Day 74: "I just want to feel human again."
Waving goodbye to Teyla as she left through the stargate with the rest of her Athosian trading team, Daniel pushed his hands into his pockets and waited for the wormhole to disengage. With a whoosh, the shimmering light collapsed into itself and the gate room was once more dim with shades of red and yellow from the sinking sun.
Turning on his heel, Daniel tried to ignore the slightly uneasy feeling in his stomach. Although it was always nice to see the Pegasus natives again when they visited, seeing them leave reminded him acutely of when they'd left Atlantis following Sam's relocation orders. He'd been opposed to the decision, but like so many times recently he felt like he couldn't reach her. He knew he wasn't alone. He'd seen the same sentiment in Teyla's eyes earlier when she asked about how everyone in Atlantis was faring.
He hadn't had the heart to tell her that Atlantis was changing.
Pushing the unpleasant thoughts away, Daniel quickly ascended the grand staircase leading up to the Operations Centre. Only a few technicians were on duty and Daniel approached them after seeing that Sam's office was uncharacteristically empty.
Finding Chuck settled comfortably with his feet on the console in front of him, a comic book in hand, Daniel resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He'd seen many military members beginning to loosen up a little in the city, but none ever seemed to have the same guts like the Canadian technician.
"Chuck," Daniel greeted, coming to a halt on the other side of the console. The man lowered his comic book with a slightly bashful look. "Have you seen Sam? She's not in her office."
Looking across his shoulder at the same empty, dimmed room, Chuck shrugged. "I'm not sure. She left a few hours ago. Want me to give her a call?"
Daniel shook his head, shifting on his feet. "No, that's alright, Chuck, thanks. I'll just take a walk and see if I find her."
"You could try the science labs," suggested Chuck, slipping his feet down to the floor but keeping the book in his hands. "She's been going there a lot the past week or so."
"Thanks, I'll check it out," Daniel said gratefully, beginning to turn when another thought crossed his mind. He gave Chuck an amused smile while nodding at the book in his hands. "You might not want Sam to catch you with that."
Chuck grinned sheepishly, flipping the comic book with its face downwards. Next to him, a young male technician named Robert chuckled, nudging Chuck good-heartedly in the shoulder. Daniel repressed a grin and turned towards the metallic staircase leading to the corridors below.
Entering the inter-connected science labs that were McKay's main territory, Daniel peeked around the corner to see if the man was anywhere near. Not that he disliked the guy, but he could be…trying at times, and Daniel just wanted to find Sam, not get into a whole discussion over it.
The coast was clear, thankfully. A few scientists were roaming the lab, some seated in front of equipment in scrutiny or fiddling with strange-looking gadgets, but no McKay. Presumably, he was off being his charming self. Daniel had heard in the mess hall earlier that there were a few city repairs that hadn't gone well, so the good doctor was probably handling those.
He stepped around the corner and darted between the gadget-overloaded tables towards the nearest scientist, who happened to be a young woman Daniel didn't quite know. Given the things he'd heard people say in the corridors and the mess hall concerning Sam, he was apprehensive about the woman's…friendly side, and opted for the most charming approach. He gave her his best smile as he gained eye contact above her computer screen.
"Hi, I'm looking for Colonel Carter. Have you seen her around?"
The woman, an attractive brunette in an original Atlantis Expedition uniform, shook her head. "No, I'm sorry." Seeing his slightly dejected look, she was quick to add, "I just got here though. I'll ask the others for you."
She smiled amiably, easing a little of Daniel's apprehensions, and then turned in her seat and called out, "Michelle, have you seen Colonel Carter?"
Michelle, a blonde woman dressed in civilian clothing underneath a white coat, gave them a dark, slightly sour look before she caught sight of Daniel and immediately got rid of it.
"Saw her heading towards the supply rooms on the lower level an hour ago," Michelle said in forced indifference. "Might still be there."
She turned quickly back to her work before Daniel could say his thanks, leaving him frowning and slightly unsettled.
This felt much more real than the whispers he'd heard around the city. Seeing the first woman share his awkward, unsettled expression was confirmation that Michelle's brush-off hadn't simply been a figment of his imagination. He wasn't about to be sucked into a fight over opinions, however. That was the IOA's forte.
Daniel gave the woman a smile to diffuse the uncomfortable atmosphere. "Thank you, eh…" he looked at the tag on her Expedition uniform, which read 'Coleman'.
The woman giggled a little and said, "Mia."
"Well, thank you…Mia."
"You're welcome, Dr Jackson."
Backtracking to the entrance and halting in the open doorway, Daniel sent a fleeting look across his shoulder at the coat-clad Michelle, who was hunched together with a man dressed similarly. He recognised the man as being a regular in Dr Lee's lab at the SGC for many years. The woman, however, must have been a recent addition. They were speaking hushed between themselves and the almost scowling look Michelle wore sent a clenching feeling into Daniel's stomach.
Mia still smiled at him, though, and he guessed that should be good enough for now. Still, as Daniel left the science labs behind for the lower levels, he couldn't control the urge that kept him shooting glances over his shoulder at the silent, empty corridor. A divide was emerging and he had a bad feeling about its consequences.
"They nearly wouldn't let me in here, you know. I had to say you called me down on important business."
Sam turned around at Daniel's voice, her fingers clenching around the item in her hands. Standing just inside the open doorway separating the two connected supply rooms on this level, Daniel gave her the familiar look that promised Sam there was no getting out of this. She didn't bother to ask how he had found her. The past had shown her that he had his ways.
Hands in his pockets, Daniel entered the room and looked around at the stacks of containers neatly placed along the walls. "So what's so valuable in here that you need guards outside the doors? I thought it was just a minor supply room. Uniforms and such."
Turning back to the open container behind her, Sam placed the item in her hands carefully back inside its padded walls. She knew there was no point skirting the truth now. The secret was out. Besides, she knew he'd keep it to himself if she asked him to.
Sam turned back fully towards Daniel, who was now picking up a small box from one of the many shelves and studying it with familiar scrunched-up scrutiny. "It's not exactly a supply room… You could say there's a lot of…one of a kind… items in here." Daniel gave her an inquisitive look, still holding the box between his hands. Taking a restless step forward, Sam wrung her hands. "It's things from Earth. Kept in storage at the SGC in the eventuality that something bad happened and we had to evacuate completely."
Just one of those eventualities you never imagined would actually happen, and yet here we are…
"From— Really?" A dumbfounded look crossed Daniel's face and he gave the silvery box another glance, tracing the edge of the lid towards the lock. "What kind of things?"
Sam sighed, coming to a halt next to a large container marked with a binary number. "Random stuff, really, but hand-picked. Not military or science-related, just…"
Raising her hand to rest on the container, Sam looked mesmerised at the imprinted number. By the click of an opened lock, Daniel drew her attention to the small box he'd played with.
"…things from…home?" he asked, giving her a mixed expression of amusement and disbelief. "I never would've thought a Rubik's Cube needed a 24-7 guard." He picked the colourful object out of its box, raising his eyebrow in familiar banter.
But instead of scoffing or smiling at his tease, Sam could only stare fixedly at the cube in Daniel's hands. A memory flash told her she'd once picked it apart to see how it worked. Afterwards, she tried to glue it back together without particular success. She'd never been good at such mundane tasks.
Daniel was staring at her with a slightly worried air around him. She noticed she'd crossed her arms and were gripping the opposite elbow in a white-knuckled grasp. Unclenching her fingers, she relaxed her arms. It was too late, though. Daniel had noticed.
He replaced the Rubik's Cube back in its box and put it back on the shelf where he'd found it. When he turned back to Sam, she was leaning against a large container, her chin down and eyes closed.
Daniel sighed, but he seemed so far away; distant and disconnected, as if he was simply a voice in the darkness. "Sam, what's going on?"
Sam didn't know what to answer. The whispering walls seemed to push in on her, but she was like icy steel, pushing them back as far away from her as she could. They couldn't touch her, nor could the voices that'd begun to linger in her wake as she passed.
Outside her consciousness, Daniel's voice was speaking again, but he was still so far-off. "You've been avoiding me…"
Sam opened her eyes, looking up into the concerned brown eyes of her friend. It'd been twelve years since she had met him and most of the others in her SG-1 photograph. More than twelve years spent expanding the borders of knowledge and science of what was possible. Making friends, making enemies. Challenging the unknown and hoping they'd come out the other end in one piece.
And now… Around them was the surviving legacy of Earth. This room, Atlantis, the people… They'd been through so much during those years and now they were the only ones left.
And she couldn't feel a damn thing.
It pained him to see her blue eyes shimmering in the middle of a stony expression. Sam was struggling and Daniel hated to see her like that.
"Talk to me, Sam." He knew he was pleading, but he had to reach her somehow, otherwise she'd be lost down a dangerous path he couldn't follow.
Sam pursed her lips, withdrawing her eyes and turning around towards the dark corners of the supply room. Her voice was like steel, detached in the way that'd become so familiar in the past two months. "What do you want from me, Daniel?"
Daniel sighed, knowing it would be a battle and a difficult one at that. "I just want you to talk to me again, Sam." He paused, eyeing her sadly. "I miss you. I miss my friend."
Sam didn't reply. She moved forward to where the container she'd been perusing earlier was still open. Across her shoulder, he could see an assortment of items he wouldn't have found out of place in a primary school. Paint, paper, boxes of brushes… The rest was obscured as Sam closed the lid and slid the lock in place. Daniel still had many questions about this place, about these boxes, but they'd have to wait.
She halted, her head drooping towards the container and her shoulders slumping slightly.
"I'm sorry…" Her voice was low, almost a whisper. Daniel's heart went out to her, his previous annoyance with her stubbornness melting into nothing. "I just… I can't… I'm…"
She paused with a sharp intake of breath, forcing herself to straighten up a little more. "I just… I can't feel anything. I'm…"
She drifted off, leaving the sentence incomplete, but Daniel suddenly understood more than her words could say. In war, innocence was among the first things to go. The second was you.
"Oh, Sam…" Daniel sighed softly.
Sam didn't turn around, but the hitch in her voice was enough for Daniel to close the gap between them and carefully touch her shoulder. She tried to brush him off, and rather forcibly. Nevertheless, she'd shown her true colours now. Daniel wasn't about to give up and leave her on her own, not now. He'd promised to stand by her no matter what.
Taking hold of her elbow, Daniel gently nudged Sam around and into his arms. She protested weakly, but Daniel held on until she finally relaxed and sank almost tiredly into his embrace. Her arms wound around him, fingers gripping him by the fabric of his jacket. Although they dug slightly into his back, Daniel didn't care. He just hugged her tighter, nuzzling her mop of blonde hair.
Sam began to shiver, mumbling into his shoulder, "…'m cold."
Stroking her tense, trembling back comfortingly, Daniel shushed her softly. "I'm here, Sam… I'm not gonna go away."
It must have been the right words. Sam sank further into the crook of his neck, her body more relaxed. In some way, she even felt lighter.
Thinking back on what he'd heard and seen around the city in the past few weeks, however, Daniel could only wonder how long that'd last.