“The winter here's cold, and bitter
It’s chilled us to the bone
We haven't seen the sun for weeks
Too long too far from home
I feel just like I'm sinking
And I claw for solid ground
I'm pulled down by the undertow
I never thought I could feel so low
Oh darkness I feel like letting go.”
~ ‘Full of Grace’, Sarah McLachlan.
Cold. So cold. Jack O’Neill stood in the centre of the dark room, a cool blue glow being emitted from a source he couldn’t see. He felt cold, so very cold. Freezing. His limbs felt stiff and frozen, unmoving, too heavy to lift. He was cold, but he wasn’t alone. They were there. They with their sympathetic and vaguely familiar faces but he couldn’t place them with identities. They swarmed around him like bees to honey, like moths to a light, only it was cold. So cold.
They spoke in low voices, their words mingling with each other as they circled around him, almost mocking him, surrounding him and closing in on him so it felt like they were the predators and he were the pray. The helpless pray, alone and defenceless and oh so cold.
“ You’re cold, Jack. I can’t love you anymore, you’re so cold.” The voice suddenly rang out above the others and with a great deal of effort, Jack lifted his head to meet the eyes of the person who spoke.
“ Sara..” He gasped, his breath forming a mist in the air in front of him, the word barely making it past his dry, cracked lips. He tried to lift his arm, to reach out for her, but his ex-wife just shook her head sadly, her eyes glimmering like ice in the moonlight on a winter evening.
“ I tried to love you, Jack,” she told him softly. “But you’re so cold. I can’t do it anymore. You’re too cold to love.. Too cold to love and be loved.. Too cold, Jack. You’re just too cold.”
Shaking his head mutely, Jack watched as she slunk away from him, back into the shadows, joining the crowd of faceless people in dark robes, walking around him, murmuring words he knew were complimentary. If he listened carefully, he could hear some of the things they were saying about him, voicing the very truths he struggled daily to accept and come to terms with.
“ He drove Sara away. She tried but she couldn’t reach him.”
“ He pushes his friends away.”
“ He’s too distant.”
“ Too cold.”
“ He killed his son.”
“ He’s shutting everyone out.”
“ So cold.”
With an anguished sob that caught in his throat, Jack fell to his knees, shivers wracking his body. His arms were too heavy to lift so he couldn’t bring his hands up to his ears to block their harsh words. “ No, no, no. no..” He repeated his mantra as tears ran from his eyes, managing to get half way down his cheeks before they froze solid. He couldn’t move. He was so cold, an ice statue.
The chanting faded. His breath came out in short wheezes, warm mist in contrast to the icy air that imprisoned him. It was becoming harder to breathe. He was numb and sore and so very tired. It was exhausting to try and stay alive. Everything stopped. He heard nothing, not even the sound of his own breathing. His blood was stationary in his veins, too thick and solid to move. His heart was nothing but a block of cold stone, encrusted with ice.
Only his eyes remained open. Staring into nothingness, into the dark room with the cold stone floors and walls, the room with no windows and the unnatural blue hue.
Cold. He was cold. So cold.. it was almost as if he were dead.
For the tenth time in less than five minutes, Major Samantha Carter felt her eyes drift towards the clock on the mantle place. It was past 9 o’clock. The Colonel obviously had no intention of showing up. Her gaze wandered to her friends as she sighed softly.
They didn’t seem concerned. Daniel had said when she’d arrived at six that Jack had mentioned he might not turn up because he was feeling a little unwell. Now the young archaeologist was drinking his fourth beer between bursts of giggles as he and the equally tipsy Doctor Janet Fraiser played some game they’d invented themselves on the chessboard when the real rules of the game had become too difficult for their alcohol ridden minds to comprehend. Cassandra Fraiser and Teal’c remained engrossed in their computer game on the Nintendo Cassandra brought with her every time she was allowed to attend one of the adults nights in, in the hopes that one day she’d manage to beat Uncle Jack.
Sam closed her eyes momentarily as another sign threatened to overtake her. As she did so, she felt a sharp pain in her chest, forcing her to draw in her breath swiftly as her eyes fluttered open again. She put a hand to her heart, feeling it’s steady beating in her chest and heard the small, nagging voice she associated most commonly with her conscience. ‘Jack needs help,’ it told her urgently. She opened her mouth to alert the others, but strangely, it hushed her. ‘No. He needs *you* and only you. Go to him, Sam. Before it’s too late. Please.’
Getting to her feet, Sam tried to wipe the frown from her face as her friends turned to her expectantly. “ I’m gonna go, guys. I’m tired..”
“ But it’s still early!” Cassandra protested as she immediately leapt to her feet to give Sam a hug. “ Can’t you stay for a little longer?”
Sam gazed into the big green eyes looking up at her and felt torn between staying with the young girl and following her gut instinct. After wrestling with herself internally for a few moments, her feelings of unease towards Jack O’Neill won as she leaned down to hug Cassandra tightly. “ I’m a little tired, Sweetheart. I promise, though. Next downtime we get, I’ll come and see you, okay?”
“ Promise?” Cassandra’s eyes lit up at the prospect.
“ Promise.” Sam confirmed with a smile. It was another ten minutes before she managed to escape from Daniel’s apartment and all the goodbyes, especially the drunken hugs from Daniel and Janet. Shaking her head as she climbed into her car, she wondered how wise it was leaving the two unsupervised as Teal’c was sure to spend the rest of the night as watchdog to Cassandra.
Her thoughts strayed from the friends she was leaving and settled on the friend she was heading to see. Sam knew it was probably irrational, but she couldn’t deny what she felt. Something deep inside her was telling her somet hing was wrong and as she pulled her car onto the drive of Colonel O’Neill’s house to find all of the lights switched off, she knew whatever it was inside her was right.
With cautious dread tingeing her steps brought on by the horrific thoughts of what she might find that were swirling around like a tempest in her mind, Sam dug out the cool metal key Jack had given every member of their team in case of emergencies. They had all exchanged keys, shortly after their first year as a team had passed. A sign of their trust, a symbol of the bond that was forming between them.
“ Colonel?” She called out, amazed her voice was still and not shaking as much as she was internally. “ Sir, are you here?”
Silence met her calls. The house was shrouded in darkness and Sam pulled her light jacket around her even tighter to ward off the chill that was seeping into her bones. ~The heating must not be on,~ she realised with a frown. That wasn’t like Jack. Ever since Antarctica, he liked to be in a warm house. He’d rather be too hot than too cold.
Stifling a shiver, Sam warily started climbing the stairs. Her unease grew and a sudden movement from the corner of her eyes startled her, her heart racing a mile a minute as she stopped still, eyes glued in the direction of the motion. A self-depreciating, relived smile played on her lips as she realised it was just her reflection. Feeling more than a little foolish, Sam continued walking up the stairs, ignoring the mirror hanging on the landing, softly calling out for ‘Colonel O’Neill’ or ‘Sir’ but never for ‘Jack’.
After searching the house and even after checking the roof, the only room left was his bedroom. She felt like an intruder, like she was somewhere she didn’t belong but was somehow being drawn to the room like a moth to a flame.
Knocking softly before she opened the door, Sam put her head into the room, wincing at the cold blast of air that hit her. Her concern grew and panic began to rise within her at the whimpering Colonel she saw lying curled up on the bed. Thinking nothing of feeling like she was invading his privacy, she entered the room fully and shut the door, crossing to close the window and turn on the bedside lamp – anything to add some heat to the room.
Frowning at the pallor of his skin and the sweat he was drenched in, the clothes he was wearing the last time she saw him clinging stubbornly to his skin, Sam sat down nervously on the edge of the bed and reached out to lay a hand on his forehead. She pulled her hand back in shock, the iciness of his skin burning her, jolting her out of her thoughts of how inappropriate it was for her to be there, in his room, especially given their ranks and the feelings they shared despite those ranks.
“ Colonel.. Jack.” She kept her voice low and soft, seeing the distress on his face even in sleep as she reached out for him again. “ Come on, Jack. Wake up for me, okay?”
With a strangled moan, Jack’s eyes fluttered open, his teeth chattering as his arms wrapped tightly around himself in a futile attempt at easing the bitter chill that surrounded him. “ Cold.. Sam.. So cold..”
“ I know, Sir,” Sam murmured, the sorrow in his brown eyes scaring her. “ It ’s going to be okay.” Unthinkingly, she ran her fingers through his greying brown hair in a soothing gesture, trying comfort him despite not knowing or understanding the problem. “ I’ll go and put the heating on, okay? And then I’ll call Janet and..” Her voice trailed off as she remembered what state the petite Doctor had been in the last time she had seen her. “ I’ll go and put the heating on, see if we can warm you up a little.”
Before she could stand, Jack’s hand shot out and caught her wrist, the frostiness of his touch almost painful against her skin. “ No..” He shook his head feebly, his voice weak and broken. “ Cold.. Don’t wannabe cold, Sam.. Please..”
The pleading in his eyes sliced through her. Sam looked down on him helplessly, uncertain as to what it was he wanted her to do. It was obvious he didn’t want her to leave the room, so what else was there she could do to keep him warm? ~Body heat,~ the same small voice from before reminded her, almost so smugly that she was annoyed with herself for the thought. ~Body heat works to warm people.~
Taking a deep breath, Sam mentally shook those thoughts from her mind as she closed her blue eyes temporarily against the beseeching expression she saw on his face. “ Okay, Colonel..” She opened her eyes and forced a weak smile she knew wasn’t fooling anyone. “ Lets get you into something dry, okay? I promise I won’t leave.”
“ Promise.” Jack repeated, his eyes a little dazed as he reluctantly pried his fingers from her wrist. The small part of his mind that was still capable of rational thinking reminded him that his clothes were drenched, drenched in cold sweat.. Cold.. He was so cold.
Unnervingly, his gaze never left her as she got up from the bed and rummaged awkwardly in the drawers, trying to find some sweats, a t-shirt and a jumper he could change into. When she finally turned back around with the items in her grasp, she was shocked to find he had slipped into an almost catatonic state, rocking backwards and forwards, murmuring incoherently.
“ Jack?” Sam was immediately at his side, the change of clothing forgotten as she put a shaking hand against his forehead. He felt like ice, and the panic within her rose another notch. “ Jack, please. Help me, okay? I don’t know what to do.”
He must have heard something in her voice, some sign of her alarm, because his eyes flew open and he stared unwaveringly at her in silence before speaking in the same dry tone as before. “ Help.. me.. Love.. me.. Sam.. Please..”
Tears sprung unbidden to her eyes at his request. So simple yet so.. There was something desperate, something like fear in his eyes.. as if he was scared she would say no. “ I do love you, Jack.. But that won’t help..”
He reached out for her before she could finish. His cold hands wrapped round her upper arms and drew her down beside him. Unable or perhaps unwilling to put up a fight, the bitter coldness radiating from him spurning any notions of denying him this comfort, Sam struggled to put the thick comforter over them prior to taking him into her arms as he held on firmly, as though she were his lifeline and he was afraid someone would come and take her away.
As the violence of his shivers subsided, Sam felt a new coolness against her, this time in liquid form. Pulling away slightly, she was startled and pained to find tears running down his cheeks and through her own clothing, staining her skin.
“ It’s okay, Jack. It’s okay..” She soothed, rubbing his back with one hand as she pressed her lips against his forehead. “ It’s okay. I’m here now. I’m here.”
Surprising her, Jack shook his head against her and made a pathetic attempt at getting away. “ No.. You.. You don’t love me.. Can’t love me.. Too cold..”
Realization struck her as the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. It was instinct, or perhaps something deeper, but Sam understood. She understood. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, preparing herself mentally. Opening them, she saw the tears were still cascading down his cheeks, this unusual display of emotion from a man trained to hide what he felt warming and frightening her instantaneously.
He wouldn’t believe her if she told him using words, and that left her with only one option: showing him with gestures and actions.
Reality blurred with fantasy, the real world mingling with the nightmare he had been trapped in for as long as he could remember. Jack was back in the cold room, the one with the bluish glow, but the people had gone. The nameless people, the chanting, the familiar faces that taunted him.. They were all gone.
But he wasn’t alone. He watched with hopeful eyes as Sam came into view, stepping from the shadows. He longed to reach out and touch her, to tell her he loved her, but he couldn’t. He was.. frozen. He couldn’t move, he couldn’ t speak.. He was even sure he was breathing.
She kept walking towards him, a smile softly curving up her lips. She seemed to be glowing, a golden aura surrounding her body like a fine mist as she got closer, one step at a time, smiling at him throughout. Her lips were moving, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying. It was taking a great deal of effort to concentrate on watching her, to get his mind off something other than the deadening frost heavily blanketing him.
If he had been breathing, his breath would have caught in his throat as she stopped, barely inches away, and lifted a hand to his cheek, her touch delicate, almost hesitant. There was a vague stinging sensation where her hands came into contact with his skin, a sensation that lingered behind until the heat they were giving was absorbed by his flesh, thawing the icy layer just enough so he could physically feel her skin against his.
Her wandering hands gradually spread warmth through him, banishing the cold from his body, melting the ice that bound him. As her heat infused him, Jack realised he could move his limbs, that his arms were no longer too heavy for him to lift, that he could touch her in return.
Before he could touch her, Sam pulled away a little, smiling at him shyly. Jack.” He could hear her now his mind wasn’t frozen, and her voice only served to warm him even more. She took another step forward, bringing their bodies so tantalisingly close they were almost in full contact but with less than an inch of space between them. He could feel her breath on his skin, and knew she could feel his on hers. “ I love you, Jack,” she murmured softly, her blue eyes shining earnestly. “ Let me love you.”
Beyond words, Jack could only nod as she closed the gap between him and pressed her lips to his. The new contact enflamed him, spreading an inferno through his entire being, breathing life and hope into his bruised and battered soul.
Unable to refrain from holding her and letting his own hands wander over her body, Jack reached out and wound his arms around her, bringing her flush against him as he deepened the kiss, battling for control, battling to satisfy their mutual desires instead of denying them.
His hands travelled over the smooth expanse of her skin, revelling in its softness and warmth, revelling in the fact his touch was not only welcomed but encouraged. The cold stone room faded but he didn’t notice. He didn’t notice the familiar essence of his bedroom, or the weight of the comforter that was creeping further and further down the bed, nor the feel of the soft mattress that supported them. All Jack was aware of was Sam, and the feeling of her supple body beneath his as her hands drifted over his body, eliciting moans in response to the sighs his own hands were drawing from her.
Sighs, whispers and moans were used instead of words as their responses. The world outside ceased to exist, as they duelled for dominance, in an attempt to prove to the other how deep the emotions they were feeling were, and how intense.
All coldness had been banished from the room, and from their lives for the time being. Jack stopped, hovering above Sam, a heartbreakingly tender expression arranging his features. He gazed deeply into her glazed eyes, finding nothing but love and desire in the depths of the blue pools staring back up at him evenly. “ Sam,” he breathed as his eyes travelled from her eyes and back up again. “ You’re so beautiful,” he told her softly, his words undeniably genuine and sincere, the sincerity and truth in his voice bringing tears to her eyes. “ I love you.”
“ I love you, too, Jack.” She smiled up at him, the kind of smile that he knew was reserved only for him, the kind of smile that almost threatened to split her face in two, her eyes moist and shining brightly.
More gasps and moans were shared as their breaths mingled and became one, just as their physical forms and souls merged to create a whole. Tears were shed and names gasped as their joining reached its final moment, enveloping them in such a feeling of joy and love that neither had felt before, a love that would have left them breathless with its intensity if they weren’t already.
“ Love you, Sam.”
“ Love you, too.”
Neither knew which one of them managed to pull the comforter over them but neither cared. Their bodies cooled, but the air was still full of warmth. Sleep encroached the room and they gave in willingly, knowing that neither one of them would feel the cold of loneliness and despair as long as the other was there to give their love so readily and willingly.
Sighing as he held Sam close, Jack smiled in the depth of his slumber as she burrowed further into his side, thanking whatever power had brought her to him, feeling certain for the first time in years that he had a future, that he had reason to hope. He might have been cold, and impossible to love, but Sam had come along and changed that, and as long as he kept her in his life, and in his arms, he knew he would love and be loved, and that knowledge alone was enough to keep the cold at bay, keeping it outside, in the world beyond the one they had created together.
“A glowing ember;
Burning hot, Burning slow.
Deep within I'm shaken by the violence of existing, for only you.”
~ ‘Do What You Have to Do’, Sarah McLachlan.