A/N: To my wonderful husband in honor of our anniversary. My real-life, better-than-fiction, Jack O'Neill –with the silvering brown hair, sarcastic wit and all. My protector, partner, and best friend. This is what it means to be loved.
Set during Emancipation –after Sam's rescue from Turghan and immediately before the fireside scene where Sam says she's never been so happy to see them. (Synopsis: On the seemingly peaceful planet of Simarka, the team encounters a race of Mongol-like Humans whose women have no rights whatsoever. Things turn bad when the team realizes Carter has been kidnapped and sold to an enemy tribe, led by Turghan.)
"Carter?" She heard him moving through the underbrush toward her.
"Sir –wait there. Give me a minute!" she squeaked out.
The rustling of the thicket subsided and she could picture him standing there, in the undergrowth, tensed for action.
"Everything ok?" he asked. She could hear the concern in his voice.
"Yes, Sir –you just caught me in the middle of changing out of that awful dress," she replied, her voice muffled as she pulled on her uniform.
She had been buried deep in the folds of her black T-shirt, pulling it over her head, so his response had been muffled by the cotton. The word had been uttered so quietly that she was sure that she was not meant to have overheard it in the first place. She paused in surprise, T-shirt halfway down her chest. She silently reprimanded herself. Recent events had made her far too sensitive. There was no way her CO had meant that the way it had sounded. Eager. Expectant. She paused to listen. The underbrush in the direction that she had heard him approach from was still.
"Sir?" she asked, pulling her shirt the rest of the way down.
"Yes, Carter?" he hadn't moved. His voice came from the same place it had moments before.
"You're not peeking…are you?"
He chuckled, "No, Carter –what do you take me for?"
"Sorry, Sir. Recent events seem to have jaded me a little," she replied, a frown in her voice.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he replied quietly.
She avoided the issue, refusing to reply. She began packing the discarded dress into her saddlebags and securing her SG-1 gear. She distantly noticed that he never moved from his spot in the brush –he just waited for her to reply.
"You can come over here now, Sir. I'm decent," she finally managed in a flat voice.
She heard the quiet snap of the twigs and rustle of the branches as he made his way into her little clearing. She kept packing and did not turn to look at him. He said nothing, but started fumbling with something behind her. She finally turned and saw him building an orderly campfire in the middle of the small clearing. He looked up and must have seen the question in her eyes.
"It's cold," he said simply, shrugging his shoulders.
She realized then that the sun had set and the woods around her had turned to twilight. The temperature had dropped considerably in the last few minutes.
In a moment Jack had a small fire flickering brightly. Sam stared intently into the orange flames. Drawn to the warmth, she left her gear and came and sat beside him in the circle of light. She drew her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them. She glanced at him surreptitiously as he focused on feeding the fire. The soft firelight played across his chiseled features and burnished the brown hair sticking out from under his cap. From this angle she could see the first hints of silver scattered throughout his short-cropped hair.
She knew what he was doing. He was her CO –it was his job to constantly assess the mental fitness of his team. That's why he was here, talking with her separately from the group. The rest of the team and the Shavadai chief were out of earshot back at their campsite. She was sure he had told Daniel and Teal'c not to disturb them.
"Mughal…you know…the chief of the Shavadai?" Jack began.
"The guy who's son we saved from the dogs? The same kid that sold me?" she replied bitterly.
"Yeah," he replied. In her peripheral vision she could see him watching her closely. "He helped us track you. If he hadn't, we never would have caught up to you so quickly. Sam…he doesn't approve of what his son did."
She sighed, shifting position to sit Indian style, her knee grazing his. "I know, Sir. I'm not mad at Abu either anymore. He's in love…he was trying to trade me for the girl he loves."
"When we arrived at Turghan's camp," Jack began again. Sam couldn't stop the shudder that passed through her at the mention of his name. She saw Jack pause, absorbing her reaction, "Mughal told us that Turghan was a bad guy and that if we just came in and extracted you during the night there would be war. Turghan would kill every man, woman, and child in the Shavadai village."
"Sounds like him," she interjected mirthlessly, her eyes glued to the licking flames.
"Mughal suggested we wait until morning and he would broker a trade for you," he continued.
"But you didn't wait," she said, glancing sidelong at him, "you came in to get me today."
"Yeah," he murmured gruffly, "Mughal told me that if we didn't get you out today, then tonight Turghan would 'partake in his newest purchase'," she could hear the raw disgust in his voice as he said it. He fidgeted uncomfortably beside her.
She couldn't respond. Her throat was dry and tight, and breathing hurt. She felt the pain again of her hair caught violently in Turghan's grubby fist. Panic at being caught in that position and being unable to defend herself, in spite of all her training, swamped her. He must have heard her breathing accelerate, because he turned from the fire to look fully into her face. She saw dismay spread across his features, and felt tears well up and spill over her long lashes, tracing a hot, wet lines down her cheeks. She had been forced to repress the tears when Turghan had held her powerless.
"Carter," his voice was barely above a whisper, his face rapidly draining of color, "…did he…?" his lips barely moved.
"No," she said weakly, "there was…um…he didn't…touch me…exactly…Sir," she stuttered, her face flushed.
She glanced at him. He was as taut as a bowstring in the firelight. The bill of his old worn cap exaggerated the worry lines on his brow.
She was flooded with the memory of her capture after her thwarted escape attempt.
She was taken to Turghan, her hands bound behind her back. The ropes bit into her wrists and her shoulders felt as though they were being dislocated by the awkward position as they forced her to kneel before him.
"What kind of women are you? Do you respect nothing? Care for no one but yourself?" Turghan had spat the questions at her. He was furious that she had tried to escape. "These were responsible for you, now because of you, they will be punished," he said in a low, dangerous voice. He gestured and his subordinate handed him a whip. He took the knife that they had found hidden in the folds of Sam's dress, and she watched in horror as Turghan's wife knelt submissively with her back to him, ready to take her punishment. Turghan slit the shoulder of her garment, exposing her upper back, and stood to deliver a savage lashing.
"No! It was my fault, if you need to beat a woman to feel like a man, try me," Sam shouted, rising, defiance in her face.
"I value spirit in my horses, not my women," Turghan glared down at her. He snatched the headdress off of her head, grabbed a fistful of her blonde hair, and yanked her head back. He pushed her to her knees, and forced a kiss onto her mouth.
Her body stiffened, it felt as though he was tearing her hair out. The fetid smell of sweat and dirt, mingled with something fermented, assaulted her nose. She shuddered at the rasp of his tongue on her lips, and fought down the bile rising in her throat. She struggled for an edge, a way to fight back, but with her legs pinned beneath her, her arms tightly lashed behind her back, and his grip on her hair, forcing her to arch back in agony, she was completely helpless.
When they parted, she was gasping. She refused to look at him, rather focusing on a point over his shoulder. He kept her hair fisted roughly in his hand.
"You belong to me, you will learn your place, and be obedient, or you will suffer far worse than a beating," Turghan threatened darkly, "Your life is mine to do with as I please. It is less to me than the life of one of my horses. I will use and discard you without a second thought. And when your usefulness is at an end, I will snuff out your life without regret, and no one will mourn you."
In bleak monotone she recounted to him Turghan's assault. She avoided his eyes, staring into the fire instead. When she was through she turned toward him. "It was a threat…a promise of what was in store for me…later," she said, her jaw clenched. She felt tears of anger and pain mingle and flow down her face.
"Oh, there's not a chance in hell," he murmured darkly.
She saw the tightening of his lips and the hardening of his eyes. For a brief moment his gaze was blacker that she had ever seen it. Murderous. The look in his eyes was cold…dead. Anger radiated off of him in waves. In that moment his expression was completely unguarded and the things he was capable of were visible on the surface. She had read his file, and though she would never confess that she had actually hacked the classified part of his record, she knew he had been involved in things…had done things …words like 'target neutralized' had appeared frequently.
His eyes shifted to her face, and immediately the blackness disintegrated, replaced by something in his gaze as he regarded her.
The terror that had followed her since Turghan's assault melted in the power of that gaze. Warmth flooded into her. She drank it in, angry at herself for needing it, for wanting it. She suddenly felt the need to connect to that humanity...to the compassion and concern that he was telegraphing to her, restoring her broken faith.
"Sir, I could really use a hug," she managed to get out, though it cost her to say it.
An enigmatic look flitted across his features.
With infinite gentleness, he reached out and drew her to him. She bit her lip and pressed her face into his shoulder. His arms were strong, supportive, and his hold was gentle –ready to release her as soon as she showed signs of moving away. With her face in the crook of his neck, she caught the whiff of tanned leather, and she distantly remembered that his off-duty clothes included a leather jacket.
"It's easy to lose your sense of value in a situation like that," she mumbled into his shoulder, "To go with the flow and believe what they're telling you…that your life doesn't matter, that you're disposable." She pulled back out of his embrace and looked up into his face, "At least I had you," she said. She saw him start slightly, before his 'command face' slipped firmly back in place. "You know," she gestured, afraid he had misunderstood, "…the team. I knew you were coming for me."
He was quiet for a long moment, hovering close to her, his eyes on the fire.
"Any man that views a woman as a possession is less than a man," he murmured finally, "She's not his possession…she's his treasure. She's his partner…his friend. He has to be willing to lay his life down for her…to disregard his own needs in favor of hers," he said, his eyes glittering in the firelight.
Wow. What would it feel like to be loved that way? She replied quietly, "...the definition of what it means to be loved."
She found herself wondering about his empty ring finger.
He shifted beside her, stretching his long legs out toward the fire and nudged her with his arm.
"Captain, about trading Turghan a sidearm for you…" he began.
She could tell he felt the need to lighten the somber mood. She was learning that it was just how he was.
"Do you feel like you got a fair trade, Sir?" she asked with a mischievous grin.
"Heck, no!" he said, and her face fell a little until he added nonchalantly "I robbed him blind."
They grinned at each other.
A/N #2: After some great feedback from some readers, I edited this piece to try to more accurately communicate the moment between Jack and Sam. I hope I was successful, but only further input from you fine readers will tell.