They've been walking for two days.
It's been a dangerous dance of trying to hide the rapid escalation of her condition and keeping one step ahead of the vicious will of the desert.
A buzz is building in her ears, a soft hush of sound increasing with time along with the softening of objects. She can't see much past Jack's back anymore. Can't even hear his thoughts so much above the avalanche of noise. And it takes every ounce of concentration to just keep moving.
They rest during the brightest part of the day, finding whatever scrap of shade they can. Jack is leaning back against a small outcropping, Sam's head resting on his thigh as she stretches out in the thin strip of shadow. She's exhausted, her body aching with fatigue and what she suspects is a fever, but sleep doesn't come. Jack's fingers are gentle in her hair, trailing soothingly and not even his touch can quiet it enough to sleep anymore.
"You're going to be okay," he says, but she doesn't know which one of them he is trying to convince anymore.
She turns her face into his leg, tries to believe it, but she can feel the numbness beginning to set in to her limbs, knows what it means. Right now she can't see past whether or not she'll be able to get to her feet again when the time comes to move on.
She manages to sleep after all, because the next time she opens her eyes, the sky is bleeding orange as the sun dips down towards the horizon. The heat has finally broken and she feels strangely light, pushing herself up into a sitting position. Next to her, Jack still dozes on.
She turns at the sound of the familiar voice and there he is, standing underneath a spreading tree with sun-bleached, leafless branches. He's wearing a beige sweater and it's hard to pick him out from his surroundings, like he's just a little blurred around the edges.
"Daniel," she breathes.
He smiles at her and the familiar gesture lodges like a point of fire in her chest. "You need to hold on, Sam."
The gentle understanding in his gaze is too much. She feels weary tears burning in her eyes. "I'm so tired."
"I know," he says, and she thinks maybe somehow he actually does. "But you have to hold on a little longer. You're almost there."
"I'm not sure I can," she confesses, the words she can never say to Jack.
Daniel's kneeling next to her now, so close that she can see each fine line fanning out from his relentless, piercing gaze. "You can do this, Sam. You're one of the strongest people I've ever known."
"Daniel," she says, reaching for him only for her stomach to drop like she's stepped off the edge of a cliff. With a jerk, she jolts awake.
She's staring up at stars, still lying against Jack, her head pillowed on his thigh.
"You okay?" His hand is cool on her brow.
She takes a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "Yeah," she says, pushing up to a seated position, fighting against the resulting dizziness. "We should get going."
Jack stands, offering his hands to her.
Somehow, she finds her feet one more time.
She's running through the forest. The ground is mush under her feet, sucking at her momentum, but they can't stop. They have to make it to the gate.
"Kanan," Shayla whispers from behind, panic rising in her voice.
The Jaffa are gaining on them.
"Hush," Sam says, tightening her grip on Shayla's hand. "We're going to make it. We're going to make it."
They just have to keep moving.
False dawn lights the valley in cool blues, purple shadows clinging to the edge of objects like bruises in the low light. Nestled into the depression among the ragged peaks is a small collection of buildings.
Sam's eyes find the central building, trying to gauge the height. Big enough to house a Stargate, Jack had noted before he'd slipped down into the valley on his own. She tries to find movement, to memorize the lay out of the buildings, but she just can't focus. She closes her eyes against the glare, the swirling objects. At long last the pain is dulling, seeping away. She thinks this probably isn't a good thing.
She drifts, not sleeping exactly, just losing ground. Time, like many things, is slipping away from her.
"Sam." It's not the first time he's said it, she registers as she feels his fingers on her face, his urgency echoing in her mind. "Sam."
open your damn eyes
She opens her eyes.
"Time to go," he says.
shit, she's running out of time
"Jack," she says.
His gaze sharpens, a jolt of worry rolling into her bones, clearing her head just enough. "Can you do this?" he asks, giving her the critical look he's been denying himself for days. He hadn't wanted to predict if she would make it this far.
too many damn days wasted
She licks her lips, pulling everything together for the last push, Daniel's words adding to the chatter in her mind. You're one of the strongest people I've ever known.
"Do I have a choice?" she asks.
"No," Jack says, his hands moving to her arms, pulling her to her feet. "You don't have a choice."
accept no other outcome
He has a weapon in his hand and she doesn't know how it got there or where he's taking her, just follows the tug of his fingers, the urgency in his voice.
She can't let them down.
one foot in front of the other
When they finally get inside one of the buildings, there are bodies and debris, but she only has eyes for the Stargate. She leans against a crate as Jack dials the DHD.
here the whole damn time, just out of reach
She's stuck staring as the waters bloom out into the room, cool blue in a world of grit.
Jack guides her up the rudimentary ramp, his mind hesitating even as his steps don't. "What if it interrupts the signal or something?" he asks, his fingers squeezing her shoulder as his thumb sweeps along the top of her collar.
"It won't," she says with the total confidence of a Stargate expert.
She could be lying. She isn't sure anymore.
"It won't," he agrees, voice hard and unyielding.
She tries to pretend she can't feel the way his hand touches her cheek—just in case—don'tyoudaredieonmeCarter—biting back words that would only sound like defeat. Or is that just cowardice?
She may lean into the touch, just the slightest bit. Or maybe her balance is compromised. She can't be sure.
And she's in the water, body slicing through surface tension. Freedom.
There's a moment where she thinks she won't ever be put back together again—too fractured, containment failing—but then her feet hit the ramp, knees buckling.
She tries to take a step, but her leg isn't listening anymore, everything tilting and falling, adrenaline failing.
Hands and arms and knees hitting the grate.
His eyes, steady. Trapping hers to his. There is nothing else. Only this strange, sharp lucidity.
Is this death?
"Jack," she whispers.
The light cuts into her, the hum threatening to shred her mind into unrecognizable, mutated shards—a mess no king's men can ever put back together again. The walls press in on her, closing wounds, patching holes, bringing her closer to life only to serve her up to death. Again.
It has to end. Please, God, let there be an end.
The pain is even worse, if possible, the next time she wakes. Not physical, not specific. Elemental.
It's wrong. More wrong than usual.
Sounds are slow and stilted, the motions of those around her chaotic and brittle, and Sam can't quite focus on any one thing. She's drowning in meaningless sights and sounds—fire radiating down her spine. There's a rapid high-pitched beep somewhere and hands on her and she can't shake them off no matter how much she struggles and the tone of everything changes, pitching into pure panic.
She can't breathe.
She doesn't notice the hands on her cheeks or the face looming above her until the clear, solid thought manages to rise above everything else.
It's okay, Carter.
The words are like the clean peal of a bell sounding in her mind. His thoughts are calm and whole and she grabs onto them as best she can, her eyes finally focusing on Jack's face leaning in just above hers.
Take a deep breath.
She tries to follow the command, sucking in air.
That's it, Carter. Just keep looking at me.
There's the blur of movement around him, distorted sounds assaulting her ears, but she ignores them, concentrating on his face. The momentary calm gives her just enough time to realize the truth, make sense of the chaos.
I'm going to die, she thinks.
It takes an amazing amount of effort, but she manages to move her arm in his direction, a clumsy, uncontrolled flop of movement, but it's enough for him to notice. She feels him take her hand. She tries to squeeze his fingers, doesn't know if the command is covering the distance, but it's important.
There are things she wants to say, things she doesn't know why she didn't while she still had the chance, but all that dribbles out is his name and maybe not even that. His face contracts, contorting slightly in confusion, or sadness, or maybe just distorted by her mind.
Carter, he thinks and she feels it, is so glad to feel it one last time. Affection, need, and that inescapable yearning—even more that she can't quite let herself force into words. She tries to answer with her eyes, one last attempt to prove he's wrong. He's so wrong about her.
Hold on, Carter.
She's not sure she can.
He looks away for a moment, his lips moving and then head nodding. His fingers tighten on her face as he leans down over her again.
You're just going to go to sleep for a little while, until we get this thing figured out.
She's being pulled down, something soft and indistinct and tempting after so much struggle. She loses sight of his face as the darkness creeps in, but she can still feel the firm grasp of his fingers, his voice in her head.
I will fix this, Carter.
It's a pledge, a promise, but she's pretty sure it's not up to him any longer.
And then even his voice is gone.
rusted wheel planted still
rusted wheel can't move on
and it feels just like the ground
but trapped in another way
just still in the ground
-'Rusted Wheel' by Silversun Pickups