Disclaimer: Alas, these are not my characters. All hail MGM!
Warnings: Semi-explicit rape scene. Some swearing. And…I think that's it.
Spoilers: Emancipation, In the Line of Duty and Entity
I never thought that his exit would hollow out my insides, make my stomach drop several stories without ever leaving my body. But as I stand here and watch Turghan's eyes graze hungrily across the satin of this damned get-up, the space beside me pulses with the interminable weight of his absence. Not that I miss the boy or that I think he could protect me, but his absence and my subsequent, persistent presence indicate that boy plus girl divided by paternal warlord equals my bondage.
I belong to him, I think and my eyes refuse to focus, turning the tent's canvas into one solid ochre drape, despite the shadows my brain knows are there. But my brain jumped the tracks several seconds ago when my worth as a human was whittled down to a few foreign coins and tossed readily into the palms of a pining adolescent.
The bastard steps towards me, raw meat rancid on his breath, and I struggle to maintain my poise. I will not move, I tell myself. I will not allow him the satisfaction of knowing that he repulses me. I will not reveal my fear.
And then his hand flashes in my peripheral vision and flies towards me too quickly to dodge the blow that forces my face towards the wall as involuntary tears sting the back of my eyelids.
"Your beauty will not stay my hand," he whispers. "You will learn your place, accept your duties, or be handed to a fate much worse than death."
I cannot help but raise my eyebrow a fraction of an inch as my eyes meet his. I am strong, they tell him. I am stronger than you can possibly imagine and I am not afraid. You cannot break me. And I watch his eyes narrow in response to my silent vow of impudence. His fingers flutter near the handle of his knife and I find that I would welcome that clean steel between my ribs in exchange for his body penetrating mine. He hates me, my soldier's instinct tells me. But more than I am a soldier, I am a woman and I know by heart the contours of lust. I stoically refuse to shiver as those undulations distend his hardened eyes.
Three hundred weights of gold, I think, automatically knowing the sum's purport. He will not kill me. The price would be too great and my beauty is too exotic to waste on one moment of cruel passion. No, he will not kill me yet. Not before he has had the chance to claim my body as his own.
But I'll be damned if I'm going to let that happen.
He knows this. I can tell by the faint twitching of his eyelids as he watches the various facets of my tenacity flicker across my pupils. The few inches separating us slowly swell with the intensity of our combined resolve, the air nearly crackling with the antithetical components of our wills. Just prior to the crescendo, his fingers clasp my upper arm and pull me from the tent into an open dirt ring peppered with women clad in simple work clothes. Halting in the middle of their domestic duties, the women turn to their chieftain and bow their heads almost in unison as if the response had been bred into them from birth.
I suppose it has.
He speaks to one—presumably his first wife—in a foreign tongue and I watch the small woman carefully in order to gauge her reaction. But her passive expression hints at nothing. When he has finished speaking, she bows again and beckons to several others who step forward to surround me; he releases my arm and I am escorted towards the fire where a bowl of vegetables and a knife are placed before me. I sit at their urging and take up the knife, positioning the blade over the thin orange skin of a small carrot.
I can chop vegetables, I think, relishing my release of tension as the sharp edge slides repeatedly through the root. Oh yes, I can chop vegetables.
He has not yet gone, having elected to stand at a distance and watch the movement of my body beneath its satin confines; his eyes course over my form continually and I curse myself as my hand quavers under the intensity of his scrutiny.
And then I hear him retreat back into the tent, apparently content that his newest acquisition is in capable hands, and, in light of his absence, I allow myself the privilege of a subtle grimace replete with disgust. As I continually drive the knife through the root, my brain engages and begins to formulate a list of possible escape routes, each growing progressively more desperate as the direness of my situation becomes apparent.
I do not know where I am, I realize, and nor do my teammates know where I have gone. By this time they have noticed my absence and have begun to question and search. The thought brings me only a modicum of comfort. I know the topography and various specifications of the planet. I know that the boy rode through the night, the horse beneath us straining to keep the designated pace. Wherever I am, it is at least ten hours from our camp, and that number banks on my team being able to locate our trail and follow it implicitly.
Three hundred weights of gold, I muse. Apparently I am worth more than Christ.
She drops the basket, its contents spilling across the crusted surface of the work area. I watch as she is herded into an adjoining tent, all of the women following closely behind in order to comfort the girl.
I am left alone.
Sliding the knife securely under the folds of my dress, I steal quickly from the ring and cross the surrounding field undetected. Swinging myself onto a horse, I guide the animal away from the camp and urge him into a gallop. I am hell-bent on escape and encourage my steed to strain his pace just as the boy's horse had last night. This is it, I think as the foliage blurs and our speed ripples the fabric of my dress. I've done it.
I am free.
Just as I am about to immerse myself in the variable pleasures of freedom, a whistle shrieks, causing the animal beneath me to still his pace immediately. Momentum hurls me to the ground below and I feel the harsh grip of the bastard's soldiers clamp around my arms, their ferocity crushing my veins and cutting off the flow of blood to my hands. Within seconds, my wrists are bound, my mouth gagged, and my body thrown unceremoniously across the lap of a mounted soldier.
"You belong to Turghan," he tells me.
Rage froths in my stomach as his words flow past my ears. I belong to no one, I think, wanting to voice the words, but unable to force the cloth from my mouth. Seconds later I am deposited roughly on the ground and forced into the bastard's tent.
He's mad as hell and the atmosphere pulses in time with the audible beating of his heart. I blink and he is beside me, his hand reaching below the folds of my clothing to remove the knife from my belt. His eyes shift from the blade to my steely gaze and back again before he beckons his men with a nod. Strong, unflinching hands grasp my head, immobilizing my body from the neck up, and I struggle to swallow my sudden panic. But my eyes widen as the blade nears my face and presses against the skin of my left cheekbone. As he draws the knife down the gentle ridge of flesh and bone, my jaw trembles, not out of pain, but as a result of my mounting fury. The blade leaves my skin as it rounds my jaw, and I can see the length glistening with my own bright red blood. Small rivulets trickle from the cut and cross the canvas of my skin only to fall into the material of my dress.
Suddenly the knife is forced between my breasts and quickly pulled back to his chest; the sickening rip of the material echoes through my skull and, for the first time, I struggle against the hands holding me still. But the pressure only increases. And the knife returns. I bite the inside of my lip as the front of my clothing is effectively shredded, my breasts and stomach bared for his eyes and hands. The bitter tang of blood fills my mouth as my teeth sink deeply into my lip—my breasts fill his calloused hands and he squeezes them roughly, his mouth thinning in smug satisfaction as a sharp breath passes through my nostrils.
The knife passes to the men behind me and I feel the cold steel at the nape of my neck before it runs the length of my spine and then moves quickly down my arms. I stare blankly ahead as his eyes pour over my bared body and refuse to flinch as he reaches across to trace the ridge of my collarbones.
"You are beautiful," he tells me and reaches for the clasp of his skin cloak. It falls from his shoulders leaving him clad only in his thin underclothing. Sparing a second-long glance for the men behind me, he nods once and then his eyes, now sparked with predatory anticipation, return to mine. "You belong to me," he whispers harshly. "And this will be your duty."
I am relieved of my clothing, the jagged edges of the material grating against my skin as it is torn away. I watch as Turghan saunters towards his sleeping area and lowers his remaining articles; and I am thrust towards him, his hands round my shoulders and shove me roughly into the pile of animal skins on the floor.
As his naked body looms above me, his eyes hazed with lust and domination as he surveys my prone form, the surrealistic quality of my predicament that up until now had permeated my senses vanishes. I am thrust headlong into this very real world that has suddenly decided to turn upside down and I gasp as if breathing for the first time. He stoops to claim my lips but his jaw meets my fist instead; the blow does not phase him. If anything, my resistance has only heightened his desire and I internally recoil at the prospect. He straddles me, his thickening member pulsing angrily between his legs as he grabs my wrists and secures them above my head with a rough cord.
I cannot look at him. I refuse to speak. And I will not give him the pleasure of hearing me beg.
"So beautiful…" I hear him mutter as his hands skirt the periphery of my body. My stomach churns as his breath nears my mouth and his lips press firmly against mine. He is claiming me, I realize. He is consummating the monetary bond that now exists between us, regardless of how vehemently I deny the relation. I am a purchase, an object, a possession of his and through this union, he will remind me of my status.
Suddenly his fingers plunge into my body and I resist the pained cry that floods my throat. My body reviles at the prospect of moistening to his ministrations, my loathing of him overriding the biological response to touch. I feel his eyes dart towards my face—I still refuse to meet his gaze—and instinctively know that the lack of fluid between my thighs angers him.
"It is to your pain," he whispers and his breath clouds over me like venom. And I feel his blunt head prodding between my legs and I cannot help but close my eyes. "You are mine," he breathes and brutally forces himself into my body. And I can hear my body screaming as his girth rips my internal tissues and fluid courses from the fissures.
He is still a moment and I am shocked to hear myself gasping for breath. But I refuse to acknowledge the severity of my pain; I will not allow him the knowledge that he yearns to accumulate: the arduousness of my responses, the depth of my hatred. His ensuing thrusts are lubricated by my blood and I find that the more time passes, the more distant the bright flare of pain becomes.
While he grunts and strains above me like an animal, pummeling himself towards release, I bury myself in the gentle waves of the ceiling's canvas, the distance between us growing incrementally with each beat of my speeding heart.
A primal cry tears from his throat and I know that it is finished. Through his ragged breaths, he says, "This is your duty to me," and leaves my body. As I listen to the receding slaps of his bare feet against the dirt floor, a smug smile curls my lips. You can never own me, I tell him. You have accomplished nothing.
But the woman on the skins below me is shivering; her eyes are wide and her breathing labored. Someone should give her a blanket, I think. She looks so awfully cold. She is writhing involuntarily as if trying to elude the vestiges of time itself. Stop, I tell her, stop and breathe. Deep cleansing breaths—it's always worked before. But she does not hear me and continues to undulate as if tossed by the sea. And in my watching her, I find that I cannot place my own breath and my chest heaves in time with hers as I fear our impending suffocation.
And then I know why she cannot breathe; I know why she cannot keep herself steady on this tumultuous ride through the annals of private thought; I know why she has not spoken. She is me.
But I will not go so easily as that. He has accomplished nothing. The pain is nothing. And I still belong to me.
Time passes. I cannot place the ticking of seconds or the breadth of the hours—the meanings have been skewed by their very passing—but that does not concern me. Somehow I have been transported outside their realm of influence, as if this tent were a vacuum and I its only victim.
Time passes. My arms ache and I can feel my muscles begin to knot under the strain of immobility and the weighty heft of the chilled air. The rustle of the outside grasses comforts me somewhat, or at least it tries. I hear the raucous laughter of the soldiers echo faintly from outside the canvas walls. There are no children.
Time passes and he comes again, the same predatory smile stretched limply across his scarred lips. His eyes still harbor the lust, the avarice of a weak-willed warrior too secure in his own rectitude to acknowledge the pains of another.
Time passes but I am still his most treasured possession—the fire-willed woman from the sea who refuses to heed the mores of her station. The pale one, the porcelain skinned doll with eyes of blue river stones and hair like daybreak during midsummer. He will not suffer my beauty without also partaking of it. In doing so, he becomes one with the sea from which I do not come; he claims the river's stones and hurls them into the depths of the surrounding forest; he captures the light of dawn and refuses it the liberty it has enjoyed these ten thousand years.
Time passes and slows as his body joins with mine. I fix my eyes over his shoulder and stare blankly at the wall, hoping that my disinterest will damage his hunger for what he forces from me. But it serves to spur his need; his pelvis grinds into mine as his rhythm escalates and I feel the seed of his heirs spill thickly into my depths.
Time passes and he withdraws to stand above me, his flaccid member coated with a slick sheen of his semen and my blood. He smirks as he blots the fluids from himself with a dry cloth and mutters, "You do your duty well, woman." As he turns to leave, he tosses the cloth onto my chest, the stench of him riling my stomach as it crystallizes slowly in the dulling cold. The pale eggshell melds easily with the brown burgundy from my body.
I am disgusted and time passes.
A gun shot jolts me from sleep and I instinctively tug on the cord binding my wrists, having forgotten its presence. These people do not have guns, I know, and the shot must mean that my team has located me, that they are working for my freedom. The thought does not excite me as it ought and I am wary that I will be returned to them in my current state of undress. They will know then what has transpired, what my fate was amongst these people, and that is not acceptable.
We have been together for a little over a week and I am unsure how they would respond. But one thing I do know for certain: the colonel must never know. He must never discover that I was not strong enough to defend myself against this man, no matter how far the pendulum would swing in my favor. I am not certain how he would react, and suddenly I am drowning in the flux of possibilities, none of them heartening.
The curtain opens to admit two of his women, one of whom carries a small bundle of cloth. As the other releases my binds, she unfurls the material and hands me a shift similar to the one she is wearing. I accept the offering and fumble my way into it, anxious to put a barrier between my flesh and prying eyes.
They beckon me to follow them and I comply, eager to step back into time.
I see the colonel first. He smiles slightly and nods at my approach. "Carter," he says simply. "You all right?" And then I see it—concern lost amidst the deep brown of his troubled eyes.
The effect is ephemeral as it must always be. I eclipse it with a confident nod and respond, "Yes, sir." I feel like I am speaking for the first time and the words spiral oddly around my mouth, leaving my tongue heavy and my lips dry.
My mendacity placates him and I blink as his eyes lose their subtle traces of disquiet and shift back to their neutral, commanding set. I swallow. This is as it should be, no matter how desperately my throat aches for it to be otherwise.
I am a soldier. I am a woman. I belong to myself and I am all right. This is my mantra as I mount the horse presented to me and follow my companions out of the bastard's camp and into the blissful hold of my freedom.
Three hundred weights of gold.
My belly lurches as the unforgiving surface of the saddle repeatedly impacts the bottom ridges of my pelvis.
I clutch the reigns in an effort to alleviate the pain.
I focus on the trail ahead.
I bite my lip.
I refuse to speak.
A new chief medical officer was stationed at the SGC several days ago. A Major Janet Fraiser, M.D. She reeks of professionalism, but harbors also the scent of compassion. She is ultimately driven and dedicated to her work. I think we will get on just fine.
Now she stands before me and applies butterfly bandages to my cheek. The wound is deep, she tells me, much more so than it appears. I am lucky to have it attended to so quickly and the scarring should be minimal. She finishes her task and eyes me warily.
"Is there anything else I should know?" she asks.
I shake my head, my unblinking eyes staring openly into hers. "No," I tell her and I believe it.
Her eyes narrow and she crosses her arms over her stomach. "You're favoring your right side," she says, her voice free of accusation. "And the marks on your wrists indicate a struggle—a rather fierce one." Again, she does not accuse me. She attempts to sequester the facts. That is her job.
I shrug. "I didn't go willingly." The statement is simple and more accurate than anything I have uttered since my rescue.
She nods. "Yes, of course." After she makes a brief note on my chart, she dismisses me. I thank her and ease myself off of the table, noting for the first time that I am indeed quite sore along my right side. Quite astute, our new doctor. "Captain." I hear her call and turn, my stomach twisting with this continued barrage of questions. "If you think of anything," she says, her voice soft and almost sad, "you know where I am."
I offer her my most reassuring smile and thank her again before exiting the infirmary and striding to my lab.
I will think of nothing, I muse, because there is nothing of which to think.
I stay in my lab for the remainder of the day, my attention divided between the MALP transmissions from P3S-729 and the impending upgrade of the dialing program. I am deep in the midst of an analysis '729's planetary shift when a cough sounds from behind me. Unnatural fear twists within my abdomen and I am immediately prepared for battle as I spin to face the intruder.
"Whoa," Doctor Jackson says, his hands upraised in a show of automatic surrender. His eyes narrow as he surveys my rapidly heaving chest as I struggle to regain my breath. "You okay?"
I nod out of instinct and manage, "Yeah. You startled me."
"I got that." He pauses and I refuse to meet his gaze. "Listen, Sam," he begins and his contrite tone tells me why he came. I turn towards my analysis and train my eyes along the equations, emphatically willing the doctor to silence as I contemplate the significance of x in terms of y. He ignores my subliminal exhortations and continues, "If you need to talk, I'm open. I know that couldn't have been easy for you."
"I'm fine," I utter for the umpteenth time, my eyes still intent upon the line of mathematics, the only language that makes any sense at present.
"I'm not saying you aren't fine," he tells me, "but if you need to talk about anything…"
I look up from the computer screen and give him my best grateful smile. "Thanks, Daniel," I say, hoping that my acceptance will conciliate his concern enough to expedite his departure.
But he does not look convinced.
"I'm serious," he says and hesitates before continuing. "You're not telling us everything that happened, are you?"
My throat seizes and my eyes stop, but my brain maintains its steady pace. "You want the details of the domestic chores?"
That gives him reason to pause, but only very briefly. "'Domestic chores' can mean a lot of things, Sam."
I do not need to turn in order to see his sympathy; it is apparent in his softened tone, the pained inflection of his words. He knows, I think. He knows and if I substantiate his knowledge, he will demand that my superiors be made aware. That will not happen. "In this case, Daniel, 'domestic chores' means just that. I chopped vegetables and sorted fruit. That's it."
Silence lapses between us and I grow uncomfortable under its weight heightened by Daniel's scrutiny. His eyes bore into the back of my skull as I go through the motions of analyzing the data before me. "All right," he mutters at last. "I'll be in my lab if you need anything."
I nod and only after I hear the soft sigh of his shoes against the concrete do I afford a quick glance over my shoulder at his retreating form. For a moment, my throat wells with desperate exhortations intent on beckoning him back to my side, to relate the atrocities I suffered under Turghan—but I push the pleas to the ridge of my tongue and swallow.
I say nothing.
0352 and sleep eludes me just as it has every night since I was taken by Turghan four months ago. I cannot think his name without also feeling his body covering mine; I cannot breathe without drawing in his scent; I cannot speak without choking on my own tongue. My throat aches with the volume of words I have refused passage over the intervening months. But the ache precipitates the freedom, the lust that now writhes within my belly for this blessed denial of truth.
It has not yet been spoken into existence.
Therefore, it has yet to happen.
And I do not feel him.
I do not smell him.
I do not choke.
I do not.
one year passes
My fervor is laden with an insufferable weight and my eyes refuse to open. But they must open. I must see. I must know for certain that the voices filtering through the din are true and not bourn of my mind's mad conjuring.
A millimeter. A fraction of an inch. The harsh glare of a fluorescent light seen by me through my own eyes—that's all I ask. To know for certain…
And then my eyes open. Not much, just the millimeter I requested. And the fluorescent lights are there and I have never seen anything more beautiful than Janet's smiling eyes or the Colonel's lips upturned slightly in an uncharacteristic display of relief.
"You did it, Sam. You won."
What? No, my mind protests. Even now I am aware of Jolinar's gradual lessening as my clarity returns. I feel her lithe body twined around my spinal column in an inextricable embrace that I know will haunt me forever. I have won nothing. I was a spectator, a device, a vessel for her superior consciousness. An object that could be used and discarded as she saw fit. But still…
I realize that I have yet to answer him and strain to shake my head. My neck is heavy with the weight of Jolinar's death and argues the movement. "It wasn't me."
His voice returns, though his form still blurs my vision. "Oh yes it was. You hung in there. You beat it."
No. "The Goa'uld gave its life for me." I say the words and I know them to be true, but I do not understand them. "It saved me," I continue, more to convince myself than him. I can no longer speak; my body aches from fatigue, but my mind fights against it, unwilling to relinquish control to sleep. But it is too great, insurmountable in light of my recent possession, and I succumb helplessly to the dredges of unconsciousness.
I do no know how long it has been since I have awoke, but I am loathe to sleep again, to surrender to that sublevel of existence for fear—
No, not for fear. I am not afraid. I do not fear. But I refuse to allow myself to be vulnerable to further manipulation. An involuntary shudder wracks my spine as I recall Cassandra's terror as my fingers sunk into her arms and a voice that was not quite mine used my lips and tongue to threaten her life.
"You will tell no one of this. If you do, I will kill you."
I choke back a sob. Cassie believed her—believed me. Wide, horrified eyes stared back into mine and stank of belief, of unadulterated child-like faith that her silence would sustain her life. I think of the tumultuous hours that followed her rescue, her self-imposed silence, her fear, her mistrust, and I swallow the tears that rise in my throat as I think also of her eventual faith in me. The faith that cut through the haze of her losses and engendered her return to language. And I—her bastion during that awful time—unhesitatingly threatened to kill her.
I would not be surprised if she refuses to see me again.
The thought flits across my mind as I become aware of Daniel. He is behind me setting something heavy on the bedside table. Then he sits next to me and speaks, but I do not understand him; his words are low, garbled, and my mind cannot make sense of them. Moments pass and he gives in to my silence. Footsteps spatter on the concrete before the faint gurgle of conversation reaches me. I know that I am the subject of their discourse, but I do not care.
It is all so endlessly trivial.
The voice is meek, tentative, but familiar. A small bar of warmth presses against my back and a thin finger crooks beneath my chin, beckoning my attention from the infirmary wall. My eyes refuse to focus and wearily rotate before Cassie's gaze penetrates the dull haze that followed me from sleep.
She smiles and wraps her fingers around mine, and I see beyond the guise of her years. You are very brave, I told her, but I did not realize the extent of her bravery until now—until I saw love replace fear in her eyes. "You're going to be okay," she says and I see a glint of faith spark deep within her.
I struggle to return her smile, if only for her sake, and tighten my grip on her hand. Despite her savant wisdom, she cannot account for my deeper pain, the unnamed cut that festers still in spite of my perpetual lack of acknowledgment. And I refuse to be the one who slaughters the innocence of her youth, tainted though it has been by predatory lust. She will learn the depth of that lesson soon enough.
I smile and say nothing. But I do accept the love she has to offer.
…if only for a moment.
Quantum physics dictates that belief precipitates existence; in other words, should one choose to believe in the existence of a thing, that in and of itself is enough to warrant its formation on some level. That said, belief does not indicate faith, nor does it revoke one's right to harbor doubt.
Somewhere there is redemption.
Somehow I will find it.
two years pass
I stop and turn slowly, my body still uneasy since my usurpation by the entity, and offer my commanding officer my best semblance of a genuine smile. "Sir," I acknowledge respectfully. "Is there a problem?"
His eyes narrow slightly, but I can see the sardonic spark that lights them. "Yeah," he says, "there is. Ya see, I have this friend who was just taken over by a psycho alien energy...thing. Her consciousness was transferred to a computer memory 'mainframe,' I believe the word was, and then it was transferred back into her body and yet she still insists that she's 'fine.'"
I sigh, but a small, indulgent smile manages to creep across my lips. "Sounds like quite the situation, sir," I reply.
He nods and continues his explication. "It's all complicated by the fact that she's a workaholic and seems to think that she can't take more than forty-eight hours off at a time."
"Sir..." I begin, but he cuts me off.
"I just talked to Doc Fraiser and she seems to think that this particular friend of mine not only can, but should take more than forty-eight off and has ordered that I take this friend of mine home."
I cast him an irritated glare, but must admit that a small part of me leaps at the renewed prospect of returning to bed—the same part that refused to leave that haven of down and flannel not one hour ago. His eyes are stolidly set against my impending protests and I am exhausted enough to allow this single look dissuade me from opposing him. My knees buckle slightly then and I shift my weight against the cold concrete of the nearest wall. Wearily, I nod my consent and allow him to lead me back to the surface.
The drive to my house begins in amicable silence, my head rests against the seat as I gaze out the passenger side window, my eyes registering the passing scenery as a multifoliate blur. I sigh contentedly as my eyelids begin to droop. I am loathe to admit my exhaustion, but in light of my current safety, my body forces me to acknowledge it. Warm skin envelops my hand and I am shaken from my stupor; I look down to find that the Colonel has taken hold of my fingers, his eyes still fixed on the road before us.
Sensing my scrutiny, he murmurs, "You scared me, Carter."
It's not an accusation, I know, but his words still manage to evoke my guilt. "I'm sorry, sir," I tell him, no other words seeming appropriate.
He shakes his head. "Not your fault." He releases my hand then to make the sharp right at the foot of the mountain only to return his fingers to mine when the turn is complete. Perhaps if my exhaustion did not permeate my entire being, this contact would disconcert me; as it stands, his touch comforts me, reassures me that I am present in the external, physical realm, that I am more than a consciousness.
"It's mine," he says softly and his words catch me off-guard. I stare at him incredulously for a moment, my jaw agape.
"W-what?" I manage to sputter. "How is it your fault? You were the one warning Daniel and I against trying to communicate with the entity."
He shakes his head. "Not that. That was your fault, though I don't blame you for trying." His voice is still soft, as are the lines on his face, and my breath catches in my throat. I am rarely afforded this opportunity—to talk to the man beneath the military facade, the soul behind my commanding officer.
I lean forward slightly, simultaneously intrigued and perplexed that he would choose this moment to lift the mask. "I'm not following."
He sighs, his eyes remain fixed on the road, and his jaw ripples as his teeth grind against each other. I can see him slowly closing himself off to me again and I instinctively tighten my grip on his hand to keep him from slipping away. His eyes jet to our joined hands briefly before resuming his stalwart gaze out the front window.
"Jack," I say, my use of his first name guaranteed to garner a response; his hand softens where it interlaces with mine and his chin raises a fraction of an inch. His attention mine, I plead softly, "Don't do that."
"Hide from me." I squeeze his hand. "You don't have to, you know." He stays silent and, after a brief, palpable pause, I forge ahead, "Explain it to me. I want to understand how you think that was your fault." Immediately the words pass my lips, he guides the truck into my driveway, releases my hand and throws the vehicle into park. Palming the keys, he wordlessly climbs out and rounds the hood to help me down. His arm stays firmly around my waist, holding me to his side, as we walk to my front door. We mount the front step and he waits patiently for me to retrieve my keys; when I fail to reach into my pocket, he glances askance at me.
"Is it locked?"
"Of course," I say, refusing to look at him.
He waits. "Do you have your keys?"
I nod curtly.
"You waiting for the apocalypse?"
"Something like that." I turn to face him, my eyes stern and heady as they find his. "Come in with me." It is an order, non-negotiable and direct, and by the way his pupils dilate, I can tell he knows it.
He looks down at his feet as his hands tuck into his pockets. "Look, Carter--" he begins, but gets no further.
"We're finishing our conversation," I tell him. "The one you started, the one in which you tell me why this has been your fault. Remember that one?"
He falls silent and still, the steady rise and fall of his chest the only indication that he's not made of wax. The silence stretches far beyond what is comfortable for either of us, but I refuse to end it. Finally, he says, "On one condition."
Unbidden, my eyebrow arches. "What's that?"
His eyes meet mine and I am immediately ensconced by his sorrow. "Tell me why you never told anyone what Turghan did to you."
It takes me several seconds to realize what he said and then several more to realize the implications. I feel the blood rush out of my face as my lungs fully deflate within my chest. Breathless, I stammer, "W-what?" I forget how to breathe, how to speak, how to manipulate my own limbs and when he reaches one hand towards me, I stumble backwards, the side wall my only saving grace. I clutch the siding as I stare at him wide-eyed. "How did you...?" My desperate attempt for clarification remains uncompleted as my body begins shaking, disallowing any further conversation.
He steps towards me, but this time I do not shirk his hands. As his arms encircle me, his voice whispering placations, I sag against him, my fingers fisting around the material of his jacket. After fishing my keys out of my coat pocket, he gently ushers me into the house and guides me to the sofa. I pull my legs up to my chest and I nestle into the large cushions as he sits opposite me.
"Do you want to finish that first conversation?"
My eyes fall closed, my shoulders sagging as the monstrous burden of my silence descends upon them. I know the stipulations of his clarification. I cannot fault him for evading my questions when I am guilty of identical sin. Yet, he is giving me the option of leaving these things unspoken, unacknowledged, and, in a way, horribly unreal.
I am suddenly exhausted, my mind and body tired of living a charade of stability and well-being. I am tired of hiding, tired of choking on tears in lieu of crying them, tired of pretending to be someone I am not.
I am tired of living outside the scope of reality.
Finally, I acquiesce.
I hear him draw a deep breath before muttering, "I care too damn much for you." Our eyes meet, mine astounded, his resigned, and in them, I see all that he cannot say. "And it's my fault," he continues, "that I fell in love with my second in command."
Our visual bond breaks and neither of us dare speak. The moment's profundity threatens to consume us both as the silence becomes an undeniable presence nestled between us. My stomach burns as my courage mounts; this moment will not come again. We will be reminded of it, in stolen glances and half-smiles, but we will never again exist here, together, in this span of glorious, painful seconds.
"We're both at fault," I whisper, both needing him to know and needing to hear myself admit the truth.
He quirks his eyebrow at me as I hesitantly meet his eyes. "You fell in love with my second?" he asks and I smile. I know he understands; there is no need for clarification.
"Your turn," he tells me softly, gently reminding me of our parameters. I cringe and unconsciously huddle closer to myself. The sudden dip in the cushions beside me causes me to gasp. "Hey," he whispers as he tucks a stray strand of hair behind my ear. Crooking his finger beneath my chin, he urges me to look up into his eyes. Reluctantly, I allow him to guide my head, my breath catching in my throat once more as I stumble into his gaze and realize the depth of his love for me. There are no barriers now and emotions that I have never before seen in him gleam in his eyes. We do not need words; words are merely symbols attached to subjective definitions. In his eyes, I find everything I need to know communicated in a language that only I can comprehend.
The back of his knuckles brushes my cheek in a chaste caress before gliding down to rest on the back of my neck, his strong fingers gently massaging my flesh.
I close my eyes and unconsciously synchronize our breathing, my mind focusing solely on keeping my self calm and breathing. Several minutes lapse and my eyes open of their own accord signaling that I am willing to begin this conversation.
"What really happened, Sam?"
"He raped me," I tell him immediately, unwilling to give myself a chance to question my resolve. The words stun me as they rush out of my mouth, my own lips, teeth and tongue having breathed them into existence, into reality. "He raped me," I repeat and I can feel my breath escaping as my eyes slowly grow in time with my mounting realization.
"More than once?" he asks me quietly, his hand stilling momentarily on my neck.
I close my eyes as his breath washes over me and I nod. My eyelids swell with tears and I keep nodding. "Yes," I whisper, shamed by the admission. I attempt to recoil from his touch, but he gently grasps my forearm, stilling my movements.
"Don't push me away now," he mutters, his voice pleading with me, his forehead nearing my own. "You don't have to say anything else, just don't push me away."
His words ease the tension in my limbs and a choked sob escapes my lips. Horrified, I turn my head from him, but his hand is there to meet my cheek. "It's all right," he tells me. "Let 'em fall," he soothes as his arms slowly wrap around my body and draw me to his chest. His hands run circles across my back as I gradually, thankfully meld into his embrace. But I refuse to cry and when he says, "Let it go," I shake my head.
I am silent until I am certain that my voice will issue freely from my throat. "Because," I begin, my chest caving and tears threatening once more as I contemplate my reasoning. When I speak again, my words are strangled and muffled by the fabric of his shirt, but I am suddenly uncaring. "Because if I start," I manage, "I won't stop."
He holds me closer and I feel his chin rest on my head. "You will," he assures me and I yearn to believe him.
"How do you know?" I whisper, wanting a solid, reasonable explanation for his confidence.
I hear him speak those words and the resolve I had so painstakingly constructed over the past four years shatters. And I finally allow the tears to fall.