Spoilers: Lost City Part I and II, God only knows what else
He was so cold.
It was a bone deep kind of cold, the kind that saturated everything, the kind from which he felt he would never recover. Nothing helped, not the blankets on top of him or the space heater next to him or the hand resting on top of is own-he was just cold.
Cracking one eye open, he groaned, shutting it again. Cold, and now blind. They couldn’t turn the lights down in here?
Next to him, there was a jolt of movement, whoever had been sitting next to him aroused by his protestation at the light. “Sir?” a soft female voice asked, and he cracked his eye open again, sensing it was worth the pain.
Blue eyes bored back into his own, a brilliant blue that shined too much-suspiciously like they were holding back tears. Set in a face with skin just a tad too pale and cheeks that were just a tad too gaunt, the overall effect was both beautiful and heart-breaking. He cleared his throat, saying the first thing that came to his mind. “You look like crap,” he managed, voice rough and throat dry with disuse.
Instead of provoking a snappy comeback, she smiled widely, a grin almost too perfect to look directly at. “You’re awake!”
“So it seems,” was his reply, feeling the need to sit up, even though his muscles screamed at him as he attempted to do so. “Where am I?”
“The Infirmary, Sir. The Asgard came and thawed you out a few days ago,” she explained, a hand automatically going to his back and supporting him as his body threatened to revolt against him.
“The what?” he muttered, managing to brace himself against the mattress and blinking quickly, focusing his vision.
“The Asgard,” she repeated. “They pressed a few buttons, did that inscrutable thing they do, and blinked a few times and then there you were, wet and cold and unconscious.”
At this point, a doctor seemed to get the hint and rushed over, flashing lights and poking and prodding at him in a way that served to really piss him off. What was he, some kind of lab rat? But it stopped the flow of words coming from his companion, and gave him a moment to think, to search his mind, even though some part of him already knew what he was going to find.
He sighed, running his hand over his face, not knowing much, but knowing that this was a bad thing.
At least, he figured it probably wasn’t a good thing that he couldn’t come up with one memory, one name, one feeling other than the cold he remembered so well that he still felt it lingering inside him somewhere.
Slowly, his eyes met the blue ones again, just looking into them because it was better than glaring at the doctor who continued to fuss over him and because he liked them. They were sweet and concerned and eager to see him all at once, and they reminded him what warmth was, twinging in his gut. But while he looked, he saw the realization settle in them, the sharp element of doubt and fear slice through their clear blue depths.
“Sir…” she said softly, suspicion already heavy in her voice. “Do you know who I am?”
He laughed helplessly, not knowing what else to do. “Lady, I don’t even know who I am.”
Major Samantha Carter stared bleakly at the grey wall of the Briefing Room, the sound of Doctor Marshall rambling on becoming only white noise in her over-crowded brain.
“…a side effect of the thawing, or maybe from having the Ancient knowledge removed after so long, it’s hard to tell really…” the doctor continued, throwing out theory after theory, things that spun in Sam’s head as she sat, the fragile balance she had kept these three months tipping dangerously towards despair.
Next to her, the General rose his hand, stemming the tide of medical terms and theories. “But he doesn’t remember anything?” he clarified, and Sam nearly smiled at his driving need to clarify the obvious.
Doctor Marshall shook his head. “Apparently not.”
“And…is this condition permanent?” the General queried.
Doctor Marshall looked as lost as Sam felt. “I…I can run more tests, Sir. But really…I have no idea.”
More tests. Wouldn’t the Colonel be thrilled? The thought was vaguely entertaining for a moment, only because she knew how much he hated doctors. Almost as much as he loved to harass them within an inch of their life.
But her smile was quick to fade as she realized that while she knew that, he didn’t.
He didn’t know anything. Didn’t remember anything.
The reality was a harsh one, and it sat heavy in her chest, weighing down her already worn out heart.
Still, during those blessed two minutes in the Infirmary when he opened his eyes and spoke and sat up, he had been Jack. Her Jack.
No, not hers. Just Jack.
No, not even Jack. Colonel!
Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to push her thoughts back in line. Back where it’s safe. Colonel. Repeat it over and over to yourself, Carter. Colonel, Colonel, Colonel.
Sighing imperceptibly as her thoughts reordered themselves, falling into their old habits and carefully laid lines, she returned to her original thought. Back in the Infirmary, he had been himself, in the little ways-glaring at the doctor, cracking jokes, running his hands over his face to clear his mind…
The fact that she knew these things was too much, really. She shouldn’t be able to point out the details, catch every movement that defined him as Jack. It was too telling, exposed too much of the feelings she carefully kept in check, hidden away.
But after the last three months, she figured that worrying about exposure was sort of a moot point. Everyone already knew that she was in love with him, anyway. You could see it in their eyes, filled with a sympathy that bordered on pity. It made her miss Janet, who used to just quirk up one eyebrow and pretend not to see until Sam had said it was OK to do otherwise.
“…Major?” the General’s voice broke through the cacophony raging inside her head.
“Sorry Sir,” she apologized, focusing back in on real life, where Jack was back…only not. Looking at the doctor, she felt her Air Force persona returning, habit reigning in her emotions. “What can be done?”
The doctor shrugged. “If I find no proof that there’s anything physically wrong, nothing but patience will help. These things normally return on their own, given enough trying.”
She knew that-of course she knew that. The feelings that had flooded her when Thera became Sam once again had been years ago now, but they were still raw, another open wound in the long list of emotional gashes she had acquired. The loss of the simple closeness they had shared was just another memory that haunted her all too sleepless nights, even now. But she just nodded, keeping her face expressionless.
She had almost forgotten Teal’c and Daniel, who were beside her like they had been constantly for the last three months, silent and almost a little ridiculous with their attempts to protect her from the prying eyes of the SGC. Good men they were, loyal and true even when she had all but shut them out, wanting to revel in her pain privately and secretly glad they didn’t let her. “So what, we just…hang around and remind him who he is?” Daniel asked, brow furrowed.
The doctor shrugged. “You three are closest to him. If anyone can help…”
The General watched them all carefully. “You’re all willing to try?” he asked, and they, of course, nodded. What else was there to do? “Very well, then SG-1 is on stand down until further notice,” the General allowed. “He can go home-as long as he’s chaperoned at all times-he’s a walking time bomb of classified information.” His gaze softened as he gazed at the three of them, the warrior who had worried over the loss of his leader, the man who had missed his friend, and the woman who…
He cleared his throat, smiling. “Take good care of him. Report in when you can,” he finally ordered gruffly before leaving, the doctor not far behind him.
And so it was done and there they sat, the three of them. Ready to save the man who had lost himself saving everyone else.
Now he was bored. And still cold. Cold and bored and trying not to dwell on the emptiness that was his knowledge of…anything.
OK, that wasn’t true. He knew things. Like how to walk and tie his shoes and how to best focus on Venus through a telescope and five ways to disarm a man in ten seconds or less. They were just…facts, things he knew without having to be told why or how. Part of what made him…quick, look at the tags again to check…Colonel Jack O’Neill, United States Air Force.
Assuming that was his real name.
The door opened and he swung his eyes toward it, relieved to have company, anything to keep him from his thoughts. He was even more relieved when it wasn’t the doctor, but instead, three oddly matched figures. He had seen them all before, earlier when he woke up and they had rushed in and been all crowding around. He had practiced their names so he wouldn’t freak them out by not knowing them. Daniel Jackson, Teal’c-what the hell kind of name was that, anyway?-and Major Samantha Carter.
“Hello Sir,” she said softly in greeting, smiling a little and he couldn’t help but smile back, hoping he didn’t come off like an addle-minded fool.
“Hi Samantha,” he replied in greeting and she did a double take, which made him frown. “Did I get it wrong?”
“I…no,” she assured him finally, looking at the others. “You normally just call me Carter though.”
“Ooookay,” he drawled out, making a face. Seemed like a strange thing to do, but… “So, you gonna bust me outta this joint?” he asked with a grin.
“Actually, yeah,” Daniel chimed in. “The General said we could take you off base as long as someone stayed with you-just in case, you know…”
He nodded, cutting off the flow of words from the younger man’s mouth that he had the sense could have gone on a lot longer. “Well then, let’s get out of here! I’m going nuts.”
“Well, it’s nice to know that some things never change,” Daniel muttered with a roll of the eyes. Jack frowned at the cliché, for some reason finding he didn’t like the expression. Or maybe it was just that it was a cliché.
But then, he had the distinct sense that this whole amnesia thing was a little too clichéd for his own comfort.
Getting out of the mountain seemed to take forever, but then Sam hadn’t gone through the process of bothering to leave the base in so long that it was possible she was just out of practice. Now, driving along the highway down the mountain to Jack’s place, she tried not to get lost in thought or worse, emotion, just trying to focus on Daniel’s babbling.
“…I went and watered your lone plant, and made sure they turned the electricity back on-it had been shut off because of course, you hadn’t paid your bill in three months seeing as you were frozen in a big block of ice, but you can’t really tell the electric company that, can you? There’s food in the fridge-it had to be completely emptied you know, not that there was much in there to begin with, you really should shop more Jack…” Daniel rambled, his chipper attitude a little too much for even Sam to stomach. He was trying too hard and she could see by the way Jack cracked his knuckles that it was wearing on him.
“Daniel,” she finally said as they pulled onto Jack’s street. “Just…shhh.”
From the backseat, he shot a petulant look at her, and she rolled her eyes. “Just trying to help,” he muttered, crossing his arms over his chest.
She knew. Of course he was, they all were. But there weren’t rulebooks for this situation, no guidelines to follow. And Jack, being Jack, wasn’t real forth coming with what he wanted from them. So they were left to fall into their old patterns, the long established ways they had of dealing with things-except of course, that Jack didn’t know that, either.
She pulled into the Colonel’s driveway, parking and unbuckling her seatbelt quickly, going to the back to unload a few things. Just keep moving, keep busy, and don’t think, and maybe then you won’t scream.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jack get out, looking around awkwardly, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Anything familiar, Jack?” asked the over-eager Daniel.
“Uh…not really,” O’Neill said almost apologetically, causing Daniel’s face to fall a little bit.
“Not much time has passed, Daniel Jackson,” said Teal’c by way of comfort as he climbed out of the car.
“Right!” said Daniel, perking up again. “I’m sure in no time you’ll be remembering stuff.”
“Right,” she heard Jack mutter as he began to trek across the yard. “No time at all.”
The day passed slowly. Very slowly. It was a peculiar feeling, to be someplace that everyone said was your house and yet to not recognize the things in it. Not that there was much in it, mind you-apparently, he was a guy who hasn’t really embraced the idea of personal effects. No art adorned the walls, no knick-knacks filled the empty space…very little to hint at the nature of the man who lived here.
There were a few books, which helped…astronomy and military theory and comic strips. Tapes of The Simpsons, which he knew he loved without having to be told. After all, who wouldn’t? A picture of the team-the four of them in uniform, Samantha and Daniel grinning at the camera, Teal’c looking anything but amused, and the figure he recognized as himself looking impatient. Seemed about right.
He sat in a bit of befuddled silence while they ate dinner-pizza, though his vote had been for Chinese. Jack couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like they were all trying just a little too hard to be normal. He appreciated them not throwing him head first into things he was supposed to know and didn’t, and at the same time was annoyed with the whole thing. Because in his gut, he knew that this was his life. He just couldn’t quite fit in it.
Next to him, Daniel was drinking beer and rambling again, he wasn’t even sure what about as he really wasn’t bothering to pay attention. Teal’c, in comparison, said next to nothing at all, and when he did, it had the annoying tendency to be simply stating the obvious. And then there was Sam…
Carter, he corrected himself absently. You call her Carter.
Carter seemed to have it down. She laughed at Daniel’s antics, she got Teal’c to participate occasionally, and she managed to keep the concerned looks she shot his way to a minimum. They sort of reminded him of the Three Bears-this one talked too much, this one too little, but this one…his eyes danced over Carter’s features, knowing them somehow…this one was just right.
She almost seemed to sense his eyes on her, because her own swung towards him, locking for a moment, smiling a little almost like she couldn’t stop herself and Jack knew that they had done that before, so many times that he’d lost track. The idea that they shared private looks from time to time appealed to him, and he grinned back, happy to know at least something.
But her own smile buckled and faded and she stood up in the middle of one of Daniel’s diatribes, abruptly cutting him off. “I…sorry Daniel,” she said, looking a little flustered and then grabbing some of the trash around their little spot on the floor where food was spread. “I’ll just clean up a little,” she managed before rushing into the kitchen.
Jack watched her go, confused. Had he done something wrong? Looking back at Daniel and Teal’c, it was hard to tell, but their façades seemed to drop a bit, concern reflected in their eyes. “Was it something I said?” he finally managed, only half-joking.
“The past three months have been very difficult for Major Carter,” explained Teal’c matter-of-factly.
“She missed you,” Daniel added. “We all did, of course, we all worried, but she…well, she’s Sam. And you’re Jack. So it was…hard.”
Jack’s eyes snapped back up towards the kitchen, wide with wonder. “Were we…?”
This seemed to be a stumper for both of them. “I…was never really sure, to tell you the truth,” Daniel managed.
“Nor was I,” Teal’c agreed.
“I mean, technically, you guys couldn’t…there are these rules…” Daniel explained.
“Fraternization regulations,” Jack muttered under his breath, feeling a wave of disgust at the phrase.
“Yeah, those. And she was seeing someone else, a cop. Pete something.”
The name filled him with dread. “Is she still?”
Again, his two male companions were little help. “I…she hasn’t left the base in nearly two months, Jack. I don’t see how she could be. But I’ve never heard anything about them breaking up, either,” was the only reply Daniel could offer.
Jack nodded with a sigh. “This is…complicated.”
Daniel smiled ruefully. “You two always were.”
The summer sun had set a few hours ago, but the air was still warm with it in that way that summer had. Sam took a sip of her beer, holding on to the deck railing and staring aimlessly into the woods. Pull yourself together, pick yourself up, stop wallowing in self pity…
But she still couldn’t make herself go back in to face the man who was almost the man she loved.
Almost, but not quite.
The thought brought a fresh bout of pain, slapping her coldly in a way that made her hiss in a breath, breathing through the pain. Losing him had been bad enough…but this strange sort of limbo was almost worse.
Not that she was unfamiliar with the concept of limbo. After all, she’d been living in it for the past seven years. This was just a new kind of torture-as if the old kind had gotten stale.
There was a slide of a glass door and she didn’t turn around fast enough to fake it, so here he was, strange and wonderful. “Hey…Carter,” was his awkward greeting, hands slid into his pockets.
“Sir,” was her greeting, falling back onto old defenses because it was all she had to face this new threat.
She shrugged, at a loss of how to explain to a man who should know, who used to, anyway. “Fine, sir.”
“Right,” he replied in a tone that clearly said he didn’t believe her. It made her smile because that was familiar and fine. But the hand that came and rested over hers on the railing wasn’t fine, because it hurt, and his touch broke something inside her.
She pulled away, turned away, tried to keep it under wraps, but she couldn’t keep a sob from escaping, mortified at her own weakness.
“Oh…hey…” he protested at her cry, looking a little lost before simply grasping her elbow, pulling her toward him. “C’mere.”
She went because she couldn’t stop herself; his touch was too tempting, too forbidden and familiar at the same time. Nestled against his chest, she almost felt like she could breath again, letting him rock her back and forth as she let the last three months pour out because there was no way to stop them. Her tears were heavy and hot, wetting his T-shirt, but he either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
He was warm and his arms around her were strong, a hand cradling her neck in gesture that had long been branded in her memory. She wasn’t sure if it made things better or just that much worse, but either way, it brought her back to herself, and she eventually calmed, knowing that this was unacceptable but taking just one moment more to enjoy it before pulling away, trying to put the space back between them. “I…sorry, Sir,” she said by way of apology, feeling sheepish and awkward and just wanting to be back in his arms at the same time.
He frowned at the loss of her, at the sight of her putting walls back where a moment before there had been only open space. “I…” he shrugged, sticking his hands back in his pockets. “It’s probably been a lousy couple of months.”
A ghost of a smile traced her face. “Something like that, Sir.” She looked away again, gripping the railing tightly once again to help her resist the pull of gravity that seemed to just want her back in his arms. “I missed you,” she admitted before she could stop herself, and to her horror those three words seemed to strip her even barer than she had been when she was sobbing in his arms.
But because he was Jack even though he wasn’t, he just stood there, eyes as unfathomable as ever. “Would it be strange…” he finally started thoughtfully, “…for me to say that I think I missed you too?”
It was strange, but strange in a way they both knew, strange in that bittersweet not-strange-at-all kind of way. It was exactly the right thing to say, and moreover, it was the truth. He stepped forward, a hand coming up to trail across her cheek and she couldn’t stop her eyes from slipping closed for a moment to relish it, couldn’t stop the thrill that ran up her spine at the simple contact. “I…” she started, and for a minute she couldn’t pull her thoughts together, though it made it worse when they snapped back into place and she looked up at him, eyes sad. “Sir…we can’t.”
He nodded, though he didn’t move his hand. “I know,” he said simply. “I…can’t remember much of anything about anything, Sam. But…I know you.”
His free hand rested over his heart as he said it, and it said what he couldn’t, it spoke of the things he didn’t remember, but still felt. It was enough, or at least, it was all she could have, so she’d take it and be glad. “Yes Sir,” she agreed simply, because he spoke the truth.
He nodded, dropping his hand slowly and stuffing it back in his pocket before turning away, searching for something appropriate to say. She knew he wouldn’t come up with anything-there really wasn’t anything that would do any good. So they stood there, silent and lost in their own thoughts of each other.
They all insisted on staying, as though they were a bunch of middle schoolers having a slumber party. Teal’c stretched out on the couch, in a deep state of sleep that bordered on creepy, especially next to Daniel’s rather haphazard sprawl, glasses skewed and hair mussed. But it made him smile, because they felt like home.
Carter got the guest bedroom, which was really no more than a glorified cot pushed against a wall. But she had sworn she didn’t mind, slipping behind the door with a half-smile before he could protest, and he couldn’t bring himself to knock on the door to double check-it seemed too intimate, somehow. So after methodically going over the house making sure everything was locked and tight, something he didn’t think about but just did, he entered his own bedroom, faintly curious and more than a little exhausted.
It was like every other room in the house really-bare. Not cold or impersonal, but not really a home either. A plain quilt covered the bed, a utilitarian lamp and alarm clock rested on the bedside table. A watch here, a spare uniform there…everything a guy could need and nothing he’d particularly want.
Why was he getting the distinct impression that he didn’t have a happy life?
Dramatic, sure. Interesting, there was no question. But…could anyone this utilitarian really be happy?
Not really knowing what to do, he sat on the bed, running his hands over his face. He was tired, tired of being confused and out of place and half alive. Just tired.
He lay down with a sigh that he would swear echoed, resting uncomfortably. Something was missing, some ritual or habit that would make it OK to rest, to sleep, even though the idea of oblivion hit a little too close to home about now. Still, it wasn’t an option until he did…something. Now if only he knew what it was.
Frowning, he reached over to the bedside table, opening the shallow drawer there. Not much was in it-a book, some Tylenol. And two pictures. He fished them out, knowing they were important.
One of Sam. He had almost been expecting that, so it didn’t really surprise him that he recognized the picture of her, laughing at someone behind the camera, a beer in her hand and the sun in her hair. Somehow, he remembered this day, the smell of the barbeque and the chirp of the crickets and the ease he had felt with them around, just hanging around on their day off because it seemed strange not to see each other. Sam in that blue tank top with the strap that didn’t like to stay up, laughing at his bad jokes and cutting up vegetables in the kitchen and stretching out on the roof to watch the stars. He remembered loving her that day, and all the others, not that they ever said that word-there were rules even on the best of days. But it was good to remember, good to know he hadn’t been wrong, even if it wasn’t and couldn’t be anything.
He flipped to the second one, confused for a moment, tracing the face with the tip of his finger as he tried to place it, to put together the image on the rumpled photo with some recollection, with anything that would make it make sense.
It only took a minute, and then the pain was there, hitting him like a sledgehammer in the gut. He actually doubled over from it, squeezing his eyes shut.
He gasped for air as the memories assaulted him, not able to get his lungs to function. A moan escaped, a helpless and pitiful sound against the torrent of pain that came cascading back, too fast and too much.
And then she was there. It didn’t make it any better, not really. But she was there anyway.
She hadn’t been sleeping-how could she? She was still in knots, head still reeling.
I know you.
The words rang in her ears, repeating over and over, so true and so welcome and so…Jack. It was comforting and disturbing all at once, because even now when he didn’t remember her, he knew what there was between them, which forced her to face it.
It was easier when she could pretend.
A sound reached her ears and she bolted upright, leaping out of bed and out of the room, down the hall. He knew her. But she knew him too. Her heart knew that sound.
The door opened easily-part of her was surprised that after everything they had been through, doors could just fly open like that-and there he was, curled up on the bed, overcome by his own life.
It probably wasn’t her place-it never really had been. But she couldn’t just leave him there. She was across the room in a flash, climbing onto the tall bed with him, a single hand on the small of his back, at a loss for what else to do and certain he’d pull away.
But he turned and clung to her instead, and in shock she pulled him to her, glad to be the one giving comfort for a change and sad that there was a need for it.
She ran her hand down his shaking back, humming some tuneless song in the back of her throat and couldn’t stop herself from pressing a kiss to his temple as she cradled him, a tear slipping down her face for his pain, even though it did him no good. But he didn’t turn her away, and so together they waited for the stabbing pain of reality to fade back into the old ache of every day.
He had fallen asleep eventually, curled on top of the sheets, still fully clothed with his second-in-command clutched in his arms. And when he woke, she was still there, lost in her own long needed dreams, tears still drying on her cheeks and feet tangled in his own.
He remembered now.
His eyes traced her features, softer in sleep, trying to recover God knows how many hours of the rest she had lost in the last three months. It broke his heart that she did this over him, and yet it was good to know that she still gave a damn. It was a lost cause, a hopeless situation, and she had had every opportunity to turn away from it. He even thought for awhile, after Pete, that she was. That she had finally gotten some sense and found someone better than this broken old soldier, someone who could give her everything she deserved, someone who hadn’t been beaten by life.
But it turns out that sense and reason didn’t seem to make much difference in the long run.
Was it wrong that he was glad?
Softly, so as not to disturb her, he pressed a light kiss over her forehead, brushing the blonde bangs out of the way and taking a moment, just one, to nuzzle against her gently, allowing himself the moment of weakness because he needed it, needed to revel in her being here before they put it away again. Her smell assaulted him and he sighed, heart heavy and happy at the same time.
She smiled in her sleep, and the expression made him wistful, wishing that…
But wishes weren’t any good. With memory came responsibility, and so they were back to the way things were.
So he got out of bed, because if he stayed the entire night next to her, there was little chance of him being able to walk away in the morning. Better to do it in the dark cover of night, when she’s smiling and he was warm again for a change, not happy but warm because her actions had reminded him what warm was.
Consciousness came slowly, impeded by the warmth of her surroundings and her long-suppressed need for sleep, but eventually awareness crept in and her eyes opened, knowing by the smell and the feel and the memories of last night where she was.
She groaned as she sat up, rubbing a kink out of her neck and feeling the strange off-centeredness that came from sleeping in her clothes. He was already gone and she wasn’t surprised-he wouldn’t have put her in the awkward position of waking up in his arms. It was both a relief and a regret.
There was the smell of breakfast wafting down the hall as she padded down it, still rubbing the last of sleep out of her eyes by the time she entered the kitchen, smiling to see the three of them there, Jack scrambling eggs and Daniel pouring juice and Teal’c buttering bread as they chatted in the easy way of friends.
“Hey!” Daniel greeted her happily. “Guess who got his memory back?”
Her eyes slid to Ja…the Colonel, and he smiled that little half smile and gave her a shrug. “Brain rebooted,” he said by way of explanation, brown eyes locked on her own, trying to say the things that they couldn’t.
I know you.
I love you.
She smiled back, feeling the slide back to normalcy, back to the way things had to be. Back to remembering that they couldn’t forget. “That’s wonderful, Sir,” she said out loud, coming over and grabbing the cheese out of the fridge before he could turn for it himself and placing it on the counter for him.
“Yeah,” he replied as they all readjusted, brushing aside the splinters of what had been for a few hours and focusing on the more recognizable, the almost perfect.
It ached a little, but at least it was an ache she recognized. And after the huge breakfast full of catching up and laughter and the comfort of friends, it was an ache she could almost ignore.