Title: Aftermath
Author: Ayiana

Word Count: 1,700
Rating: PG
Pairing: Sam/Jack (established relationship)
Category: Angst, Drama, Episode tag
Spoilers: Flesh and Blood

Disclaimer: The Stargate Universe doesn't belong to me, nor am I making any profit. This particular story is mine. Please ask if you want to borrow it.

A/N: Ever had a story go someplace you didn't expect? This is one of those. It's rather dark. Consider yourself warned.

Summary: When Sam gets back to the SGC, she and Jack talk about what happened.



Sam closed her locker, picked up her gym bag, and made her way out of the locker room, oblivious to dripping faucets and flickering fluorescent overheads. She couldn't remember when she'd felt this exhausted or this depressed - certainly not since her early days with the SGC, and maybe not even then, because no matter how bad the Goa'uld had been, they were choir boys next to the Ori.

She unlocked her office door and reached for the light switch, but a flicker of movement from inside made her freeze, her eyes straining to see through the shadows.

"Who's there?" It wasn't that she was frightened, but it had been a hell of a week, and right now she was feeling pretty suspicious of everything.

"It's okay," Jack's voice lacked its usual acerbic humor. "Heard you had a rough day at the office. Thought I'd come down and have a look-see."

Sam didn't respond. Her emotions were so close to the surface right now, so intense, that she knew the simple act of opening her mouth would release the floodgates. Instead she dropped her bag on the nearest chair, closed and locked the door, and then reached to turn on the lamp on her workbench. She paused then, back turned and shoulders hunched while she fought for control. She'd managed with the rest of the team, holding herself together while she concentrated on the task at hand, but with Jack it was different. She'd never been able to hide from those sharp eyes of his, so she used the only defense she had left. She occupied herself with something on her desk and refused to look at him.

Sam Carter was not the weak and weepy type. She prided herself on her strength and independence, certain there wasn't anything a man could do that she couldn't do better or faster or with more finesse. She liked to think that nothing short of the end of the world could make her fall apart. It was a mindset born of a lifetime of military service, first as a military brat, and then as a soldier, and it had served her well through the years.

Then Jack put his hand on her shoulder, and with a gentle squeeze and a low murmur of her name, turned her into a shuddering mass of tears.

"Jack..." She turned into his arms, burying her face in the familiar strength of his shoulder, no longer either willing or able to fight the torrent of emotions.

He held her while her tears soaked his uniform, and it was a long time before she became aware that he was stroking her hair and rocking her gently back and forth. And it was several more minutes before she could pull herself together enough to reach for the box of tissues she kept on her desk.

"Okay?" he asked when she finally had herself under control.

She nodded as she tossed the tissue in the trash.

He folded his arms and leaned against her workbench. "So," he said. "What idiot thought up that particularly brainless plan?"

"Which one?" There'd been so many different plans during the heat of battle that she knew it was going to take a week just to write up her reports.

"Oh, I don't know... Maybe the one that left you stranded in space for hours on end?"

She cringed. "Um, that would be me."

He snorted. "I probably should've guessed that."

"It was a good plan, Jack."

"Right up to the point where the Ori blasted the entire fleet into so much stardust."

"It could've worked. Would have, if we'd had a few more minutes."

"Only instead, you ended up watching it all from the sidelines." His voice was bitter and angry as he turned away from her to fiddle with something on her desk. "What if Mitchell hadn't been able to get you back?"

"Stop it, Jack." Tired and depressed, her voice was sharper than she had intended.

He turned, startled. "What?"

"This protective crap. You never used to do that."

He stared at her, nonplussed.

"I was doing my job." She folded her arms across her chest. "It was hell out there, Jack, and we did the best we could with the resources we had available, just like you always did. I won't apologize for that, and I don't expect anybody else to, either."

"You nearly got yourself killed."

"But I didn't. That makes me one of the lucky ones."

He grunted in annoyance and went back to fiddling with her tools. For a long time, he didn't say anything more, apparently content to arrange her screwdrivers in random patterns on her workbench. When he finally did speak, his voice was so quiet she had to lean toward him to make out the words. "I was in the middle of a budget meeting when the call came in," he said, and when he looked up, there was anger and frustration in his gaze. "A budget meeting, Sam. Nickels and dimes and how many rolls of toilet paper they need at the Alpha site while you guys were out there getting your asses kicked!"

She didn't know what to say to that, so she didn't say anything at all.

Suddenly, and without warning, he swept the tools off her bench. "I should have been there."

She shook her head. "Why?"

"I don't know. I just..."

"Jack," she laid a hand on his arm, relieved when he didn't flinch away. "It wouldn't have changed anything."

"Maybe not." But he didn't look convinced.

She let him go and bent down to retrieve a pair of wire cutters that had landed at her feet. "I think I knew what was going to happen as soon as the gate activated. I was so close to the event horizon that it was like standing on the edge of an ocean. It was beautiful and miraculous and horrifying all at the same time." She dropped the wire cutters in her tool box. "Then the ships started coming through. One after another they came, so huge they barely fit through the gate, and so close that I could have reached out a hand and touched one as it passed by." She picked up a pair of pliers, added them to the toolbox, and reached down again. "They're amazing, Jack, technology beyond anything I've ever seen before."

She glanced over at him, but he appeared singularly unimpressed as he watched her clean up the mess he'd made.

She reached for a roll of electrical tape that had disappeared beneath a rack of shelves. "But the worst part was the battle." The electrical tape was elusive, and she uttered a mild curse as she dug for it. "I couldn't do a damn thing to help, Jack. All I could do was watch." Her hand finally snagged the roll and she dragged it out, then stood and added it to the toolbox. "And when it was finally over, I was convinced they were all dead, that I was alone, and that what I had witnessed truly was the beginning of the end."

She stopped what she was doing and waited until she was sure she had his attention. "I called to them. I called for hours. I called until my voice grew hoarse and the words 'Is anybody out there?' seemed permanently etched on my brain." The scene came back to her in vivid detail, and she shook her head to clear it. "When there was no response, I began to believe that I was going to die, and that my last memory would be of the destruction and the hopelessness, and the utter futility of it all."

I almost gave up then, Jack." She said the words softly, not quite believing the truth of them in the safe confines of her office. Still, in the cold vastness of space, surrounded by what she'd thought were the charred remains of everything she held dear...It had been different then, devastating in a way she doubted she'd ever be able to put into words.

"When nobody answered my distress calls, and even the Ori ships had left, I knew I was alone and that I might never..." She stumbled to a stop, unable to find adequate words to explain how she'd felt as she'd watched the wreckage drift through space against the cold glow of the event horizon. She didn't look at him as she finished in a low voice. "I didn't know if I could stand to just float there and wait for my life support to run out."

Jack stared at her. "What are you saying?" There was fear in his voice.

"I think you know." She closed the lid on her toolbox with a quiet click of metal on metal. "And the only reason I didn't do it was because I knew you were back here waiting for me." She finally met his eyes, hers big and blue and swimming with unshed tears, his dark with remembered pain. "It was your strength that made me keep trying, Jack, your courage and determination that made me hold on until somebody finally heard me."

Her words settled into the corners of the dimly lit room as she waited for his reaction. She knew that he loved her, but could he forgive her momentary weakness? Could he accept that, faced by her own imminent death and the visible evidence their defeat, she'd considered taking her own life, even if she hadn't followed through?

For several agonizing seconds he stared at her, and she found herself wondering what he was thinking and whether or not she might be about to suffer yet another crushing blow. Finally, he opened his arms to her. "C'mere," he said in a low voice.

She blew out a sigh and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. She was glad she had been wrong, glad that, in not giving up, she'd been granted the miracle of homecoming.

Long minutes passed while they let the world beyond her office door stumble forward without them. There were times when duty would necessarily come before personal needs. Then there were the times, like this one, when it was only their shared connection that gave them the strength to forge ahead.

"I hope the Ori have said their prayers," Jack said finally, "'cause we're going to kick their asses."

He brushed a kiss across her temple and reached for her hand. "Let's go home."

The End