Day 250: "That there's some corner..."
Sam stared at the towering hulk that was left of the Sun Tzu. She recognised the marks from enemy plasma fire, the hull breaches from when the ship had crashed through the meteoroid field surrounding M2X-914, and the other marks of internal strain that'd finally broken the ship down to a twisted wreck.
It seemed so hopelessly pointless.
Back on Atlantis, there were five survivors: only 2,5 % of the original two hundred crew. Those who'd been poisoned by the radiation leaks were dead. The rest were recovering from internal injuries, broken bones, amputations, concussions, haemorrhaging, and with starvation and dehydration on top of that. Jennifer had put three of them in medically induced comas. The remaining two had so far been unable to say anything about the circumstances that'd brought them to a godforsaken planet on the rim of the Pegasus galaxy. They just weren't coherent long enough for information.
That left Rodney's project. But even though he'd spent every waking hour of the past two weeks trying to decrypt what he'd downloaded from the Sun Tzu's computer, Rodney still hadn't been able to get anything out of it other than the crew manifest. Which meant they knew as much about the alien attack on Earth and the crew's life for the past eight months as before the Sun Tzu arrived: zilch.
A deep sigh escaped Sam's lips.
Captain Matthews stood on Sam's left, eyes creased in worry for a fraction of a second. When Sam looked at her, however, her soldier's mask came up and Matthews straightened.
"We put up the plaque on the inside of the hull." Matthews nodded towards the tear in the ship they'd used as an entrance. It'd once been the door to the starboard hangar bay, which had ended up twenty miles north of here."Thought it'd be less obvious in case someone came here."
"Good," said Sam, but even she could hear her voice sounded alien. A sharp, cold wind was biting into the exposed skin on her cheeks. Despite the heavy gear and warm clothes she had on, she felt frozen to the bone.
Hailey had argued against putting up the plaque, which contained the names of the many – too many – Sun Tzu fatalities, saying that it could be traced back to them. But Sam wanted to do something specific for these people. Perhaps only to ease her mind from the fact that she felt like a grave robber.
Sam's throat constricted. She turned away from the ruined Sun Tzu and faced Matthews, her voice still feeling like a separate part from her body. "Are we ready to move out?"
"Yes, ma'am," Matthews said smoothly and gestured to the Ancient puddle jumper behind her. "The cargo's been secured in the Jumper."
"Then let's not linger," Sam said. She looked around at the barren arctic desert surrounding the broken ship. There was nothing but ice and rock in every direction, and the sun felt lifeless. The ship's graveyard should've been a green pasture with a sun that warmed. Not... Well, she couldn't change that. She just had to accept it. "Let's give this place some peace."
"Aye, ma'am." Matthews gave a curt nod and turned to face the Jumper. At her gesture, the engine fired up.
Sam gave the Sun Tzu one lingering stare, and for a moment she felt like the weight of the galaxy weighed upon her shoulders once more. Insurmountable, unbelievable and perhaps even deserved. If this was the true mantle of military command, she could understand why Major General O'Neill always wanted to retire.
It was lonely at the top. Lonely and terrifying. Sam half-wished Caldwell could step forward and take charge of this whole subterfuge thing they had going on, but command of Daedalus and his connection to Xiaoyi kept him both busy and unavailable. In effect, Sam was in charge. She was alone.
She was tired.
"Mind if I join you?"
John looked up from his half-eaten sandwich to see Daniel Jackson smile at him, tray in hand. Sparing a surreptitious glance around at the less than crowded Little Chow, John tried to ignore the tension in his neck as he nodded towards the empty seat across from him.
"Thanks," said Jackson. He sat down promptly as John continued to eat. "So, keeping busy?"
"Yeah," John said simply, trying not to appear too interested in his meal. Even though they'd spent some time together due to Reika, John hadn't quite yet reached the point where he was comfortable around someone who could claim to be Sam's oldest friend. Words didn't come easily.
"Sam told me you're stepping up the training regimes," Jackson said conversationally. He took a bite of an apple and then a sip of tea. "Expecting something?"
"No," John said, perhaps a tad too quickly. When Jackson raised an eyebrow, John held back a groan. "Not anything in particular. Doesn't hurt to be prepared, though." Besides, Caldwell had given him the green light, which meant Xiaoyi must have approved.
"Hmm." Jackson hummed, staring out through the windows at the South Pier stretching into the distance.
He didn't say anything for a long while, seemingly lost in thought. John spent the time finishing his sandwich and his juice. He had every intention to make a discreet exit within seconds. It wasn't that Jackson was a bad guy, just…he always seemed to know a bit more than he let on, reminding John too much of Teyla on occasions. There was also something about the way he treated John, like he knew something. Something that was supposed to have been kept secret.
"I was meaning to ask you," said Jackson suddenly, making John, who'd been in the process of getting discreetly to his feet, stop halfway. The archaeologist looked up at him, peering at him closely without appearing to have noted his intention to leave. "Have you noticed anything different about Sam lately?"
"Uhh…" John knitted his eyebrows together. He thought back to the last time he'd seen Sam. It'd been more than a week ago…no, two weeks. The memorial service; they'd attended it together. "Can't say that I have. We've been busy."
"I was on Tirana a few days ago," Jackson said. He looked as if he wanted to heave a deep sigh. "She looked ill. Like she did after…well, after Kadara."
The meaningful gaze Jackson directed at him made John's stomach churn uncomfortably. He recalled the event perfectly. After the attack on Kadara, things had been really bad. If Sam was back there again…
"You want me to do something," John half-asked, half-stated, guessing this had been Jackson's intention from the start. The look in Jackson's eyes confirmed it. John's neck tensed and he shifted on his feet, mumbling: "I'm not good with that. You'd have better luck."
"I tried," said Jackson, clearly torn between anxiety and exasperation. There was a hint of pain in his voice as he added, "She brushed me off."
"Well, if you can't…"
"John." Jackson peered up at him through his glasses and John had a sensation he looked straight through him. The feeling was unsettling. "I know that we're not exactly friends, but we both know Sam. We both…care about her."
The way he said the last three words caused John to stiffen and withdraw his gaze hastily to glance around the Little Chow. No one seemed the slightest bit interested in their conversation, but John still had the feeling everyone was looking at him. Warnings of 'danger' coursed through him.
"Please," Jackson said, his voice low. "Just…talk to her."
John barely met Jackson's eyes, still tense, the words and implications tumbling around inside his head. Eventually, all he managed to say was, "I've got to go."
He tried not to seem like he was running as he left Little Chow. But he knew damn well he was.
Nearly invisible in the curtain of thick rain, Hailey and Airman Emerson met them as the puddle jumper landed in its usual secluded spot in the forest outside the Tikwee colony. As the engine disengaged, Sam unbuckled and rose tiredly from her seat, turning to Matthews who exited the front section. They'd shed their warm clothes and radiation suits and stuffed them in crates.
"Get this stuff to the cave," Sam said, gesturing to the stack of metallic containers secured in the back compartment. There was no need to mention it had to be done in secret. Even with Woolsey gone, Xiaoyi's spies remained. "Except that one." Sam tapped one of the smaller, padlocked containers on top of the stack. "Bring it to my cabin. I'll have a look at it later when I return."
"Aye, ma'am." Matthews gestured to their two companions – both Air Force engineers and Atlantis veterans – and they began to divide the containers between them.
Satisfied they could handle this, Sam punched the hatch release button and watched the back of the Jumper open to reveal rain pouring down in buckets. A swift surge of wind pushed the rain inside to startled curses from Matthews and the others. Smirking, Sam pulled up the hood of her raincoat and exited.
Holding his hood in place with a tight grip, Emerson gave her a quick salute as he went past her to help the others. Sam returned it, holding her own hood as she approached Hailey. The young captain wore a foul grimace.
"I take back what I said about the heat," Hailey said loudly, falling into step with Sam as she walked down the path leading back towards the Tikwee colony. "This is worse. I heard someone in the village say it's gonna be like this for the next month!"
"It'll pass. At least we're safe from a flood," said Sam, eyes fixed on the muddy ground ahead. In the foresight of the Tikwee colonists, the mine camp had been built far enough up from the lake to escape any flooding. "How'd it go with the Genii?"
"Not good," muttered Hailey, scowling beneath her hood. "I had to wait for an hour just to get a meeting with Massan. I've got the feeling they know what we want and don't want to face it."
Sam held back a sigh. "Seeing as we've waited this long, I'm not surprised. I should've dealt with Commander Taron right away. They've had time to close ranks."
"With all due respect, ma'am, you're not to blame for that. It's Murphy and his damn law's fault," Hailey said pointedly. "I mean, how the hell could we know the Sun Tzu would show up the next day?" She blew out an annoyed breath. "And he's still hanging around, I reckon. We could do with something going right these days."
The sentiment in Hailey's voice made Sam smirk slightly. It felt good after the draining morning; seeing the ruined Sun Tzu had taken a piece of her. She was still freezing from the trip to M2X-914.
She made a turn where the path divided, choosing the one that led to the Tikwee colony. Master Togar had invited her for lunch with the village council today, something she wouldn't miss in a million years. For one, the food was always delicious. And the company was good in more than one way. Mainly, the village councilmembers were one of Sam's main sources of information; they had a network of informants spread across the Pegasus galaxy. Right now, she could do with some news, particularly about the Wraith. The civil war seemed to be intensifying.
"So what did Massan say?" Sam asked as they trudged through a beaten-down field of grass. Smoke from the village chimneys wafted through the rain, mixed with the familiar spicy scents associated with the Tikwee colonists' food. They had to be close.
"We'll get a meeting next week at the earliest," said Hailey, grumbling a little. High above them, the clouds thundered. "Apparently, Chief Radim has a tight schedule. Massan could only promise us half an hour."
"It's better than nothing," Sam said, but she finally let out the sigh she'd held back. Turning to gaze sideways at the captain, Sam gave her a small smile. "Thanks, Hailey."
Hailey shrugged, still holding on tightly to the hood of her raincoat. "It's what you pay me for."
"I pay you?" Sam raised an eyebrow as their path joined the wider road leading from the stargate to the village. Houses and cottages began to pop up in the distance, barely visible in the rain.
"Nuts and bolts, ma'am," Hailey teased. "And the chance to get to blow something up occasionally. Maybe next time you'll let me have a go at Radim's Chief of Security."
Smirking, Sam rolled her eyes. Hailey might have to get in line.
The blue swirl of the active stargate always fascinated Richard Woolsey. It was like one of those psychedelic pictures that played tricks on your eyes if you stared too long at it. Except in this picture, things really could pop out of it.
From his seat in the glass office, Richard watched as the blue event horizon rippled in succession, letting out four combat-clad soldiers led by Captain Matthews. Another combat team had already passed the opposite way minutes earlier, their destination Tirana and an 8-hour night shift keeping an eye on the stargate.
As security officers stepped forward to secure and take away their weapons according to standard protocol, the soldiers in the gate room smiled at each other and obviously laughed over some joke. It brought a smile to Richard's lips. The sight was pleasant compared to the dull and lethargic faces that'd roamed the city for months previously. Perhaps the memorial service had worked; people seemed more at ease these days.
Well, most of them, Richard amended. He withdrew his eyes from the laughing soldiers and gazed at the woman seated behind the glass-like desk. Steely-faced, Xiaoyi raised an icy eyebrow at him.
"Do you need a break, Richard?" Her voice was devoid of emotion. She was pale, had lost weight, slept rarely, and reminded Richard vaguely of how Colonel Carter had appeared before she was reassigned to Tirana: as if something was eating her slowly from the inside. But she, like Carter had, still refused to acknowledge it. It was like trying to walk alongside someone who marched to a different drummer.
"No, no." Richard straightened in his seat and caught hold of a folder that threatened to slip off his lap. "You were saying?"
Xiaoyi's lips only thinned for a moment, but she didn't comment his obvious lapse in attention. Instead she said, "Dr McKay approached me yesterday about upgrading Atlantis's shields. He believes he now has the parts and plans to ensure that the shields will hold longer than ten minutes against the Wraith superhive should we encounter them again."
"That's good news," Richard said, a rush of excitement going through him. He knew enough of which technical areas in the city needed improvement from when Colonel Carter had been in charge. "Did Dr McKay have an estimate of how long it'll take?"
"No more than a month, given his resources or manpower do not decrease," said Xiaoyi, peering down at a piece of paper. "I am worried that he might be balancing too many pots, however."
"I doubt he would see it that way." Richard hid a smile. The brief period he'd been in command of Atlantis nineteen months ago had been enough to know that Dr McKay seemed to thrive under pressure. He realised, however, that Xiaoyi had given this some thought. "What did you have in mind?"
"I believe there is a phrase in English that says 'two heads are better than one," said Xiaoyi. She met his eyes across the desk. They were cold and devoid of life, and her voice seemed like a different part of her. "If a few of the projects under Dr McKay's supervision were to go to someone else, he could turn his whole attention to the shield upgrades. From what I understand, it is quite extensive and precise work, and I will not gamble with the lives in this city."
Woolsey felt a slight chill go down his spine, but he couldn't explain why. "That seems…reasonable. Have you talked to him?"
"I will do it tomorrow," said Xiaoyi, her face blank. Without further ado, she flipped the papers on her desk. "Now, let us discuss off-world missions. I think we could afford to increase them from…"
"Come on, slowpoke," Reese teased across her shoulder as she strolled down the network of corridors that led from the mess hall called Little Chow towards the central tower. "Want me to get the wheelchair?"
"Not unless you want to be in it, ma'am," said Ramirez through slightly gritted teeth. He gripped the crutches tightly as he hobbled forward, his eyebrows knitted together in concentration.
The people who passed them gave him a wide berth, obviously eyeing his bandaged leg. Some wore looks of pity. Ramirez was too focused to notice, but Reese did. It spurred her on. The last thing he wanted was to be seen as a cripple.
"You're not exactly in a position to be a threat, Sergeant," Reese said, stopping at the junction to watch him hobble towards her. "I bet my grandma could take you down in her sleep."
Ramirez snorted, beads of sweat covering his forehead. "No offense to your abuela, Cap'n, but los bravos a la plaza, y los mansos al corral."
Reese raised an eyebrow. "You know I don't speak Spanish, Ramirez."
"Then you'll have to learn, won't you?" Ramirez stopped a few feet away, a wide cheeky grin on his face even as he panted slightly. He nodded to her watch. "Time."
Shaking her head, bemused, Reese checked her wristwatch. "Ten minutes, eighteen seconds. That's one minute, thirty-two seconds faster than last time."
"Not bad for a guy on one leg, huh?" asked Ramirez, grinning. He shifted on his good foot so he could lean slightly against the wall, and adjusted his crutches accordingly.
Despite the brave face he put on, Reese could see that he was more tired than the first time she'd broken him out of the infirmary for dinner in Little Chow. Maybe Keller had been right that it might be too much too soon. He was already testing himself.
"Maybe we should head back," Reese said, stepping closer but trying not to appear as if she was ready in case he needed assistance. The sergeant saw right through her and gave her a glare.
"Not yet, Cap'n." Ramirez pushed off the wall and readjusted his crutches. "I want to drop by somewhere. Got a promise to keep."
Realising it'd be pointless to argue – Ramirez could be as stubborn as a mule – Reese just tagged along as he began to navigate down the next two corridors.
"Promise? As in a date?" she asked, smirking. "Didn't know you had it in you, sergeant."
Ramirez scoffed. "Plenty of cojones, Cap'n, just so you know." He stared ahead as they came to an intersection, and then turned left. His tone changed as they spotted a long stretch of wall ahead. "But not today. This is something different."
Reese followed Ramirez's eyes and realisation slammed into her like a freight train. They'd reached the Memorial Wall. It was a long corridor with floor-to-ceiling windows on one side overlooking the glittering city of Atlantis outside, and a straight red metallic wall on the other. It'd been established two weeks ago after the memorial service. People milled about the corridor, the atmosphere hushed and solemn.
Hundreds of pictures, letters and notes were tacked to the wall, starting around a large plaque of commemoration to the victims of the Sun Tzu and those who'd fallen here in the Pegasus galaxy since Earth fell, and they stretched in every direction as far as Reese could see. There were even some lit candles on the floor. Reese didn't even know they had candles.
Frozen, Reese didn't realise Ramirez had moved before a loud thwack caught her attention. A BDU-clad Airman standing further down the corridor had punched her fist into the wall. The woman next to her, obviously a scientist, looked around awkwardly before putting a hand on her friend's shoulder. The hand was shrugged off violently before the Airman stormed off, pushing past people without a care.
When Reese met Ramirez's eyes, she knew they were thinking the same thing. Denial. They'd seen it far too often in the past eight months. Some were still stuck in limbo, even after all this time.
Silent, Reese stepped closer as Ramirez turned back towards the wall. She noticed he held a wrinkled and blood-stained picture in his hand. From what she could make out, it was a trio of people gathered together in bundle, all smiles.
"Who's that?" Reese asked quietly, standing next to him. Her suspicion was Ramirez's family, but it was difficult to tell due to the obvious wear and tear.
"Sanders, with his parents," Ramirez said, surprising her. A stony expression spread across his face. "They died in a car crash when he was young. He showed it to me when we were on that mission. The doctor found it clutched in his hand when he…when he died." He stared at the teenaged Trevor Sanders's grinning face in-between a couple that looked like they could be in their late fifties. "I promised him I'd take care of it."
Reese's throat clenched. In a brief flash of memory, she recalled the flower he'd obviously put on Sanders's grave when they'd visited it on the mainland months ago. For an instant, she felt a rush of something, but she felt like that woman earlier who'd looked around desperately as if asking for help.
"You're a good guy, Miguel," Reese said in the end, her voice low. She hesitated, then put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it briefly.
Ramirez looked sideways at her, but before their eyes could meet, Reese moved further down the corridor. She needed the distance. Tears had welled up in her eyes.
It still hurts. The thought repeated itself in Reese's mind. All this time, and it still hurts.
Her fists clenched at her sides, but she resisted the urge to punch something. That had never been her outlet. She was more of a drink-and-talk kind of woman. Or cry, whatever came first. But she tended to do it in private. This was too public, so she pushed back everything that hurt until the tears themselves seemed to push back into her eyes.
When she opened her eyes, Ramirez was standing next to her, his expression not one of pity. He just raised his eyebrows and asked, "Race you to the infirmary, Cap'n? The turtle always wins, y'know."
A chuckle burst unexpectedly from the pit of Reese's stomach, rippling through her. It felt both right and wrong at the same time. But…perhaps that was how it was supposed to be. A bit of both until one day it just felt good. Or, so she hoped.
"Some other day, sergeant," said Reese, smirking as they began to move away from the Memorial Wall. "I'd rather not upset the people holding the big needles."
"Maldito," muttered Ramirez, slightly panicked. "I forgot about that."
"Want me to get the wheelchair?" Reese asked, smirking. She slowed her gait to walk alongside Ramirez as he lumbered forward on his crutches.
The glare he gave her was answer enough.
But when they reached the transporter and got in line behind a group of scientists, Ramirez turned to give Reese a slightly awkward look. "I appreciate you taking the time to do this, Cap'n. Breaking me out, I mean. I know you're not on the clock."
"For such a pretty face as yours, Ramirez, how could I say stay away?" teased Reese, not sure whether she should hide the smile that threatened to break out on her face. A blush almost seemed to rise in the sergeant's face. It was gone as quickly as it'd appeared, though, making Reese wonder if she'd imagined it.
"Ah, I should've known," sighed Ramirez dramatically. "You're just after my good looks. Or perhaps it is my coj—"
Reese elbowed him, hard. That was a Spanish word she did understand.
People in the queue eyed them out of the corner of their eyes. Fighting off the hotness in her cheeks, Reese looked pointedly elsewhere. But she could see in the corner of her eye that Ramirez grinned.
Laughter echoed down the corridors and into the infirmary ward in which John sat. The voices of Captain Matthews and Sergeant Ramirez grew out of the laughter into sometimes coherent chatter as they approached the doorway and eventually passed it, the latter limping forward on crutches. Judging by the tones in which they spoke, they were having a good time.
John managed a small smirk. That's how he wanted his subordinates to be: pleased, optimistic, and maybe even happy.
He'd seen more of that lately. As if something had changed in the city after the memorial service. Even the gym seemed to reek less of short-tempered and aggressive soldiers, which included thrice-fist-fighting-his-own Sergeant Nelson. It made training more bearable when John didn't have to break up fights every other day.
Then again, there were still those who seemed to float in a different direction. John tried to do what he could for them, but many were in his opinion beyond saving at this point. The loss of Earth had just been too much. Soldiers needed a strong psyche and if they didn't…he couldn't take them into battle. It was too dangerous.
Which brought John's mind right back on the track it'd been since he came here after the last training class ended an hour ago: Sam. Jackson was worried about her. And he'd tried to blackmail John into doing something, without specifying what exactly.
The whole thing frustrated him. John wasn't a miracle worker. He wasn't even that close to her anymore. He was just…
John didn't know what he was. But he sure as hell didn't have the slightest clue what to do about Sam, whether or not she was in as bad shape as Jackson indicated. Jackson's words lingered at the front of his mind, churning over and over like a broken record.
"Just…talk to her."
Talk. The prospect seemed terrifying all of a sudden. There'd been a time when they could talk, but now… After all that had happened, John felt the words stick in his throat whenever things strayed from professional topics. Like that time in the transporter two weeks ago, when Sam had given him a look that spoke to some repressed and forgotten part of him. Those soulful blue eyes still haunted him. It was worse than all those harsh and terrible looks they'd exchanged after their…
John couldn't bring himself to say the word, even in the privacy of his mind. It still felt secret, forbidden; admitting to the end of their non-regulation relationship was as good as admitting they'd had a relationship.
He sighed and ground his hands into his face. The calm, steady breaths from Reika's respirator eventually drew his attention. She looked so peaceful. As if all the bad that'd happened to her didn't matter. It might just be his imagination, but John even felt as if part of her was already breathing on her own, breaking free of the life-support machine. She was becoming human again thanks to Jennifer's treatments. With a little help from her friends, she was going to make it.
With a little help... Maybe that was it.
John reached out with a smile and squeezed Reika's hand. "Thanks, kiddo."
Hailey could really be bossy sometimes. Sam didn't know whether she should demote or promote the captain for being so…stubborn.
After the dinner at Master Togar's with the village council, Sam had gone to the secret cave in the mines to get some work done. Hailey had already been there and Sam had rebuffed the woman's initial rebukes that she should get some rest; she hadn't had a decent evening off in weeks. However, Sam had been equally stubborn and refused. It had taken nearly three short-circuited power couplings for Sam to finally admit that yes, perhaps an early night was a good option.
It was just…there was so much to do. Sam rarely managed to sleep when everything she'd not managed to get done during the day rolled around uneasily in her head. But Hailey had been firm. For a moment, she'd reminded Sam so strongly of John that Sam eventually conceded defeat.
Which was why Sam was currently sitting on the edge of her bed, staring at the blazing fire in the fireplace, when the time was barely past 19:00 local time. But despite the heavy feeling in her body, she was no closer to sleep than the countless nights before. So Sam stared into the flames, her mind blank and her body a conflict of tiredness and tension.
She felt…empty. Devoured. Drained. Sapped. Like a battery had dried up.
Listlessly, Sam glanced around the cabin. It was a one-room log cabin with a few curtained windows, a simple bed and closet in one end, and a desk and chair in the other end next to the door. It didn't feel quite like home. Not like Atlantis had done for a while. Not like…not like Earth. But it was at least her space. She could do with it as she wished.
Her eyes drifted to the desk in the corner. There was a small, padlocked container on it. For a moment, Sam stared at it in confusion, then abruptly remembered this morning's trip to M2X-914 and the ruins of Sun Tzu.
The invisible weight grew heavier. Tears welled up in her eyes with a suddenness that caught her off guard, and Sam wasn't quick enough to stop some of them from falling. She slumped back on the bed, the heels of her hands digging into her eye sockets. A cold tremble rose up along her spine.
Don't do this, her mind supplied after a while. You're better than this. There's no use crying over the past… You can't change it. Get up. Do something. Don't sit here like a weak mess. That container is important. Get up.
Sam cleared her thick throat and straightened. She set her eyes determinedly on the padlocked container and got to her feet, brushing away lingering wetness on her cheeks as she went to her desk.
After making sure all the curtains were drawn, Sam turned up the light on the oil lamp and sat down in her chair. She input her personal five-digit code on the container and opened it. An assortment of wires and storage crystals clustered the inside. It was the remains of a back-up computer on a level behind and below the Sun Tzu's bridge, fortunately far from the radiated sections of the wreck.
Rodney hadn't thought to just take the crystals with him. He'd just been concerned with downloading whatever information he could. That was the Pegasus way. But Sam had helped design the Daedalus-class F-304 battle cruisers. She knew stuff he probably didn't. Such as that back-up computer, which only saved the most recent data and surveillance from the bridge before downloading it to the central computer in engineering.
Sam had only remembered when she visited the remains of Sun Tzu to salvage what she could. Based on the reports, she'd suspected the entire level with the back-up computer had been crushed along with the bridge. It'd been a mess, but she'd found it.
Now she only hoped to glean something from it. Such as what happened on the bridge before they crashed. Maybe – and it was a very big maybe – it could give her a clue about Earth. Something had made them crash. Of course, it could've been fatigue from the intergalactic journey, but it didn't seem likely. Sam wanted to cover all bases. And she wouldn't mind getting a piece of information before Xiaoyi managed to get answers from the survivors. Just to get the upper hand.
Wishing she had a cup of decent, Earth-origin black coffee, Sam set to work.
John hadn't planned for heavy rain. One of the Marines posted at the stargate for the night had offered her raincoat, but John had politely declined. She'd need it more than he did since she'd just started her shift. As a result, he was drenched by the time he got to the mine camp.
The light streaming from the windows of the dozen or so log cabins was a welcome sight, as was the waft of something hot and spicy from the mess hall chimney. Tempted as he was to drop inside, however, John could see that his target's cabin had lights on, and he hurried down to the lakeside.
Rapping the door twice, he waited – tense, nervous and impatient – as more cold rain trickled down his neck. After a minute with no reply, John pushed the door open and hurried inside. The sight that met him stopped him in his tracks.
Sam lay slumped over her desk surrounded by a PC tablet, stacks of paper and a clutter of something that looked like those Ancient storage crystals connected with wires. A soft snore escaped her open mouth and John wrinkled his nose when he saw a small pool of drool beneath her head.
Then John couldn't help but grin, and the coiled tension in his stomach seemed to vanish completely. He'd caught her like this a few times before when she was still the commander of Atlantis. Despite the 'eew' factor of the drool, she was still kinda cute in her sleep. That hadn't changed.
However, this put him somewhat in a bind. He'd intended to hear how it'd gone with the Genii, as well as fill her in on news from Atlantis as a way to start up a conversation that – maybe – made them both less resistant to talk about…the other stuff... But the sight of her brought to mind Jackson's words that Sam had looked ill. Judging by present circumstances, perhaps it'd just been a case of little to none sleep; he knew how driven Sam could get on occasion. He should probably just let her sleep.
Glancing at Sam again, John grimaced. Sleeping like that would give her a serious kink in the neck and back. He decided on his approach and finally tapped her shoulder.
On the third tap, Sam's head snapped up. Confusion was written all over her face. She glanced around, eyes heavy-lidded, and struggled to focus on him once she spotted him.
"Hey, come here." John pushed the chair back and gently pulled her to her feet.
Sam rubbed her eyes. "John? What're you…"
"Never mind that," John said, half-supporting her as Sam stumbled forwards at his gentle push. He didn't notice that he didn't feel awkward with her warm body pressed up against his. "You need sleep. In a bed. Come on."
They reached the bed in the corner, positioned opposite of the dying fireplace. With a firm hand, John sat Sam down on the edge and hunched down to unlace her boots. Sam blinked at him blearily, still confused.
Once the boots were off, John eyed Sam's leather jacket and hesitated. "You should probably take your jacket off. I'll get the fire going again."
He turned before she had a chance to reply. From a stack in the corner, John found a few logs and threw them into the fireplace. Crouching, he blew at the embers until the logs caught fire. Once heat rolled off the fire once more, John turned.
Sam had pulled off her jacket and sweater, leaving her in a regulation black tank top. She'd also taken off her trousers, but thankfully she was already under the covers, her head on her pillow. John thanked small favours for that.
"You're wet," Sam noted. Her eyes were a bit more alert and focused, but she didn't move.
John looked down at the puddle of water that'd pooled around him. "Yeah. Didn't check the weather forecast before I left."
An easy grin crossed Sam's face. There was no sign of tension or apparent embarrassment in her features. Quite the opposite of how John felt at the moment. The nervous tension was back in force.
"Look", he said, "I'll see if I can't get back here tomorrow or the day after. You should get some sleep." In fact, she looked exhausted. It made that repressed and forgotten part of him worry.
"You should dry up," Sam said. "I think I have something that might fit in there." She tried to gesture to a nearby closet, but her arm didn't get high enough. John got the gist of it, though.
Although he couldn't help wonder why exactly Sam thought she had something that might fit him in her closet, John knew asking that was dangerous territory. For one, it made his stomach coil uncomfortably at the implication that Sam kept menswear so close to her bed.
"I'm already drenched. What's a bit more water?" John shrugged and managed a smirk that felt a bit too tight for his face. A surge of something rushed through him when Sam chuckled and tucked her head sleepily into her pillow. The action was so familiar, so…personal.
"Suit yourself," Sam said, her voice muffled by the pillow. She'd closed her eyes and seemed like she was already drifting off.
Awkward, John eyed her for a moment more before turning back towards the door. He spotted the clutter on Sam's desk and wondered briefly whether he should tidy it up. Rodney always got mad at him for touching his stuff. So far, Sam hadn't, but if she had a system in that chaos, he didn't want to disrupt it.
Prepared to pass the desk in silence, John halted when he noticed the carved bird he'd given Sam for her birthday last year. It stood proudly next to her PC tablet, slightly in front of the picture of a happy and comfortable SG-1 that stood behind it. It would've been straight in her line of sight from where she sat earlier.
"I never thanked you." Sam's voice was sudden. "For the picture…"
John startled slightly and stared sideways at her. Once more, her eyes were open and alert. The light from the fireplace danced across her face. She smiled, her feet curled up in a foetal position underneath the covers. The image was domestic, far from the mask of Colonel Samantha Carter.
"You did," John said awkwardly, rubbing his head. He turned away from the desk and found himself next to the window, peering outside at the moonlit lake. She'd shown him the plans and schematics she'd drawn up for a potential weapon that could even their odds. She'd trusted him.
"But I didn't actually say the words," Sam pointed out. She propped herself slightly up on her elbow. "So…thank you."
John nodded in acknowledgment, not quite meeting her eyes, and looked back at the lake. It looked like the one in the SG-1 picture's background. A backward glance told him Sam's eyes had found the picture again. A glazed expression fell across her face like so many times before, and yet… not. Something was different. The distance between them didn't seem as great as it'd used to.
"You miss 'em?" he asked lowly. It was probably redundant, but the question slipped past his lips nonetheless. He was surprised, however, that the words didn't get stuck in his throat. It almost seemed to come naturally.
Sam broke off her gaze and met his eyes. A bright sheen shimmered in her eyes, illuminated by the flicker of light from the fireplace. The sight made John's neck tense. She'd never cried openly in front of him. It brought to mind those uncomfortable truths that Jackson had spoken earlier, and tightened the coil in his stomach.
"Yes," Sam said, her voice soft and thick. "Every day. Mark too. Most of my family's…"
John got it. He stared back at the lake, his jaw hard. He'd thought a bit about his own brother and various friends too, but going down that path…it just made what they were trying to do at present harder.
"When we got that call…" Sam hesitated. He could feel her eyes on him. It made the little hairs at the back of his neck stand up. "…I was really glad you weren't back there."
John froze. A shiver ran down his spine. Slowly, he tilted his head to face her. The words stopped in his throat again.
"In some ways we're lucky," Sam continued, half-smiling. She'd lowered herself back on the bed once more. "We've both got friends still here. Alive. We're not alone. That's…" She paused and gave the picture another shuddering look. A lone tear ran down her cheek. "That's what I need to hold on to. We're it. We're the last of us."
John didn't know what to do or say. For so long, there'd been an invisible wall between them that made this kind of talk difficult, not to mention that damn CO's mask Sam had always worn. Whether it was Sam's obvious tiredness and lack of sleep that lowered her inhibitions or something else, John didn't know, but he had no idea how to handle it. Change was difficult.
"We'll make it," John said in the end, when the silence had stretched out long enough for him to finally regain his speech. The words came out a bit more forcefully than he'd intended.
He turned from the window, arms crossed, his jaw tight. Sam shifted her stare from the flames dancing in the fireplace and met his – soft, gentle, vulnerable. She seemed to hold her breath, locking on to his eyes with a hesitance and emotion that sent another surge of something rolling around in his stomach.
John's newfound resolve hardened. "Whoever's responsible for Earth will pay. We'll get them, and we'll get the Wraith. We're survivors; we'll survive."
Another trail of tears ran down Sam's beautiful face, but in spite of that, she gave him a smile that reached her eyes. John felt as if – just for a moment – the elephant in the room disappeared, and the feeling was wonderful.
But reality sucked. As John walked back through the pouring rain to the stargate, he knew that it would probably never be like that again. The elephant was still there, and even if it wasn't... The feel of betrayal still lingered. It still hurt.
And he hated it. Because even though it hurt, those forgotten feelings were still there. Hidden deep in the dark. Testing his resolve. Waiting.
Abuela – 'grandmother'
"Los bravos a la plaza, y los mansos al corral" – "The fierce to the bullring go, the tame to the cattle pen" [Mexican proverb] – What Ramirez means is that he's fierce enough to go to the bullring while indicating that Reese's grandmother is too tame.
Cojones – slang for 'balls'
Maldito – 'damn'