Summary: When the shuttle containing Major Carter crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, no one expected her to survive, but she did.
Three years and eight months before the end of the world, Major Samantha Carter was ready to die.
She didn't want to die, but there were six other astronauts on this shuttle craft who deserved a chance at life and someone had to stay behind. It was, Doctor James said to her anyway, a very noble thing to do, but that hadn't occurred to her. It was something that needed to be done and that was enough for Sam.
In the long minutes after the others had bailed out, she found a strange kind of calm that she'd never experienced before. She knew she'd be missed, but it wasn't like she was a parent who was leaving children motherless. She wasn't married. Her parents weren't around any more to suffer the grief of burying their child. Her brother would grieve and move on. They spoke a few times throughout the year by phone and occasionally visited, but that was it. She'd given a lot to the world in her career, but her death would have a relatively minimal impact upon people's lives. As she fell out of the sky she was ready to face her impending death.
Except the shuttle crash didn't kill her. It should have. If the crash hadn't killed her the long wait for the rescue should have. Or the long journey by helicopter to the nearest hospital should have been too much. When she finally made it to a hospital the surgeons performed lifesaving surgery without any expectation that they would actually succeed. They did, to their own surprise, but Sam wasn't in a position to thank them. She remained in a coma for another two months while her body continued to cling to life against all the odds.
When she woke up it was to another world, for her anyway. The rest of the world had changed very little in her absence, but everything had changed for Sam. The Doctor recited a long list of injuries and Sam was already mentally composing a letter of condolence to the poor bastard's parents before she realised he was talking about her and every injury he was listing had happened to her alone. It would have kept half a dozen people in hospital and therapy for several years.
She'd nearly lost a kidney, but hadn't quite. She'd had multiple internal bleeds, all healed by the time she came out of her coma. She'd received several pints of other peoples blood and her heart had been restarted six times. She'd broken bones. Lots of bones. Excluding her feet and hands (because they contained so many bones, not because she hadn't broken any bones in them) it would probably have been quicker to count the number of bones she hadn't broken rather than the ones she had. Most significantly, at least from Sam's perspective, she'd broken several vertebrae. The injuries and resulting swelling had put pressure onto her spinal cord and cut off circulation to several important bits. The result was that she was paralysed. The Doctor who broke the news couldn't tell her how badly quite yet, but her back was permanently damaged and it was merely a case of how severe the effects of that damage would be. He emphasised that spinal injury was about recovery and that she had a long way to go before they could fully determine how much mobility, or lack of it, she had. He also acknowledged there was no chance that her life would ever be the same again.
After the Doctor had gone, Sam was left in peace, except for the beep of monitors. She tried to wiggle her toes. There was nothing. Not even a hint that there was anything below her waist.
She wished she hadn't survived the crash of the shuttle.
It was the first time she thought that, but it wasn't the last by the long way. She wished it through the long nights when the maximum dose of painkillers couldn't knock out the pain. She wished it when nurses had to do all those personal care things that she'd taken for granted all her life. She wished it when her brain thought it was receiving pain from the legs she couldn't feel (even Sam struggled to get her head round that one). She wished it when she woke up at three am from a dream of something she used to be able to do and realised her reality was the nightmare. She wished it when her physiotherapist patronised her over minor achievements such as managing to take her weight onto her good arm to transfer herself from a trolley to her bed.
The staff of the hospital were nothing less than saints; patient to the extreme, encouraging and relentlessly positive in the face of others misfortune. Sam wanted to scream and break things. She did a few times over the long months when it all got too much, but the way the staff cleared up the mess quietly, efficiently and calmly made her feel worse. They told her it was all a part of the grieving process. She was referred her to a counsellor to help her with that process and he was the epitome of patience and understanding and Sam was smart enough to make sure he heard enough to get through the sessions without actually revealing herself. She'd lost so much of her body, she resented letting someone into her mind as well.
Her crew came to visit of course, several times in the months following the accident, but they gradually moved on with their lives and the visits became phone calls and slowly even they tailed off. Some Generals stopped by and gave her a medal. She added it to the collection with a feeling of bitterness because it accompanied her honourable discharge and military pension and reminded her of how gone her old life was.
At least she didn't have to worry about medical bills. Being a widely recognised public figure had its advantages at times. She'd been the poster child of the space program and spent most of her careers willingly drumming up interest in the program. She'd been surprised when the interest seemed to be in her rather than space, but that was what happened. After the crash there had been a nationwide outpouring of grief and it had been accompanied by an outpouring of money. Mark, as her next of kin, had set it up into a fund for her that could be used to pay her medical bills. It reverted to her control when she regained consciousness. She hadn't looked at it, but had been reliably informed that she wouldn't have anything to worry about financially as long as she didn't go overboard.
Eventually, she could get around by herself. She'd been limited by a slow healing and complicated break to her left wrist that had meant she was restricted to one good limb. Finally though she was given a wheel chair and managed to roll herself slowly around her room under the overly enthusiastic encouragement of her physio. When she was finally left to her own devices (for that brief period of the day when there wasn't something regarding her care happening to her) she ventured out to explore. She'd been out of her room and the ward to other places in the hospital for surgery and other therapies, but it was the first time she'd managed to take herself anywhere. There were doors spaced evenly along the corridor, presumably rooms like hers though the windows were too high up for her to see into them. A few further down were open and Sam wheeled herself slowly past them to soak up the chatter of visiting relatives. She wished her relationship was good enough with Mark that he'd come visit. He'd visited once, but he'd complained that reporters had harassed him regarding her and hadn't come again.
There was a lounge past the rooms with a collection of tired looking furniture, a few games and a handful of other patients. They were all older men who frowned at her as she went by as if her presence was interrupting their board game. She explored as far as she could go without leaving the ward and then loitered and snuck out of the ward behind a distracted Doctor, using her wheelchair to stop the door closing and slid through after him. It was slow going; partly because the wheelchair wasn't a very good one, partly because her arms were still getting used to the work and partly because the months without use had left her muscles embarrassingly weak.
She felt a thrill of rebellion from being outside the ward. She was still well within the hospital, but she was ever so slightly closer to the real world that both terrified her and excited her after such a long time in one room. She didn't go far. She trundled around on the same floor and pretended that she should be going wherever it was she was going. No one challenged her and after a while she returned to her ward. She slipped in after a nurse and did her best surprised expression when Nurse Gadsden ran over, "There you are. I was looking for you. Where on earth have you been?"
"I was around," Sam said innocently.
"Hmm," the Nurse said and took hold of Sam's chair to push her back to her room. "Well it's time for your meds."
She snuck out again a few days later and went further this time. This time she braved the elevators down to the first floor and went and sat outside of the front doors for a few blissful minutes and felt the sun on her skin. She managed to slip back again without incident.
She was emboldened by her success. The following day she went further afield. She'd spied a garden area behind the hospital and she made that her target for today. It was further than she thought it should be. Skirting around the short side of the hospital would undoubtedly have much simpler if she'd had a working pair of legs and her slow progress made her frustrated. She muttered to herself and paused at the base of a cast iron spiral staircase to catch her breath and to attempt to force the pain out of her left wrist.
"Shitty fuck," she declared and thumped her good hand against the metal railing of the fire escape in frustration.
"Crap," said a voice from on high and there was the clatter of something being dropped. A lighter bounced down the metal stairs onto the concrete and skittered under a trash can. A woman stuck her head down from around the first spiral to look at her. Brown eyes frowned at her and looked her up and down, "I won't ask you to fetch that for me."
"It depends how long you want to wait to get your lighter back. I could probably get it to you by next week," Sam told her.
The woman disappeared while she got up and walked down. "Sorry about that, you made me jump."
She reached the bottom of the stairs, retrieved her lighter and then folded her arms and leant against the railing. She was wearing navy trousers and a loose cream blouse under a lab coat. Her sleeves were pushing up to her elbows. "You could say that. I thought you might be my boss for a moment there. She's on the warpath."
"I won't give away your hiding space," Sam promised.
The woman smiled. It was a warm and soft smile that folded the skin at the corners of her eyes and was tinged with amusement. She pulled at the cigarette and exhaled before replying, "Much obliged. I'm Doctor Fraiser."
Doctor Fraiser put her head on one side and smoked thoughtfully for a moment before she went on, "I thought you looked familiar. You were all over the television, but I didn't recognise you without your..."
"Ability to walk?" Sam interrupted.
Doctor Fraiser's eyes said, 'smart arse,' but she was clearly entertained, "I was going to say uniform." She sat down on one of the lower steps of the staircase and regarded Sam carefully.
"Huh, I'd forgotten you were a patient here."
"Well, the slippers aren't a fashion statement."
She shook her head and smoked thoughtfully. Sam watched the movement of her hand and mouth carefully.
"So, why's your boss on the warpath?" Sam asked, desperate to have a conversation that wasn't about her and her progress, or about the trivial everyday antics of her therapist's kids.
"The usual; my team was asked to do some work, we told the powers that be how much it would cost, they didn't give us enough money and now we've gone over budget," she shrugged slowly, "I'm hiding out until she calms down and then I shall face the music."
"Very noble," Sam teased.
"I do a good samba," Doctor Fraiser joked.
"I'd love to see that some time," Sam said the words before she thought them and she felt embarrassed. She ducked her head slightly and glanced at Doctor Fraiser through her eye lashes and felt relieved when she saw that she was grinning.
"I'll show you mine if you show me yours," she joked.
Sam blushed again, but laughed, "I couldn't samba before I fell out of the sky."
"Never too late to learn," Doctor Fraiser promised her and took one last pull at her cigarette. Sam watched as she dropped the filter onto the floor and ground it under the toe of her polished court shoe.
"Well, I think it's time I bit the bullet to mix my metaphors," she declared.
"Me too, they've probably worked out I'm missing by now," Sam sighed.
"Yeah, they must be going ape shit."
"Ha," Doctor Fraiser appreciated that for some reason and Sam felt slightly proud. She executed a careful turn and was pleasantly surprised when Doctor Fraiser waited for her to about face before she started walking slowly back to the main entrance.
"Do you take many smoke breaks on the fire escape?"
Sam bobbed her head noncommittally, "Well, if I just happen to roll by here again some time..." She trailed off.
"Tell you what," Doctor Fraiser said suddenly, "Don't sneak out and I'll stop by with lunch."
"Yeah, midday tomorrow, I'll bring something, I can only imagine how sick you are of hospital food by now."
"Yeah, uh thank you!" Sam stuttered. Sam who'd faced down senior Air Force officers and shown them that she was tougher than the boys, Sam who'd carried out missions in enemy air space during the gulf war, who'd fought tooth and nail for a place on the space program, who'd been willing to sacrifice her life for her crew, stuttered and faltered because a beautiful woman offered to bring her sandwiches for lunch.
"My pleasure," Doctor Fraiser replied with a knowing smile. They were back at the main entrance to the hospital and the Doctor gestured towards a set of double doors with her thumb, "time for my Samba."
"I'm this way," Sam said with a quick nod to the lifts, "Good luck," she added as Doctor Fraiser hurried off towards the doors.
She turned for a moment to smile and wave back at Sam, "See you tomorrow."
Sam watched her go and then headed back towards her ward slowly. She was sore by now and she had been gone long enough that someone must have noticed her absence by now.
She was right. Nurse Gadsden was waiting for her outside the door when Sam got back. She looked quietly triumphant when Sam rolled up.
"Ahah, I wondered where you'd gone"
"Just went for a walk," Sam said.
"Of course," she took over wheeling Sam's chair and buzzed them in through the ward door. "You know, there's a reason you're on this ward. There's a reason we keep tabs on you. There were hoards of reporters trying to get into see you when you were transferred here. Some General did an interview and let the location slip. It seemed like the more they tried to protect you the more the media bayed for blood, metaphorically speaking. And not just the media, you're a hero, you've become public property and there are weirdos out there. It's calmed down a lot now, but there's still the occasional persistent soul."
"Sorry," muttered Sam.
"Just don't wander off," Nurse Gadsden told her as they reached her room again. She stuck the brakes on and retrieved Sam's table for her.
She frowned when she brushed past Sam, "Have you been smoking?"
"Yes," Sam said flippantly and Nurse Gadsden opened her mouth to say something, but then gave up and merely handed Sam her medication for the evening.
"It'll be dinner time in a few minutes," she warned.
Next: Three Years And One Week