Crawl from the Chasm
In Honor of Ship Day 2010. An episode tag of sorts to Abyss. Angst and Ship—to counteract my normal Fluffy Fluff.
"So, I guess you got the short straw this time?"
The Major's eyes flashed, her mouth turning downward as a crinkle formed at the bridge of her nose. "Sir?"
"The last time one of you saw fit to show up on my doorstep." The Colonel wedged his body between his open front door and the jamb, toes snug against the house side of the threshold. "Daniel, wasn't it? Making sure I was okay? And he'd drawn the short straw."
"Oh—that." Carter nodded, with a tiny quirk upward of one eyebrow. "The Tollan thing. Stolen weapons deactivators."
"No. I didn't get the short straw." She didn't elaborate. The set of the Major's jaw remained intent—earnest.
He hadn't turned on the porch light. He hadn't really seen the point. He'd watched her approach through his hallway window—known it was her from her gait, her manner. The way her hair glinted almost silver in the moonlight. There would have been no benefit in flicking the switch. Such a herald would have made her arrival seem that much more remarkable.
Even if it was extraordinary.
Because really, she shouldn't be here. On his doorstep. On the evening after the day that he had been released from his internment in the infirmary. Less than a week after he'd been brought through the 'Gate. Seven days exactly since the last time he'd been slowly tortured, killed, and then brought back to life by Ba'al.
He tried, and failed, to keep his hand from curling more tightly around the door handle. The latch cut painfully into his palm, but he found that he welcomed the discomfort. And that was another reason that she didn't belong here. He was slowly going nuts. Or perhaps he was already there.
He scowled. "So, why are you here?"
To her credit, she didn't cower. Her shoulders barely moved as she drew in a breath. He wondered again how she did it—how she managed to remain so calm when ever fiber in his body seemed to be jumping six ways from Sunday. But at times, Sam Carter could give even Teal'c lessons in stillness. Usually when it really mattered.
Her white teeth flashed in a semblance of a smile before she spoke. "I was worried about you. And I was driving home from Janet's, and your house is on the way."
"On whose map?"
She tilted her head to one side and fought to control the twitch at the corner of her mouth. "Well, it's kind of on the way. Only a few miles out of it."
"A good ten miles if it's an inch."
She conceded, her shoulder jerking slightly upwards. "Okay. I guess you're right."
"You were worried."
"Yes." Nodding, Carter's blue gaze turned judicious. "I still am."
He opened the door up fully, spreading his arms out at his sides. "As you can see, I'm still intact."
The look in her eyes—calmly assessing—threw him for a beat. And then in the next, he forced the steel back down his spine. "I'm not falling apart quite yet, Major. You should have just gone on home."
The lines around her mouth drew up tight, again. "Probably."
"Well, then. You've got your answer." He took a step backwards, closing the distance between door and jamb. "So, go on. I'll see you Monday."
She simply waited. In the diminished light, he could only see part of her face clearly—those wide eyes—almost inhumanly expressive, and her taut mouth. Her hands where they bulged in the pockets of her jacket. In fists.
Was he so threatening?
He acknowledged the answer as a tiny sigh escaped him. "Truly, Carter. I'll be fine."
She met his eyes for an abrasive second. Their gazes clashed—fought—before he found himself focusing instead on the light of his entry way as it caressed the curve of her shoulder. He felt his jaw tense. But the platitude seemed to be all he could conjure.
And she seemed to know it. "I'm sorry, sir. I don't believe that you can go through all that you did without feeling something decidedly other than fine."
"How do you know what I went through?"
"You don't know, Major. Nor are you likely to."
Her gaze skittered away briefly—bouncing off the trees, the walls of his house, the grass, before returning to him again. "I read the report."
"And you were at the briefing. And I'm certain that Doc Fraiser mentioned—things." His hand gripped the handle on the back of his door as if it were a lifeline. "But don't think that you know. You can't."
"Because I wasn't there?"
"Then tell me."
"What could possibly be the point of that?"
"I don't know. Perhaps to allow a friend and colleague to commiserate with you? To offer comfort of some sort?" Her tone had grown more ardent. She tilted her head to the left, peering at him through the glare of the light blossoming around him. "You shouldn't have to go through this alone."
"I've gone through a lot alone, lately, Major."
She stiffened. "The Tok'ra wouldn't let us stay through the blend—"
He jerked involuntarily, his hand lifting, palm up, with a jerky wave. "Stop. Right there." He shifted his balance in the door way. "I don't want to talk about that particular episode."
But he found that he couldn't look at her anymore—found that meeting her eyes hurt more than he'd expected it would. Found that the compassion he encountered within their depths felt more like recrimination than anything else. So he looked at a point somewhat beyond her—over her shoulder—to where her Volvo sat parked under a street lamp. And then beyond, to where a tiny pinprick of light made its way through the drapes in his neighbor's window.
"Really. I'm fine." He shook his head precisely once, felt his lips tighten—fought against a rush of panic that quivered in the back of his head. He forced himself to blink. Act normal. "So just go home, Major. We'll report as usual on Monday, and go from there."
He straightened, dropping his gaze to the walkway beneath her feet. To her feet, the way her jeans skimmed the tops of her sneakers. "Just go, Carter. That's an order."
And then he pulled backwards, and spared a single glance at her face before closing the door on it.
He waited. For several long, impossible minutes, he stood behind the door. Willing his pulse to become even. Expelling the fear that had gathered around his core. Expecting her footsteps to shuffle against the stones on his porch, he listened through the door—only to hear nothing more than silence, and the rasp of his own breaths, the muted thud of his own heartbeats.
He'd heard too much of them lately—first as he'd been imprisoned in his own mind by Kanan, and then each time he'd awakened in the sarcophagus. And then as he'd lain, his body recuperating in his private room.
They'd put him in an observation room—his withdrawal having been violent enough to require at least partial sedation as well as isolation. The sarcophagus had given him strength he hadn't had since the height of his black ops conditioning, and, through the veil of the madness, he could remember lashing out with it—and then the blessed blackness that had overcome him as the medication had worked its way through his veins.
In fleeting moments of wakefulness, he remembered Teal'c being at his side. And the General. He had even opened his eyes once and found Jonas reading quietly in the chair next to his bed. Jack remembered not wanting to look at the Kelownan's boyish face—so he'd focused instead on the man's fingers—how they'd tapped absently at the handle of his porcelain mug.
But he didn't remember Carter.
Probably because she hadn't been there. At all. The one person he could usually count on to breathe life into his soul, and apparently, it had been too much bother for her. And if he sounded whiny—well, so be it. It had been a superbly crappy few weeks.
He pressed his eyes shut.
Without allowing himself to think about what he was doing, he flicked the latch and pivoted, swinging the door wide in the same motion. The Major had made it off the porch, and was halfway across his grass lawn, her head low, her steps kicking up remnants of the rain they'd had earlier. The droplets exploded around her feet—catching the streetlights like haphazard fireflies.
She turned—first her head and then her whole body, stopping there, in the wet grass, halfway to her car. "Yes, sir?"
His own hesitation galled him. He really didn't want to know, but still found himself compelled to ask. "You never came."
"To the infirmary." It shamed him when his voice cracked a bit, but still, he went on. "You never came."
Even from where he stood, half in shadow, he could see her falter. Her hands came out of her pockets, and she slowly lowered them to her sides. As if led by something greater than herself, she moved back towards his home—and him—her discomfort palpable.
"Sir." Coming to a stop just short of his porch, she shoved a piece of hair back behind her ear. "I don't know what you've been told."
"I was sedated, Major, I wasn't dead." He balanced himself, as if a more even distribution of his weight on his feet would help anything else. "But if you'd been there—I would have known about it. I would have remembered."
Her palms flattened against the sides of her legs. "You're right. I didn't come."
He couldn't ask why.
She seemed to know that. "After we reviewed the intel, Janet and Doctor Gorman decided that my presence wouldn't be beneficial to your recovery. Especially not during your withdrawal."
"Doctor Gorman was trying to—"
"Cut the crap, Carter." He stepped towards her. "You and I both know that's a load."
Still, the Major stuck her ground. "The Tok'ra delegation spoke with Shayla."
Her lips flattened. "Sir."
"All right." The words felt like grit in his mouth. "What did they talk about?"
"She told them everything—about the affair, and Kanan's obsession with her. He'd told her he would try to return."
"Which he did."
"But not before blending with you."
"Carter." His words rang low—a warning. "I said I didn't want to talk about that."
"Well, sir, with all due respect, the events can't be separated." She raised a hand, palm up—a plea for patience, perhaps, or a chance to explain. "I know what it's like. Jolinar died in me, and I still felt her emotions as if she were still alive for months afterward. Kanan was still within you—and he took your autonomy away from you. He used your own moral code against you."
"What code is that? The one that decides it's okay to get snaked at the first sign that I'm not immortal?"
Her breathing shallow, she took a step up onto his porch. Stopping merely a few feet away from him, Sam's voice quieted. "You chose to live."
"I was stupid."
"No." Her chin rose. "You weren't."
And he couldn't look at her in that moment—caught between his own disgust for himself and the Major's brazen belief in him. But when he closed his eyes, he could see Daniel just beyond, in the pit with him, insisting that his soul was worth saving. He scrubbed at his face with a hard palm, as if pain could expunge the demons.
"His ethics became fused with yours—and then he couldn't just walk away. No matter how much the Tok'ra wanted to." Sam waited for that to sink in before continuing. "You won't leave people behind."
He felt his jaw twitch.
"Shayla is a sweet girl—very—pure." The tip of her tongue passed over her bottom lip. "But do you remember what she looked like?"
How could he not? He'd looked up from the floor of his cell and thought that he was seeing—
Jack's eyes drifted closed as his brain processed that. And then he bit his lip not to say what he shouldn't. I thought it was you.
After a long, beat, she spoke quietly. "They didn't think that my presence would help you recover. Doctor Gorman thought it might be—confusing."
Jack looked up at her—and wished he hadn't. He could see her pain—could practically feel it radiating from her. But for whatever reason, the fact that she was struggling annoyed him. She was hurting for him—because of him—and he didn't have it in him to deal with that just yet. And he hated that she felt it. Repulsed him that she saw him as someone that needed that kind of compassion.
In a lame semblance of a cavalier attitude, he jerked himself upright. "Whatever. What do I care what a shrink thinks? Go home. Report on Monday. I don't need this right now."
And despite her cry of protest, he turned and stalked back towards his house.
He made it to his front step before he heard her sneakers shushing through the wet grass behind him.
"I told you to go home, Carter."
No answer came from his lawn. Only a pause—too brief—and he'd reached his door when she cleared her throat.
When her voice—low—intent—crossed the distance between them. "No."
He froze, chin dipping towards his chest. After two—three—breaths, he turned to glare at where she stood just off his walkway, the moon bathing her in its hazy glow.
She straightened, squaring her shoulders. "I said 'No'."
"It was an order, Carter."
"Not this time." Her voice carried no hint of fear, no quaver, no meekness. "Not tonight."
O'Neill's eyes narrowed, his jaw tight. "What do you want from me?"
"I don't know." She took another step closer. "The truth?"
His snort seemed too loud. "Who are you, Tom Cruise?"
Lips pressed together, she rolled her eyes heavenward briefly before returning to stare at him. "Why didn't you tell us what happened?"
"Why do you think?"
"Because you don't trust us. Because you're so mired in the ideal of the hard-ass soldier that you don't think that you're allowed to show any pain."
"Oh, please." Derision rode flagrant in his answer. "You know me better than that."
"I thought I did. Until you shut me out."
"I shut you out?"
"Yes—you haven't told me anything—said anything about what happened to you!"
"And tell me, Major, why do you think I haven't?"
"Because you're trying to put on this facade of the tough guy. Because you don't think that you need anyone."
He ran a hard hand through his tousled graying hair. "Maybe so—and maybe it's because I knew what you'd do. You'd pity me! You'd feel bad for me! You'd coddle me—make me feel weak—when the only thing I want right now is to go through that 'Gate, find that son of a bitch, and kill him with my bare hands!"
"Sir—" She looked at him, and then away—closing her eyes to his tone—his posture.
"So, Carter, if you don't mind, I don't want you near me. I don't want you looking at me with those big, sad blue eyes of yours feeling sorry for me! I just want to be left the hell alone!"
A pair of figures in the periphery of his vision stopped him—a jogger and her dog. Barely a shadow in the night, the rhythmic thuds of her shoes on asphalt, the jingle of the dog's tags grew louder as they neared. And Jack realized that he'd been yelling, that his body was stiff, his mind clouded with something—fury? Vitriol? Abhorrence? Feelings he'd long-since believed he'd abandoned deep within the packed-mud walls of middle-eastern prisons.
He waited, breathing in deep, harsh gusts until the jogger made her way past the house and down the street, the melodic cacophony of the dog's tags fading as they turned the corner.
Waited—struggling for control—with Carter not looking at him, but down, near her feet, at where moonlight sparkled off of the dew in the grass. And he hated himself in that moment—for having been stupid enough to accept the blending—to have been willing to give up his self in order to save his own stinking life. For having been weak enough to have needed the damned snake in the first place.
And now, for taking it out on her.
"So, I ask you again, Carter." He tempered his voice, this time, controlled to within an inch of his limit. "What is it that you want?"
"I want to help. I want to be here for you."
He couldn't keep himself from asking. And despised himself further because he had to know. "Why?"
One shoulder lifted, the gesture ripe with turmoil. "I don't know—because that's what team members and friends do? We support each other."
"Do they?" He bracketed his hands on his hips. "Tell me about it, Major."
She did falter then. With a tiny shake of her golden head, she peered at him—eyes wide. "I think that you know that I would do anything for you. Anything."
For a full brace of heartbeats, he couldn't speak—couldn't breathe. Chaos roiled within him, ugly, and hot. Only when he looked away from her—from the pain on her face—could he respond. "Because you feel guilty?"
That hurt. She fell, a little, her chin ducking slightly, her eyes unnaturally bright as she regarded him steadily through her thick lashes. Completely honest—her entire body told him the truth even before she spoke. "You know I do."
"Yeah, well. You don't need to." He shook his head. "So consider yourself absolved."
She shifted, rebalancing herself in the grass. "Is it that easy?"
"I don't know." He watched as she forced herself to look at him. "Is it?"
Even the wind seemed to still. He could hear his own heartbeat—feel his own hesitation as he watched her struggle. For the first moment in a long time, he allowed himself to focus completely on her—on her incredibly expressive face. On her eyes—huge, luminous, and so very, very sad. On how her lips had turned pale, even as heated color had crept up her throat and into her cheeks. On how her arms had crossed in front of her core, as if trying to keep herself together.
At how she slowly shook her head, her chin set, brows low. "No. It's not."
Something broke inside him, looking at her. He'd been holding onto the hate for the past days as a life-line—but he realized that he had another one, now. His team—as dysfunctional a family as there ever was—and this officer, this team member.
And he needed her. So very much. More than was seemly, or proper. More than he'd known it was possible.
This woman who had stood there as he'd berated her and insulted her and denigrated her. Who knew—resoundingly—that he couldn't admit the need even as he couldn't let go of his own demons. Who still believed in him even when he didn't believe in himself.
He took a step closer, coming off the stone walkway and down onto the grass. His feet kicked up moisture, the droplets bright and fresh as he closed in on her and stopped—a foot, maybe two, away from her. Close enough to feel the discomfort that arose around her.
The appellations had become something—more.
And, propelled by an indefinable force, they moved towards each other, until their bodies shared the same heat, their feet the same footprint in the wet grass beneath.
"I'm so sorry." Little more than a whisper, she spoke to his chest. "I shouldn't have asked you to—"
"Sam." He found himself unable to resist reaching around her and pulling her the rest of the way across the gap. Against his body. Into himself. "You have nothing to be sorry for."
And he'd never felt anything as beautiful as her hands, as they crept around him and flattened against his back. As her cheek against his shoulder, her breath on his neck, her body—strong and lush against his. He felt his body relax, felt the tension that had been coiled within him since Antarctica dissipate.
Felt a surge of emotion engulf him that had nothing to do with darkness, and everything to do with light.
For the first time since he'd realized he was back on Earth, he found himself to be home. His face pressed against hers, his cheek—rough, he knew—sliding against her smooth, cool skin. She made a noise in the back of her throat, and he knew he was lost in her—in the feel and sound and scent of this woman who had somehow become the lone entity in the universe for whom he yearned.
He pressed his cheek more firmly to hers—knew that he was losing his ability to care that she was his subordinate officer, that this moment was completely disallowed. But just now, more than duty, more than honor, he needed this.
This overwhelming peace that came with her touch.
Her hands made their way down his back to settle near his waist, and she settled a little in his arms, sighing, lips parted slightly, lush.
His hands rose to cup her face and throat, one thumb moving from jaw to ear on her elegant cheek as the tips of his fingers teased at her hair at her nape. And he watched in fascination as she tasted the outer corner of her lips with the tip of her tongue.
And desperately wanted to—
His eyes drifted closed as he tilted his head down and met hers—forehead to forehead. Her hands moved again—drifting lower to hook themselves just below his belt on his sides, even as her body pressed closer to his. He wasn't sure where he ended and she began, and at that point, he really didn't care.
In the distance, he could hear jingling again—shoes pounding in cadence—the click-click of the dog's nails scraping on the asphalt. And reality intruded in the form of a woman and an overweight golden retriever.
Jack strangled a groan.
"Carter." He pulled her firmly towards him one more time before relaxing his hold on her. "I'm sorry—I took advantage—"
"No—sir—it's all right." She tilted her head to one side, peering up at him from under the fall of her bangs. "I'm glad—"
"I shouldn't have—"
She stepped backwards—a little awkward, a little shy. "It's okay. We're okay." Meeting his eyes, she raised a brow. "Aren't we?"
And he nodded. Watched as she reached into the pocket of her jeans and withdrew her keys. "Yeah."
"Then I'm going to go." She gestured—lamely—towards where her car sat behind them. But her eyes never left his. "I think I ought to go."
"Probably." He shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "I'll see you Monday."
The jingle intensified, and the nameless jogger neared. O'Neill found himself counting as she passed—her footsteps—eleven—nineteen—thirty-six—until the sound became muffled again by the hedges lining his neighbor's property.
Watching Sam all the time—wondering if she was running, too.
Until she suddenly surged forward and approached him again. Stopping within his reach, she lifted up slightly on her toes and slid her cool palm against his cheek. After the barest moment's hesitation, she tilted her head slightly and pressed her lips to the corner of his mouth.
The smallest touch—not even a kiss—just a promise of one. Warmth and softness and, if he really searched, the taste of her, just far enough away to stir him.
Drawing away, she searched his eyes once more. "You know, right?"
And he did. He knew what she couldn't say.
What he couldn't answer. "And you do, too."
She nodded. "I'll see you Monday."
"Yeah." And keen disappointment careened through him as she pulled away, walking backwards for several paces before turning and fleeing towards her car.
She opened the door, angling her body into the driver's seat. The motor roared to life, lights flared, and then the window lowered.
"Are you going to be okay?"
Okay? He felt the corner of his mouth quirk. Raised a hand in the ubiquitous sign of 'farewell'. "I'll be fine, Carter."
She grinned then, sitting back and gunning the engine until she'd disappeared from his view.
And for the first time in days—weeks? Months? Years?—he actually believed it.