Title: Yesterday's Life
Summary: She feels frayed and faded, like a scrap of fabric accidentally discarded and forced to weather the elements.
Rating: Currently PG-13
Author's Note: Part of the sj_everyday Secret Santa exchange, for bringingupsammy, who asked for a mature, angsty Continuum fic. Part 1 gets you half of that... Title taken from Jimi Hendrix's "Wind Cries Mary".
Occasionally, as she runs her hands along his body, she encounters raised ridges of skin unfamiliar to her. Scars that her Jack never had. More often, she encounters smooth skin where there was none.
She'll bite his neck then, or let out that whimper he adores, or dig her nails into the muscle by his shoulder blades.
It turns out, no matter what timeline he's in, there are some things that make Jack react the same way.
And sometimes, when he does that, she can forget who she's with.
Her nose and hands have gone beyond the coldness and the tingling and are edging into numbness. She thinks that, maybe, her balaclava could be pulled up a little higher, but can't find it within herself to care. The numbness suits her. It's what she feels. What she has to feel. If she thinks about it too closely, if she lets herself feel anything at all, she's not sure that she'll be able to keep walking.
She has to keep walking. Or Jack won't be the only person she's left behind to die today.
The circle of blood is spreading on his shoulder, rapidly soaking through his BDUs. The red liquid pools beneath him on the cold stone floor. With her hand resting on his stomach, she can feel his struggle for each breath. There's a tremble in his lip, and his voice is hoarse with pain as he orders them -- her -- to 'Go.'
Her eyelashes are frozen together again.
Sometimes, when she's staring at him, her eyes wide pools of blue, he can see the love shining out of their depths and he feels a warm glow deep inside of his gut. Then he remembers that the love is meant for someone else, another Jack O'Neill, a General.
It's hard to compete with a dead man.
But it doesn't stop him from trying. It's been years since a woman's looked at him with that kind of emotion coming from their eyes, and no matter how pathetic it makes him, he can't seem to stop himself from seeking her out.
And there are moments, when she's there laughing at one of his jokes, or lying in his arms with her neck arched back, whimpers coming from her mouth as she shudders through an orgasm, or sleeping close enough to him that she's half on top of him, and they're both so hot they've kicked off the duvet, but she refuses to let him go if he tries to roll over and grab it, that he thinks maybe she loves him too.
He doesn't know.
And he's too afraid of her response to ask.
She's not sure how long they've been walking. Long enough for her muscles to be weak from marching across the ice and her joints stiff from the cold. Long enough for her to stop shivering.
She knows it's a bad sign, when you stop shivering, but she's having a hard time bringing herself to care. Hell, she's not even sure why she's still walking at this point. If she's this bad off, Daniel with his soaked leg is already dead, and Jack --
She winces, sees flashes against the back of her eyelids (too much time staring out at the snow-glare, she thinks), and bends over, hands against her knees, trying to keep it all reeled in. She's breathing as deeply as she can, letting the cold air, only slightly warmed by her balaclava, bite deep into her lungs, that little bit of pain keeping the larger one back.
"Sam, we have to keep moving!"
Cameron's hand grabs her arm as she stumbles upright. But he's getting as tired as she is, and they end up using each other to keep their balance. They're not going to last much longer. And she's not sure she wants to. "Why? If we have to freeze to death, 'ere's as good a spot as any, innit?" She hears the slurring of her speech, but her brain's not working quickly enough to do anything to fix it.
Given the amount of time it takes Cameron to come up with a response, she thinks his has slowed down too. "Ahhhh, I don't like this spot."
The cold hasn't yet addled her mind to the point where she thinks that's a valid response. Especially since every damn patch of ice she's trudged across has looked the same for the past who knows how long. "Cam, c'mon," normally, the plaintive note to her voice would irritate her, now she could care less about anything so trivial, "What's the point? There's no one around for hundr--" as she spins, she spots movement, "-- What's that?"
She raises a mitten-clad hand in the general direction of the figures emerging from the blowing snow. She can't look at Cameron, in case it's a hallucination or a mirage brought on by their exposure, but when she hears him move next to her, she drags up the energy to run alongside him. Head down, she knows she's unsteady on her feet, body too tired and stiff to maintain her normal graceful stride, but they're closing quickly in on the figures clad in modern cold-weather survival gear.
She stumbles backwards, partly because her uncoordinated limbs fail her when she tries to stop abruptly, partly because of the clenching feeling in her chest. She knows that voice. But she doesn't want to get too hopeful, because maybe it's a trick of the cold. Or her hearing's muffled through all the layers she's wearing.
"Hey! Which one of you is Mitchell?"
She looks at Cam, seeing if he recognizes the voice.
"Jack O'Neill, Special Forces."
Their rescuer lowers his balaclava enough that she can make out the features so familiar to her. And she's shocked enough to respond without thinking, "My god. Oh! We thought you were dead." And she lowers the ice-encrusted wool covering her face, to look at Jack more clearly.
He removes his sunglasses and his brown eyes twinkle, like he's about to tell a joke. "Well. Back-atcha, ma'am."
She doesn't know how to take that.
But then Mitchell asks if Jack recognizes her, and he does, and she feels a genuine sense of comfort, that despite everything, Jack knows her, and apparently well enough that he's willing to come and rescue her from the middle of the Arctic. She can't help but relax into the waves of relief that are rolling over her, and she feels a smile escape her control.
Later, when she's warm on the ship, the realization that he only knows her because she's a national hero who stayed behind on a doomed space shuttle and is only here because of a coincidence will sink in, and Samantha Carter will feel lost and cold all over again.
His first clue that something is different with this woman comes when he has to go retrieve her from the head in the middle of what is, according to his watch, the night. The sailor who comes to get him appears nervous, hands not as steady as they should be, probably not used to getting unfamiliar, high-ranking Air Force officers out of bed to handle uncooperative prisoners. Or maybe it's because the uncooperative prisoner in question is a resurrected astronaut. Luckily for the crewman, a few hours of sleep have restored his temper, previously frayed from having his training plans disrupted in order to make a hasty HALO jump and go tromping around in the Arctic after a couple of strangers claiming to be Air Force personnel.
The lights of the submarine are dimmed in the sleeping areas, but elsewhere there is a full crew at work. Jack's used to bases that run at all hours of the night, but somehow the narrow galleyways and the creaking and popping noises coming from the hulls give him a sense of unease, a prickling on the back of his neck. The sounds, infrequent and random, don't allow him to forget that he's in what amounts to a tin can under lots of very heavy, very cold water. There's a reason he didn't join the navy; some things just aren't natural.
They head through the galleyways, until the sailor gestures at a hatch. Jack silently dismisses the man, and waits quietly outside the closed hatch to try and get some idea of what he's dealing with. He frowns slightly, when he realizes that all he could make out were some muffled noises and the occasional gasp. If he didn't know better, he'd say that it sounded a lot like Charlie had, the time he'd broken Sarah's favourite lamp and had hidden in his closet, concealing his guilt and his tears behind a closed door. Jack let out a sigh. If she was crying, it would explain why the guards had been so eager to get him. He doubted there were too many men on board this boat who were good with dealing with hysterical women. He certainly wasn't one of them. Never knew what to say.
He sighed again, and raised a hand to rap on the hatchway. It wouldn't get any easier with time, and despite his rest, Jack didn't really have the energy to wait for her to come out by herself. Jack shoved his hands deeply into his pockets as he waited for a reply, resisting the strong urge to fiddle with the handle and inadvertently see if it was unlocked.
The noises quieted for a second, and then a sharp voice rang out. "Look, I'm fine," the way her voice cracks reveals the lie beneath the words, "You don't have to guard me so closely, I'll be out in a few minutes. Just leave me alone."
The sob that follows closely on the final word is too loud to be completely muffled, especially from someone standing right outside the partition. Jack's fingers clenched inside his pockets. So, he was right. Damnit. He briefly debates getting one of the men she had come with to get her out, someone familiar, but he figures the reason she's in the head is so they wouldn't see her like this. Maybe a stranger would be the best option, after all. "Look, Ms. Carter," he begins, and winces, already fumbling for words, "You're kinda making these sailors nervous --" Luckily, he doesn't have to go any farther because the hatch is opening.
"Jack?" The word comes from a very different woman than the one he'd seen earlier. She's curled up on herself, seated on the small patch of floor, her long blonde hair a disheveled mess around her head, her cheeks blotchy and red, stained with evidence of her tears. Jack's vaguely relieved that she's not one of those women who manages to look beautiful as they cry. He'd always found that unnerving and unnatural. What caught his attention though, were her eyes. They were puffy, and red, and brimming with tears, but they held a depth of sorrow that he understood.
Unthinking, Jack steps forward, into the head, casting a quick glance behind him as he closes the hatch again, forcing the two of them close in the small space. "Yeah?" he asks, reaching down to draw her up to a standing position. Nobody should sit on the floor of a head.
Her eyes search his face, looking for what, he doesn't know, but he doesn't think she finds it. It doesn't stop her from letting out a small sob and burying her face in his shirt though. He wraps his arms around her, wishing he was better at this, that he knew what to say, trying to calm her shaking by simply holding her and stroking her back, like he used to do for Charlie, when his son was young enough to find comfort instead of embarrassment in a hug from Dad. It's been years since he's held anyone like this, but as the woman's sobs quiet and her trembling begins to fade, he thinks that maybe there are some parenting skills he doesn't suck at.
She draws in a deep breath (he can feel the rush of air against the skin of his neck), and seems to give her face a last rub, before looking up. "You even smell like him." His face must have revealed his confusion, because she gave a weak, watery laugh, before continuing. "My Jack."
He knew his eyebrow had arched before he could suppress it. "Your Jack?" His mind flashes back to the image of her on the floor, her hands, playing with something on the same chain as her dogtags. He slowly reaches for the dogtags, pulling them aside to reveal a small ring. "Ah." He let them drop, the metal chinking as they came to rest against her chest. "I thought I was dead?"
The way her face collapses before blanking almost makes him regret asking the question, but he buries that emotion beneath his duty. It's his job to ask the questions, to figure out what the hell these nuts in substandard winter gear were doing up in the Arctic in the first place. Any inconsistencies in their story need to be found out, and examined for clues to their true purpose. Nobody wanders around the Arctic for no reason. Still, the way Samantha Carter draws back, as much as she can in the small head, coming almost to attention, makes him believe that the dogtags, at least, aren't wholly fabricated. That kind of reaction, instinctive even under emotional stress, is hard to fake.
"You were killed yesterday, sir." She looks momentarily lost, "Or whatever day it was that we came through the Gate to this timeline."
Now he's the one looking momentarily lost. But based on the stories they were telling earlier, he has a vague notion of what she's referring to. "We picked up that interesting footage yesterday, at 14:38 hours. I was diverted not too long after that, the guy with the leg was picked up around 16:00 hours, and we found you and the other guy at 18:23."
She nods, reaching up to wipe away a few stray tears, and he thinks that she might be cataloguing that information away for future use. Then he picks up on what she said. "I was killed?" He can't help himself, it's like driving by an accident -- everyone's compelled to look to see how bad it is for some other guy -- and his voice is filled with a morbid fascination. "How?"
Her face momentarily trembles, before she places the solider's mask firmly over it. "You were stabbed by Ba'al." Her gaze is fixed just below his left shoulder, and one of her hands comes up to delicately rest against the area. He can feel the slight trembling of her fingers through his BDUs, and he lifts his own hand up to firmly encompass hers, stilling the tremors. "I watched you bleed--" she cuts herself off, looking away from him, and he tightens his grasp.
"Look," he says, and apparently she takes that as an order, because he finds himself caught in her eyes, wondering what the hell he's going to say next, to this supposed-to-be-dead woman who apparently just watched her fiancée, him, get murdered, but he's started talking, so he tries to stumble on, "If even half of what you're telling me is true, you're dealing with a situation I can't even begin to imagine, let alone understand." He gestured absently with his free hand. "Maybe I'm not the right person to talk--"
He's interrupted when she lets out a watery laugh, startling him. "My Jack didn't deal well with hysterical women either." Samantha looks at him as if they're sharing an inside joke, and he knows his face is betraying his surprise at her insight when she starts to grin, catches herself, and bites her lower lip, as if ashamed of the moment of happiness. Her voice, when she continues, is quieter, but no less definitive in her knowledge. "Never knew what to say."
He lets out a grunt of acknowledgement. It wasn't like he could deny it. "Although, I've never before had to figure out what to say in the head of a submarine to a woman who's sort of a resurrected astronaut who's just watched another me get murdered." He winces as the sentence ends. Just trying to twist his brain around it makes his head hurt.
Her laugh is stronger this time, her smile genuine, and Jack thinks he knows what the other him saw in this woman.
She's forgotten how long they've been interrogating her -- and she doesn't make any pretense that this is anything else, not anymore -- and Samantha Carter is frustrated enough to scream. She's explained the Stargate, she's explained the physics of how it works. Hell, she's even given them some of the equations she's worked out about how it channels the power necessary to generate a stable wormhole. She's told them about the Goa'uld, and the Replicaters, and the Ori; about the Nox, the Tollans, the Asgard, and the Ancients. She's told them about the SGC, Atlantis, the Alpha and Beta sites. She's talked until her voice was hoarse, and then she's talked some more.
But they kept coming back to the same damn question. "Aren't you Samantha Carter, Mission Commander of the space shuttle Intrepid, born December 29th, 1968, died September 13th, 2004, when the shuttle crashed into the Atlantic Ocean?"
She'd tried analogies, diagrams, and simply explaining again and again, about time travel and alternate timelines but she was getting nowhere. Feeling frustrated and angry at their seeming inability to listen, to hear what she was saying, she stared them down. They didn't get it, fine. But this wasn't how things were supposed to be. And worse than that, Earth was in danger, and they were acting like they didn't care and it didn't matter.
As the latest interrogator leaves the room, they bring more water and she takes that as a sign she's supposed to stay here. What the point of that is she doesn't know, since nobody's listening anyways. Her head's in her hands and she's racking her brain for a new way of explaining things, when she hears the rap on the door.
Looking up, she blinks, thinking that the long hours and her frustration have combined to make her see things, because it's Jack in BDUs looking gut-wrenchingly familiar and heart-wrenchingly alive. "Jack." When he doesn't disappear, she sits up straight.
He gives a half-assed wave, and she has to blink to get the tears to stay out of her eyes. His hands are shoved deep in his pockets, his hair's ruffled, and he's leaning against the doorway in a manner that reminds her of Colonel O'Neill's impromptu visits to her lab.
"I hear you've been asking for me," he says, but his face remains blank, revealing nothing. "Want to grab a bite to eat in the Commissary? I hear the Eskimo Pies are to die for."
She laughs at the joke, amused in spite of herself, but it's not enough to displace the uneasy feeling settling in her gut. She has to remember that it's not her Jack, that despite the fact she's become used to seeing that face lying on the pillow next to hers, the lines and angles known to her gaze, her hands, her lips, he's not the same man. He's not her Jack. She steals glances at him out of the corner of her eye, trying to find differences, little things to focus on. He's missing the scar in his left eyebrow. The lines aren't carved as deeply into his face. But the worst is his eyes, when he catches her gaze. He's guarded in a way that her Jack rarely is anymore, at least with her. He raises an eyebrow, and she manages to dredge up a half-smile in response, but she wonders if requesting Jack O'Neill's presence had been such a smart idea after all.
They settle at a table in the corner, removed from the few other personnel having a meal. She's grabbed a full tray, knowing that she should eat while she can, but unsure how much she'll be able to manage.
"So," brown eyes look up at her from a study of what was being called chicken, "Tell me about yourself."
She blinks. It sounds like an order. "I'm a bit tired of talking about myself after..." She trails off, giving a bit of a wave back in the direction they came. She wonders if she can change the direction of the conversation, or if this is just another interrogation, albeit under a different guise. "Maybe you could tell me a bit about you, first?"
His eyebrow went up again, and she reminds herself to focus on the lack of a scar, "I thought you knew me." His voice is challenging.
She knows he's baiting her, but she can't help herself and responds, "I do. For instance," she points at his dinner plate, "You hate steamed green beans. I usually swap you for the carrots." She points at his cup. "That's coffee, strong and black. It's how you drink it when on base and on missions, but at home you add sugar and cream, if it hasn't gone bad in your fridge." Finally, she goes for the dessert. "Since you've gone for a chocolate cake, I'm guessing they don't have any vanilla which you prefer. And the pie must be lemon meringue, since you despise that, along with carrot cake. The pie because you find it slimy, the carrot cake because its has vegetables in it, and you think that's just wrong." She sits back and crosses her arms, raising an eyebrow defiantly.
His face had gone from smugly questioning, to mild surprise, to shock, to amusement as her diatribe continued. "So," he quips "Apparently, you've eaten with me." She opened her mouth to jump back in, and he casually cuts her off, "Ah! I don't want everyone to hear all my dirty secrets." He picks up his coffee cup, inspecting the liquid intently before taking a sip. He pauses, looking back up at her, his eyes assessing her. "Whaddya wanna know?"
Sam paused. Maybe she'd been wrong. "Well, I'm guessing the first significant change took place eleven years ago."
The scowl that mars his face indicates that he knows what she's talking about, but it abruptly clears. "The other guy with you -- he said that Charlie shot himself?" He waits for her nod, before continuing, "Did he, you know," the lines deepen, and he trails awkwardly off, as if afraid to even talk about the possibility.
"In my timeline, he died." She keeps her voice quiet.
"God." Jack looks stunned, staring down at the tabletop. His fingers play with the edge of the table, and the shock turns to horror and then anger. He visibly shakes it off. "The gun went off as Charlie was getting it out of the box. He was startled, but fine." His eyes meet hers, and she can tell he's replaying the moment in his mind. "He's in university. Takin' science. Doesn't get it from me."
His smile is fond, and proud, and Sam has to look away. His happiness is obscenely discordant with the deep sorrow and guilt she's used to. She takes a deep breath, bracing herself. "And Sara?" She's smart enough to know that it shouldn't matter, that it has no reflection on her relationship with Jack, but flawed enough to feel like his answer does.
He grimaces. "Separated. Turns out having a Special Forces Colonel for a husband wasn't what she expected it would be." His voice is bitter, but resigned. Whenever it happened, it wasn't recently.
She tries not to feel relieved. "I'm sorry," she offers.
He looks at her and smirks. "No," he says, "You're not." He takes a bite of food, while she's trying to work out a proper response to that, but he gets in first. "Enough about me. Tell me about yourself, Madam Astronaut."
The anger which had begun to ebb away returns with a vengeance. "I'm not an astronaut." She tries to keep her voice level, but has a feeling it's begun to get away from her. "I'm a Colonel in the United States Air Force and a theoretical astrophysicist. I've only ever been on a space shuttle once, and that was because I the Death Glider I was in got damaged when we blew up a Goa'uld ha'tak about to destroy Earth from orbit." She ran her hands roughly through her hair. "God, I wish you people would listen!" Her voice rings loudly enough through the Commissary that the normal sounds of cutlery chinking and people chattering die off, abruptly. She finds she's too damn tired to care, worn down by a timeline that she doesn't belong in and that doesn't seem to want her, even if only for her knowledge.
"Oh, we've been listening, Colonel." Jack's tone is quiet, but icy, and in that instant she knows that she was right: this was an interrogation. She takes no pleasure from the discovery. "But we've seen very little proof of anything you've been telling us, and absolutely none that what you think is going to happen, will."
With that comment she knows she'll never be able to forget he's not her Jack. Her Jack trusted her. This one barely believes her. She shoves away from the table, filled with rage. "So, this was another interrogation, then?" She doesn't wait for an answer, continuing bitterly, "Wasn't I talking enough for you? Nice tactics, using the face of my dead partner." Her scorn seems to provoke him further.
"You're supposedly in the military, you should know," he says, "We'll do whatever it takes, Carter, to get what we need to win." He's standing on the opposite side of the table from her, but it's his attitude towards her, his distrust, that makes him seem distant.
She snorts. She's been telling them over and over, "What you need to do is let us fix the timeline -- put things right!"
His eyes are blazing, but his face is a hard, blank mask. "Right to whom? Is it right that my son is dead where you come from?" His voice rings through the room, "If you were expecting me to help you kill my son, well, I'm so sorry to disappoint."
Something inside her snaps. "Don't you get it? Ba'al, an enemy of Earth, did this. And he's coming." Her anger fades to a weary resignation. "He's coming." She feels frayed and faded, like a scrap of fabric accidentally discarded and forced to weather the elements. "When he does, your son will either be enslaved or he'll die, along with the rest of Earth's population." She turns away, unable to deal with him any more. "I'm going back to my cell now."
She walks away. She doesn't look back.
To be continued...