With a couple of sloppy salutes to the General and a few last minute adjustments to their gear, the foursome stepped through the Gate, exactly as they had done so many times before.
The planet they emerged on was not what they were expecting at all, however, based on the M.A.L.P. recons they had studied for the last several weeks before putting this planet on the mission list.
Jack, first through the Gate and already halfway down the weather beaten stone stairs, turned in a panic towards Major Carter as she emerged from the event horizon. The terror in his eyes made Sam's blood run cold. There weren''t many things that scared the Colonel. The howling wind made it almost impossible for Sam to hear his urgent cry.
"Carter! Something's wrong with the atmosphere! Dial us out of here NOW! Can't…"
O'Neill suddenly collapsed, his hands clutching his throat, and rolled to the foot of the stone steps.
Carter also immediately felt the nightmarish sensation of suffocating in an atmosphere not fit to breathe.Adrenaline born of panic flooding her, she charged towards the DHD, her hand clapped over her mouth.She too was overcome by the inhospitable air around them. Collapsing, Sam tumbled in a heap behind the DHD. Daniel and Teal'C were in the action of rushing to the sides of their fallen teammates before they realized they were also in trouble.
Teal'C was not as quickly affected by the hostile atmosphere as the Earthlings were and managed to get to the DHD and dial out before he too fell, unconscious, at the base of the dialing device.
Back in the control room, the klaxons sounded an incoming wormhole. Concerned and mystified, General Hammond came out to the control room, but no iris code was received. He had no choice but to leave the iris closed.
"Sergeant, can you determine where that wormhole originated?"
"Yes sir. It's from PX-980, the planet where SG1 just went."
Walter and George exchanged a look of alarm.
Jack slowly emerged from the blackness of unconsciousness, his head pounding. The last things he could remember were the sound of the screaming wind and the suffocating crush of an alien atmosphere burning his lungs. But thankfully those were just memories now, and in their place he found himself breathing good air .
Sitting up gingerly, he discovered he was on the floor of a metallic walled room with no visible windows or doors. Teal'C was already stirring next to him. Daniel and Carter were still unconscious.
"T, are you okay? Do you know where we are?"
"I do not, O'Neill. I have also been unconscious. This appears to be the inside of a spaceship."
"Or something. Daniel? Carter?"
O'Neill dragged himself over to Sam and felt her pulse. Reassured, he repeated the inspection on Daniel, discovering they were both alive with strong pulses.
"How could the M.A.L.P. be so totally wrong?" O'Neill questioned, rubbing his aching forehead. His head was pounding, and his sight was fuzzy, but slowly clearing.
A groan from Daniel alerted them that he too was now returning to the land of the conscious.
"What happened?" Daniel muttered.
"Not sure, but at least we're all still alive," Jack answered. "How do you feel, Danny?"
"Like I've been run over by a truck," he answered, in accordance with how Jack also felt.
Jack crawled back over to Sam. He spoke to her and gently brushed the hair away from her eyes as he repeatedly urged her to wake up, but got no response.
Sitting next to Sam, Jack looked around at their surroundings, already trying to think his way out of this one. Teal'C, feeling better than any of them thanks to his alien physiology, was already pacing around the room's perimeter, checking patiently and methodically for anything that could be a latch or a hidden door. He found a recessed panel in the far wall that had a lever that looked moveable. He glanced over at Jack, who was watching him, and indicated his find.
"I don't think we should try to unlatch anything. We might expose ourselves to that poisonous atmosphere again," Jack advised.
Teal'C removed his hand from the lever as if it was red hot.
"I guess we just wait until whoever put us in here shows up," Daniel observed groggily.
The three sat there in silence, at a loss for what to do. It would seem there was nothing they could do, no action they could take, and that ate away at Jack as the minutes crept past.
General Hammond watched in alarm as the wormhole from PX-980 shut off without producing SG1 or any signals from them. He grabbed the com.
"This is General Hammond. Get a M.A.L.P. up here to the Gateroom A.S.A.P.," he barked into the receiver. Sergeant Walter Harriman analyzed the data from the recent wormhole over and over, but could find no clue as to who might have opened the Gate from the other side. He stood and began to pace in front of the window overlooking the Gate room, as restless as the General while they waited for the M.A.L.P. to be delivered.
The probe arrived in record time, a feat for which Hammond would have given high praises were he not so focused on the problem at hand, that of determining what had happened to his flagship team. The M.A.L.P. crawled at a maddeningly slow pace up the ramp and serenely disappeared through the event horizon. As soon as the back wheels had completely dematerialized, Walter and George hung over the monitor screen, their two bald heads almost touching in their zeal to learn what was happening on the planet.
"This can't be right, sir," Walter said disbelievingly.
"What, Sergeant?" Hammond asked sharply.
"The M.A.L.P. is reporting an atmosphere made of hostile components. This is nothing like the readings we had before. Thiese new readings indicate that this planet's atmosphere is poisonous to human life."
Hammond's heart felt like ice. "That can't be accurate. I saw the last readings myself. Is it a malfunction?"
Harriman fiddled with the screen in front of him, ordering the M.A.L.P. to re-run it's diagnostics. "No sir, I'm getting the same readings."
"Have the remote cameras look all around the Gate and DHD, Sergeant. If they died in the atmosphere, their..." Hammond stopped, unwilling to finish stating his fear that they were all dead. Walter swung the cameras by remote control in all directions. After several minutes of carefully surveying the area around the Gate, he straightened and looked up at the General.
"There are no bodies there, sir. We've run into civilizations before that have purposely misled our instruments to discourage us from visiting their planet."
"Contact the Tok'Ra, Sergeant. See if they are familiar with the coordinates of this planet and can give us any helpful information. Meanwhile, get some hazmat suits that will filter out that atmosphere and make it possible for us to send a rescue team."
"Yes sir," Walter sang out enthusiastically as General Hammond left the control room and returned to his office. They weren't going to give up on SG1 just yet.
Sam still remained unconscious and the three men were beginning to be seriously concerned for her. It seemed strange that the three of them were awake and almost completely recovered while she remained out cold.
One wall suddenly began to shimmer and undulate, and seconds later, a figure stepped through wearing a self-contained atmospheric suit. The wall returned to its solid state as the alien removed his head gear. Jack was startled to realize he knew the man..
"Narim! You're alive!" exclaimed Jack.
"Colonel O'Neill, it is good to see you awake," the polite Tollan replied.
"I was very worried about you. I brought you all here as quickly as possible. You are lucky I noticed the Gate had been activated and that I observed you come through. I am on patrol of this sector today. You should not suffer any ill effects from your brief exposure. "
His eyes strayed to Sam and an expression of worry clouded his features.
"I regret Major Carter was exposed slightly longer than the rest of you. I could only transport you onto the ship one at a time, and I didn't see her at first."
Narim sounded very upset. Jack recalled Narim's affection for Sam at their last meeting and felt a twinge of inappropriate possessiveness.
"Well, is she going to be okay?"
"I think so." O'Neill's eyes narrowed at this non-answer from Narim.
"Narim, it's wonderful to see you again. How did you escape the destruction of Tollana?" Daniel asked.
"A group of us were able to escape in ships. The Goa'uld ships are not as fast as ours, and we outran them. We wandered in space for a long time. We landed on this planet when our supplies began running low, and set up force fields to protect ourselves from the atmosphere."
"How do you manufacture the oxygen you need to breathe?" Daniel was intrigued.
"All the essential gases are present in this atmosphere. We filter out the poisonous elements and use the rest in our protected city. This planet is more agreeable than it appears. There is plentiful ground water, and we are able to grow our food within the protected areas. And this is a world the Goa'uld will never explore. We believe that the gases in the atmosphere that are poisonous to humans are even more deadly for the Goa'uld."
Jack glanced sharply at Sam upon hearing this last bit of information.
"Could the naquadah in Carter's blood be making her more vulnerable to the poisons?"
"It is quite possible," Narim admitted regretfully. "I will take you to the Tollan colony in this ship. We can take Samantha to our medical facility there and try to help her. I am at a loss as to why she has been affected to such an extent when the Jaffa Teal'C has shown no ill effects. The symbiote within him should have been poisoned and killed."
"Teal'C no longer carries a symbiote, thanks to a miracle drug we have recently discovered."
"That is good news, Teal'C, that the Jaffa can finally be free of the Gou'ald." Narim looked at Teal'C, astonished. Teal'C bowed his head respectfully.
"Narim, I need to contact General Hammond and tell him what's going on."
"I am sorry, Colonel O'Neill, but we must first report to the Council of Tollana."
O'Neill became silent, disturbed by Narim's pronouncement, but he offered no outward resistance. His prior experience with the Tollan told him he needed to do things their way for now. Narim disappeared the same way he had materialized, presumably returning to navigate the ship.
As the ship made a shaky landing a few minutes later at the Tollan settlement, the jerky movements of the ship tossed Carter's head forcefully against Jack's knee.
"Ouch," Sam clearly declared. Her hands went up to hold her head between her hands like a vice.
"Carter?" Jack questioned her.
"Yes, sir," Sam returned faintly.
"We were getting worried about you. Do you know where we are? Do you remember what happened?"
Jack was trying to see if she was fully conscious yet.
"We're on PX-980, and the atmosphere is unbreathable," Sam returned accurately, still holding her head with both hands. The men exchanged an amused look, knowing that only Sam would remember the planet's designation code when she was barely conscious.
Jack reached down and gently put his arms around her back and shoulders. "Wanna sit up?"
He began to slowly lift her when she agreed, being careful to not jostle her head. His head was still aching; he could only imagine what she was going through.
"This sucks," she complained softly. "Sir." She added.
"Where are we now? How did we survive?"
"Well," Jack began, you won't believe it-"
The wall of their holding room shimmered and waved again and Narim stepped through, cutting off Jack's explanation.
"Samantha!" Narim called joyfully upon seeing her sitting up. Sam sat up straight and looked in his direction.
"Who's that?" She gasped, her face a mask of shock and hope.
Only then did Jack realize that Sam couldn't see them. He waved his fingers in front of her face. She didn't react at all.
"It is I, Narim. It is wonderful to see you again, Samantha."
"Narim!" She responded happily.
Jack rolled his eyes impatiently. Narim's blatant adoration for Carter never failed to irritate him.
"This planet holds the remnant of Tollana," Narim explained to Sam, using the opportunity to move close to her side.
"Uh, Narim?" Jack said worriedly. "Why can't she see anything?"
Jack's question made Sam aware that her inability to see was limited to her alone. Up until this point, she had assumed the room was simply dark. Sam began to look around wildly and latched onto to Jack's arm.
"She should receive medical attention immediately," was Narim's typically evasive reply.
"What happened to me?"
"It's a residual effect from the poison in the atmosphere, Sam. It'll probably clear up soon." Jack's voice was meant to be reassuring, but the fact that he'd called her Sam told her that he was deeply concerned.
"C'mon, we're going into the Tollan city." Jack helped her up and kept an arm around her waist to guide her.
The new settlement was a study in contrasts. Food producing crops grew in every available strip of soil. There were no fancy buildings or soaring fountains like there had been on Tollana, but evidence of the Tollan's advanced technology was evidenced in the oddest places. The clear forcefield was holding the malevolent looking poisonous gases at bay and the swirling outer air could be seen all around the force field. Some of the ships they had used to come to this planet had been converted into living structures. Rough shack-like homes were scattered incongruously here and there among the gleaming metallic ships.
Narim directed them to one of the metallic buildings. The medical facilities were within, he explained. As they reached their destination, Jack found himself almost totally supporting Sam's weight. She was blacking out again. Teal'C came up on Sam's other side and helped steady her while they walked her inside to a room not unlike an Earth emergency room. Another Tollan came up to them, a look of astonishment on his face, and Narim introduced them all.
"Put the woman here," the doctor instructed them, indicating a bed with a glowing headboard. Jack could feel a steady heat emanating from the glow as they got Sam situated. They were allunwilling to leave Sam in her present state, but the doctor shooed them out.
"I will contact Narim when I am finished healing this woman," the doctor pronounced with a confidence that bordered on haughtiness. Daniel gave Jack a look that conveyed his distaste for the man's demeanor and Jack nodded almost imperceptibly. Jack glanced back over his shoulder as the man crowded them out of the facility and firmly shut the door behind them. Even though he knew the Tollan would do no harm to her, he was reluctant to leave her with strangers in her present state. But it would appear he had no choice.
With a sigh of discontent, Jack followed Narim out into the street. What had they gotten themselves into this time? His heart was heavy with misgiving.
"Would you like to speak with our council while we wait for Samantha to be treated?" Narim invited the three men who walked behind him, taking in the haphazard collection of buildings that comprised New Tollana. "It is a completely new council. None of the old council with whom you were familiar survived the invasion."
As they walked, an unpleasant thought occurred to Daniel.
"Uhhh, what part do your people think the T'auri played in the destruction of Tollana?"
"The official version is the true one, that our old council was corrupt and compromised by the Goa'uld. However, I will not deceive you. There are many who believe the T'auri were ultimately responsible for Tollana's fall."
"The old council members were the ones who invited us into that bad deal, as I remember," Jack burst out. "What is the new council's policy on contact and exchange with other worlds?" Jack asked, remembering the isolationist attitude of the Tollan Council he had known before the invasion.
"You will find that this view has only been strengthened by the recent catastrophes which the remnant has had to endure. We certainly have no wish to make our presence known to any other worlds."
Jack's inner alarm bells began loudly ringing at this revelation. Getting off this world could prove to be difficult if the Tollan decided they wouldn't take the risk of being found.
Narim stopped in front of another converted ship-building and ushered them in. They walked down a metal hallway that had clearly been a passageway on the ship and soon arrived in a room that appeared to have been the bridge, now converted to a meeting hall. Narim had been busy alerting the leaders of the outpost to the presence of the visitors, for a group of stern Tollans already were seated around the center of the room on backless chairs, silently waiting for Jack and his team.
"You may be seated," a small grey-haired man directed them, indicating several stools opposite the Council. Daniel and Teal'C glanced at Jack for his nod before taking the offered seats. The man then resumed his own seat before addressing the three newcomers.
"How did you learn of the Tollan's presence on this world?" he asked softly, addressing Jack, with a dignity that demanded respect.
"Your..honor," Jack stumbled, not sure what to call the man, "...we knew nothing of the Tollan presence on this world. We are explorers. This planet just happened to be next on a long list of possible worlds our people are curious to explore."
Daniel stood up in response to Jack's glance in his direction and continued. "We sent a probe to this planet four days ago, and received data from that probe indicating that the atmosphere, temperature and environment were similar to Earth's and therefore favorable for humans. We cannot explain how our probe sent back such erroneous information."
"We can explain," a female voice answered in melodious tones. A woman with flowing brown hair, salted with grey, wearing the traditional metallic robe of the Tollan, stood and elegantly made her way closer to the humans. "My name is Senil. We have the ability to erect forcefields to protect ourselves from the hostile atmosphere of the planet, as you are already aware. Four days ago, such a forcefield was in place around the Stargate. We are conducting our own planetary explorations through the Stargate in the hope of eventually finding a more suitable home for our people. Your probe came through and we believed we had been discovered by an enemy. We took down the forcefield and disconnected your probe's power source earlier today, after much debate. We did not recognize the machine as T'auri."
"I was monitoring the Gate just after we removed the forcefield," Narim volunteered. "That's how I happened to observe your arrival. As soon as I recognized you Ibrought you inside my ship."
"That part I remember," Jack sighed.
"If we had seen the true nature of your planet's atmosphere, we would have bypassed this planet, you know," Daniel couldn't help observing rather sharply.
"Yes, that is very unfortunate, and we are sincerely sorry," Senil agreed regretfully. "However, it does not change the decision the Council is forced to come to under the circumstances. We cannot allow you to return to your world and risk knowledge of our whereabouts falling into the wrong hands. Your team must remain here."
"Wait a minute here," Jack retorted loudly. "Last I checked, your enemy is the same enemy we're fighting. We're not going to tell the Goa'uld where you are!" Jack had leapt to his feet in outrage. Jack bit his tongue to keep from blurting out the rest of his thought, concerning his memory of the Tollan being all too willing to betray the T'auri to the Goa'uld to save their own butts. Daniel gave him a warning glance, knowing what he was about to say.
"Our last encounter with your kind resulted in the disaster that led the Tollan remnant to take refuge on this planet," the small grey topped man said disdainfully.
"I would respectfully differ with that statement..." Daniel began, but was cut off.
"You cannot be trusted to leave this world with the knowledge of our new home," Senil concluded. "We will keep you here on New Tollana and the your people will eventually conclude that you are all dead. Narim has expressed his generosity in providing you with a place to live for now. This meeting is over."
The Council stood and left the dumbfounded men standing aimlessly in the chamber. After a few minutes, Narim cleared his throat and looked pointedly at Jack.
"If there was any other way, Colonel," he began hesitantly.
Ignoring him, Jack stood and walked out of the chamber in a brooding silence,Daniel and Teal'C following behind him. The look of dark anger on Jack's face was enough to keep Narim from saying anything else.
Narim silently escorted them back down the main street to a simple structure, and into a room with four cots and a rough stone table, not large, but adequate. Jack was relieved to see Sam had returned from the healers and was already inside.
The structure consisted of four walls loosely joined by a roof made of an open weave of metal slats. Inside, the area was divided into a living and sleeping area and a relatively private bathroom. The four beds were lined along one side of the room opposite the stone table with a bench on either side. Jack sawthat Sam was seated cross-legged on one of the beds, staring at the empty wall just beyond him.
Narim bowed and made a quick exit to give the team time to absorb the disappointing decision of the Council. Jack studied Sam apprehensively, dreading the answer to the question on all of their minds.
"Carter, how's your eyes?"
Her look of intense concentration morphed into an uncomfortable grimace of self-consciousness. "There's no change, sir," she admitted apologetically.
Jack moved to her side and sat down next to her, unable to keep from showing his sudden concern.
"I thought Narim said they could heal you," Jack protested. Waving his hand in front of her eyes and seeing no reaction, he shot a look of alarm at Teal'C and Daniel.
"I feel much better, actually," Sam explained. "The headache is gone and I no longer feel weak or dizzy."
"But, you can't see," Jack pointed out unnecessarily.
"The healer, doctor, whatever he is, said it may take several days for my optic nerves to recover. Or longer." Sam closed her eyes and turned her face away from them. Jack could hear a hitch in her breathing and knew she was trying not to cry in front of her teammates.
"Hey, it'll be okay," Jack answered quietly after a minute. "It's temporary, right? We'll wait it out, that's all. And another thing," Jack addressed them all, "It may take a while to figure out how to get home, but we're going to get home. Meanwhile, we're in no immediate danger."
"I've been thinking about that, sir. There's got to be a main control center for the forcefield surrounding the city and we have to find it and set up a forcefield around the Stargate-"
"You need to relax and let yourself recover," Teal'C's calm voice washed over her. "Colonel O'Neill is correct. We will soon find a way out of here and return to Earth."
Sam didn't answer, although she nodded her head in the direction of Teal'C's voice. It was unnerving not to be able to see them as they talked to her. She hadn't realized until now how much she relied on body language and nonverbal cues to communicate. Feeling acutely vulnerable, Sam curled her arms around her knees and hid her face. Jack's fingers tightened comfortingly on her shoulder.
There was a soft knock at the entrance to their quarters and Daniel opened the door to reveal two young Tollan girls, apparently sent by Narim, carrying large trays of food and drink. Smiling shyly, the two deposited the trays on the table and left without a word, bowing and smiling. Daniel immediately moved to the trays and began inspecting the wares. He was pleased to find a very generous supply of fresh fruits and something a lot like peanut butter, along with a bread-like accompaniment.
"Nice," approved O'Neill, leaving Sam's cot and eagerly moving to a seat on one of the benches with Teal'C. The three men had already taken several mouthfuls before Jack looked over at Sam, suddenly struck by the fact that she had not moved off the bed, and just as suddenly stricken by guilt when he realized why. He jumped up and was at her side in a few seconds.
"C'mon, Carter, aren't you hungry?" Jack asked confidently, placing a hand around her upper arm and smoothly leading her to the table. With seamless efficiency, he helped her to sit down and placed a piece of fruit in one of her hands. More at ease, Sam bit greedily into the fruit. Every few minutes, Jack made sure to offer her something to eat or drink until she let him know she was full.
As he finished his own meal, he couldn't help but notice and wonder at how close to his side she chose to stay. Even now that she was finished her meal, she leaned very lightly against him, not moving or speaking. It was gratifying, yet unsettling to Jack, that she needed him so, both physically and emotionally. This Sam Carter was a stranger to him, and she was drawing emotions to the surface that were definitely not ones he normally felt around Carter.
When the contents of the trays had been reduced to the odd crumb here and there, he poured each of them a cup of rosy liquid from an ornate flask in the center of one of the trays and gamely tasted it first, while both Daniel and Teal'C watched him carefully.
"Mmm," he announced approvingly, "it tastes like fruit juice. The fermented kind." Jack smiled as he handed out the glasses, already planning to drink the glass he knew Teal'C would not touch. When he got to Sam's, he took her hand and gently placed the full goblet into her hand.
"Taste it, it's good," he encouraged.
Sam raised the glass to her lips, but overestimated the weight of the cup and spilled it down the front of her shirt. Jack winced at the look of embarrassment and intense frustration that crossed Sam's face. He looked over at Daniel and Teal'C and nodded silently at the door.
"Uhh, I think we'll return these leftovers to the kitchen...wherever that is," Daniel announced clearly. "Teal'C, want to help me find where this stuff came from?"
"Indeed, Daniel Jackson," Teal'C hurried to agree.
When they had made their exit, Jack carefully took the glass from Sam's hands.
"Hey," he said softly. "It's okay."
"No, it's not," Sam whispered brokenly. "I can't do this."
In his heart, Jack doubted that he could do it either, were he in Sam's shoes, but he also knew that's not what she needed to hear right now.
"You said yourself that the healer thinks it will just be a few days, but until you get your sight back you're going to have to rely on us. Trust me. Can you do that?"
Sam tossed her head angrily. "Could you?" She retorted unexpectedly, surprising Jack.
"I...I honestly don't know, Carter. I don't really trust anybody," he answered with brutal honesty. "All I can tell you is I'm willing to be your eyes, for as long as you need me to be. One thing I do trust is that you would do the same for me, if our situations were reversed. Now how about I find you a clean shirt and you can wash up and change out of that wet one?"
Sam blew out a breath noisily and nodded meekly. "Sounds good. This is getting cold."
"Be right back."
Sam was disgusted to discover that she immediately felt anxious in his absence. Looking around experimentally, she was frightened even more to find that there were no lights or darks anywhere, just a uniform blackness all around. Of all the situations she had imagined herself getting into, blindness was not one of them. She was a very visual thinker, and took her ability to see for granted. Up until the moment she had awoken on Narim's ship, shrouded by darkness, she had never even once contemplated what it would be like to lose her sight. The few minutes alone felt like hours. Panic began to seep in around the edges of her consciousness.
Where was he?
"Jack?" She blurted out when she could no longer handle the claustrophobic sensation of isolation.
"I'm right here," he answered gently, his voice much closer than she had expected. She turned towards his voice with a start.
"I've been looking everywhere in your pack for a change. Didn't you bring any clean clothes?"
"Yes, sir. If you bring me the backpack I can dig something out."
Jack sat down next to her again and placed the backpack in her hands. Reaching behind and below the main compartment, Sam deftly unzippered a pouch lashed onto the pack and pulled out a couple of shirts along with a pair of desert khaki BDU pants. Clean socks threatened to tumble out onto the dirty floor but Jack halted them in mid-fall.
"One of them is grey and one's black," Sam said, referring to the shirts. "I want the long-sleeved black one."
Jack smiled at the authority returning to Sam's tone and handed her the requested article of clothing, carefully replacing her other clothes in the zippered pouch. He then helped her up and led her by the arm into the wash room.
"Okay, Sam, here's a towel, some soap, and a basin of water. Sorry, the water's cold. The Tollan haven't quite recovered their former level of technology yet, it would seem. And there is a shelf here where I'm putting your clean shirt..." he held her hands and moved them from item to item as he outlined the location of each. "I'll leave you to it, okay? If you need me, I'll be waiting at the table, just call me."
"Thanks." Sam sounded defeated. She stood still as a statue until she heard the door click shut behind him. Biting her lip, she determinedly stripped off her wet tee and began methodically going through the process of washing and changing, determined to do this alone so as not to risk further humiliation. For humiliated she was. If nothing else, she was above all a woman who prided herself on her self-sufficiency and ability to work her way through whatever life threw at her.
She soon finished thoroughly soaping her arms and torso, but froze when she realized she'd already forgotten where the basin of water was. Tentatively reaching around her in ever-increasing circles, the bar of soap clenched in one hand, she came into firm contact with the basin from the worst angle possible, upsetting it onto the floor with a crash.
Jack was standing at the door of their domicile, waiting for her call and watching the street beyond, when he heard the crash from behind in the washroom, followed by a scream of fury, some very unprofessional and very impressive cursing, and the sound of something smashing into the wall of the bathrooom with a dull thud. In two long strides, he threw open the door, fearing Sam had fallen, to find her standing in the middle of the tiny cubicle, surrounded by the spilled water, fallen basin and a dirty, broken bar of soap on the floor. Her face was livid and tears were already leaking down her cheeks.
"Sam?" Jack said incredulously. She turned towards the sound of his voice, stripped to the waist and covered with soap suds save for a now damp white running bra. She had never looked so frail and vulnerable, or beautiful, as she did now, standing before him in a rage born of desperation. She must have realized her state of undress even as he drank in her appearance, for she wrapped her arms protectively around her chest and turned away from him again, still sobbing angrily.
"All right, all right, it's not a disaster, Sam, come on, I'll..." he stuttered, mentally reining himself in as he reached for the wet cloth and grabbed the basin. There was still an inch of water in the bottom, and without further hesitation he began washing the soap off her arms and back. Half-expecting her to deck him, he relaxed by degrees as she remained still and unresisting to his touch. She was shivering now, so he quickly finished the improvised sponge bath and wrapped a towel around her.
"Dry off, and I'll give you your shirt." Jack stepped back. He knew Sam. She needed to claim as much independence as possible in this situation and he was trying to figure out where the line was between being helpful and being patronizing.
"Okay," she whispered after a minute, the first word she had uttered since her explosion.
"Here." He put the black tee she had requested into her hands. Once she was dressed again, he carefully reached out and took her hand, intending to lead her back to the common room. Instead, Sam's hands crept along his arm to his shoulder and she snuggled irresistably against him, still sniffling a little. Jack melted at her need for him, returning the embrace wholeheartedly. After a minute or two of simply breathing in Jack's steady, familiar presence, Sam seemed much more composed.
"Tired?" His hand unconsciously feathered through her hair.
"You need some rest." Jack directed her to her bed and pulled a blanket over her still shivering body once she had settled down. He sat down next to her, watching her eyes close from exhaustion.
"Major?" he ventured just before she drifted off completely. "We're going to get through this, got it?"
"Yes sir," Sam answered after a minute.
"Are you, umm, where are you..." she stumbled to a halt.
"Right here, next to you. Reach out your left hand." She did, and felt the mattress of the next bed yield under her palm.
"That's my bed, right there. If you need me for whatever, just reach out and pound on the mattress and I'll wake up. Eventually. Be persistent, Carter. I want to be here for you, believe that. But I sleep pretty heavy," he said, and she could hear the playful teasing in his voice. It lifted her spirits more than anything had that whole long, difficult day.
"Now I feel better," Sam mumbled, sinking bonelessly into the mattress.
"Good," Jack smiled. "Now get some sleep. And I'm gonna go tell the guys it's safe to come back in, okay?" He patted her arm and pulled the blanket up more securely around her shoulders.
Feeling warm, cared for and a lot less afraid, Sam slipped into a much needed slumber.
A/N: It may be a week or so before I update. The second chapter is written but I'm still not sure where it's all going! Not sure what to do with Narim either, sigh. This was fun to write but now what! Only thing that is certain is Sam and Jack, they are MTBT.