Disclaimer: Characters ain't mine. The story is. Don't sue me.
Story Notes: Established S/J relationship; general spoilers for season nine-ish. Oh, and Teal'c's actually in this one. :)
Author's Note: This is not nearly as polished as AIE or Left Unspoken. In fact, if this is the first story of mine you've read, don't use the following as an indicator of my work. Seriously. Don't make me beg. :) And, yes, I am paranoid and a perfectionist. Why do you ask?
Author's Note II: My writing for the past year or so has been mainly not-prose, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner (YAY!), I thought I'd give my fiction mode a tune up, some exercise, a dusting, etc, yada.
Daniel cringed and preemptively inched the phone away from his ear. "We, uh, lost her, Jack." The phone hung silently from his fingers and Daniel felt his pulse thud against the red plastic. Taking the opportunity to diffuse his friend's anger, he dove into an explanation. "P3A-294 has a history of Prior activity. We were checking it out, making sure the populace hadn't succumbed to the Ori's promises. From what we could tell they hadn't, which was a huge relief and..."
He trailed off momentarily and then rattled off a bevy of words before he had a chance to think himself out of them. "And that probably caused us to relax far more than we should've." He heard Jack swear and cringed. "Anyway, after talking to one of the locals, Sam mentioned something about a device located on the edge of town, Mitchell gave her the go-ahead, told her she had thirty minutes and...and she never came back." Daniel winced and prepared himself for the severe reprimand he knew was eminent.
But three seconds passed.
Seven. "Jack?" he asked tentatively. "You there?"
"I'll be there in a few hours. Tell Hank."
Daniel stared disbelievingly at the receiver in his hand for a moment before placing it back in its cradle. Without turning, he said, "He's coming," and then pegged the two other men in the room with heady glances.
"The phone didn't combust."
Daniel shook his head.
"You're not deaf in one ear."
Mitchell paused. "Huh."
Daniel smiled mirthlessly and opened the General's office door. "It's okay," he called. "Everyone's still alive."
General Landry poked his head around the corner and quickly surveyed the room. "I take it we're going to have a visitor soon."
Daniel nodded. "Oh yeah..."
Jack strode through the corridors of the SGC, personell all but leaping out of his way. He waved off the few "Generals" and "Sirs" that trailed weakly out of familiar mouths. They knew why he was here and could see the intangible trail of smoke that licked his heels and the very tangible, intimidating expression he wore like a mask.
He didn't knock when he came to the briefing room. The door swung open and slammed mercilessly against the wall before bouncing out of its jam on the rebound. Four pairs of eyes instantly met his.
"How the hell do you lose a member of your team?"
Daniel stepped towards him, more to place another body between Jack and Mitchell than anything. "You've lost me plenty of times."
"That was your own damn fault." Searing Mitchell with a venomous glance, he said, "I didn't give you permission to leave, and I never, never left you unescorted on a recon mission."
"We didn't think it was a hostile world--" Mitchell began.
"Apparently you were wrong."
Mitchell's eyes flashed. "And Colonel Carter agreed with the assessment."
"You were the commanding officer!"
"Jack," Landry began, placing a placating hand on his shoulder. "Placing blame isn't going to help the situation."
Jack tore his gaze from Mitchell and glanced at the other three men. His eyes closed as he clenched his teeth to the brink of splintering before letting a deep breath race from his lungs. His eyes still sparked brimstone when he again held Mitchell's gaze, but he nodded to him quickly, out of understanding if not forgiveness. Mitchell visibly eased as a result, but still looked shamed, a bit wary. Daniel didn't blame him.
Jack turned the rest of the men. "What have you got so far?"
"Well," Daniel said, "We've alerted the natives to the situation. They're on the lookout for her. We've combed the immediate area several times, swept the location with a UAV, both of which have turned up nothing." He paused and looked at Jack. "Not Sam and not any sort of device Sam would be interested in."
Jack frowned. "So, someone lured her away and, what? Kidnapped her?"
Mitchell nodded. "It looks that way, General."
Jack was quiet a moment and absently traced looping patterns on the tabletop. "Hank, I--"
But Landry interrupted him. "Jack, I'd like to put you in charge of the S and R. As long as you're here, I might was well put you to some use."
Jack looked up at Landry, a shadow of a smile briefly on his lips. "Why thank you, General."
"My pleasure, General." Then, his lips quirking slightly, he added, "Figured I might as well give it to you before you commandeered it. Save myself a pile of paperwork."
The human exceeded his expectations. She assimilated every nuance of the data he imprinted into her cortex and augmented it with her own knowledge. She astounded him with her ability to adapt, her willingness to yield and her hunger for more.
Of course, she did not know the ramifications of her actions. But then, they did not matter to her now, not when spoon fed her drug of choice. Knowledge was a drug, a powerful stimulant for the intelligent, the seeking. A potent narcotic he manipulated to his own ends. With her mind devouring the complexities he offered her, he was free to mold her brain to his own specifications.
She would have more knowledge than she ever dreamed possible, but he would have all the control.
A light flashed.
Despite the dull ache in his knee, Jack kept walking. He wasn't out of shape by any means, but he was no longer accustomed to the rigors of off-world missions as his protesting joints reminded him.
"Sir," Lieutenant Hasslman said, suddenly appearing at his elbow. "We've been over this terrain five times in the last two days. There's nothing here."
Jack held the man's gaze longer than necessary. The lieutenant shifted uncomfortably and, after a moment, fell back in with the rest of the team. Jack sighed and covered it with a cough. He knew the lieutenant was right, but was loathe to admit it. They'd been here a week and since scouted every inch within a twenty-five mile radius of the village and turned up nothing of import. Landry was two days away from recalling the teams and declaring Carter MIA. If that happened, he'd already decided he would retire and call in all the markers he had until he found her.
His radio crackled then. "Jack!" came Daniel's voice. "We found Lamdon! We're taking him to the prison."
A spark surged up Jack's spine and he motioned for the team to turn back towards the village. Charging to the front, he radioed back, "We're on our way. Be there in five. O'Neill out."
"Where is she?"
The man in front of him gazed back at him, his eyes unwavering. "With the gods."
Jack's eyes narrowed, his fingers flickering over his sidearm. "Which means what exactly?"
"They requested her. I complied."
His lips a thin, white line, Jack gripped the bars of the cell. "If anything happens to her, I will kill you myself."
Lamdon did not flinch. "Your words do not frighten me. I have done the work of the gods. They will protect me."
Daniel stepped forward then. "By 'the gods,' you mean...?"
"The Ori," Lamdon stated proudly. "The only true gods of man."
"The Ori are not gods," Teal'c told him, his jaw flexing in the dim light. "They are impostors. I doubt they will come to your aid if we discover Colonel Carter has been injured by your actions."
"You have served the false gods," Lamdon sneered. "Who are you to tell me my beliefs are false?"
"I renounced my beliefs in the Goa'ulds as gods long ago," Teal'c shot back. "You would be wise to do the same with the Ori and aid us in the recovery of Colonel Carter."
Lamdon stared at the three men in turn, his eyes hard and dark and unforgiving. "You would lead us into darkness, to a place I will not go. I will say nothing further."
Teal'c's eyes narrowed. "Then you will die."
"Eventually," Daniel said, quickly stepping between Teal'c and the man imprisoned. "But," he continued, glancing between Jack and Tealc, "if you cooperate, I'm sure we could see fit to spare your life so that you may...serve your gods further and, therefore, secure for yourself a greater place among believers." The man remained silent, but cocked an eyebrow at Daniel, obviously considering his request.
After a moment, Lamdon straightened. "I will answer your questions. To the glory of the gods."
Daniel stepped towards the cell. "Did your gods ask for her specifically?"
The man nodded.
"Did they tell you why?"
Lamdon looked scandalized. "It is not my place to question the gods."
"Of course not! No, never." Daniel paused. "Did you see them take her?"
"Yes. They claimed her in a beam of heavenly light."
Daniel's eyebrows bowed of their own accord, his mouth a round 'o'. "Thank you," he told Lamdon. "You have served your gods well." He turned then and followed Jack and Teal'c outside.
Jack frowned. "Some kind of ship?"
"I doubt it," Daniel told him. "The Ori have evolved beyond the need for space travel."
"It is likely they have taken Colonel Carter to a world outside of this galaxy," Teal'c muttered.
"In which case, we could search for the rest of our lives and never find her," Daniel added.
"Yeah, well," Jack said harshly, pushing past the both of them and towards their camp. "Forgive me for being an optimist, but I'm not givin' up quite yet."
Watching Jack's retreating form, Teal'c muttered, "I share O'Neill's sentiments. Colonel Carter would do no less for us."
"I agree." Daniel looked back at the prison entrance and sighed. "God, she'd better be all right."
She had stopped responding to his procedure three hours ago. She lay in front of him now writhing against her restraints, her face contorted in anguish, guttural screams escaping her belly every now and then. She was battling him. Seeking out his weaknesses and exploiting them. Ravaging the nuances of his procedure and turning them against each other. Destroying his machine from the inside out.
But she was suffering as a result. She was still attached to its central processor and everything she did to hinder its operation, she did to her own detriment.
But that didn't matter to her now. She would not be controlled.
She was warring against him.
And she was winning.
"Jack, I'm sorry. The order came from the President himself. It's out of my hands."
Jack sighed and scrubbed his hands across his face. "I'm keeping SG-1 for twenty-four more hours," he said at last.
"Jack," Landry sighed.
"Daniel found some ruins of some ancient thing that he assures me are imperative to understanding the human race," he continued. "And since one SGC member was already compromised on this planet, I insist on keeping Teal'c and Mitchell as...bodyguards. For my own personal safety."
Landry smirked at the video transmission and chuckled to himself. "Well, then," he said, "by all means. Keep SG-1. But I expect the other teams back here in two hours."
"Absolutely. They were getting on my nerves anyway. O'Neill out."
"Jack," Landry said quickly.
"Time is relative."
Jack nodded, his teeth grimly set. "We'll find her."
"We have to. The caterer'll be pissed if we cancel."
Landry smiled. "Good luck, General."
"Your efforts are failing."
"I need more time."
"She is no longer responding to your methods."
"She is the perfect specimen."
"She is proving your incompetence."
"I need more time!"
"We cannot give you what you ask."
"You will destroy her and seek another."
"There is no other!"
"You will find one."
"She is unique. The only one of her kind in the universe. I must continue."
"We cannot allow it."
"One more day is all I ask."
"We cannot allow it."
"But everything I've worked for--"
"Is to the glory of the Ori! Destroy her."
"...as you command."
"Hallowed are the Ori."
"...hallowed are the Ori."
His hand shook as it neared the console. The panel was green, the panel he needed to touch to wipe the human's memory and ease the life from her body--it was green. His finger hovered centimeters above it as it had for the past several minutes.
He looked at her.
Ivory skin covered in a fine sheen of perspiration. (She was writhing like a snake.)
Hair splayed across the table like a drape of golden silk. (It had grown much longer.)
Knuckles fisted white. (She would not let go.)
Her palms crusted with blood. (Her nails were sharper than he thought.)
Her lips cracked and bleeding. (She had bit them in anguish.)
Bruises along her hips and thighs. (She had pummeled them herself.)
Her jaw working silently back and forth. (She could not speak.)
Screams tearing from deep within her throat. (She could not help herself.)
Her eyes. Open. (She had never looked at him before.)
He gasped and tumbled into them.
A light flashed.
She saw the galaxy being born.
Her mind was quiet.
She felt birth pangs.
She listened for the wind.
She thought she could fly.
She heard a star dying.
She saw the wind.
She was falling.
She watched limbs sprout from her body.
She began to sing.
She was free.
Jack stared into the fire, his silence shrouding him like a thick, impregnable fog. Daniel handed him an MRE and he took it out of instinct. He had no appetite.
Her ring was in his breast pocket. It had taken months to find the perfect sapphire.
She was in his galaxy he knew.
She had yet to die.
"Are you not hungry, O'Neill?"
Jack didn't look up as Teal'c lowered himself to the ground beside him. "Nope."
"I, too, am having difficulty maintaining an appetite," Teal'c told him, an MRE hanging limply from his fingers. The pair sat in silence for a few minutes before Teal'c continued softly. "Colonel Carter is a strong warrior, O'Neill."
"She is also a strong woman."
At this, Jack's head dropped, his chin a breath away from his chest. "Yeah," he muttered. "She is."
"I am confident she will return."
Jack looked at him, his eyes streaked with weariness. "What makes you say that?"
"The bond you share is unlike any I have ever encountered. You both have accomplished impossible tasks in order to return to each other." He paused and looked at Jack. "It is unlikely she would allow galaxies to stand between you for a protracted period of time."
Jack nodded and once again looked into the embers of the fire. "Yeah." He tossed the MRE aside and raked his fingers through his hair. He opened his mouth to speak, but sat up suddenly when he heard the breaking of nearby underbrush. On the other side of the fire, Daniel and Mitchell stopped conversing and looked up, Mitchell's hand already on the holster of his sidearm. Jack motioned for silence as he palmed his zat and listened.
Underbrush continued to snap, and Jack deduced that it was a wild animal drawn to their campfire. As the noise crept closer to them, he stood, Teal'c flanking him, zat ready to protect their campsite.
And then Jack's eyes widened and the zat fell from his fingers.
"Oh my god," he heard Daniel mutter.
Covered in bruises and burns, she stood unabashedly naked in the moonlight. Her hair tangled to the middle of her back, twigs and leaves twined in the strands. She gazed at the men in turn, her head cocking to one side as her eyes met Jack's. She took a step towards him, her hand outstretched.
"Is it you?" she asked, her voice like a breeze and just as timid.
He nodded, unable to speak, and grabbed the blanket Mitchell handed him. Unfurling it, he stepped towards her, blocking her body from view, and wrapped it around her shoulders. She watched him, her eyes never wavering from his face, and when he had covered her nakedness, she reached up and lightly traced his features.
"I dreamt of you," she whispered, her palm like ice against his cheek.
Jack took her hand from his face and pressed his lips to her fingers. "Do you know who I am?" he asked her softly, his eyes wavering slightly.
"You're the one who loves me," she murmured.
Jack smiled. "That's right. Do you know my name?"
She went silent then and her eyes slowly faded to gray. Snatching her hand away from him, she took an unsteady step backwards, her face twisted horribly in anguish. Her jaw worked up and down, but no words came. Suddenly, she was staring at him her arms stretched out in front of her, her shoulders caving in on themselves causing the blanket to drop from her body, tears welling in her eyes. A cry hurled from her throat and she crumpled to her knees, slamming the heels of her hands into her temples over and over again. She cowered beneath the blanket, sounds rushing from between her lips, each disconnected and discordant. He took a step towards her and a low, guttural scream tore from her throat as she crawled away from him.
The sounds took over again.
"Jack," Daniel muttered, suddenly appearing at his side. "She's speaking Ancient."
Jack frowned, only half-listening to his friend. "What?"
"At least, I think she is. If so, it's a dialect I haven't encountered before, but some of the words are familiar."
"Great," he said, his tone a bit more bitter than he intended. "Grab the sedative from the med kit and then help Mitchell and Teal'c break down the camp. I want to be through the stargate in half and hour."
Daniel nodded and in a few seconds laid the syringe in his hand. Sam still lay in a heap on the ground, but the strange words had stopped gushing from her mouth.
"Sam?" he said tentatively, squatting a scant three feet from her. "Sam, it's me."
She turned to look at him, her cheeks pale and shimmering with tears. A choked sob escaped her and her body shuddered with its heft. She watched him for several moments, her eyes shifting, tearing, her chest heaving and her body growing more and more tense as the seconds elapsed. Finally, her eyes were wide and frantic as she looked from him to the skies overhead.
"Thestus," she muttered, pointing to a group of stars above them. "Heroletus," she whispered, pointing to the right of Thestus. "Triastas, Ariadne, Jodastus, Maianas, Plesti," she stammered, the names running together as she hurried through the star patterns. He listened as she named every constellation overhead before beginning to list the names and point out the locations of the stars and planets.
He plucked a sprig of a small flowering plant next to him and offered it to her, running the blossom along her arm to get her attention. She started at the contact, but relaxed when she saw the plant.
"Moonflower," she whispered and hesitantly plucked the sprig from his fingers. "Rare, medicinal, blooms only under the moon, annual, poisonous if used incorrectly, miraculous if prepared correctly."
Jack's eyes narrowed. "Do you know how to prepare it correctly?"
She nodded and looked back up at the sky, the tear stains on her cheeks glimmering under the moonlight. "Siaspys," she said, pointing to a bright spot in the sky. "Edge of this galaxy. Northernmost--"
"Sam," Jack said softly. She stopped speaking, but did not look at him. "Do you know who you are?"
She considered his question a moment before turning to him. "I'm the one who loves you," she whispered.
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