Every day a few more of them didn't return. Some were captured, some were killed; some just gave up the fight. The civilians were the first to fall - hunger and despair drove people to take reckless chances. The military personnel tried harder to hold it together.
Sam stormed into the compound, a wounded Lt. Garrett leaning heavily against her side. One of the refugees trained in field medicine rushed to assist him. Sam's boots blasted the dust as she pushed past Daniel and the others.
"Damn it!" she swore, pulling her helmet off and launching it across the open courtyard.
"Sam!" Daniel called after her. "What happened?"
She didn't slow her pace to answer. "We lost Arden and Westin."
The words were bitter in her throat.
"Ah," Daniel followed her into the barracks. "Sam, talk to me - "
Sam leaned heavily against the window ledge, pressing the palms of her hands against her eyes to staunch the flow of unbidden angry tears.
"You don't understand, Daniel," she snapped. "Two of my men are dead."
"I do understand." Daniel touched her arm. "It's a terrible loss... but they were soldiers, Sam. They knew the risks."
Sam remained stiff and silent. "We've lost a lot of people," he said gently. "You can't blame yourself..."
Sam pulled away, shaking him off. "I know. I know, casualties are a part of war. But how many more do I have to watch die, Daniel?" She made a sweeping gesture around the room with her P-90. "These people - they are all my responsibility. "
She yanked off her vest and let it drop to the floor, her strength suddenly leaving her.
"I'm completely alone in this." She pulled herself up and headed out of the room.
Daniel looked after her as she retreated down the long hallway. "You're never alone, Sam." he said quietly.
Sam didn't seem to hear him.
It was long past midnight when Sam finally came into the barracks and pulled herself stiffly into bed. Since the first night in these hastily appropriated headquarters she and Daniel had shared sleeping arrangements. They were used to sleeping side by side in the field, and it had made sense to stick together now.
In truth Sam had been grateful to fall into bed next to the familiar warmth of Daniel every night; she had come to rely on his quiet strength in the evenings more than she knew. It was the only time Sam would allow herself to let down her guard, to talk about what was happening out there, to take comfort in waking up curled next to his warmth against the chill night air.
Now she was beginning to think it was a weakness.
Daniel was not asleep. He knew better than anyone how strong an officer Sam was; he had watched her be the good soldier for weeks, keeping her emotions firmly in check in front of the others. Today had been a rough one.
Now in the darkness, he could feel the small tremors coming from Sam's body.
And he reached for her.
Sam could just make out his luminous eyes in the light of the moon as he turned his intense gaze on her, bringing his face so close to hers she could feel his breath.
"Sam," he said gently, wrapping his arms around her, stilling her, "you don't have to go through this alone."
Sam felt herself fold into his embrace, overwhelmed by the security of his arms. Until tonight, they'd always just been companions. Until tonight, when he brought his lips to hers, kissing her gently, thoroughly, his lips firm and soft, claiming her mouth, tasting the salt of her tears.
"You know how much I care for you..." he whispered.
Sam let the warmth of Daniel's hands against her skin flow over her. Daniel, anchoring her in the middle of a world turned upside down. How could she not have known this is what Daniel would feel like? And she responded, running her hands up his back, under his shirt, as he moved to press his body against hers.
"Daniel, Daniel," she whispered, "I just want to forget... please..." and they moved together, and it was so good, tenderness and passion and release. And for those stolen moments, there was nothing else but each other.
Daniel drew his weapon and took cover behind the largest of the oak trees. Something was out there. Years of SG-1 missions - and some formidable training with Jack - had honed the archaeologist's military skills; he was as comfortable now with a P90 as he was with a handpick or a brush. He stood completely still, listening, eyes searching.
He whipped around and aimed his weapon straight at the head of the interloper, who trained his own gun on Daniel at the same moment. A second into the standoff Daniel's eyes widened in recognition, the gun falling as he launched himself at the shadowy figure.
"Jack!" he grinned wildly, enveloping the man in a bear hug. "My God! Jack!"
Jack, thinner, warier and filthy, but unmistakably Jack, hesitated only a moment before returning the embrace. "Spacemonkey!" his grizzled face broke into a grin, his voice thick, like someone who hadn't spoken out loud in a long time.
"Hey," Daniel announced his approach, bringing Sam a mug of what passed for coffee. "All quiet?"
"Uh huh." Sam gratefully sipped the hot liquid, keeping watch on the surrounding terrain. Daniel looked up at the night sky. The stars were huge and bright, and he thought again about Teal'c.
"Teal'c made it to Chulak," Sam said, following Daniel's gaze. "I know he did."
"Yeah." It wasn't the first time they had recited that mantra. Daniel took another swallow of coffee.
"I'm worried about Jack," he said finally.
Sam nodded, concern creasing her forehead. "He was out there for over a month, Daniel. And he won't say one word about what happened to him. It must be hard to come down from that..."
"... especially if you're Jack." Daniel added, voicing what they were both thinking.
"Thanks for the coffee," Sam smiled at him, grasping his hand as he turned to head back to the base. He came back to her then, took her face in his hands, capturing her with his eyes first, then with his lips. Sam smiled against his mouth, thinking again how every kiss was a discovery to him, before she gently released him.
Throughout the rest of her watch, Sam's thoughts strayed back to their concerns for Jack. It wasn't that she hadn't tried to approach him since his return. She'd been standing out in the courtyard with Avery, charting maps, the morning Jack had suddenly appeared with Daniel. She'd dropped the maps in the dust and ran to where he was and wrapped her arms around him, giddy that he had beaten the odds, again. They'd been so certain he was dead. He buried his face in her neck and she inhaled him, dirty and sweaty and so much Jack that she just didn't care.
But as they separated she looked into his eyes and saw the hollowness there - walls firmly in place holding back the darkness.
Since his return she'd been all too aware that her connection to Jack was very much alive. It was different than the deepening bond she'd developed with Daniel these past weeks, but just as undeniable - a fine buzzing under her skin. But Sam had gotten very good at living with the buzzing, all the years they had fought side by side, both drawing strength from a bond they had acknowledged only once.
But Jack clearly wasn't drawing strength from anyone any more.
Returning to the armory after her latest recon mission, Sam came upon Jack perched among the crates, stonily absorbed in assembling and reassembling his weapon. She stopped short, suddenly self-conscious. They were so rarely alone these days.
"Hi, Sir," she said, reaching up behind him to store her weapon. As she came down she brushed against his shoulder, and she felt him unsuccessfully try to hide his flinch.
"My God, sir." Sam's concern for the man overcame her reluctance to broach the subject, "What happened to you out there?"
Not looking up from the ammunition he was sorting, Jack picked up one shell after another, rolling them between his long fingers.
"I escaped. I came here. End of story."
Sam decided to try another approach. "Why don't you come into the barracks with us?" He'd been avoiding their sleeping quarters since he arrived. " It's cold, and it's good to conserve body heat."
She stood, framed in the doorway, her concerned face streaked with camouflage, her hair getting longer and unruly. Jack thought she had never looked more beautiful.
"I guess war makes strange bedfellows," Jack said harshly.
Sam stared at him. That couldn't be what this was about. "I thought you understood about..." she stammered, "What I mean is... "
"Forget it." Jack replied, the soldier's mask slipping firmly back into place. He turned away from her, shoving his weapon roughly into the rack.
When she made no move to leave, his shoulders tensed and he spoke in a barely restrained voice.
"You know what? To hell with the "Way of the Warrior" crap, as you so eloquently put it."
He turned and advanced slowly on her, his eyes black as night, and for a moment Sam felt real fear. She had only seen him lose control of his anger a few times. She'd seen that look the day he'd nearly killed Malchus on K'Tau, the planet with the red sun.
"You think this doesn't affect me?" he hissed, and with the force of his steps pushed her against the doorframe, pinning her with the length of his forearm across her chest.
"Do you understand that the only way I survived, all that kept me from losing it these past weeks... was the thought of finding you? The thought that you might have survived?"
He was breathing heavily, his eyes boring into hers. Sam shifted her body to try to loosen his restraint, searching those eyes for recognition, her heart aching at the pain and rage she found there. Her carefully guarded floodgates opened then, and she acted on pure instinct, reaching through his anger the only way she knew how.
She gently grasped the back of his head and pulled him towards her, wrapping her arms around him, willing him to feel again, bringing her lips to his.
"Jack..." she murmured through the kiss, feeling him tense against her at first, then letting his arms relax and fall from their threatening hold, wrapping them slowly around her waist as he deepened the kiss, plundering her mouth, twisting his fingers into her shirt as if he could never let her go, clinging to her like the anchor she had been all of the long days and nights since the world had gone to hell.
He pulled her back into the armory, backing her against a crate. As she reached up to grasp his shoulders, her legs parted and he stood between them, molding himself against the length of her body as he continued to kiss her hungrily, moving from her lips to her neck to her collarbone. He buried his face in her hair and she felt him shaking.
"Sam, I'm so sorry." it was as close as he could come to begging absolution, drawing in a ragged breath. Sam wrapped herself around him, pulled him down, and everything else was forgotten.
Much later Jack looked down at her, eyes blazing with passion. "No one else can make you feel this," he told her.
Jack knew something would have to give. He was angry with himself and distracted by the chaos in his gut, and he knew allowing yourself to be distracted in a combat zone was a death sentence. Ironic. This is exactly why soldiers shouldn't fraternize, he thought. He had taken advantage of her, used her to try to fill the empty places he had closed off, even knowing that she and Daniel had - something. Maybe to spite the fact that she and Daniel had - something. Instead of telling her what he'd gone through at the hands of the enemy, he'd let her think that it was her fault.
What the hell. He was damaged goods. Call it shell shock, call it posttraumatic stress, throw in this emotional baggage for good measure. He was a liability. That was a price he wasn't willing to ask anyone to pay.
Of course he knew Daniel wouldn't leave it alone. You'd think a special forces-trained officer would be able to stay one step of ahead of a civilian archaeologist, but Daniel found him anyway. Jack was perched on the bank of a fast-running stream, as far away from the others as he could get without actually joining the enemy, casting for fish to supplement their dwindling MREs.
"So." Daniel sat, shifting to find a comfortable spot on the rocks next to Jack.
Jack looked up at him warily. He wasn't in the mood to play the game.
Daniel sighed and tried again.
"Well, it's a funny story actually. There's this friend of mine, you see, and well, we hadn't seen him in a long time, thought he was dead in fact, and then he came back. But he uh - wasn't quite the same, and didn't want to talk - imagine that - and then there was a bit of melodrama, and well, we don't know what to do to bring him back to us."
He said it all in a rush, pausing finally to inhale deeply. "Got any ideas?"
"Daniel, I'm not in the mood," Jack said evenly.
Daniel looked at him carefully. After a few moments he said, "It's not the same world we had, Jack. But how we feel is the same."
"What are you suggesting, Daniel? We share?" His voice was thick with sarcasm.
"There's nothing wrong with people needing each other." Daniel reached out to Jack, his hand on Jack's shoulder, fingers splayed against his neck. "God, Jack. You were my closest friend once. We can get through this. Let us help you!"
"Thanks." Jack yanked his lure out of the water, standing and shrugging off Daniel's hand. "I'll keep that in mind." And he stalked away, leaving Daniel looking after him with profound sadness.
Daniel was still no early riser, but an uneasy feeling woke him just as the sun was coming up. He rubbed his eyes, searching out his glasses and putting them on before peering out the window at the growing light.
In seconds Daniel sprinted out into the compound and into a standoff: Daniel planted firmly in Jack's path, Jack, fully outfitted with survival gear, coolly regarding the man in front of him.
"Get out of my way, Daniel."
"Jack! I'm not going to let you do this!"
"Yes, you are." Jack began to raise his voice, stepping around Daniel and heading for the gates.
"Don't walk away from us! We're a team, Jack!" Daniel implored his retreating back.
"I'm a liability, Daniel!" Jack snapped. He did not look back.
"Sir?" Sam had come out onto the portico of the barracks. Crap. He'd wanted to get the hell out of there without seeing her. Damn Daniel for making a commotion. He should have slipped out in the dead of night, but even he knew fumbling around in enemy territory in the dark would have been suicide.
"Jack?" she repeated, her voice small. Hearing her call him by name, Jack felt his feet stop moving of their own volition. Slowly he turned to look at her.
Sam stood on the edge of the entryway. She looked at Jack, there at the gates of the base, determined to leave them; at Daniel, barefoot and forlorn in the middle of the courtyard; at the long shadows cast by the trees that seemed to overlap and bind them in a shadowy triangle in the dust; and she stood still and tried to think.
In the field or in the lab, she knew what was expected, never hesitated to do what was necessary, never failed to believe in what was possible. But she'd never been good with her emotions, always thought of them as distractions from her work and her duty. Soldier Sam. Scientist Sam.
But now, standing here in the middle of the end of the world, looking at the two men she cared for -the two men she loved - Sam made a decision.
She'd had to become more than she ever thought she could to get through the last few weeks, and now she was going to fight for what really mattered.
"We belong together," Sam said finally. "We can't give up this fight, and I need you both. And you need us." She looked from one man to the other. "For once in my life, I don't want to analyze this. It's as clear as the decay rate of naquaada to me."
Tears flowed freely down her face as she let the words tumble out. "When there is nothing else left in this world to fight for, there will still be this. "I love you." She was looking at Jack, then turned to Daniel, "I love you."
Daniel knew what that speech had cost Sam, and he had already started moving as Sam ran out from the portico and halfway to Jack they stopped. Long moments passed as the three of them stood, looking from one to the other, years of history and trust, forgotten rules and unspoken words passing between them in the span of a few moments, until, in the growing light of day, Jack started toward them.
"C'mere" Jack whispered, dropping his pack as he closed the distance between them, pulling them both into an embrace.
They held each other without words there in the middle of the compound, until Sam finally breathed out and said simply, "Come inside."
Jack went with them then, and let the love and warmth seep into him, passion racing through him and reigniting what had been dying in his soul. He let these two, who had traveled the stars with him, walked through fire with him, lived and died with him, reach deep inside and bring him back to life.
At the top of the ridge they paused. The outcropping of rock provided a well-shielded vantage point. There was nothing in any direction as far as the eye could see. They could hear it, though, in the distance. Faint and ominous.
Their base camp had been compromised. Avery had taken the remaining survivors and gone west in search of a rumored rebel stronghold. Jack had pulled Sam and Daniel aside for one last decision.
He was going for the Stargate.
"We don't even know if it's still there," Daniel had said.
"We've never been able to get anywhere near the mountain," Sam added, "or find out if any of our people are still alive."
Jack nodded. "So, the odds are against us. When did that ever stop us?" Then he grew serious.
"We are all going to die out here if we don't do something. Our only hope of ever reclaiming our world is that Stargate. Now, I'm going. I'm not asking you to go, but my chances are better with you than without you."
Then he had grinned, a hint of the old Jack O'Neill. "And you both know that without you, I'll probably go all black ops and do that shell-shocked lost in the woods thing again."
Sam patrolled the horizon with the binoculars, while Jack set up the shelter and Daniel scouted some dry wood for a fire. They would risk one until the sun went down. They ate, and then the sun was setting, red and orange and purple blazing in the sky.
Jack reclined against the rock face, Sam finding a comfortable spot leaning on his bent legs. Convinced of their safety for the time being, Jack's P-90 nevertheless lay across his lap; Sam's was inches from her fingers.
"It's amazing how the sunset can still be so beautiful, when everything in the world has gone to hell," Daniel said softly from the direction of Sam's lap, where he had his head turned towards the glowing horizon. Her hands gently brushed his hair back from his forehead. He had his Beretta at the ready, too; cold steel at odds with warm flesh.
Jack stared thoughtfully out at the darkening sky. Eventually one hand found the back of Sam's neck while the other idly rubbed Daniel's arm. Being connected like this had had become second nature to them. This gave them strength - strength enough.
"They're out there somewhere, Jack." Daniel said finally.
"So we find them?"
"We find them." Jack nodded, smiling a little, remembering another time so many years ago - another world ago - when they'd echoed those same words.
Sam turned to look at the two of them, heart full of love and eyes full of determination.
"It's what we do."
|Category:||Jack/Daniel/Sam, Jack/Sam, Jack/Daniel|
|Genres:||Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama|
|Summary:||When the world they know is gone, there is still something worth fighting for. Sam faces challenges she never thought she would.|
Author's Chapter Notes:
Pairing is Sam/Daniel, Sam/Jack, Jack/Daniel/Sam.