the man sleeping off the anaesthetic.
The surgeon had removed two bullets from his leg, one lodged dangerously near to the femoral artery. The torn muscle tissue would heal, but the surgeons weren't sure how well. Only time would allow them to determine the extent of use he'd have when it healed.
Pete had only been trying to protect her; but his actions had gotten the Colonel hurt. The last time he'd interrupted, trying to 'protect' her, he'd gotten himself hurt. She'd been willing to overlook his ineptitude the first time, but the second time...
Her eyelids lowered over her eyes and she winced. She was tired, and all she wanted was to sleep, but she was still too wired to do so. The confrontation with Pete had been tiring. And difficult.
Now, to top the day off, Sam Carter was single again.
Disappointment was bitter in her mouth as she stared at the screen before her. She'd pinned so many hopes on her relationship with Pete, only to discover that what she'd seen in him wasn't what she wanted in him. And she felt like an idiot for not seeing the similarity between Pete and Jonas Hanson before.
Back to square one.
This time, she'd do it with her eyes wide open and wary.
Still, she supposed as she sat back and watched the Colonel breathe, it wasn't the first time she'd become monofocused on something. Her problem had always been that she drew a straight line from her present position to her goal and refused to deviate from it.
The words of an old college friend rang in her brain. The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line, but life isn't a straight line, so trying to live that way is stupid. Sophie had been studying astrophysics, too, but she dabbled in philosophical studies and always loved the really deep discussions about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
This time, Sam would make sure she was enjoying the journey and not just going for the goal.
It wasn't as though she was the only one living with loneliness around here, she supposed. At the end of the day, the Colonel went home alone. So did Daniel. So did Teal'c.
Playing intergalactic explorer was a lonely task.
So was keeping watch.
Sam sat in the chair by the Colonel and studied his face, seeking something else to focus on other than the failures of her love life and her own self-loathing at her near-corruption today.
His usual tan had waxen undertones, but the peace of the anaesthetic had smoothed out some of the lines of his face. His eyelashes seemed oddly dark against the livid shades of his eye hollows, and the wide, thin mouth was drawn at the corners. Not a young man anymore, but a fascinating, intensely complex man for all that he lacked the youth the world so fanatically pursued.
For a moment she couldn't imagine what was making the noise, a faint rasping sound that underpinned the beep of the machines. Then she met the dark eyes, their drowsy gaze focusing on her.
"...Carter..." he managed, his lips half-forming around the syllables of her name.
"Sir." She sat up in her chair and leaned over him, wondering if she should call the nurse back. It was usual for post-op patients to wake up several hours after their operation, but Sam wasn't sure whether or not he was hurting and needed more painkillers slipped into his IV. His expression showed no sign of pain, only a slight dazedness that might have been the remnant of the anaesthetic's effect on his consciousness.
"You're...here..." he managed, and her fingers slipped, unbidden, into his right hand, curling in his palm.
"Yes, sir," she murmured. "I'm here."
His mouth curled in the faintest of smiles as his eyelids slipped shut again, and she felt a wave of tenderness, unstoppable, wash through her, body and soul, as his fingers tightened just a little around her hand. He slid back into the peace of unconsciousness and his hand remained in hers.
Sam decided not to call the nurse, and, instead, eased herself closer to the bed so she could rest her head on its edge, by his chest, and listen to him breathe.
She wasn't entirely alone.
End of Part Nine
- fin -
FEEDBACK: Appreciation is adored, flames and pick-aparts are ignored, criticism is considered but I writes 'em the way I sees 'em and if you don't agree, you don't agree. Them's the breaks.
CHARACTER NOTES: For the character of Pete Shanahan, I extrapolated on the base of what the writers of the show gave us in the episode 'Chimera' (obsessive, paranoid, manipulative, and inept) and simply didn't smooth everything over with a 'no harm, no foul' at the end.