Author/Email: Jo. R 15+
Spoilers: General knowledge seasons 1-7, spoilers for names of characters in season nine. 'Heroes,' 'It's Good to be King,' 'Prodigy,' 'Threads'.
Season/Sequel: Season Nine, standalone.
Category: Angst, Sam/Jack, Drama, violence.
Content Warnings: Violence (past tense)
Summary: "Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance."- Richard von Weizsaecker.
Archive: SJD, SJFic, Heliopolis, GW, Random Ramblings.
Disclaimer: Only five of the characters mentioned in this story are mine. The ones that aren't belong to SciFi, MGM, Gekko Productions et al. No copyright infringement of any kind is meant.
Author's Notes: This story leaves some questions unanswered/left to the readers interpretation/imagination so if that kind of thing isn't for you, skip the fic. It isn't always a 'nice' story, either, so feel free to pass it by on those grounds. Told partly through flashbacks, which will be denoted by 's.
"And how does that make you feel?"
The words were accompanied by a smile she wanted to believe was insincere so she could offer to show him exactly how it felt with the aid of a zat. Unfortunately, the look on his face made her think Mackenzie was being genuine in his concern.
She clenched and unclenched her hands where they rested on the arms of her chair and focused resolutely on the framed diploma on the wall behind him, fighting back the wave of anger threatening to crash over her.
Threatening to wash her away.
It wasn't his fault, she tried to reason with herself. He wasn't responsible for the new addition to the nightmares or the fresh scars on her back. He wasn't the blame for the newly healed skin and still mending bones. He hadn't repeatedly lashed her with leather whips that tore through her skin as she bit her tongue so hard it bled just to keep back the screams he was gleefully expecting. He hadn't beaten her black and blue and broken her arm just because he felt like it, grinning at her in satisfaction at the loud crunch of snapped bones.
No, Mackenzie wasn't to blame.
The man who was appeared in her mind and her hands gripped the arms of her chair just that little tighter. She could still see him clearly, still picture the leer on his face, still smell the state alcohol on his breath. Two teeth were missing at the top and those that remained were yellow and stained. His hands were rough and calloused and he favoured his fists to his palms. His cheeks were full and his nose was too short but pointy and his eyes.. His eyes were grey and hard.
Her breathing quickened despite her attempts to control it, to keep up the preference of being calm and collected and so over it.
"Colonel Carter?" Mackenzie's smile was strained and the concern on his face was uncomfortably clear. "Are you okay? Would you like some water?"
"I'm fine." The words choked her and she tightened her jaw, forcing herself to meet the shrink's gaze. "As fine as anyone who was been enslaved to an narcissistic maniac with no conscience, moral or otherwise, can be."
Mackenzie gave her a small approving nod, no doubt believing they were on the verge of a break-through. Vaguely, Sam wondered if optimism was a trait required to be a psychologist. "I read Doctor Lam's report, Colonel. Your injuries were quite severe when SG-1 found you. There was evidence of multiple beatings but there were no signs of any other trauma.."
The way he said it made her think he was questioning it. Carefully, Sam arranged her features into a neutral expression. "He didn't rape me if that's what you're implying. The reports you've read are accurate in that regard. He tried but he didn't."
"Why didn't he?" Mackenzie sat no the edge of his seat. "It sounds like there are aspects of the reports you do disagree with. Perhaps you'd like to discuss those..?"
"He didn't rape me because I killed him." She said it so calmly they could have been discussing the changes in the weather. Even as Mackenzie blinked in surprise, Sam continued quietly, glancing to the small security camera she knew was soundlessly recording the meeting, her gaze falling to the shadows on the floor caused by the SF's lurking outside.
For his security or hers, she didn't know.
Probably his, she mused dispassionately. He was the one conversing with a murderer.
"I stabbed him in the gut repeatedly and when I was sure he was dead, I rolled him off me and kicked him a few times for good measure." Her voice never faltered, her expression never changed. "Then I helped his other servants take over the house and made my way to the Stargate where I dialled the SGC and waited for them to send through a M.A.L.P to investigate. I disagree with the reports because in them it states that SG-1 came to my rescue, that they saved me. They didn't. I saved myself."
Doctor Mackenzie nodded again, sitting back in his seat. He continued to stare at her, saying nothing. Sam shifted uncomfortably, getting the impression that he was waiting for something, that he was waiting for her to go into more detail.
She didn't want to.
She didn't want to remember it.
Not sitting in his cold office, with the dark walls that would close in on her if she let them. If she let her guard slip just that little bit.
"I want to go back."
The words startled her and she found herself blinking in surprise even as Mackenzie nodded as though he'd expected it, jotting something down on the notepad that was never far.
Still he didn't say anything. Just waited, watching her.
Sam took a deep breath and closed her eyes, picturing the planet in her mind, conjuring the last image of the world she'd been enslaved on she had stored in her memory.
People screaming; some shouting in freedom, some shouting in fear.
The house that had been her prison surrounded by a thickening cloud of smoke, flames flickering at broken windows.
She had turned her back on it so easily, turned her back on the people who had helped her – at their urging, she reminded herself, she wouldn't have left them if either they or she thought she could be of further help.
"I need to go back." Her eyes opened and she caught Mackenzie mid-sentence. The pen in his hand slowed to a halt. "There were people who helped me who might need my help now. Other prisoners. Other slaves. I need to make sure they're okay."
'I need to make sure he's dead.'
Another pitying look.
Another sympathetic smile.
'That's it,' Sam Carter decided, a small growl escaping her throat as she pushed her way out of the over-crowded elevator, barely making it through the closing doors just before they shut complete. 'Next person who looks at me dies.'
Decision made, she glanced behind her at the closed doors to see what level she'd made it to.
'Oh, well,' she thought with a sigh as she made her way to the stairwell. 'Made it three floors further than yesterday.'
It was the same thing every day and had been since she'd returned from her little jaunt at Area 51. Well, from her trip to DC, where she'd gone after receiving orders from a grinning General Landry that the new head of Homeworld Security needed to be briefed personally with regards to the progress she'd made on the technology the Asgard had so kindly shared with them.
The Asgard, Thor in particular, who'd decided to help cut her travel time down by transporting her aboard the Daniel Jackson and deposit her several minutes later in General O'Neill's new office in the Pentagon building in Washington DC. So really it was the same thing since she'd returned to the SGC from her impromptu detour to Washington.
Not that she wasn't grateful for it. Spending three days helping the General get over his apparently homesickness had been fun and a very good way to unwind after five long weeks spent labouring over technology it had taken her four of those weeks to understand.
Unfortunately, it was also the reason for the pitying looks and sympathetic smiles.
Apparently someone – naming-no-names-Major-Davis – had spotted the pair of them in a somewhat compromising position in the General's Office. Apparently. And that someone had then arrived at the SGC for a few days and had mentioned it in passing to someone else.
And so someone else had overheard and mentioned it to a friend who worked in the infirmary, who'd mentioned it to another friend who worked in the labs and now everyone in the SGC assumed she and the former base commander were what classed as an "item".
Item. The word made her shudder, almost as much as hearing the General being called her boyfriend. Ick. She was too old for boyfriends.
There was no question in her mind Major Davis was the culprit. For one he was the only person to have walked into the General's office in DC and find them together – just hugging, nothing else. He had arrived just minutes after Thor had decided to beam her down into the General's office and they were just saying hello after not having seen each other in over a month.
There was also the fact Major Davis had made himself scarce, too, since finding out she was back at the SGC with murder on her mind.
What she wouldn't give to be able to at least glare at him for announcing it to the whole of the SGC before she was ready for it to be announced – assuming, of course, there was an announcement to be made.
She wasn't sure and maybe that bothered her a little bit more than the gossip and the sympathy she was getting for being away from the General.
They hadn't discussed it. She'd spent three lovely days in Washington and had spent all three of those days with General O'Neill – 'Jack,' her mind prompted, making her roll her eyes at herself. 'He said to call him Jack.'
Jack O'Neill, her.. whatever. Non-boyfriend.
They had spent three days together, after he'd decided to take time off work to show her around DC (despite it being her old stomping grounds and him knowing that) and they'd.. Well. Dated? They'd had meals out together and when they weren't out, he'd cooked for her at his yet-to-be-entirely-unpacked apartment and on her last night in DC they'd done everything other couples did – twice – but, well, did that class as dating?
Were they now dating?
Were they a couple?
She didn't know and that was what had her growling at the poor people who dared to think she might be missing him.
Nothing had been decided officially. Was she supposed to assume that because after eight years of not doing anything they'd finally done it and that made them a couple and meant they were in a relationship? Or was it just out of their systems now – his system, anyway, she knew it wasn't out of hers just yet if the dreams and thoughts she'd had since getting back to Colorado were anything to go by – and that was that?
It was frustrating.
And she still had way too much energy after making it to the twenty-eighth floor.
"Morning, Sam. Sleep well?" Daniel found himself the victim of an icy glare and a growl that had his eyebrows rising. "Okay. I'll just not ask next time."
He sat down at the briefing room opposite her next to Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell, exchanging a surprised glance with the newest member of SG-1. Teal'c merely inched his own chair slightly to the side, just a little bit further away from the one Sam claimed as her own.
"Heard you had to escape the elevator interrogation again this morning." Cameron threw her a small smile. "Give it another week and you'll be fine."
"A week?" She fought the urge to groan and bury her face in her hands, settling instead for staring at her newest teammate incredulously. "It took two weeks for them to stop asking you questions when you started?"
Cameron nodded, a considering look on his face. "About that, yeah," he answered eventually.
She did groan then but instead of hitting her head off the table like she wanted, Sam settled for a pout as General Landry strode into the room. One look at her face had her new commanding officer grinning sympathetically. "Still the hottest topic of conversation, Colonel?"
"Yes, Sir," was the glum answer.
"Then you'll be relieved to know SG-1 will be going back out into the field for three days starting tomorrow." General Hank Landry took his seat at the head of the table as Sam and Cameron straightened. Teal'c and Daniel just looked at him curiously. "Your presence has been requested by one former Colonel Maybourne. He's apparently found something he thinks might be of interest to you."
"Some more ruins?" Daniel jumped into the conversation. It was too long, in his opinion, since SG-1 had been assigned a good archaeology related mission.
General Landry's smile widened slightly. "Better than that, Doctor Jackson. He's found evidence in the settlement records that the people there descend from the Ancient's. He claims to have information relating to Atlantis and the technology Doctors Weir and McKay report they've found." He glanced around the table, waiting for anyone to object. No one did. "You're scheduled to leave at 1300 hours. Colonel Carter, you will be in command. You should initially report back to the SGC at 1600. Dismissed."
Sam stood in unison with Cameron as the General pushed back his chair, nodding respectfully to her superior even as she wondered why he'd bothered to sit down for such a short debriefing.
When General Landry left the room, she dutifully followed her teammates out of the room, unable to keep a small bounce from showing in her step.
She was in command. Cool.
Not that SG-1 wasn't her team. It was. But in her absence, Colonel Mitchell had commanded the unit and since her return to the SGC.. Well, there had initially been some conflict between the new command team of SG-1, created mainly by the rumours that had started saying command of the unit wouldn't be automatically transferred back to her. Before she'd even heard the rumours, Daniel and Teal'c had gone to General Landry and told him in no uncertain terms that they weren't prepared to remain on the team if Sam couldn't resume the role of team leader, to which the General replied there was no question of it not happening despite talk on the grapevine to the contrary.
Cameron, Sam recalled, had been amused by it but a little put out that his teammates, who he had tentatively come to think of as friends, refused to serve under him but the matter was resolved quickly after a joint meeting between the two colonels and the General that had resulted in them agreeing to share the responsibility though Cameron agreed to bow to Sam's greater experience and knowledge where command decisions were concerned.
Still, it was nice to be told she was in charge. Very nice to feel like she still had control in some areas of her life.
Even nicer to know she was getting a break from the sympathetic smiles and pitying looks and the women she didn't know very well who were just falling over themselves in their attempts at trying to ask her – discreetly, of course – just what it was like being with one of the SGC's 'living legends'.
That made her grimace. 'Living legend.'
Jack had laughed when Daniel had first spilt the beans on his new title and then he'd spent two hours reflecting on it and wondering if it was actually an insult since it suggested he was old. She'd done her best to reassure him but it wasn't easy when she was feeling insulted herself.
Why wasn't she classed as a legend of the SGC?
Because she was a woman?
Sam shook off those thoughts before they consumed her – before she gave in to the urge to growl at even more people. God knew she didn't need to be known as the hormonal commander of SG-1 who wasn't getting any so everyone should stay out of her way – and that's exactly what they'd say about her, too. If she was a male member of the species, it would be forgivable that she was having a bad day but no. Women got the 'hormonal' label whether they actually were or not.
Another reason to want the Asgard to come and take her away.
It just got her down, sometimes. Being at the SGC surrounded by men intimidated by her brains and women envious of her.. Well. Whatever they were jealous of. She wasn't vain enough to think it was because of her looks (if anyone was envious of the pallor of her skin, or the split ends she hadn't had time to get seen to recently or the bags under her eyes, then they were stupid and welcome to it all). It wasn't because of her brain, either, she didn't think. The other women at the SGC, other than the late Doctor Fraiser, had never quite liked her and she knew they talked about her behind her back, speculating that the ideas she had sometimes weren't entirely hers.
Her skin was too thick to let it bother her. Much. Besides, there was talk about everyone and it would be conceited of her to believe she was a more popular subject to gossip about than anyone else.
Even if currently she was.
"Looking forward to getting off world?" Cameron's voice broke into her musings and she blinked, startled to find Daniel and Teal'c were way ahead and Cameron had dropped to fall in step beside her.
She didn't need to glance over her shoulder to realise she was only a few steps away from the briefing room. Oops.
"You have no idea," she answered honestly, eventually, managing a small smile.
Cameron grinned. "I think I do. Being the new guy on base wasn't exactly fun."
"But they got over that. I've been here for almost nine years and I still can't catch a break." She shrugged and rolled her eyes as a small group passed them, falling conspicuously silent as they did only to start whispering and talking among themselves when they were out of earshot. "You've been here for a while now. You've heard things. Tell me what's so interesting about me. Why am I such an evil person?"
He didn't laugh but she really wanted him to. Unlike Daniel or Teal'c or General O'Neill when he'd worked there, Cameron took her question seriously and didn't laugh it off with a 'don't be silly, Carter, it's just your imagination' or 'everyone likes you, Sam, you're just being paranoid.' Maybe it was because he was new and hadn't figured out how to tune out the gossip or maybe it was because he didn't worry about her as much as the others so didn't feel the need to lie to spare her feelings.
Part of her kind of wished he would but the other part was grateful he didn't, pleased to finally have someone who agreed with her and didn't blame it on an over-active imagination.
"I don't think you're a bad person, Sam," came the slow, thoughtful reply. "But I'll be honest, you're a very intimidating woman." The look he gave her when she opened her mouth kept her silent. "You have an amazing reputation and you were the first female member of any SG-unit to go out into the field. You know more about the Stargate than pretty much anyone here. Heck, you know more about everything than most people. And you're attractive, I know you don't think so but you are. Maybe you don't have drop-dead-gorgeous model-like looks but you're attractive. Then there's your relationships with the guys and Generals Hammond and O'Neill.."
"My relationships?" That was a new one. Looks and brains she'd heard before, relationships she hadn't. "People don't like me because of my relationships?"
"They don't not like you." Cameron shrugged and appeared vaguely uncomfortable. "It just makes them wary."
Sam's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Is this because of that stupid black widow's curse that I supposedly have? Because if it is, I'd like to point out it's broken. Pete's still alive as far as I know and if it was actually really true, then General O'Neill.." Her voice trailed off at the startled expression on his face. "Haven't heard that one yet, have you?"
"No." Cameron's eyebrows rose and he shook his head. "Don't think I want to. What I meant was a lot of people around here don't find you easy to approach because you're usually always with someone else who's just as intimidating as you are. It's common knowledge you got on well with General Hammond, you were one of his favourites whether you like to think of it or not. I don't think I need to mention General O'Neill and you know a lot of people find it hard to speak to Teal'c because he scares them. And Daniel, well, I guess if the two of you are together, it's like talking to the two smartest people here at the same time and that kinda makes you feel dumb."
Her pace slowed considerably until she stopped completely, a stunned look on her face. "General Hammond never showed any favouritism towards me. I still had the same deadlines as everyone else and if anything I had to work twice as hard to get recognition for what I did because he was aware people would talk if he gave away his praise too freely. As for General O'Neill, nothing went on between us while he was my commanding officer. Nothing at all. I don't get why everyone has a hard time believing that. Yeah, he might have treated me differently to other people but no differently to how he treated Daniel and Teal'c. And Daniel and me would never deliberately go out of our way to make someone feel stupid, that's just condescending and Teal'c.. They don't talk about him behind his back and make up stupid rumours and say nasty spiteful things because they find him hard to approach."
She was breathing a little heavier than usual at the end of her tirade and people were looking at her but she didn't seem to notice.
Cameron gave her a sympathetic smile and reached out to pat her arm consolingly. "Don't worry about it, Sam. It's their loss, not yours. They don't know what they're missing out on."
Sam shrugged to ease the tension in her shoulders and adopted a neutral expression, masking the confusion and the hurt. "I just.. I've done nothing wrong and I wish everyone would see that and leave me alone."
She started walking again, caught up with Daniel and Teal'c and allowed herself to be caught up in Daniel's enthusiasm, telling herself she was glad to be getting away for a few days, believing the false hope that maybe magically everything would be different when she got back.
Mackenzie smiled at her sympathetically as her voice trailed off. He doubted she wanted to silence the rumours that had been circulating the SGC by creating more.
And he did know about them. It was part of his job to keep an eye and an ear on the base gossip, to be able to use it to decipher what was true and what wasn't, and what his patients might end up talking to him about.
Not that anyone visited him willingly. It usually took a strong recommendation from Doctor Lam and an unofficial order from General Landry to get anyone to his office.
"You got a little more than you bargained for, didn't you?" He kept his voice gentle, unsurprised when she started at the sound. He recognised the look on her face, the distant, vague expression. It was one he saw regularly on his patient's faces, often when they were trying to remember something, often when they were remembering something they wanted to try and forget. "Tell me what happened then, Colonel. You went through to Colonel Maybourne's planet and everything seemed okay? He was there to greet you, wasn't he?"
He glanced down at his notes as she nodded distractedly. Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell had reported that Colonel Carter had seemed a little distracted on the mission, that she had said there was something off about being there. It was something he'd discussed with Colonel Mitchell in one of the three sessions they'd had together, at Doctor Lam's suggestion and General Landry's insistence, to help deal with the inevitable guilt the younger man felt at letting his teammate be taken.
"I don't see what this has to do with anything." She looked and sounded agitated, fidgeting with her fingers in a way that was reminiscent of General O'Neill and Mackenzie found himself suppressing a smile. "You know what happened, you read the reports. I just want you to tell them I'm fit for duty.."
"No, Colonel, you want me to tell them I think it's okay for you to go back." All traces of amusement faded from his face and from his manner. He stared her down, feeling no satisfaction when she looked away. "I think it would be good for you to go back and reassure yourself he's dead but I don't think you're ready for that yet. You're nowhere near ready for it."
"I'm fine." The way her voice shook as she said it suggested otherwise but he gave her credit for the attempt. "I just want it to be over."
He understood that, probably better than she knew. He hadn't found his way into the psychology field just on pure interest alone. "I know and believe me, I want to help you end it." Something must have shown in his voice, he realised, because she stopped fidgeting and looked up at him. "We've had seven sessions now, Colonel, and I know you think that's enough but we've only just scratched the surface of what happened to you. If I thought you were talking about it to anyone else outside of these sessions, I might be more willing to let you off the hook but I've known you for eight years. I know that isn't likely despite how close you are to your teammates and General O'Neill."
She didn't deny it, just lifted a shoulder and shrugged. He wondered if it would be different if Doctor Fraiser was still around but quashed that line of thought quickly. The Colonel sitting in front of him was not the only one who still mourned the loss of a friend.
"Humour me, Colonel Carter. You can keep it as brief as you want, I just want to make sure there's nothing else missing or erroneous about the reports." Mackenzie watched her gaze flicker to his face before back to the clock on the wall. He followed her line of sight and couldn't keep the surprise from his face at the time. Two hours and thirty-three minutes. "If you have other plans, we can schedule another appointment..?"
A small smile appeared on her face, a faint blush he found slightly endearing. It made her look healthier, made her features look less gaunt. "Daniel and Teal'c will be waiting for me."
Mackenzie returned her smile and closed his notepad, signalling the end of their session for the day. "Doing anything nice?" He asked conversationally, watching as she shrugged her shoulders to loosen up the muscles tensed during the session.
The blush deepened. "We're picking General O'Neill up from the airport."
He wasn't surprised but chose not to let it show. He knew the new head of Homeworld Security had asked to be kept appraised of the outcome of their sessions and he knew enough to know it wasn't just out of interest for her professional well being. "Is General O'Neill going to be in town for a while?"
She nodded and stood, looking eager to escape. He thought maybe it had more to do with ending the session than going to the airport but his ego told him he wasn't that bad. He knew he had a reputation for being the most unpopular member of medical staff at the SGC but he had decided along time ago, after a late night conversation with the late Doctor Fraiser, that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It meant he did his job well, that people dreaded seeing him because they knew he'd get them talking about the things they didn't want to.
"For a while," she said eventually, uncomfortably evading giving an actual answer.
He made a mental note to bring it up at their next meeting, momentarily concerned that her friends weren't giving her the space and time she needed. It was good for them to be supportive of her but the last thing he wanted was for her to feel smothered. It wouldn't help, he knew. If anything it would make her even more reluctant to discuss what she'd been through out of fear she'd lose anymore of her independence. "Well. Take care of yourself, Colonel. I'll see you next week at the same time."
He watched her nod again and move to the door. Waited as she paused and turned back to look at him.
"Is there anyway.." She cleared her throat and her gaze dropped to the floor. "Can we meet sooner? I want to get this over with. I don't want to have to spend a whole week going over what I'm going to say.."
Mackenzie gave the pretence of checking his diary though he had made sure to leave a two hour gap in his schedule every two days in case such a situation should arise and made a thoughtful 'hmm' sound, aware of her anxious gaze. "I have some free time on Thursday," he answered, looking up at her expectantly. "Around 1400 hours?"
Sam paused, considering it. He watched the emotions play over her face as she debated whether or not she actually wanted to go through with increasing the time they spent together and almost smiled at the determined expression that flittered across her features. "I'll be here. Thank you."
Mackenzie watched her slip out of the room and smiled to himself, pencilling in her name in his diary. He went back and reviewed his notes on the session, jotting down the thoughts that came to mind, the questions he wanted to push for more concrete answers next time.
He reached the section where she'd confessed to murdering her captor and paused, a frown creasing his brow. He circled the note, reminded himself to bring it up when he next met with General Landry and Doctor Lam and sat back in his chair, considering the woman he'd seen almost more than every other member of staff at the SGC put together.
She thought of herself as a murderer, thought it meant she was a bad person.
It was his job to make her realise that wasn't the case and it wasn't a task he looked forward to.
She smiled when she was supposed to smile, chuckled appreciatively whenever one of them made a joke in an attempt at making her laugh. She knew the part she had to play inside out so was able to do so without giving it much thought.
She sat in the General's back garden, alternatively watching him try and teach Teal'c the art of barbequing for the fifth or sixth hundredth time (she was sure Teal'c could do it better by now but the Jaffa humoured him anyway) and listening half-heartedly to Daniel and Cameron discuss their latest mission.
Their latest mission, as in Teal'c, Daniel and Cameron's latest mission. She herself was confined to the labs, confined by choice to staying at the SGC whenever there was no one to go home with her. She even had her own quarters now, like Teal'c, instead of having to bunk down in one of the communal rooms on level 19.
She pushed those thoughts aside, forbid herself from feeling resentful that they still got to go off-world and live their lives as if nothing had happened and smiled a little too brightly as she excused herself and walked into the kitchen.
There was an unnatural hush in her wake and she berated herself for giving them time to discuss her behind her back. Maybe she wasn't as convincing as she thought she was.
Her hand shook at the thought but she forced it to hold the glass under the cold tap. Her mind wandered, though, and she didn't notice the cool water spilling over the edge of the rim and running down the sides, running over her fingers.
It would have slipped and shattered if another hand hadn't wrapped around hers while another shut off the running water. She let her hand be guided to the side of the sink where her fingers were prised from around the glass and found herself being turned and pulled into a loose embrace.
A nice but not close enough embrace.
She sighed against his chest, wishing the wall between them would just vanish.
The mission had happened at the worst possible time as far as their relationship was concerned.
She still didn't know if they were together or apart even though she shared his bed every night he spent in Colorado Springs and either his arm found it's way around her shoulders when they were sitting down together or his hand wrapped itself around hers if the others were around and they were being discreet. He kissed her, affectionately, softly, usually on the forehead or on the cheek but rarely on the mouth. Only on the mouth if she initiated it.
At first his concern was touching but it was a reminder she didn't need or want now. She wasn't fragile and she wasn't going to break.
Well, maybe she was.
They might share a bed but the fact that he carefully maintained his distance, wrapping an arm over her waist on top of the oversized t-shirt she wore made her feel worse than if he'd insisted on taking the couch.
Yes, she slept in a t-shirt now and yes, she hadn't made any advances towards him other than a few kisses but it wasn't because she didn't want to. It was because she was afraid to.
Idly, she wondered whether it was something she should bring up in her next session with Mackenzie but dismissed the idea almost as quickly as it came. There were some things she couldn't trust even her shrink with. Her love life, or lack of one, was one of those things. If Janet was still around, it wouldn't be a problem but although she liked Doctor Lam, there was no way she could see herself confiding in the new CMO that her confidence in the bedroom was waning, that it faded just that little bit more after spending the night in her lovers arms.
"You want me to send the others home?"
She almost said yes but swallowed back the word, easing herself out of his arms and shaking her head, a small smile on her face. "I'm fine, it's still early." She turned away from him and busied herself with wiping the draining board even though it didn't need wiping. "Go finish giving Teal'c his lesson. I'll be out in a minute."
She sensed more than saw the reluctant look he threw at her back but forced herself to stay focused on her task. Only when she heard his footsteps retreat out onto the porch did she let her shoulders slump.
Mackenzie was right, she admitted with a sigh. She still had a long way to go.
Jack said goodbye to their friends as Sam cleaned up his living room. He wanted to think of it as their living room, as their house, but couldn't. Although the majority of her things had been moved in, most of them had been moved without her consent while she'd been.. away and even though she had objected and willing lived in the house when he was there, he knew she didn't step a foot inside it when he was gone. It was still very much his house, no matter how many times he tried to drop subtle hints that he wanted her to consider it her own.
The reports he got back worried him. Yeah, Daniel, Teal'c and even Cameron, the newest member of their group and one Jack was finding it a little hard to accept, reassured him Sam was okay and happy working in her lab on various projects but he didn't believe it. The reports he got from General Landry, Doctor Lam and Doctor Mackenzie said otherwise.
They said she was withdrawn, which she was. He didn't think she knew how easy he found it to see through her act though that surprised him. Surely she realised he was the expert at masking how he felt, at putting on a front, so could see through any attempt she made to do it, too. Sure, she smiled and laughed and even joined in with the conversation but there was still a distant, haunted look to her eyes.
There was still so much she was holding in and he hated that he wasn't around more to try and get her to open up.
He stood in the doorway and studied her, finding himself averting his gaze when she grimaced. She was still in pain but she tried to hide it from him. That hurt, too. Almost as much as lying in his bed beside her, an arm draped lightly over her, too afraid to move closer in case he hurt her by accident.
She had reassured him, at least four times, that she hadn't been abused sexually. He had read Doctor Lam's report backing up her claim over and over again but still couldn't quite believe it. There was something about the way she held herself, about the way she insisted on getting changed in the bathroom away from his gaze, in the way she made sure the light was switched off before making the small journey from the bathroom to the bed that had him questioning it.
He looked up and caught her staring at him, a forlorn expression on her face. "Hey."
"Hey." The expression vanished, replaced with a tentative smile. He watched her clutch one of the cushions she'd been straightening to her chest and her gaze dropped to the floor, the smile fading. "You know you don't have to stay in Colorado because of me. I know you've still got a lot to catch up on at work so if you can't afford to take the time off.."
Jack crossed the distance between them in four easy steps and reminded himself to reign in his own uncertainties as he took the cushion from her, fidgeting with it for a few moments before haphazardly throwing it on the couch, not caring where it fell. "I'm staying, Carter. If I took care of what I needed to and I'm here for as long as you need me to be."
She glanced up at him shyly, her eyes a little misty. It wasn't something he was used to seeing from her. "I just meant if you have something more important.."
He took a deep breath and made a decision, there and then. 'Set the ground rules, O'Neill, make your intentions clear. Then leave it up to her.' "Nothing is more important than this right now, Carter. I won't pretend I get what's going on between us but whatever it is, I'm in it for the long haul. I'm not going anywhere."
She looked up at him again and her eyes were suspiciously bright. She managed a watery smile and took a step closer, leaning her head against his shoulder. He gently wrapped his arms around her, his hands resting on her back through the thin material of her shirt.
They stood like that for a while, arms wrapped around each other, before retiring to the bed room.
As usual, Sam changed into one of his old t-shirts in the bathroom and turned off the light before making her way towards him. He heard her stumble, almost got out of bed to help her as his eyes adjusted to the dark but held back, waiting instead for her to join him. She slid under the covers beside him and he waited, holding his breath.
He half-expected her to turn on her side away from him and curl up. It was what she did most nights when they'd slept apart for a while but she didn't. Instead she shuffled closer and he sensed her dilemma but didn't reach out for her. She had to make up her own mind.
Eventually, after a few moments, her head hesitantly came to rest on his shoulder and she lay an arm softly across his chest. He released the breath he'd been holding in a relieved sigh and wrapped an arm around her, turning a little more into the embrace.
She didn't speak to say goodnight but he wasn't expecting her to. She never spoke after the lights went out anymore. Almost as if she was afraid to. Even when she had nightmares, and he knew she did, she had somehow at some point trained herself to wake up before they got too bad, turning away from him and biting her pillow to keep back the tears he knew she'd never let fall.
It broke his heart but he couldn't say anything. He understood her a lot more than she realised and knew letting her know he knew she woke up with nightmares was a sure-fire way of making her have second thoughts about sleeping beside him.
Jack sighed, relaxing only when her breathing grew deeper. He let his mind wander, his eyelids growing heavy, promising himself he would only sleep lightly, that at the first sign of distress he'd be awake and ready to do what he could.
He put down the phone and tried not to feel stupid. Well. Tried not to feel hurt and stupid.
So SG-1 had gone off world on a mission. It wasn't a big deal. It was what they did.
So no one had called him to let him know they'd be gone for a few days. Maybe they were busy or maybe they'd had to leave in a hurry.
So Carter hadn't tried to call him or taken the time to send a quick email to let him know she'd be out of reach for a few days – cell phones might somehow work when she was underground in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex but he was pretty sure they didn't work on other planets in the galaxy.
It didn't mean anything. It didn't mean she regretted their time together or had changed her mind about the direction their relationship had gone in.
The intercom on his desk buzzed. Jack pressed the 'talk' button, still puzzling over his feelings and the situation that had created them. "Yeah?"
"General Hammond is here to see you, Sir." The voice of his receptionist – he actually had a receptionist – crackled with static from the intercom. "Should I send him in?"
"Yeah. Sure." The door opened seconds later and he gave General Hammond a warm albeit distracted smile. "Hey. Welcome. We had a meeting planned?"
General Hammond allowed himself a small smile as he took the hand offered to him and shook it firmly before sitting down in the spare seat opposite. 'How things have changed,' he thought to himself in amusement. "No, it's an unplanned visit. I'm not interrupting you, am I?"
Jack cast an eye over the mountains of paperwork and files and folders littering his desk – there was definitely a lot more of them than there had been at the SGC, probably because he didn't have Harriman sorting through them anymore and he didn't want to ask his receptionist in case that was a big Pentagon no-no. "No. Not interrupting. So, what can I do for you?"
"Nothing, really." Hammond watched Jack cross his arms over the mess on his desk and tried to remember if his own desk had ever been so buried. 'Probably not,' he mused, making a mental note to thank his aides when he went back to his own office. "I just thought I'd come and see how you're finding the new position. I know it's not as exciting as the SGC."
"Are you kidding? There's plenty to be excited about. Just yesterday we thought we'd run out of paperclips and found one of the admin two doors down had taken them all to make the longest paperclip chain in Pentagon history. The SGC has nothing on this place."
It was a struggle to keep the smile off his face but George managed it. Barely. "From what I hear, son, the SGC misses you, too."
An easy grin crossed over Jack's face. "I'm sure they do, Sir. They must really miss fries for all Friday."
"Fries for all Friday?" Hammond arched an eyebrow but held up a hand when the man sitting opposite him opened his mouth to explain. "I think I'm better off not knowing."
"It was a hit. Great money-saver, too." Jack's grin grew and he leaned back, his posture a little more relaxed than it had been before. "So as nice as it is to see you, Sir, why are you really here?"
"I honestly just thought I'd stop by and see how you were settling in." Hammond smiled but it didn't stick. "You know," General Hammond paused and sighed. "If you find DC isn't the place for you, there are other locations you could consider."
Jack opened his mouth to dismiss the suggestion but the look on Hammond's face stopped him. He cleared his throat and shrugged when he found himself under scrutiny. "As much as I'd love to go back to the SGC, Sir, it isn't possible. It's.. Things have changed and I'm not prepared to have to change them back."
"I thought I told you to call me George," Hammond said with a knowing grin. "And if you're referring to your relationship with Colonel Carter, I am aware that she spent some time here last week and I wouldn't suggest anything that would get in the way of that. Do you think I really want to watch you put your lives on hold for another eight years?" He chuckled at the expression on Jack's face and crossed his hands in his lap. "I wasn't referring to the SGC, though if you were based there, you would be in a different chain of command."
"If you weren't talking about the SGC.." Jack narrowed his eyes, his interest piqued.
General Hammond's grin widened. "General Kerrigan just so happened to mention there's an empty office or two at the Academy. He'd be more than happy to let you have the space if you wanted it."
Jack paused, his mind processing the suggestion. The Academy wasn't too far away from the SGC. He could live in his own house, still see his friends when they were on downtime.. He might have to commute to DC every so often but it would still be better than having to eventually unpack the boxes he'd had shipped to his cramped apartment.
"Are you sure the President would agree?" He forced himself to question it, to keep from getting his hopes up too high. "I mean, I'll be dealing with confidential information. No one at the Academy has authorisation.."
General Hammond nodded. It was a question he'd asked himself. "The offices General Kerrigan was referring to have their own private entrance. It would be a workable area if you decided to transfer there. I'd be willing to guess it would take a few weeks to get everything arranged and the security upped on those offices, maybe a few more weeks to find you a suitable aide or two with clearance in the Colorado area but it is doable. If it's what you want."
Jack kept himself from nodding and accepting the offer right there and then. He needed to think about it, needed to talk about it with his friends just like he'd discussed his decision to accept command of the SGC and his decision to accept the transfer to the Pentagon. "I'll think about it, Sir. It's a very.. tempting.. offer but it's something I'll have to think about."
Hammond couldn't keep the surprise from showing on his face but he smiled anyway, nodding in attempted understanding. "When you've made a decision, just let me know. I'd be happy to help you arrange it."
Jack stood out more out of habit than anything else when General Hammond got to his feet. He was just about to say goodbye and take the General's outstretched hand when the intercom on his desk buzzed again.
"Excuse me." He rolled his eyes and withdrew his hand, pressing the 'talk' button for the second time that afternoon. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry for interrupting, Sir." His receptionist sounded harried so Jack bit back the sarcastic retort. "But there's a General Landry on the phone. He says he needs to speak to you urgently regarding Colonel Carter."
"Put him through." The receiver was in his hand just as she followed his instructions. He threw a quick, apologetic look at Hammond and opened his mouth to greet his replacement only to blanch at Landry's words of introduction.
"I'm sorry to have to call you like this, Jack, but we have a situation. Colonel Carter and her team walked into an ambush. She's been abducted, Jack. The other members of SG-1 made it back but Colonel Carter's gone."
Jack sat down heavily, his mouth moving wordlessly. He slowly came back to himself as the voice on the other end of the phone called out his name, as General Hammond turned away from the door he was just about to go through. "What do you mean, she's gone? Have you sent another team? Searched the area?"
"We've done everything we could, Jack. The planet's in general chaos right now. Colonel Maybourne is in pretty bad shape but he said he remembered the people who attacked took her through the Stargate. No one saw the address, Jack. I'm sorry. Doctor Jackson and Teal'c insisted I call you immediately. They said you'd want to know.."
"I appreciate it, Hank. I'll.. I know the SGC's your operation now but.."
"I would welcome your experience and expertise, Jack. She's one of my best officers and I want her back."
Jack nodded numbly. He understood and shared the sentiment whole-heartedly. "I'll catch the next flight out."
He didn't remember saying goodbye or hanging up, didn't recall going through the motions of informing the people he needed to that he was going to be out of town for a few days or the process of putting measures in place to stop the work building up while he was gone. He did remember, two weeks after the fact when she was officially declared MIA and the search was called off, that throughout it all, General Hammond had stayed with him, helped him organise everything and even go so far as to call in a few favours to get him on the first red eye to Colorado.
He remembered it after he made it back to DC with a heavy heart and bowed head to find General Hammond was his first appointment of his first day back, the older more experienced General sitting patiently in his office as they mourned the loss and shared the frustrations at not being able to do more to bring her home.
She woke lying on her stomach, sprawled over a nice, warm, firm body. She decided that was why she hadn't woken with a start in the grips of a bad dream because in the two months she'd been enslaved, she'd never woken up so close to someone else, a fact she was more than grateful for.
For several minutes, Sam was content to just lie there, her face pressed against his neck, committing the familiar feel and smell of him to memory again. It was too long since he'd held her, since she'd felt so safe and loved. The legs entwined with hers, the fingers loosely holding hers, the other hand gently tracing the unfamiliar scars..
She froze. Her heart quickened and her breath became ragged. The scars. The very things she'd tried so hard to conceal. The moment was over abruptly and the warm comfort she'd derived from the touch chilled her. She pushed herself up and rolled off him, ignoring the sound of surprise he made, ignoring the sound of her name on his lips as she fled to the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
She locked the door and leaned her back against it, sliding down the smooth wood surface until she was sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees. She let her head fall back against the door and closed her eyes on hearing his footsteps approach.
"Carter?" She didn't respond, just tightened her arms around herself. "Come on, Sam. Talk to me."
She shook her head even though she knew he couldn't see her and started when the doorknob rattled as he attempted to enter the room. She couldn't face him now, couldn't bring herself to see the pity on his face, the disgust he couldn't keep from showing..
"I'm sorry. I'm really, truly sorry."
He sounded genuine enough and why shouldn't he? Sam fought to keep the tears back, swallowed to keep the sob from escaping her throat. Of course he was sorry, she thought bitterly, after his declaration the night before, the false promise that he would always be there for her, of course he was sorry for having to walk away, for being unable to accept the blemishes on her skin.
She had wanted to forget they existed. She tried to pretend they weren't there and for almost a month had succeeded. She couldn't do that now, not when he knew. When it had been her secret, shared only with Doctor Lam who was sworn to keep it to herself thanks to doctor-patient confidentiality, it was easy to ignore it but now.. The knowledge was out there and couldn't be taken back. The ugly truth – and it was ugly – was no longer something she could hide from.
There was no place on earth or any other planet where she could hide from herself.
She heard him whisper her name again, heard his footsteps go in the opposite direction before the bedsprings creaked as he sat down. She could easily picture him in her mind, his head buried in his hands, his mind trying to forget.
Sam reached a hand to her cheek and wiped away the drop of moisture that had fallen from her eye. She pushed herself up, wincing as newly knitted skin was stretched unnaturally and took several deep, calming breaths before venturing across to the mirror hanging above the basin.
The reflection that looked back at her was normal. She was too pale, had lost some weight and her hair was slightly longer than she usually had it but at least the ugly yellow marks had faded. At least there were no visible signs of what she'd gone through on her face.
No, the scars were carefully concealed, hidden beneath the baggy t-shirt she wore.
Trembling hands moved to the hem of the shirt and she found herself taking another deep breath and closing her eyes before she could bring herself to lift the thin material over her head. The cool air washed over her skin as she stood bared to her own eyes in only a white cotton bra and matching panties but she found it almost impossible to open her eyes.
The t-shirt fell from limp hands and pooled at her feet on the floor. Her hands clenched into fists at her sides and she forced herself to look.
A thin, jagged line of puckered pink skin ran from under her right breast down towards her left hip. A knife had made that would, she recalled dimly. The same knife she'd used to kill him.
That was the extent of the damage on her front but it was enough to bring tears to her eyes. To know that although it would fade, it would never go away. She would never feel comfortable wearing anything that bared her midriff again, wouldn't feel up to the task of having to meet the questioning eyes that looked at her and saw it.
Not that anyone would.
Her choices of clothing were restricted, she knew, to items that covered her back from shoulder to just below the waist.
Her hands shook as she turned. She held back the wince as she twisted so she could see her back, pulling the skin of her back even tighter so she could see the reminders she would have to learn to live with.
Three big gashes from her left shoulder down marked her back. Several smaller ones marked her skin in between them but it was the three big lines her eyes focused on. They would fade, marginally, but they would always be visible and they would always stand out on her skin. She lifted a hand, followed its progress in the reflection and slowly rang a fingertip over one of the lines.
She withdrew her hand as big tears rolled down her cheeks. She wiped at them angrily but couldn't stop them, resorting to curling up on the floor with her fist in her mouth to keep the sound of her sobs from escaping.
She didn't want his pity and she didn't want his sympathy and she didn't want his concern. She just wanted to forget and pretend it hadn't happened but she knew now that there was no way she could do that.
There was no way she could get back the life she'd once had.
Sam waited for a long time, until her muscles began to protest at being curled up. She waited until she heard him leave the bedroom and go downstairs before making her escape, slipping out of the bathroom and crossing over to one of her drawers in the dresser. She dressed quickly and quietly and waited until she could hear him opening cupboards and putting away the plates and glasses they'd used the night before. With stealth she'd mastered during her captivity, she crept out of the house and walked hurriedly to her car, locking the doors behind her.
She saw the front door open as she started the engine, caught a glimpse of the anguish on his face but told herself to ignore it as she backed off the drive and drove back to the safety of the SGC.
One, two, three, four.
She ground her teeth together and hung her head, breathing through her nose. She didn't dare open her mouth because she knew if she did he would have the satisfaction of hearing her scream.
She wouldn't scream. She wouldn't give him the pleasure.
Sam screwed her eyes shut tightly against the moisture gathering there and prepared herself mentally for the next round.
She heard the leather whip slice through the air each time before the sharp strips ripped into her back and were withdrawn only to return moments later. She had tried to tune the sound out after the first time but discovered that made it worse. At least when she knew it was coming she could brace herself for the onslaught of pain.
After an unbearable amount of time she heard the whip be handed to one of the other slaves but still couldn't let her shoulders slump in relief.
It wasn't over.
She was still on her knees, which were numb now to the harsh floor. She tasted the metallic tang of blood in her mouth and forced herself to swallow it, knowing to spit it out would only make him happy.
He moved but she didn't look up. She couldn't even if she'd wanted to but found her problem solved for her when he took a fistful of unkempt hair and dragged her head back by it, ignoring her grimace, leering at her as she opened dazed eyes in an attempt at staring at him defiantly.
"You should have learnt by now." The words were almost unrecognisable, his accent was so thick and foreign to her ears, despite having been surrounded by it for too many days and too many nights. "This is what happens when you disobey me!" He addressed the others now, pushing her away roughly.
She fell to the ground and rolled automatically onto her side, breathing heavily. She didn't have the strength or the energy to move so stayed there, arms crossed over her chest and the remnants of the scrap of material that had been her tunic and now barely covered her.
"The same thing will happen to anyone who does not give me their respect." He strode away, the warning hanging heavily in the tense air.
Sam closed her eyes on his retreating back and tried to shut out the waves of agony passing over her. 'Mental discipline,' she told herself sternly. Teal'c could do it and so could some of her fellow slaves. She would have to learn how to master it, too, if she was going to survive long enough to be rescued or find her own way home.
She heard murmuring and whispers, both in English and in languages she had no chance of understanding, as her fellow slaves made themselves scarce, walking passed her when she lay on the centre of the large kitchen floor. She kept her eyes shut and willed them all to leave her alone so she could attempt to retain some dignity but found that it simply wasn't to be.
A large hand covered her shoulder softly and she found herself being moved into an upright position. She didn't have to open her eyes to see who it was. For all the trouble her outspokenness caused, she had managed to somehow be befriended by a small group of slaves, the man crouching beside her being one of them.
The man she knew only as Rurik looked back at her with dark, solemn eyes when she risked looking at him, his expression sad.
He reminded her of Teal'c, she realised distantly. The gentle giant. Only instead of choosing not to speak much as Teal'c had in the early days of their acquaintance, Rurik simply couldn't. He brought his other hand to her other shoulder and stood, lifting her with him as gently as he could.
They were joined by an elderly woman with a permanent stoop in her back and a young couple with dirty faces. The young woman, Sam realised, had tracks in the dirt on her cheeks where her tears had fallen.
"I am sorry, Sam." The young woman hung her head in shame, speaking in broken English as she wrung her hands in front of her. "You should not have taken the blame for me."
The blame. For a long moment, Sam just stared at her in confusion, struggling to remember anything other than the pain she was in and then it came back to her. The blame. She'd taken the blame for stealing a husk of stale bread from the kitchen, bread the young woman, Althea, had taken to give to the elderly woman staring at her now. Althea was her daughter and the elderly woman who hung onto Althea's husbands arm was her mother and was also completely blind.
It was something they'd been trying to hide from their masters because the discovery would mean certain death for the old woman. A slave was no good if they couldn't see to do the work they were there to do.
"Don't worry about it." She tried to smile but knew it was more of a grimace.
Rurik shook his head and started leading her away, back to the small door that looked like a cupboard but was in actual fact the doorway down to the basement where they all slept on the dirty floor. Despite the beads of sweat running down her face at the effort it took to walk, Sam made it to the patch of floor that had been designated hers before ungracefully losing consciousness, waking two hours later to find Althea and her mother had seen to the worst of her wounds while Rurik and Althea's husband enlisted the help of others to cover their chores.
She lay on her stomach, her eyes closed to keep back tears of frustration and clenched her hands into fists, praying for a quick rescue that would never come.
Mackenzie was unsurprised when she called and asked if he could make room in his schedule to see her a day early. He had heard the rumours, knew she'd stayed at the SGC over the weekend and also knew General O'Neill had called several times looking for her only to be told each and every time that she was "in the middle of something" and would call him back later.
He didn't need to ask to know she never had.
"Okay, Colonel, I'd like to pick up where we left off last time." He gave her a small smile, concerned when she didn't even attempt to smile back. "You've explained how you came to be on Maybourne's planet and said from there, SG-1 was ambushed and you were taken by a group of people you didn't recognise?"
"Slavers," she supplied instantly, her eyes clouding over as her gaze darted nervously from the pad of paper on his lap to the clock on the wall. "They were slavers. They'd traded with Maybourne's people before but hadn't been honest about their intentions. Apparently the leader heard Maybourne make arrangements for our arrival and he'd heard stories of the last time we'd been there so decided to stick around and see if we had anything worth taking."
'And he decided you were that thing,' Mackenzie finished silently. Aloud, he cleared his throat. "The leader, this is the man who you were enslaved to?"
"Galeron." It sounded like the name was choking her and Mackenzie looked up, unruffled by her fight for her composure. "His name was Galeron."
Mackenzie gave her another nod but remained silent for several long minutes, waiting until she had regained her control before pressing her for more information. "They ambushed SG-1 when you were preparing to follow Colonel Maybourne to the ruins he contacted you about. There were too many of them to fight but you tried." He recalled Colonel Mitchell's report and sighed internally. "You were separated from your teammates and knocked unconscious, so was Doctor Jackson. You saw him fall before you did. You thought.."
"I thought he was dead," Sam admitted quietly, her eyes filling. "I saw him fall with an arrow sticking out of his shoulder and when he didn't move, I thought he was dead. I remember Cameron going over to him to assess his injuries and Maybourne shouting out a warning to me.. I saw Teal'c try to come towards me but three of them attacked him at the same time and then I was knocked out."
"And you woke up in the cellar of Galeron's house," Mackenzie finished, having read as much in her report. "You do realise there's nothing you could have done, Colonel. You did your best and you fought your hardest. That's all you could do."
"It wasn't good enough." Her eyes hardened and she stared at him coolly. "I led my team into an ambush, I let my guard down and I let us get separated. I should've done something, done more."
"There was nothing more you could have done."
She didn't acknowledge his words but he hadn't expected her to. He watched her, waiting for her to volunteer any further information but again, he wasn't surprised when she remained silent.
"Would I be wrong in thinking something happened, Colonel? Not while you were away," he added on seeing the confusion on her face. "After our last session. You have to realise it's going to take time for your life to get back to what it was."
"It'll never go back," she interrupted bitterly. "I can't have that life back because it's gone."
"Why?" His pen was poised over the pad, his attention focused solely on her. "What happened to make you think that?"
Silence reigned for several long, unforgiving moments. Just as Mackenzie was about to admit defeat and move onto another subject, Sam spoke, her voice quiet and uneven.
"He knows." She focused once again on the framed diploma behind him. "I tried to hide the scars on my back but he knows now."
Mackenzie didn't have to ask who the 'he' was. He kept his expression neutral. "I don't see why that means you can't get on with your life."
She caught him with a heated glare. "You wouldn't. You wouldn't understand."
"I do understand, Colonel." He kept his voice soft. "You wanted to forget about what happened to you because you're ashamed of yourself for letting it happen and now you can't do that because the secret's out." He folded his hands on top of his notepad and stared at her evenly. "Do you really think he didn't already know, Colonel? General O'Neill gets copies of every single report that's produced in this facility. He doesn't necessarily read them all personally but he does get them. Don't you think he would've taken the time to look at the reports that Doctor Lam has written about you?"
She knew he was right and that was why she glared at him. Mackenzie sighed and shook his head.
"There's a difference between him knowing as a colleague and knowing as a.. as a friend." She stumbled over her choice of words and he had to keep from raising an eyebrow at it, lifting his hands to note it down. "I know you must think I'm just being pathetic and vain but you don't know what it looks like. It isn't pretty and it isn't attractive.."
"Ah. And you think General O'Neill won't be attracted to you anymore, you think he'll take one look at the scars on your back and walk away because what? It's a sign of weakness? Because you couldn't stop it from happening?" Mackenzie stared at her, watched her look back in surprise. "What you're feeling is completely normal for someone in your situation but you have to accept that they're your feelings, not his."
"I don't want to talk about it." She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him.
He resisted the urge to point out she was the one who'd brought the subject up in the first place but knew he didn't have to. He could almost hear the wheels turning in her head as she thought about what he said and he could almost see the acceptance on her face. "Very well. Let's talk about Galeron. He was the leader of the slavers and the owner of the house you found yourself in. Your master." He watched her flinch at the term but had to give her credit when all she did was nod. "You obviously didn't get along well, you objected to being a slave. How long were you there when he first beat you? When he first decided to punish you for not doing what you were told to do?"
The neutral expression was back in place, the mask concealing her true feelings. He could see that, commended her for it, but he could also see her hands tighten and her knuckles turn bloodless.
"About a week. I tried to escape, to sneak out of the house. One of the others must've turned me in because he caught me and he beat me."
"With the whips?"
"No." She shook her head and released her grip on the chair, instead wrapping her arms around her upper body. "No, not that time. He just hit me, kicked me around a bit. I fought back which is what he didn't like. He had two of the others hold my arms while he punched me in the stomach and then he used his knife and cut me. From here," she moved one hand to trace the top of her scar through her clothes. "To here. He said it was his mark on me, a reminder that I belonged to him and as such had to do what he told me."
Mackenzie nodded, mentally reviewing Doctor Lam's report. He remembered reading about that injury. "Your injury was deep. Doctor Lam said there was evidence of it being treated, that she would have expected you to have died from an infection if it had been left alone.."
"One of the other slaves helped me. Rurik. He waited until everyone else left to do their jobs and then helped me down into the basement and took care of the wound. He cleaned it and bandaged it with some material he'd ripped from his shirt."
There was something in her voice that had alarm bells ringing in Mackenzie's head. Something subdued. "Did this Rurik give a reason for helping you? Surely he would have got himself into trouble if Galeron found out?"
Sam shrugged, her expression blank. "He didn't say but then he didn't say much. Rurik couldn't or wouldn't talk. He was the strong, silent type."
"Then how do you know his name?" Mackenzie arched an eyebrow. "He must have communicated with you in some way if you know his name?"
"Althea told me his name. She's another slave," she supplied the information willingly. "I don't know the full story but it seems he only stopped speaking after he was brought there. He communicated with actions instead of words and took me under his wing for some reason."
Mackenzie gave her a surprised look. "You never asked?"
"He wouldn't have been able to answer," Sam said quietly, a small, sad smile on her face. "I didn't want to pry into his private business after he did so much for me."
"I see." He wasn't sure if he did but Mackenzie made a few notes on his pad and glanced up at her out of the corner of his eye and watched her blink back tears. "Did Rurik and Althea help you escape, Colonel? Were they behind the uprising of Galeron's slaves?"
Again, Sam shrugged. "They helped but they weren't behind it. Some of the others were apparently planning it and had been for a while. They just needed the right opportunity." Her gaze dropped to the floor. "An opportunity I gave them when I murdered Galeron."
"Killed," he corrected instantly. Murdered was not a word he wanted her using to refer to her actions. "You killed him in self-defence."
The smile reappeared briefly and wavered. "Justifying what I did doesn't change that I actually did it. I murdered him."
"You killed him," Mackenzie repeated. "You've killed people before, Colonel, in battles against the Goa'uld and the other enemies you've faced through the Stargate. I've seen your record, I know you've fought and killed people on Earth, too."
"It's different." Sam sighed deeply. "Those deaths were for the good of my country or to save the lives of my friends. I killed Galeron for no other reason than to save myself."
Mackenzie arched and eyebrow and stared at her, unable to keep the concern from showing in his voice. "And you don't think that's a good enough reason."
She crossed and uncrossed her arms, her gaze falling once again on the clock on the wall. "No. Not anymore."
SG-1 were sent off world and Sam couldn't help but be pleased. For a week she had been avoiding them, avoiding their "suggestions" that she should return Jack's calls. It was almost as bad as avoiding the man himself, which thankfully he was making easy by not pushing her too hard. He wouldn't have any problem getting into the base and she was grateful that he hadn't tried.
At least one good thing had come out of the experience, she mused silently, wandering aimlessly through the hallways. Her colleagues didn't talk about her anymore or at least if they did, they were being discreet about it. It was almost as if they were afraid of her, which wasn't what she'd wanted but it was acceptable. A side step in the right direction, anyway.
And speaking of steps in the right direction..
Sam shook herself mentally and summoned the elevator, automatically moving to step into it when it arrived. Since her session with Mackenzie, she'd had three sleepless nights to think about what he'd said and to realise that she owed it to herself as well as to Jack to give them another chance.
Her actions were automatic as she left the SGC and found herself driving towards his house, her fingers tapping against the steering wheel at every red light she encountered. She pulled up on his drive behind his truck and sat there for a long time after taking the keys out of the ignition.
It was something she'd done before.
Part of her speculated on the possibility of history repeating itself, of walking up him, her heart on her sleeve, only to have a prettier, younger woman walk out of his kitchen mid-conversation. She silenced that part of her mind but couldn't stop the opinion forming that she couldn't blame him if it did happen, especially now.
Steeling her resolve with a deep breath, she got out of the car and shut the door quietly behind her. Instead of walking up to the front door and knocking, Sam walked around the side of the house to the backyard, half expecting to find him there, beer in hand and a grin on his face.
He wasn't there but she knew he was in. Not only was his truck parked in the drive but the patio doors were also wide open.
She still didn't go inside.
She got as far as the porch and lost her nerve, sitting down where she stood on the decking outside. She wondered how long it would take before he realised she was there, and how long after that it would take for him to join her.
The answer wasn't very long.
She tensed as the wood boards creaked under his feet but relaxed slightly when he sat down beside her silently.
At least he wasn't telling her to leave.
For a good twenty minutes he didn't say anything. Neither did she. Only when the wind started picking up did they move. He stood and wordlessly held out a hand for her to take, his expression unchanging even as she tentatively reached out and grasped his fingers.
He stopped when they got inside, pausing to close the doors behind them and then looked at her, his eyes searching hers for an answer. She didn't speak but kept her hand in his and tugged slightly on his arm. When she was sure he wasn't going to resist, she turned away, took a deep breath and started towards the stairs.
Halfway to his bedroom, he stopped and started to pull back. Sam stopped and glanced at him over her shoulder.
"You don't have to this," he told her softly, his thumb drawing circles on the back of her hand. "I understand that.."
She didn't give him the chance to continue, just smiled tentatively and tugged on his hand again, silencing him wordlessly. Jack followed her willingly, unsure about what she planned to do but unwilling to do anything that would have her walking away again.
She led him to the bed and sat down, tugging on his hand until he sat down beside her.
She opened her mouth to talk but changed her mind, closing it again and turning her back on him. 'Just do it, Sam,' she told herself, lifting trembling hands to the first button of her shirt. She closed her eyes, ignoring his quick intake of breath and continued the journey from the top of her shirt to the bottom, pushing it off her shoulders before she could have second thoughts, baring her back to his eyes.
"Sam.." The tenderness in his voice brought tears to her eyes but she refused to turn around.
He reached out a traced the lines on her back with gentle fingertips but she told herself not to flinch, allowing the exploration, hoping it meant what she wanted it to.
Eventually he withdrew his fingers only to rest his hands on her shoulders. "Turn around."
She did what he asked slowly, fixing her gaze on his chest rather than on his face. She let him move her, move them, until they were lying in the middle of the bed, her on her back, him on his side and only then did she risk looking up into his face and brave what she feared would be there.
His eyes were bright, his smile gentle but encouraging. As she watched, he reached out and trailed the tip of his middle finger along the small scar on her stomach, lifting his gaze back up to hers when she choked on a sob.
"You're beautiful," he told her softly, his hand moving to cup her cheek as he leaned in towards her.
She didn't notice she was crying until he kissed her and she tasted salt. "Still? Even with..?" Hesitantly, Sam moved a hand to the back of his neck, fingers playing idly with his hair as she waited anxiously.
Jack moved forward and captured her lips with his, determined to prove to her that the scars didn't matter and didn't change anything at all.
Their eyes made her feel uneasy.
The other slaves.
Sam moved slightly closer to Rurick's bulk as they all settled down for the night, wincing when her newly lashed back protested. She caught Rurik's look of concern but gave him a reassuring smile and lay down on her side, the only position she could sleep comfortably on.
Rurik lay down beside her, a short distance away, and she found herself staring into his eyes as their fellow slaves slowly started to fall asleep around them.
"I'm okay," she whispered eventually after the last conversation fell silent and gave way to the sound of snoring. "You don't have to stay awake all night to look after me."
Rurik flushed at having been caught but said nothing. Did nothing. He didn't even blink, just kept looking at her as though he was waiting for her to fall asleep. He'd taken the role of protector for some reason and although it confused her, she wasn't about to complain. It helped having someone around, someone who seemed to understand her frustrations.
Someone who helped take care of her after she slipped up and got beaten or whipped for speaking out of turn or doing something wrong.
It wasn't her fault she wasn't as domesticated as Galeron wanted her to be and it wasn't her fault she found being submissive almost impossible. Rurik was the only one who seemed to understand that life was different where she came from and he was the only one prepared to help defend her when, like tonight, she was in no position to defend herself.
She sighed softly and closed her eyes, shutting out his kind face but holding the mental image close, hoping it would help sleep come more easily. "I just wish.." She sighed again and smiled in spite of herself, feeling his gaze warm her face even as she tried to sleep. "I wish I had something I could defend myself with. I'm not used to being powerless. If I just had something.. I don't know. Maybe I'd feel better."
She fell asleep with that thought in mind, dreaming of the days when a P90 and zat were within easy reach, when she had a standard issue military knife stored securely at her side. When she had the ability to save herself but didn't have to, because she'd had people there with her who she'd die for who'd die for her.
A rescue wasn't going to come. Her hopes of that were all but gone. It'd been too long, it would be too hard for them to track her down.
If she wanted to get home, she'd have to find her own way back and that was something that didn't look like it would happen anytime soon.
Those thoughts were the ones she woke up with. A hazy plan of action was just beginning to form in her mind when the shouts and screaming began. Her eyes flickered open, expecting to see Rurik standing over her, his expression warning away anyone who would do her harm.
Instead she found an empty space where his body had once lain, a neat pile of straw with a handle protruding from it.
A handle she recognised.
Her blood ran cold and she sat up, blocking the knife from view of others as she withdrew it from it's badly hidden place and remembered the last time she'd seen it, her hand going to the healing wound on her stomach.
Above her, the shouting stopped. The screaming continued. Althea appeared beside her, breathless, her eyes wide with fear.
"It is Rurik," she said hurriedly.
Sam didn't give her the chance to finish. She slipped the knife under the bundle of rags in the corner, cloths used by herself, Rurik and Althea and her husband to clean themselves with the dirty water they were provided, and pushed herself up on unsteady feet, racing as fast as she could to join the crowds gathered above.
It took some convincing but eventually Mackenzie agreed with her that she needed to return to the planet she'd travelled from. With his help, she managed to convince Doctor Lam to back her up and she took the request to General Landry, surprised when her commander agreed but unable to work up anything but relief when he told her he would only approve the mission on the condition that she would be accompanied by all of SG-1 plus the former team leader.
Jack, she knew, was just as keen to go through the Stargate again as he was to be there with her when she returned to the world she'd been trapped on for two months of her life.
She didn't know what her teammates were expecting but it wasn't the remains they found.
The big houses, the ones like the one she'd been kept in, had been reduced to piles of rubble. She noticed with some satisfaction that Galeron's house was beyond repair but that wasn't what she'd come for.
It wasn't what she wanted to see. It wasn't what she needed to make her peace with.
Slowly, Sam led the way from the Stargate to the village, dimly recalling the journey she'd taken along the overgrown path alone, trying to remember if she'd worn shoes or not. She didn't think so but then she didn't remember pausing in her trek to the Stargate to tend to cut feet.
She ignored the buildings they passed, stopped only momentarily beside what had once been her prison. It was gone now. Over. Galeron was dead and the others were free.
She tried to find it in her to care but couldn't so she kept walking, conscious of SG-1 trailing in her wake.
Daniel, she knew, was curious about the destruction around them and wanted to ask questions. Thankfully he didn't. She wasn't sure what she'd tell him if he did.
Jack walked beside her and Teal'c walked behind her, she could sense their presence, knew they were offering her back up in case something went wrong. Cameron lingered back with Daniel, no doubt covering their backs, making sure the way to the Stargate didn't somehow disappear.
It wouldn't. There'd be no attack.
This world was dead. This world was free.
She stopped when they reached the edge of the village, where the ruins were engulfed by the trees. There were four mounds of dirt in front of her and she walked to the mound furthest away, dropping to her knees beside it.
It was real. He was dead.
A sob tried to escape but she lifted her hands to her lips and blocked its exit, staring at the mound of dirt, at the long-dead flowers that still rested on top of it.
At the handle of the knife only just visible where it was buried on his chest.
"Carter?" She heard the uncertainty in his voice and moved her hands from her face, watching him approach through blurred eyes. Jack knelt down beside her, a hand on her shoulder. "Is that him..? The man who..?"
She shook her head no and swallowed hard, trying to get the lump in her throat to move so she could speak. He, like the others, thought the grave before her was Galeron's, the man who'd held her prisoner and made her life hell.
It wasn't. It didn't belong to him. His body hadn't been buried with respect and care, it had been burnt with hate and pleasure she couldn't bring herself to be ashamed of.
"No." Her voice was rough, husky. It hurt to speak but she had to, she had to say it aloud. "This is Rurik. The man who kept me alive in there, who died so he could help me live."
The knife felt heavy in her hand, unusually heavy.
Still, she continued to lift it, continued chopping lock after lock of hair the best she could with one arm, watching through dispassionate eyes as the clumps of hair fell to the ground.
"Sam." Althea approached her, the only one who was brave enough to. "Sam. Stop."
She didn't. She kept cutting her hair, her vision blurred. It wasn't short enough yet. Wasn't as short as it used to be.
"It is not your fault." Althea kept her voice low but didn't move any closer. Didn't reach out to touch her. Maybe she was scared to. Maybe she was afraid of hurting Sam more than she already was or maybe she thought if she got too close to her the same fate would befall her as it had done the one man who'd tried to help her.
Maybe she thought she'd end up dead, too.
Sam closed her eyes, the thought hitting her hard.
She lowered an unsteady hand and let the knife clatter to the floor, her hand moving to support her arm. The arm Galeron had snapped when she'd tried to get in the way, when she'd tried to stop him from murdering Rurik.
The gentle giant who hadn't hurt anyone, who she'd always know was silently there in the background, ready to help her if she needed it. Sweet Rurik who'd befriended her even if she still didn't know why.
He was dead now. Because of her. Because she'd said that she'd feel better, safer, with a weapon and because he'd gone out of his way to get her one.
Because he'd stolen Galeron's knife and refused to give it back.
"You must hide the knife, Sam." Althea kept darting nervous looks in its direction but made no attempt to pick up the shiny blade. "Galeron said that he would send for you. If his guards find you with the knife, they will kill you, too."
She almost said it but bit her tongue. Held it back so she wouldn't have to see the look of horror on Althea's face.
But she did was she was told and picked up the knife. She'd just finished securing it in the belt of her tunic, concealing it in the folds of the fabric when the door to the basement swung up and two of Galeron's guards marched down the creaking steps.
Marched towards her.
She let them drag her to her feet, swallowing the cry that rose to her throat when one of them grabbed her arm, when the other pushed her back to make her walk faster.
Rurik was dead and he'd done nothing wrong.
Galeron had made his last mistake.
"You do know it's not your fault Rurik died, Colonel." Mackenzie looked at her with new appreciation in his eyes, the sympathy pushed aside by a newly strengthened respect. "He made his own choice. He had the opportunity to tell them where he'd put the knife but he didn't. That was his choice and he made it for himself."
Sam nodded, her hands crossed almost primly in her lap. The colour was back in her cheeks and he was pleased to see some of the weight had returned to her face. It probably, he decided, had something to do with the rumours that General O'Neill was transferring back to Colorado to take over one of the offices at the Academy.
"I know that now," Sam admitted softly but her smile was still pained. "It doesn't make it any easier to live with."
"No, it doesn't." Mackenzie agreed quietly, closing his notepad and putting it on the desk beside him. "I have to admit I'm a little confused at his motives.."
"So am I. Althea tried to explain it to me, after it was over." She lifted one shoulder in a small shrug and he was pleased to see there was no sign of discomfort on her face when she moved. Her physical injuries weren't his area of expertises but he was still pleased to see she was recovering. "Rurik wasn't alone when he first arrived at Galeron's house. He arrived with his sister and as far as Althea and her mom could remember, Rurik took care of her and warned anyone who tried to hurt her away. Verbally. Galeron took an interest in her and, well, she couldn't handle it. She killed herself. Rurik blamed himself as well as Galeron and just stopped speaking to anyone."
"And you reminded him of his sister," he guessed with a sigh. "So by protecting you he was making it up to his sister for failing her."
Sam nodded but the smile had vanished from her face. "Yeah. I don't know if we looked alike or if there was something he saw in me he'd seen in her.. I wish I'd had the chance to ask him. I wish I'd known before he died."
He agreed with her silently but didn't say anything. Wishing was normal but it wasn't something he could encourage. Wishing was too commonly linked with regretting and he didn't want to put any such ideas in her mind. He knew only too well they were probably there already.
With a regret of his own, Mackenzie stood and waited for her to do the same thing, offering her his hand when she did. "I'll be submitting my report to Doctor Lam and General Landry this afternoon, Colonel, but I think you should know I'm clearing you for active duty as far as my responsibility goes." He took her hand and shook it, holding it for just a split second longer than usual. "I think you'll do okay on your own now."
"I'm not on my own." She said it with a smile, one he was pleased to see reached her eyes. "But thank you, for all your help. I know the people you get through your office usually don't want to be here but we do appreciate it. What you do for us."
It was the first time, he realised with a jolt, anyone had ever thanked him and meant it since he'd started work at the SGC. "Anytime, Colonel, though that doesn't mean I want to see you needing my help again soon."
She nodded at his words and stepped back, heading towards the door. He watched her leave, pleased but strangely bereft when she didn't look back. Mackenzie sighed and sat back down in his chair, powering up his laptop and reached for his notepad.
He scanned his hastily scrawled notes, looked at the wealth of information she'd willingly supplied after returning from the planet she'd been kept on for so long and shook his head. He opened a new document on his computer and started to type, wanting to get the recommendation finished and on General Landry's desk by close of business.
'Following my session with Colonel Samantha Carter on the 9th June, 2005, it is my recommendation that she be allowed to return to active duty..'