Author's Notes: Written for the jacksamfriends ficathon. BIG thanks to wanderingsmith, my fabulous beta who did all the hard work
She melded together the two pieces of thin metal, praying against all odds that it would hold. That it would work. Re'shat would be here within the hour, and if this didn't work, didn't do something, Sam Carter didn't want to think about the price that would be paid.
The door slammed open and Re'shat entered, a cool smile on his lips and four Jaffa following him into the room. Sam turned away from them so that she couldn't see them or what they held in their hands.
Re'shat snapped his fingers, "Show me your progress Major Carter."
Sam reached out a shaking hand to the device and flipped the switch. It sparked and she watched the current run through the wires, spliced together with tape, then fizzle and burn out. Her heart dropped into her stomach and her mouth went dry. It was even less than the day before. She had failed. Again.
"Tut, tut Samantha," Re'shat purred at her, his voice crawling over her skin, "I thought you would do better than that."
Sam flinched. She knew what was to come. She had failed, the price had to be paid.
The infirmary was usually the last place you would ever find an uninjured Jack O'Neill on a Saturday. Vigils over injured teammates, however, were the exception to Jack's usual infirmary avoidance. He'd been sitting and watching Carter for almost half an hour, her breathing steady and her body still.
Yet Jack knew she wasn't asleep.
It wasn't that she was a bad actress, she was doing almost everything right: flickering her eyes randomly in imagined dreams beneath her eyelids, steady, even breathing, and a relaxed and limp body that rested beneath the heavy infirmary blankets.
It was her face that gave her away. There was tension in her jaw and a tightness around her mouth that made Jack suspect she was clenching her teeth. He was sure she wasn't in any pain, she'd been given her own PCA, she could press a button to administer the pethidine as needed, within safe limits. Of course, Carter, being Carter, hadn't pressed the damn button once. The little controller laid untouched on the bed. So Jack, as soon as the nurses had stepped away, made sure to press the button so that she was given the relief she needed. Physical pain wasn't the issue, it was something else; something much worse, that was distracting Carter from sleep.
He supposed getting captured and imprisoned by a Goa'uld for six weeks would be enough to disturb anyone from sleep. They didn't know the details; Carter's mission report, given a day after her rescue, had been uncharacteristically slim for the usually descriptive major. It contained the bare bones of her experience, provided the necessary intel required of her, but Jack knew that there must have been more to the capture than what she had admitted. He knew from experience that the Goa'uld were experts at the art of personalising torture. Carter had some injuries, but nothing that spoke of severe torture, and it made him suspect that whatever she had been put through was related to something more mental. Which could be just as damaging, if not more so, than physical beatings.
Hammond had let the bare bones report slide; they had other witnesses yet to be interviewed that would hopefully yield further information. Four children, rescued along with Carter from the dim fortress, were being prepared for debriefing once they had cleared medical. Jack tried not to think about the slimness of their wrists, the widened eyes in pale faces and the shivering bodies that screamed of the poor conditions those children had been held in. Along with Carter.
She stirred on the bed, her bruised face creasing into a grimace before her eyes blinked open, clearly not realising he was still by her bedside. She seemed startled to see him, and he saw the idea to close her eyes and continue to feign sleep pass through her head before she sighed and pushed herself up. Jack pushed a pillow awkwardly beneath her shoulders, mindful of the reddened welts covered by clean white bandages on her back.
"How you feeling?"
"Fine," her answer was short and standard. Exactly what he expected of the model officer.
Jack fiddled with a ball of cotton wool, tossing the soft material from hand to hand while pinning Carter with what he hoped was a knowing look.
"Fraiser says you'll be able to get out of here in a few days," Jack mentioned lightly, watching as Carter's eyes lit up suddenly at the thought of freedom from the infirmary.
"Yeah," Carter shrugged, "She's making me take two weeks medical leave and…" she trailed off but Jack knew what she was thinking.
"And you have to clear the usual psych eval." Jack tried to keep his voice light and easy, "Jump through the hoops and all that jazz."
Carter nodded but avoided his eyes as she said quietly, "I don't need the psych evaluation, sir. I'm fine. Nothing happened."
Jack felt something clench in his stomach. She was so clearly not fine.
"Your report was a little slim on the details, Carter," Jack pushed as gently as he could. The lack of detail was enough to suggest something else had happened. She had to know they would notice; Carter was anything but stupid.
Sam's lips pressed together tightly and she swallowed, "I followed protocol and completed the report as requested. I reported exactly what was required as per the guidelines sir."
Jack nodded, "I'm not saying you didn't follow protocol, Carter, it's just that-"
Unexpectedly, Carter cut him off, sliding back down into the sheets, "I'm tired sir, can we continue this later?" She turned her head away and closed her eyes.
Jack sighed, "Sure thing." He stood up, watching again as she lay, her body tight with tension and her eyes squeezed shut, "Get some rest Carter," he murmured, and left her alone.
Sam managed to stay away from the base for a full week before the call of her lab became too much and she returned to the SGC. Jack was surprised she lasted so long away from her beloved doohickies, but he was glad to see that when she did return, there was some colour in her cheeks and a bit more life behind her blue eyes. The time away seemed to have done her good.
He watched her from the entrance to her lab, leaning against the door. She stood behind her lab desk, looking frozen as she stared at her blank laptop screen. One hand rested on the benchtop, the other was clenched into a fist. Jack could see her taking slow and deep breaths, almost as if she was focusing all of her attention on controlling her breathing. Despite the colour in her cheeks, the major wasn't as recovered as she wanted to appear to be.
"Carter?" He pushed away from the door frame and moved towards her, "Welcome back."
Sam's head snapped up to meet him, "Sir," she exclaimed, "I didn't see you."
"Obviously," Jack murmured, "Looking forward to fixing this, uh..." He picked up a piece of tangled wires and metal that once must have resembled the innards of an alien device, "Thing."
Sam stared at the unfinished device in his hands and Jack held it out to her, fully expecting her to snatch it from his grasp. Carter didn't like him touching her doohickies. She complained he broke things but Jack didn't know what she was talking about.
Unusually, however, Carter didn't make a grab for the device. The colour drained from her face and she grimaced. Jack frowned in concern as her breathing quickened and panic seemed to emanate from her body.
"Carter?" Jack put the device down on the bench and took a step closer to her, "Carter?" he called her name louder when she didn't respond. Her eyes seemed fixed to the device on her desk.
Jack reached out and touched her arm, enough to shock her out of her frozen state. She jerked back, visibly shaking herself from whatever thoughts had trapped her within her own mind.
"Sir, I…" her voice was shaken and she walked a few steps away from her lab bench.
Jack watched as she slowed her breathing, and pretended not to see as she shoved trembling hands into her pockets.
"Carter, is everything okay?" Jack didn't know what else to say. This was much more Daniel's area of expertise than his own. Give him a wall of Jaffa and he'd shoot his way through it, no dramas; give him an obviously emotionally shaky major and his mind went as blank as it did during her long astrophysics lectures. Out of habit, Jack peeked at the doorway, trying to will Daniel, or even Janet, to appear.
"I think I might take the rest of my medical leave after all," Sam said suddenly in an odd voice. She seemed to force the words out in one quick rush, "Goodbye sir."
She picked up her bag and was gone, leaving only a very confused and concerned colonel in her wake.
Jack tapped the unfinished device with a frown, "Crap."
Sam realised she had run out of time when on Sunday afternoon, she found herself sitting listlessly on her bed, letting the rays of sunshine warm her chilled skin as she stared at her SGC ID badge.
She tried to imagine walking through the grey corridors in the morning, swiping her card at the entrance of her lab and effortlessly slipping back into the routine of sixteen hour days spent in her much-loved laboratory. The problem was that she just couldn't see it happening. She could imagine herself walking through the corridors, but in her mind, as she approached her lab, the image seemed to dissolve away into nothing.
She couldn't go back. There was no point, she just couldn't go back.
Sam reached for the phone, dialling the colonel's number before she could think twice about it.
"O'Neill," his familiar voice took away some of the blind panic which was filling her mind and she found it a little easier to concentrate on the task before her.
"Sir, it's Carter," she managed to keep her words clear and she mentally praised herself for the steady tone.
"Carter! I was just about to call you," he sounded pleased to hear from her, "The guys and I were thinking of having a cook-out tonight."
Sam thought quickly, "I, uh, have plans."
"Oh," the colonel stopped short and Sam could almost see him shrugging before he bounced back, "So, to what do I owe the honor of your call, this fine Sunday afternoon."
Sam swallowed hard and forced the words out, trying but failing to keep her voice steady, "I want to quit."
Silence greeted her words. She knew he must have heard her.. "Sir?"
"Quit?" he was trying to sound confused, but Sam knew he understood; there was only one meaning to her words, "Quit what?"
"The SGC." Sam sounded more firm this time, focusing on her reasoning behind it. There was no point in going back, she was no good to them anyway.
"Carter," Jack's voice sounded pained and Sam winced; she'd miss her team, she really would, but it would be better for them all if she just went away.
"I'll send my resignation in tomorrow." Sam ignored the heavy weight of expectation across the phone line for her to talk, "I have leave owing I can take while the paperwork is being sorted out and all my projects have already been handed over in my previous…. absence."
"Carter I'm not about to let you quit." the colonel's voice was determined, "Sit tight. I'm coming over."
Sam shook her head even though he couldn't see it, "I won't be here when you get here," she threatened.
"Dammit Carter!" his frustration was building and Sam was strangely pleased. If she could get him mad enough to let her go…
"Sir, I'll just go to General Hammond if you refuse me."
"If you were serious about quitting you would have bypassed me and gone to him in the first place," Jack snapped back quickly, "This isn't you, Carter, tell me what's going on."
"I want to quit." Sam had nothing else to say.
"No," the colonel said flatly, "Take another two weeks leave, I'll approve it. Get yourself sorted out."
"No Carter, you're taking the leave." His voice brokered no argument, but then softened at his next words, "If you won't tell us what's going on, Sam, we can't help you fix it."
Sam felt tears prick at her eyes; he didn't understand. "I can't do it anymore. I can't fix anything," she said despairingly.
Then she hung up.
Jack could just see her from his vantage point through a crack in the heavy ornate doors. She was on her knees in front of a smirking man that could only be her captor, Re'shat. He gripped her chin roughly and turned her head towards a sight that Jack wasn't able to see from his position. Carter screwed her eyes shut, her whole body trembling.
"I warned you, major," the Goa'uld's voice resonated within the sparse room, "You knew what would happen if you failed. Look at what you have done."
"I just needed one more day," Jack had never heard Carter sound so desperate. He mentally wishes SG4 would hurry up with the damn diversion already, he wasn't sure how much more of this he could watch.
Carter had heavy bruising across her face and she looked stiff and hunched over. The black colour of her tshirt masked any bleeding that might be present and Jack hoped that she was strong enough to walk. Even better, he hoped she had enough left in her to run.
"Not good enough," Re'shat let go of her chin roughly and motioned towards the corner Jack couldn't see. He heard three zat blasts and winced as Carter flinched with every shot .
"Tomorrow, I will double the price of your failure," Re'shat said coldly, the fingers of his left hand stroking the golden attachments of the hand device on his right hand, "A little reminder of what that will be, perhaps."
Re'shat brought his hand out over Carter and Jack tightened his grip on his gun. He motioned with his head to Teal'c and Daniel, waiting just down the hall, to come closer. They couldn't wait much longer. Jack's radio finally clicked twice and he signaled for his team to brace. Two seconds later, an explosion rocked the complex and they stormed through the doors.
Daniel reached Carter first while he and Teal'c concentrated on eliminating the Jaffa and the Goa'uld who were thrown to the floor at the blast wave of the explosion.
"Daniel? You got Carter?" Jack yelled, his own ears ringing as he cleared the area of jaffa. Teal'c has Re'shat pinned to ground, a staff weapon pointed inches from his head.
"Yeah," Daniel responded and Jack glanced over to see Carter staring blankly into space as Daniel wrenched her upright, "We're good to go."
Jack marched over to Re'shat, "Not your lucky day," he snapped at the Goa'uld who hissed at him in displeasure.
"You'll pay for this," the Goa'uld spit out and Jack couldn't help but roll his eyes.
"They all say that." Jack shrugged and motioned to Teal'c, "Tie him up."
He approached Carter who was still staring blankly, being held upright by Daniel who was murmuring to her while assessing her for injuries.
"She doesn't seem too bad," Daniel said when Jack got closer, and he nudged the major, "Sam?"
Carter blinked and focused on Jack. Up close, he could see the bruises that marred her face and arms in all their colourful glory. Her hands were marked with red and black, angry-looking burns. An inflamed, jagged cut peeked out from beneath the collar of her shirt and there were tears in her pants from which more cuts were visible.
"Carter?" Jack put a firm hand on her shoulder, "SG4 are right outside and we gotta go."
Sam shook her head, "No."
"What?" Jack gave her shoulder a gentle shake, "Carter, we gotta move."
"The children. We have to take the children with us." Her voice was filled with the same desperation he'd heard earlier and Jack met Daniel's eyes in confusion.
Enla reminded Jack of Cassandra when she first came to Earth. She was all skinny limbs and tangled long hair, with eyes as big as saucers when she saw the television Siler was connecting up for the children in their makeshift quarters in the infirmary.
She was the eldest of the four to be rescued, and at best guess, Janet put her at around 9 years old, but Jack could see in her eyes that the young girl has seen more horrors than any adult should see; let alone a child. She gave Jack a nervous smile when he sat next to her at the table, a crayon held loosely in her hand and a drawing left forgotten on the table as she alternated giving Jack wary looks and watching Siler put the television unit together.
Jack called out to the sergeant softly, "Siler, why don't you take a break for a little while."
The other man straightened and noded, "Yes sir." He was out the door quickly and Enla turned to Jack and pined him with a stare.
"You were at the other place," she said quietly, "The dark place."
Jack noded, matching her quiet tone, "Yeah, I helped get you out of there."
"I didn't like it there." Enla stared down at the drawing and Jack saw it was filled with brightly coloured scribbles in blazing colours of yellows and reds and oranges.
"Do you like it here?" Jack asked. They planned to relocate the children to their home planet as soon as they could figure out which one it was. The children weren't natives of Re'shat's territory, but they had given enough information that the SGC had narrowed down where they could have originated from before they'd been taken. SG teams were currently scouting the likeliest of suspects for the childrens' homeworld.
"It's okay," the girl shrugged. She pressed the yellow crayon to the paper and dragged it back and forth, "Everybody is very nice."
Jack picked up a purple crayon, grabbed another piece of paper and started to draw, "Well, hopefully we'll be able to get you home soon."
The little girl nodded, "What's that?" she screwed her nose up at Jack's drawing.
Jack grinned at her proudly; sliding the paper across the table, he said, "It's a purple dog."
"A dog?" the girl sounded confused.
"An animal," Jack said simply.
"Oh," Enla picked up the piece of paper and frowned, "I've never seen a purple animal before."
Jack laughed, "Neither have I."
Enla pushed the piece of paper back to Jack and took a deep breath, "You want to ask me about the other place."
Jack nodded, "Only if you're okay to talk about it. If not," Jack picked up his purple crayon, "I'll show you some other animals in their purple varieties."
Enla gave him a small smile, "I don't know much."
"Anything you can tell me will help." Jack thought of Carter; he hadn't heard from her in two days. He'd driven by her house enough to know she was still there, and had even seen her silhouette in the window, but they hadn't spoken since their last phone conversation. Jack tried hard not to think about that last conversation.
"Help Sam?" Enla asked.
"Yeah," Jack nodded, "Sam. Did you spend much time with her?"
"Sometimes; the man with the funny voice would let her spend time with all of us, then he'd take her away." Enla picked up the blue crayon and began to draw a large circle.
"I don't know where he'd take her," Enla said, "Sam didn't talk about it much."
"Do you know what the man with the funny voice was making Sam do?" Jack asked.
Enla shrugged, "He kept telling her she had to," the girl's nose crinkled as she screwed her face up in concentration, "Fix it."
"I don't know," Enla coloured in her blue circle, "He wasn't very happy that Sam couldn't fix it. The last time he made Adon go with Sam to help her."
Jack frowned, "Who was Adon?"
"Adon was one of us," Enla said, "One of the boys from my village."
"What happened to Adon?" Jack asked softly.
Enla shrugged and looked away, "I don't know, maybe Sam knows."
"I see," Jack watched as Enla continued to colour in the blue circle. She rimmed it with a gray border, drew green grass at the base and a bright yellow sun in the sky and passed it to Jack.
"Can you give this to Sam, it's a drawing of the stargate," Enla gave him a small smile, "Sam said that everything would be okay once we got to the stargate. She was right. Maybe it will help her now?"
Jack took the drawing, and with care, folded it in half and put it in his pocket, "I'm sure it will, kid."
Jack left Enla drawing quietly, making a mental note to make sure that he brought in his Simpsons dvds for the kids. It might not make sense to them, but every kid loved the simpsons. He owed Enla something; she'd given him plenty to think about. His stomach growled loudly, reminding Jack that it was just about time for the cook to put out his afternoon serving of apple pie. Jack knew he always thought much more clearly when he had pie in his stomach.
The commissary was relatively quiet, except for a couple of bored-looking airmen eating late lunches, and Sergeant Siler, who was sticking something up onto the notice board.
"Siler," Jack called to the sergeant, "The kids' room is clear if you want to finish setting up the tv."
Siler nodded and finished pinning up his notice, "Thanks, sir."
Jack stepped closer to the notice board and read the yellow flyer Siler had stuck up. The sergeant gave him a curious look.
Jack tapped his chin with his finger, all thoughts of pie suddenly gone from his mind, "I might be."
Sam was just starting to relax at the three-day mark with no contact at all from any of the men from SG1. Daniel had left a message letting her know that he and Teal'c were heading off-world for a week and the colonel seemed to drive by her house every so often, but other than that, she had been left blissfully alone.
So she was taken completely off-guard when at 1100 hours on Thursday morning, Colonel O'Neill appeared on her doorstep, a determined look on his face. She wasn't quite sure how he managed to do it, but before she could even protest, she found herself in the passenger seat of his truck, speeding away from the solace of her home.
"Where are we going?" Sam asked the question as soon as they were clear of her neighbourhood. By the direction he was taking, he wasn't taking her back to the mountain and the knots in her stomach loosened somewhat.
"I've got something to show you at my place," Jack said simply.
Sam frowned, "What?"
"Ah!" Jack held up one hand to stall her questions, "Patience Carter. That's all I ask."
Sam sighed loudly, making her displeasure known. But she knew that when the colonel had his mind made up, he wouldn't change it. When they pulled into his driveway, Sam's frustration and annoyance still hadn't dissipated and she barely managed to not slam the door like a child in a tantrum.
"Round the back," the colonel directed her round the side of his house and across his decking where she could see something under a tarpaulin on top of a drop sheet. She frowned as they got closer and she realised what was under the tarp.
"Is that-?" Her annoyance was forgotten for a moment.
"Yup," Jack pulled the tarp over, revealing what appeared to be a very old and battered motorcycle which looked like it hadn't been ridden in at least 5 years. Still, Sam could see that in its day, the motorcycle had been a thing of beauty and speed.
"Where did you get it?"
"Siler was selling it." Jack shrugged, his dark eyes watching her closely and she stiffened for a moment until his gaze slid away, "I thought I might take up a new hobby."
"Fixing motorcycles?" Sam was confused; the colonel could barely program his dvd player, let alone have the patience to restore a motorcycle.
"No," Jack waved a hand down, "Not fixing it up; riding it. I used to ride back in the day." His eyes glazed over and Sam could only imagine the memories that he was recalling. She could see a younger Jack O'Neill, his cheeky grin and love of danger spurring him on to ride faster, take the corners a little closer to the curb.
"Oh," Sam reached out a hand to touch the rusted silver chrome but pulled back just before her fingers could brush against the surface.
Jack cleared his throat, "I thought perhaps you could help me fix it up."
"I…" Sam stared at the motorcycle, trying to hide the sudden wave of anxiety that had flared up. He wanted her to fix the bike? "I guess…" She trailed off. She wanted to do it. She did. But…
"Excellent," Jack clapped his hands together as if she'd agreed, "I'll leave you to it then."
He disappeared inside the house before Sam could tear her eyes away from the motorcycle in realisation of what she'd somehow agreed to. He expected her to fix it. Sam swallowed against the sudden pressure in her throat. She turned away from the motorcycle and tried to calm herself. She thought of the rush of air against her face as she rode her Indian, but the memory felt fleeting and she couldn't hold onto it. It had been so long since she'd ridden her bike. She couldn't bare the claustrophobic quarters of her garage, the smell of oil and metal, and the mess of wiring and tools took her back to her prison, and she hadn't set a foot in her garage since she had returned. To have such negativity and awfulness attached to something she very much loved to do was painful for Sam to think about.
It was time for something to change.
Sam turned back to the motorcycle. Visibly steeling herself, she reached out a trembling hand and pressed it against the cool metal of the tank. She let out a breath she hadn't realised she was holding.
Inside, watching from the windows, Jack smiled and took another sip of his beer.
The colonel arrived early the next morning and dropped her at his place to work on the bike. Sam watched as he drove away towards the SGC, leaving her alone in the quiet with just a broken-down old motorcycle for company. It became a routine over the week; the colonel picked her up and dropped her off. Occasionally he stayed at the house, but he always left her alone to work.
The second day, she didn't touch the bike again. She simply sat with a notebook on her lap and made notes on how she was going to restore this bike to mint condition. She scribbled equations and parts and listed all the best tools to use, but she didn't lay a finger on the patiently waiting bike.
On the fifth day, she wandered round to the back decking to find her notebook missing and she realised she wasn't fooling anyone, least of all herself. It took her awhile, but she finally found it wedged between the BBQ and the wall. She opened it up and read his messy scrawl on the inside cover.
Enough with the writing.
The sixth day she braved her garage and retrieved the tools she needed to start the real work on the bike. The smell of oil and metal assaulted her senses as soon as she entered the confined room and she was almost thrown back to the prison, an arrogant figure standing over her, mocking her for her failure. Yet she pushed those thoughts away and remained long enough to pack her favourite and most necessary equipment to fix the colonel's bike.
By the eighth day, her hesitation in touching and pulling apart the bike had faded. As soon as her fingers pried open the covering on the engine, revealing the intricate pattern of mechanics inside, she let her muscle memory take over. She'd been fixing bikes since she was a teenager, the satisfaction of restoring a motorcycle was as pleasing to her as any high marks or accolades. The familiarity of the old engine and parts eased her into the process. It was comforting and soothing to sit outside, the cool wind brushing across her face as she dismantled and rebuilt and dismantled again.
"You sure this place is legit, Carter?"
Jack eyed the tattoo of a burly-looking biker across the parking lot; the man had the image of a snake wrapped around a bulging bicep that would give Teal'c a run for his own massive pipes.
Carter didn't seem to notice his discomfort, or maybe she just ignored it, "I come here all the time. They have the best parts, sir and it's close to home."
"I'll take your word for it," Jack muttered under his breath. The store itself was manned by an even burlier-looking biker who gave Carter a nod as she entered and eyed Jack with a look of barely-disguised mirth. Jack looked down at his blue shirt and khaki slacks, wishing that he'd at least brought his leather jacket instead of his faded old red one.
Inside the shop were messily organised shelves of motorcycle parts and equipment. From brand new seats and adornments still in packaging, to second-hand engines and shoddy-looking exhaust pipes. The small store was dark and messy-looking, but Jack sensed there was some weird chaotic order in place as Carter seemed to know exactly where everything was.
He followed her around for half an hour as she piled his arms high with equipment and parts that she needed to fix his bike, all the while muttering under her breath.
"Carter?" Jack tried not to flinch as Carter piled on yet another engine part onto the stack in his arms.
"Yes, sir?" Sam responded distractedly, her eyes on the shelf holding all different kinds of side mirrors.
"Is all this stuff going to fit on the bike?" Jack glanced down at the pile in his arms. In his opinion, there was no way all this stuff could go on one motorcycle.
"Not on the bike, sir," Jack sensed Carter really wanted to roll her eyes, "In it."
"In it, on it," Jack shrugged, "A motorcycle doesn't exactly have the spacious interior or engine size of my truck."
"Size doesn't matter, sir," Carter quipped back, and for the first time in a long while, Jack could see his major beneath the blank mask and carefully controlled emotions of the last few weeks.
"Watch it, Carter," Jack warned, but the smile on his face softened the warning.
After picking up two more mirrors, Carter stopped suddenly in front of the last shelf adorning the back wall. A mess or wires and chains packed in boxes lined the shelf; some wires tangled and half tumbled to the floor. Carter's face drained of colour and Jack could see beads of sweat form on her upper lip. The jovial mood had disappeared; in its place, Carter was exuding enough anxiety and tension that Jack could almost physically see it in the air.
"Carter?" In lieu of a free hand to nudge her, Jack had to settle for calling her name loudly.
"I tried to fix it," Carter mumbled her eyes staring at the mess of wires, "I should have been able to fix it."
"What?" Jack was confused and he didn't like the glazed look that had appeared in Carter's eyes. He glanced around, trying to find a clear surface to clear the load from his arms.
"I should have fixed it, nothing I did worked. Nothing. I tried everything I usually do and it didn't work," Carter's agitated voice was hushed and Jack had to strain to catch the words tumbling from her mouth, "Everyone always expects me to fix everything. But sometimes I can't… I couldn't fix it and…"
"Carter?" Jack stepped closer to her, intending to dump the equipment onto some space onto the shelf behind her.
Carter started when he leaned forward and she jerked suddenly into awareness, "I always fix everything. It's what everyone expects me to do. It's what you expect me to do." Her eyes turned on him and Jack was surprised at the anger that burned from them, but he wasn't sure the emotion was really directed at him, "If I can't fix anything what use I am to anyone?" The anger crumpled into despair on her face.
She turned on her heel and disappeared out of the store, leaving Jack standing, still holding his armload of parts, alone in front of the shelf of tangled wires.
Jack waited a couple of hours before going after her, allowing her the space and time to decompress after her little outburst of emotion in the biker store.
She was sitting in the park across from her house, on a small bench near the playground. Her eyes traced the children as they laughed and played in the fading afternoon sun under the watchful eyes of parents.
"I guess I do expect you to fix everything," Jack sat beside her on the bench, leaving a good amount of distance between them. There was no indication that she heard him, or was listening, but Jack continued anyway, "Yes it is what you do. But it's not who you are. We keep you around for more than just fixing things, Carter."
She sighed heavily, "You always turn to me for solutions." Her voice was flat, "What if I can't think of the answers anymore?"
"Carter, you're just as good under pressure as any other soldier out in the field." Jack hated to think where this self doubt was coming from. Carter had proved herself time and time again over the years, "There is no one else out there I trust with the science fix-its but you, Carter."
"Re'shat knew…" Carter shook her head, "He knew that I was the one that had the technical knowledge."
Jack sighed, "SG1 is kinda well-known around the galaxy, Carter." SG1's unique talents and success in slaying Goa'uld had come with unwanted fame amongst their enemies.
"Re'shat…" Carter's voice was quiet, "He wanted me to fix this weapon. I resisted at first, but he… brought in the children. Told me if I didn't fix it he would kill them."
Jack sat still, listening as they both stared out at the playground.
"I tried so hard to make it work," Her eyes squeezed shut against the memories, "I couldn't just let those children die. I tried to fix it but… I couldn't make it work. One of those kids…" The anguish in her voice drove the hatred he felt for that damned Goa'uld in further.
"You tried, Carter," Jack shook his head, "Under the worst conditions, you did your best."
"No," Sam snapped, "If I'd done my best I would have fixed it. It's my fault those kids were… that Adon…"
"Carter," Jack's voice was just as determined as hers, "It's Re'shat's fault. You didn't pull the trigger."
"I may as well have," Sam closed her eyes, "You didn't see that child's face..."
The image of another child's face floated through his mind, pale and broken in a pool of blood, and Jack shoved it away back into the most distant portion of his memory. This wasn't the time for self-pity and his own burdens of guilt. He didn't want Carter to turn out like him, all bitter and twisted, she deserved better than that, was worth more than that.
"It was an awful situation, Carter," Jack tried to get through to her, "You did what you could, with what you had."
Silence filled the air and Jack gave her time to digest his words before he spoke again, "You didn't have what you needed to fix that weapon," he said firmly, "The crappy equipment and forced working conditions aside, Carter, you were alone, you didn't have the team."
"The technical side is my field," Sam said, "Even if the rest of you were there…"
"You can't do everything, Carter," Jack said tiredly, "It's not just the technical stuff you had to do in that place. The kids, the physical beatings, being alert and constantly looking out for a way to escape. You needed support, Carter, someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to take at least some of the pressure off you; you didn't have any of it."
Sam shook her head, her lips pressed together tightly and Jack decided to let it drop. She wasn't going to come round without thinking it all through. Carter didn't make snap decisions; she processed the information and let it filter through that massive brain of hers. He was going to have to give her time.
He got up from the bench, "That child didn't die because you couldn't fix that weapon. He died because Re'shat murdered him."
"I…" Sam looked up at him and Jack could see that she wanted to believe him. She just wasn't quite there yet.
"You're still the SGC's science fix-it wonder kid, Carter," Jack said, shrugging his shoulders, "Just as Daniel's the guy that knows every language on this and every other planet, Teal'c's the muscle and I'm the charismatic, handsome good guy."
A small smile appeared on her face briefly and Jack thought that perhaps some of it was getting through. Or maybe she just wanted him to leave.
"I'm not saying forget," Jack said before he walked away, "But don't let that bastard destroy something that's so much a part of you. Use it against him Carter, make that child's death matter. Keep going, keep fighting. Don't let the bad guys win, Carter, all it takes for evil to triumph…"
"Is for good men to do nothing," Carter murmured.
"Or women," Jack pointed out, "You're still one of the good guys, Carter, and you can still kick just as much Goa'uld butt with that brain of yours as before."
He held out a piece of paper to her, folded neatly, and waited until she took it from his hands to walk away, "Little present from Enla."
As he got into his truck, Jack glanced over to the bench where Carter still sat. She was staring at the drawing intently, the paper clenched tightly in her hands.
Sam's eyebrows rose at the small pile of equipment and parts that was stacked neatly next to the half-finished motorcycle on the colonel's deck. He'd obviously made a few extra selections after her quick exodus from the store the previous day.
"Do you like the stuff I picked out?" The colonel approached from behind her and Sam turned around to see him watching her through guarded eyes.
Sam picked up the most obvious of pieces she hadn't chosen, "I'm pretty sure Lyle's doesn't sell fluffy dice sir."
"I may have picked that up from somewhere else," Jack snatched it out of her hands, "I suppose there isn't really room for it on the bike anyway."
Sam shook her head, "Probably not," she said dryly.
She began to sort out the various parts and equipment she needed, conscious of the colonel leaning against the railing, still watching her with his observant eyes. It was extremely distracting. "Sir?" Sam paused in her work, "Did you want something?"
"Any idea when the bike will be ready to ride?"
She paused and looked over at the half-restored cycle, "It will be road-worthy by the end of the week, sir."
"Not completely restored though?" Jack prodded her and Sam could see another question hiding in his eyes and behind the casual words.
"No," Sam shook her head, her mind half on the bike and half thinking of things much darker and more pressing, "A complete restoration will take a little longer to complete." She could still see the image of a small broken body, crumpled next to the burnt-out remains of a failed machine. It would take time to not see that memory every time she closed her eyes. But she wasn't about to let Adon's death have any more consequences. She wasn't going to let Re'shat take anything else away from the good guys.
"Okay," Jack pushed away from the railing, "I'll take road worthy."
Jack was flicking through the Saturday paper comics when Sam slid open the door to his back decking and peeked her head through.
"It's ready to ride, sir."
Jack grinned, "Excellent."
He followed her round the front of his house where the bike rested upright in his driveway. Its outer appearance was still not perfect, but if Jack knew Carter's affinity for engines and speed, he would bet it probably had a smoother and faster ride than it ever had before.
"Looks good Carter," Jack motioned to the bike, "You want to take it for a spin?"
Sam shrugged, "It's your bike, sir." She was trying for nonchalant, but Jack could see the excitement and the barely restrained joy flare in her face.
"You did the work," Jack said, "Go on."
Sam flashed him a smile, one that reached her eyes, and she swung one leg over the bike in a graceful move. She picked up the helmet that rested on the handlebars and gave him another grin.
"I'll be back before you know it, sir," Sam said. Then with a roar, the bike took off and Jack watched as she turned the corner, speeding up as she went.
She pulled seamlessly into his driveway ten minutes later and, when she pulled off the helmet, Jack could see in the bright eyes and flushed cheeks that Carter was happy.
"I forgot how much I love this," she murmured, handing over the helmet to Jack.
He paused and raised an eyebrow, "Riding the bike?"
"Yeah, I guess," Carter shrugged, her eyes looking off into the distance, "And making something work. Seeing the results."
Jack just gave her a crooked grin as he motioned towards the motorcycle, "Let's hope I can remember how to do this."
Sam chuckled, "It's just like riding a bike sir."
Jack groaned moving to the bike,"Leave the humour to me, Carter, that's my job."
"Yes sir," Sam watched warily and Jack smothered a grin at her protective gaze. He was pretty sure the cautious glance was for the newly restored bike and not the aging colonel taking his first spin in years.
"Speaking of jobs," Jack gave her a speculative glance, the meaning in his words clear.
"I'll be back Monday sir." Carter said firmly.
Jack nodded, "The team is waiting."
Thanks for reading, feedback is very much appreciated :)