Title: Tune Without Words
Rating: All Ages
Season/Episode: Post-ep for 10x12, Line in the Sand
Word Count: ~1300
Summary: Somehow, Jack thought he'd know when she opened her eyes. Loosely, a sequel for A Cappella, set after the episode Line in the Sand.
Somehow, Jack thought he'd know when she opened her eyes. He'd been sitting here long enough, through all her tossing and turning and groggy half-waking, tuned in to her every sound and movement. After all that, after years of watching and waiting and memorizing the way she breathed, he'd just assumed he'd know.
So when her soft, ragged 'hey' carried over to him as he stared up at the ceiling of the infirmary, he started in his seat, dropping his propped-up feet to the ground with a loud thump.
He looked down to find her eyes open, gazing up at him, squinting a little in the white wash of the fluorescent lights.
"Hey, you," he replied, frozen stock-still in his chair and unable to tear his eyes away from her. Her own eyes were bright in her too-pale face, her body calm, the wakeful stillness somehow making her seem more fragile than she had while she was unconscious. Jack gritted his teeth and swallowed hard and forced a half-smile. "They said you'd wake up again soon," he managed after a moment.
"What are you -" she began, stumbling to a halt in a vain attempt to clear her throat.
"Oh." Jack shook himself. "Right." He pushed up from his chair, plucking the glass of water that waited on the tray next to the bed and angling the straw carefully into her mouth, his other hand coming to rest lightly on her jaw.
Sam winced a little as she swallowed, her throat probably still sore from the tube that had been shoved down it during her surgery. Jack managed to suppress a wince of his own at the thought.
After a few sips, she pushed the glass away and leaned back against the incline of the bed. Jack returned the glass to the tray, but his fingers lingered on her skin; Sam turned her face in to his touch, her eyes drifting shut again.
He drew his hand away from her face, back along the mattress until the backs of his fingers brushed against the fabric of her sleeve. After a moment's pause, he slid his hand between mattress and sleeve and curled his fingers to gently grasp her arm.
The gesture felt more natural than it should here, in public, on base, in full view of the watchful eyes of Dr. Lam and her staff. It wasn't the sort of luxury they allowed themselves; being here at all was bad enough.
But then again, he'd gotten all confused about Carter and rules years ago.
He stroked his thumb over her sleeve and rested his chin on his free hand and settled in to wait until she woke up again.
"You shouldn't be here, you know," she said, not asleep after all; her voice was still soft, but clearer than before. Clearer than it should have been, given the drugs in her system. She had no business lying there on what could so easily have been her deathbed sounding like she'd just been taking a nap. And she had even less business waking up after surgery and reading his mind while he was sitting here getting everything all wrong.
Sam shifted on the bed, made a face and opened her eyes, and Jack cleared his suddenly too-tense throat. "I think I've got years of accumulated leave at this point, Carter."
"And you take it to watch me sleep?"
He shook his head, slightly, and huffed something unintelligible in response.
Then again, maybe it was just old habits kicking in, that curious sympathy they'd cultivated over the years about exactly what was allowed and what wasn't. About when and where and how much you're allowed to love, and when you're supposed to shove it back into a box and pretend it never happened.
At the moment, though he was too busy trying to pretend the last twenty four hours of his life hadn't happened to keep track of all the other rules.
"Jack –" she started, then drew in a breath, shallow and more labored than he'd like to ever see again. He hated watching her like this, and just as much, he hated the expression around her eyes – some weird, out-of-place sympathy, as though he were the one on the narrow infirmary cot with the slice in his side and not her after all.
He cut in before her soft protest had a chance to go any farther.
"And anyway," he said, leaning back in his chair, "I thought we had rules about this stuff." He folded his arms and fixed her with the sort of gaze he used to train on green and erring junior officers.
She squinted back at him. "Really?"
"Which ones, exactly?"
"The ones where you call me when crap like this happens."
One corner of her mouth quirked up in a smile. "Not," she said with a lift of her eyebrows, "the rule that says I don't get mortally wounded on alien planets?"
It was at best a weak imitation of the attitude he'd become accustomed to getting from her, after hours and off the field of fray; still, it was the best thing Jack had seen or heard in a very long time. He scooted his chair even closer to the bed and settled back, propping his feet on a protruding piece of the frame.
"I don't know anything about alien planets," he said. "Besides, you don't look dead. So don't think I'm taking this alleged 'mortal wound' as an excuse."
"How about being stuck in surgery for -" she broke off. "How long?" she asked, brows furrowed.
"Long enough." He wasn't really prepared to talk about the harrowing hours he'd spent extricating himself from D.C. and waiting restlessly in the SGC once he'd done so. Someday, maybe, when he could spin a joke out of it, but not today. Not yet. "Anyway, you're a genius, Carter. You could've worked something out."
"Haven't quite worked out telepathy yet." Though from what Mitchell had told him, he wouldn't have wanted to hear what she was thinking then anyway. "Besides," she continued, "You could've called me. Hold up your end, you know."
"Nah. Can't afford it. You should see my phone bill. Cost of living's higher in D.C., you know."
"And air travel's so much more convenient."
She smiled again, more than before, but still soft and fuzzy and definitely not Carter-as-usual. And as the smile faded, her eyelids began dropping, the drugs still producing their inevitable effect; she'd be asleep soon, but he nudged her arm to rouse her one last time. "Hey, by the way, that other rule?"
"Doesn't have anything to do with alien planets. You made that part up."
"No mortal wounds at all, then?"
"No." He scowled for effect. "Or else."
"Yes, sir," she answered, her voice dropping and her words drawing out until they turned into a yawn.
"Get some sleep," he said.
She nodded, her eyes closing, and as he settled in to wait, he brushed the tips of his fingers over the back of her hand, a silent, lingering promise. I'll be here when you wake up, whether you want me to or not.
What he didn't expect was for her hand to turn, for her fingers to catch his; the drugs' influence, probably, but still, it was just like her. Scolding him on the one hand and breaking her own rules with the other.
At this point, though, he was pretty sure he'd always be confused about Carter and rules; so he let his fingers tangle with hers anyway, and he watched her face as she drifted off, tracing the light but ever-present lines of tension around her eyes and mouth. Despite the scrutiny, he couldn't be sure she was asleep until her hand relaxes and let loose of his.
Maybe, finally, the time had come for them to rewrite some of those rules they'd always used to keep themselves at that safe distance, that little bit apart. Now, before it was too late.