Even weeks later, he still had nightmares. All the same, all capturing the same few remembered moments, twisting them, changing them into something he had feared at the time, embossing it into an image he fell asleep to each night.
It was almost embarrassing... for a soldier like him, experienced, battle-hardened, to wake in a cold sweat every morning, shouting into an empty house. Didn't he have enough bad memories to last a lifetime, to illustrate his dreamscape in vivid red, to tear him to pieces as he drifted, vulnerable, in unconscious repose? Wouldn't it make more sense for him to focus on missions lost, men lost, lives lost, terrors he had actually confronted, then to fabricate this nightmare, this horror, to torment himself needlessly?
But then again... that was what he DID, wasn't it?
And nothing about this made sense, nothing at all. He was still reeling from the shock of hearing words of affection emanate from his own mouth: reluctant, embarrassed, chagrined that THIS was how it had to come out. At what HAD come out, what he hadn't let himself realize until he'd been forced to. He was still stupefied at hearing her own words, at the way she'd spoken softly but with resolve, her eyes never leaving his.
"We heard the Jaffa coming."
"And you told Colonel O'Neill to leave."
"Yes. I knew there was nothing he could do to help me."
The nightmares were more ferocious now, since that day, since it had happened and his whole world had been turned on his ear. They were more frequent, as well, coming not just once, but two or three times during the night. Doc had commented on the circles under his eyes the other day. He needed sleep. It had to stop.
He had no idea how to stop it.
"Did the Colonel leave?"
"No. I asked him-- I told him to, repeatedly, but he kept hitting the force shield and the control panel on the wall."
Yes, that was how the nightmare always went. Swinging his makeshift club against the energy barrier, close to cursing, close to tears, overwhelmed by helplessness, drowning in it. So close and yet so far... that was the saying, wasn't it? That described it, then, how Carter was perhaps a foot away, but it was impossible to help her, to touch her, to save her life as she had so often saved his. Maybe that much was metaphorical, the way she had always been so close, but they had insisted on holding each other at arms' length.
He was paying for it, now.
And as he swung the club, he berated himself for that, for never saying the things that had come to mind at the most inopportune times. Not that it would make a difference now, not that it would make him want to save her any less, but if he lost her now, all of those things would make the grief even more impossible to bear.
If that was possible.
"What were you thinking at the time?"
"That... I was going to die."
"That if he wouldn't leave, he would die, too."
He would have done it, gladly. But he never did in the dream. The nightmare. In that impossibly clear phantasm, the Jaffa rounded the corner, and then she looked at him pleadingly, her last wish, her final testament for him to give up on her and save himself.
*This should have been so EASY*
And then the force shield flared, not because it had lowered but because Carter - Sam - had been thrown against it by the intensity of the staff blast that had drilled into her left side. Even through the crystal blue, through the shill shriek of the power grid, he could see the gore: the charred flesh, ruined tissue, her singed clothing almost melting into the wound. And though the force shield whined and blistered where she leaned into it, Jack could still see her face, her beautiful face, untouched, unscathed, unreachable, begging him with diminishing strength and fading breath to leave. To run, to go, to remember that she had always loved him.
"How did you feel about that?"
A snort at the pedantic question. "I... I didn't want that to happen. I... God, how am I supposed to..."
And then the C-4 exploded, and the Jaffa tumbled to the ground, and the shield lowered and Sam Carter pitched limply into his arms. He fell as well, unable to keep his footing, almost retching as Carter's ravaged left side made a hard, sick, wet, slopping sound against the floor.
She was dead before she hit the ground.
"I didn't want it to happen. I didn't want him to throw his life away at some futile attempt to get to me. Because... I have feelings for him."
And then, tears rolling noiselessly, almost unnoticed, down his face, he stood and ran. Through the wavering dreamscape, towards home, away from a woman who had meant the world - no, the universe - to him, away from her body, away from his failure. He ran because she had asked him to, he thought desperately, ignoring the subsistence that kept pulling him back, the knowledge that he had failed his team as a leader... had failed Sam as much as it was possible to fail another human being...
The Jaffa weren't coming after him, either, and suddenly escaping from the mountain was no problem. The Jaffa, the Gou'ald, GOD... they all wanted him to live, to have to live with the awful pain of losing her...
That was where the nightmare ended. Where he woke up screaming unintelligible words of pain and frustration. He'd always vented like that. Sara had even learned to sleep through it.
"Feelings that... I shouldn't have."
He wished Daniel had been in the lab with them, wished that he knew all about this, because he needed someone to talk to about it... desperately. He couldn't remember ever being so confused about something that should have been clear-cut, so easy and obvious. But Daniel didn't know. Sam didn't want him to know. She had made that much clear. Bad enough that Doc Frasier and Teal'c had been looking at both of them differently ever since.
"And what feelings would those be, Major?"
"I care for him."
A safe response, because he had already used the word.
"And I shouldn't."
But that didn't change the fact that she did. That he did. And while they couldn't be prosecuted for their feelings, the fact remained that one thing invariably lead to another, and it was just that thing that they COULD be prosecuted for.
So it couldn't happen. Simple as that.
*And I shouldn't*
Looking at him like that, telling him with her eyes that she regretted the fact she cared for him, that it was something that had happened without her knowledge or consent, that she wasn't a willing participant in the treason of her emotion.
It couldn't happen. Not that she would even let it.
And now it was all a mess.
And the nightmares continued. He deserved them. It was his punishment, it was his own private suffering, it was what he got for daring to care about her.