Gravity Always Wins in the End
The small ship doesn't land so much as smack clumsily into the planet's surface. By some miracle it maintains structural integrity for the most part, but that doesn't stop Sam's momentum from slamming her face into the controls in front of her, an explosion of stars filling her field of vision.
She remains prone for a moment, willing herself to stay conscious despite the seductive pull of oblivion. An incoherent moan from her companion reminds her that she needs to keep moving.
"Sorry about the bumpy ride," Sam manages to mumble through the pain, but Lorne, strapped into the seat next to her, is in no condition to answer. His eyes are open, but she can't be sure he's aware of anything around him, sweat slick on his face even as he shivers.
Sam struggles out of her seat, not bothering to hold back a string of curses as the movement reawakens searing agony in her back. She lays a hand on Lorne's shoulder as she passes, shocked by the heat of him.
"Hold on, Major," she commands, her voice little more than a rasp.
Wrenching a release lever, the side of the ship slides back and she hops down, sinking up to her ankles in sucking mud. She can just make out the glimmer of the Stargate on the other side of the marsh they've landed in.
"Four hundred yards and you're home free, Carter," she says to herself, pulling one foot out of the muck and trudging forward.
She loses it for a little while, focused down so intently on the placement of one foot in front of the other, the weakening of her muscles, the swimming black spots in her vision, but then she's leaning against the cool surface of the DHD, her palms slapping at the familiar glyphs.
Her fingers fumble with the dials on the primitive radio as the wormhole whooshes into life.
"Atlantis, this is Carter," she says, barely hearing the responding voices as the trickle of red down her side mixes with the dirt at her feet to make even more mud. This planet hardly needs more, she thinks.
"M1K-439." Her voice seems distorted even to herself, but she desperately needs the string of letters and numbers to translate so they can come save their asses. "We're on M1-."
She stumbles, the black creeping greedily into her vision, conspiring against her with the buzzing in her ears.
She doesn't know, as the radio clatters against the DHD, if she even managed to get those last words out.
Hang on, Carter.
Hank Landry has always known this moment would come since Sam Carter first signed on as Atlantis' new expedition leader. It was pretty much inevitable. Granted, Jack has shown a laudable amount of restraint for the first six months of her tenure, no matter how colorful the mission reports that filtered back through the SGC became. This latest escapade in the Pegasus Galaxy, however, appears to have been the final fatal testing of Jack's self control.
"Dial Midway Station," Jack demands and Hank can see Walter flinch reflexively, his body moving to follow the order before his mind can catch up.
Jack's dressed in casual civvies with a small rucksack over one shoulder, but his benign appearance does nothing to dispel his aura of command. Hank puts a hand on Walter's shoulder to stop him.
"You know as well I as do that travel to Midway is highly regulated, Jack," Hank says, hoping simple logic will be enough to deter him.
Jack's hand tightens around the strap of his bag, his mouth opening as if to retort, only to snap back shut on the unspoken words. He runs a hand through his hair, a gesture that makes the normally unyielding Jack O'Neill seem disturbingly vulnerable.
"Three weeks, Hank," he says lowly. "They had her for over three weeks."
Hank is ready for belligerence, even overblown posturing, but the simple sincerity of those words, the barest edge of anguish that leaks in, takes him by surprise.
"Jack…," Hank says, at a bit of a loss for words.
The soft word is matter-of-fact and devoid of pleading and Hank has to resist the urge to curse because his capitulation is just about as inevitable as Jack's request.
"Dial it up, Walter," Hank says.
"Unscheduled off-world activation, sir," a tinny voice announces in John's ear.
Glancing at his watch, John confirms the insanely late hour before pushing to his feet. Not that he'd been asleep. No, sleep is for people who don't have stacks of backlogged paperwork to wade through. He gives the files in question one last nasty glance before abandoning Sam's office.
Sam was a captive for a little over three weeks and the amount of paperwork that built up during her absence is frightening. Figuring the last thing she would want to come back to is a desk piled high with requisition forms, John has tried to make some progress for her. Though, to be honest, he's really just too wired from the day's events too sleep, looking for anything to distract him from the deeply disturbing condition they found Sam and Lorne in.
Abandoning that unpleasant train of thought, John walks out into the control room, stepping up behind Chuck.
"Receiving Midway Station's IDC, sir."
A visitor from Earth? John looks down at his rumpled uniform, half-heartedly running a hand through his hair. The last thing any of them need right now is Woolsey poking his annoying little nose into their business. Hell, Sam's been back for less than a day and he'll be damned if he lets the cockroach bug her.
Teyla strolls into the gate room just as John's descending to meet their visitor. Seems he'd not the only one having a hard time sleeping.
"Midway," he explains when she glances at the gate.
"Were we expecting another IOA delegation?" she asks, falling in next to him.
Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he shrugs. "Not that I know of."
When General O'Neill steps through, John automatically comes to a tense sort of attention. O'Neill may be one of the most irreverent officers he's ever met and the one to convince him to come to Atlantis in the first place, but he also fired John the last time he visited.
"General O'Neill," John says, stepping forward. "We weren't expecting you."
"I know," O'Neill says. "Sorry to drop in unannounced."
He doesn't strike John as being particularly contrite, but he's willing to overlook it. "Are you here for an inquest, sir? We really haven't had any time to pull any sort of presentation together. Things have been a little chaotic of late, as you can imagine."
"Sheppard," O'Neill interrupts. "I'm not here on business."
"Oh," John says a bit inanely, his temporary sense of relief morphing into confusion. It isn't exactly the Air Force's style to let their officers traipse around the universe just for the hell of it.
"Where is she?" O'Neill asks.
Maybe it's just John, but this conversation is getting harder to follow by the moment. Some sleep soon might be a good idea. He at least knows enough not to ask, "Where's who?"
Teyla, as always, doesn't look confused and steps in to save John. Pressing a hand to her earpiece she asks, "Dr. Keller, is Colonel Carter still in the infirmary?"
"Oh," John says before he can stop himself, the connection finally falling into place.
General O'Neill glances at him, a look on his face John can't quite interpret, before returning his attention to Teyla.
Smooth, John, real smooth.
Teyla, meanwhile, seems to be still listening to Jennifer, a small smile on her face. "Yes, I understand. She can be quite persuasive. Thank you." Looking once more at O'Neill she says, "Colonel Carter has been released to her quarters."
O'Neill nods, and before John can offer to show him the way, takes off in the correct direction, leaving John feeling like he's completely out of the loop.
"That was…unexpected," John says.
"Was it?" Teyla counters, patting John sympathetically on the arm.
He should really consider paying a bit more attention to the rumor mill one of these days.
Thanks to his stint on Atlantis with the replicators version 2.0, Jack is quite familiar with the endless corridors of the city. And if, by chance, he memorized the location of Sam's quarters in a fit of melancholy, he sure as hell isn't going to admit it to anyone. He passes very few people in the halls other than one odd scientist mumbling to himself as he walks by in the opposite direction.
Turning the final corner, Jack finds Ronon leaning against the wall next to Sam's door looking like he's been there a while. He gets the strong sense that the man is guarding her door. Either that, or that particular section of wall has been deemed unstable and he's just holding it in place.
"Ronon," Jack says.
"O'Neill," he replies with a nod, not looking anywhere near as surprised by his presence as Sheppard. Pushing off the wall (which manages to stay intact without the runner's support), Ronon abandons his vigil to Jack. "Goodnight," he says before disappearing around a corner.
Jack stares after Ronon for a moment before deciding he doesn't actually care what that might have been about.
Waving a hand over the sensor, Jack can feel the bizarre tingle of awareness being surrounded by Ancient technology always causes, something he's pretty sure he'll never get used to. The door slides open to reveal a dim interior.
"Sam?" he calls out, stepping into the room.
He gets no answer, but moves in further, letting his eyes adjust to the low light. It's strangely familiar, full of objects he recognizes, but also distinctly alien. A large bed fills one side of the room, the sheets untouched. Dropping his bag to the floor, Jack follows the faint sound of the ocean to the back of the apartment where an open glass door leads to a wide balcony.
That's where he finds her, sitting on a chair wedged into the small back corner, her knees pulled tight into her chest. Her hair is loose around her shoulders, lifting slightly in the breeze off the water. He can just make out the black stain of stitches high on her cheek, the mottled bruising and gauntness of her face. She seems almost insubstantial sitting there in the moonlight, washing her pale skin even more translucent.
She's staring at him, having looked up the moment he stepped out, but still hasn't said anything, her arms contracting around her knees.
"I know I promised not to barge over here every time things got rough," Jack says, not sure if her silence is born of annoyance.
She doesn't respond, her eyes following him intently as he slowly closes the space between them.
"Sam?" More than a little concerned by her continued silence, he reaches out and tentatively touches her knee.
She starts at the contact, her lips parting on an unsteady breath and then she's up and in his arms, and God, it's so damn good just to feel her again. There was a time six months didn't seem like the end of the world. He slides his hands across her back, feels the unmistakable bulk of bandages under her sweatshirt, the thinness of her bones.
"How long can you stay?"
Her husky question tells him everything he needs to know.
"A few days at least," he promises, suddenly deciding that there's nothing pressing enough to need his attention back on Earth. There's no immediate threat there, they can handle run of the mill political bullshit very well without him.
He leans back slightly, hand tangled in her hair, his eyes taking in the damage to her face.
"I'm okay," she says, her posture straightening slightly. He can feel the tension sliding under her skin, see the dark shadow in her eyes that tells him she is far from fine. He remembers a time when he was so good at deliberately not seeing past her lies. Not anymore.
"No, you aren't," he counters, pulling her back against his chest and pressing his lips to her forehead. "But you will be."
Her hands clench in the fabric of his shirt, her face turning into his neck, and finally, finally, she quietly falls apart, tears escaping, emotions he knows she's been holding back with ironclad restraint for weeks on end.
He was right to come.