A/N: I did it again! Don't ask me why I'm so mean to Sam; I really don't know. Anywho, here's another dark little something I put together. Be warned that there's character death, but it is sci-fi, so… ; )

A/N2: This is the longest thing I've ever written in my life (mostly because I've been neglecting my thesis lately… Eek!), and it's not even an episode tag!

Perception

"Walter?" Jack hollered down the stairs, hoping against all odds that there had been a change in the return times for one of the teams currently off-world that no one had told him about. Unscheduled off-world activations necessitated making a trip down to the control room and Jack was pretty sure his knees weren't up for that today.

"Unscheduled off-world activation, sir!" Walter confirmed, inputting the commands needed to close the iris.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Jack gritted his teeth and began the unpleasant trek down the metal stairs, his knees protesting every step of the way. Finally reaching the bottom, Jack tried to school his features, hoping no one would be able to tell he was still experiencing twinges of discomfort. Not for the first time, he marveled at his own ability to ignore the pain in his knees out in the field, but be hopelessly distracted by it when he was supposed to be doing paperwork.

"We're receiving SG-1's IDC sir," Walter informed him. Normally, he would be pointing out that the team dialing in hadn't been heard from since they'd departed four days ago, and had missed a scheduled check-in yesterday morning, but Walter knew there was no need for that in this case. Jack was downright fanatical when it came to keeping track of the details of his former team's missions.

"Open it," Jack commanded tersely. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he waited nervously.

The long seconds that ticked by stretched into minutes and finally, Jack decided that the need to confirm it had really been SG-1 who'd sent the iris code overrode the team's possible need to maintain radio silence in order to escape. Leaning over to reach the microphone on the desk beside Walter, Jack tried several times to raise them on their radios, but all his efforts were without success. After three more failed attempts, Jack straightened up again and ordered the armed guards in the gate room to standby. Protocol dictated that he should be closing the iris right now and waiting for the team to dial in again, at which point he would confirm their identity, but he simply couldn't bring himself to shut the gate down.

Just before the ten-minute mark, a lone figure emerged from the wormhole, walking haltingly down the ramp. Every guard in the room trained their weapons on the arrival, not that she seemed to notice.

"Stand down!" Jack barked before racing down to the gate room, the pain in his knees completely forgotten. His heart was in his throat when he burst into the control room, the sight before him even more horrifying up close.

At the base of the ramp stood Sam, her GDO grasped tightly in her trembling hand. Her once dark green combats were now stained a rich, rust brown colour, the fabric stiff with so much dried blood that the clothing looked to be made of cardboard rather than fabric. Her wide blue eyes stood out in stark contrast to the chalky white of her skin, staring straight past the guards in front of her.

The gate suddenly snapped shut before either Daniel or Teal'c had the chance to appear, drawing the guards' attention away from Sam. Jack, however, couldn't take his eyes off her, needing to get information from her yet worried that she would crumble before him at any moment.

"Carter," Jack tried gently, hoping that his voice would cut through the fog she seemed to be lost in and snap her back to reality. "Can you hear me?"

He waited a few seconds, but Sam gave no indication that she was aware of where she was, let alone who she was with.

"Carter," Jack tried again, taking a few tentative steps forward, relieved when she suddenly turned her attention on him. "It's okay, it's me," he reassured, "Is it okay if I come closer?"

Although she was still watching him, Jack couldn't be sure that she'd really heard him. However, when he was able to take several more steps towards her without her protesting, he decided to take her lack of complaint as consent. Despite the fact that every muscle in his body was screaming at him to get to her as fast as possible, Jack forced himself to move slowly and carefully, approaching Sam as he would a wounded animal.

After what felt like forever, Jack was finally close enough to reach out and touch her. Sam's eyes were now locked on his, though he wasn't completely sure that she hadn't spaced out again. Jack slowly and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, pleased when she didn't jump at the contact.

The sound of approaching footsteps let Jack know that the medical team, paged by Walter as soon as they'd realized Sam was covered in blood, had arrived. Despite the noise, Sam seemed to be as oblivious to their presence as she was to the guards'; all of her attention was focused on Jack.

"Carter," Jack tried again, tilting his head to get a better look at her face.

Still getting no response, Jack fought back his desperate need to know where the other two-thirds of SG-1 was and made a conscious effort to keep his voice calm. Right now, the only person who could tell him where Daniel and Teal'c were looked as though she would fall to pieces if he spoke in much more than a soothing whisper.

"Sam," Jack repeated, squeezing her shoulders gently, "Where are Daniel and Teal'c?"

Whether it was hearing him say her first name, his touch or hearing the names of her teammates, Jack would never know. Whatever the cause, Sam was instantly snapped back to the present.

"Sir," she whispered thickly, her eyes filling with tears that she either wouldn't or couldn't stop from falling.

"Sam, are you okay?" he asked quietly, knowing that if the answer was 'no', the medical team would have to whisk her off to the infirmary and answers about where the rest of SG-1 was would have to wait.

"It's not mine," she choked. Whether she was shuddering from revulsion at being soaked in blood or still trembling from shock, he couldn't say.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jack could see one of the guards standing close enough to overhear her response waving off the medical team. He made a mental note to thank the man later.

"Where are Daniel and Teal'c?" Jack asked, failing to keep the urgency out of his voice this time.

"They're dead," she sobbed, her tenuous control shattering. "Oh god, sir, he killed them right in front of me! There was nothing I could do, I tried!"

"Shh," Jack soothed, pulling her shaking form into his arms and cradling her head against his chest.

Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to keep a tight reign on his emotions, knowing that his own grief would have to wait. Ignoring the lone tear that made its way out from under his clenched eyelid to trail down his cheek, Jack instead focused his attention on calming his friend. His own pain could wait; right now, he needed to be strong for Sam. She hadn't said anything yet, but he had the sickening feeling that the blood covering her belonged to the rest of SG-1.

"Breathe, Carter," he instructed when her sobbing became so violent that she began to hyperventilate. "Take some deep breaths, honey; I need you to calm down or else Doctor Brightman is going to have to come over and sedate you."

Jack could hear her struggling to follow his advice, but her attempts at taking deep breaths were repeatedly foiled by the sobs wracking her body. Casting a quick glance over his shoulder, he could see that, as predicted, Doctor Brightman was starting to get anxious and would be more than happy to intervene if Sam didn't calm down.

"Let's take some deep breaths together, okay?" Jack said quietly, rubbing Sam's back. "Try and match your breathing with mine," he encouraged, hiding his face in the crook of her neck.

With effort, Jack managed to calm his racing heart and exaggerated taking deep, steady breaths. He broke the rhythm only to whisper encouraging words to her. It took several minutes, but Sam eventually managed to regulate her breathing, matching her inhalations and exhalations to his.

"Good girl, that's it," he murmured, repeating the words that had become his mantra.

"They're dead," Sam suddenly whispered into his chest, tears still falling. "We were captured by Ba'al and he killed them right in front of me. Then his Jaffa brought me back to the gate, dialed Earth and handed me my GDO."

"Carter," Jack said gently, knowing he needed to ask the question, but aware that if it sounded to her like he was making accusations, she'd fall apart all over again. "I don't understand: why would Ba'al let you go?"

"I didn't tell him anything!" Sam snapped suddenly, trying with all her might to pull away. "I would never…"

"I know you didn't," he soothed, kicking himself for not handling this whole mess better. Tightening his hold on her straining body, Jack thanked his lucky stars that she was still in shock, otherwise he had no doubt that she would have been able to break away. "I meant, did he tell you why he was letting you go?"

"He thought it was funny," Sam choked, ceasing her struggles and gripping his shirt tightly with both hands. "Funnier if you knew he was the one…"

"Shh, that's enough for now," Jack assured her, knowing that Brightman's patience wouldn't last much longer. "We need to get you taken care of; the rest can wait until later. Is it all right if Doctor Brightman comes over here with a gurney?

"Don't leave me," Sam whispered tiredly, desperation lacing her words, her fists tightening their hold on his shirt.

"I'm not going anywhere," he promised, bringing a hand up to cradle the back of her head. "Is it okay if…"

"I want to be able to touch you," she insisted.

"I'll hold your hand the whole time," Jack bargained. He understood the fear that always accompanied returning home from a truly horrifying mission, needing constant reassurance that you were really back and not still trapped in the nightmare.

Sam frantically shook her head, her heart racing at the idea of him being even that far away.

"Okay, okay, relax, I'm not going to leave," Jack replied quickly, trying to stop her from getting herself more worked up. He had no doubt that if Sam started to hyperventilate again, Brightman would swoop in and cart her off to the infirmary. The state she was in now, Jack was afraid of what that kind of handling would do to her.

"Sir," Doctor Brightman, called quietly, "I need to get Colonel Carter to the infirmary right..."

"Doctor!" Jack interrupted sharply, making Sam jump and tense up. "It's okay, Carter, you're safe," he reminded, tucking her head under his chin and rubbing her back in bigger circles.

"Here's what we're going to do," Jack decided, speaking loud enough for his voice to carry to Doctor Brightman but still maintaining a soothing tone for Sam's benefit. "We'll go down to the infirmary together and I'll stay with you while you get checked out. Once Brightman has finished her exam, we'll decide where to go from there. I don't want you trying to walk down there though, Carter; is it okay if someone brings a gurney over?'

"Carry me," Sam suggested wearily, not wanting enough distance between her and Jack that someone could rip him away from her too. Not that being close to them had enabled her to save Daniel and Teal'c…

"Okay," Jack agreed, de-railing her train of thought. He wasn't sure which one of them was more surprised by his acceptance of the idea.

Wrapping an arm securely around her shoulders, Jack bent just enough to be able to slide his other arm under her knees. Straightening, he tucked her head under his chin again and turned to face the other people in the room, his glare challenging any of them to judge either him or Sam based on what had transpired in the wake of Daniel and Teal'c's deaths. To his surprise, the faces he saw were filled with sympathy and, at least from those who'd known Daniel and Teal'c beyond being able to pick them out in the corridor, genuine sadness.

Nodding his appreciation, Jack headed for the door, the only other surviving member of his former team cradled in his arms.