Carefully, he peeled his hands from the surface of the table, and sure
enough, it had happened again. Faint, smudgy outlines of the hollows of his
palms and fingers were left on the table, ghostly impressions that swiftly faded
O’Neill waited until the moisture had completely disappeared, and then placed
his hands, fingers spread out, back onto the cold tabletop. He counted to ten, slowly, and took his hands off the table. They were there
tentatively ran a finger through the palm of one outline; the water beaded onto
his skin and he watched it disappear from the tip of the digit.
amazing. No doubt Carter would have a reason –
skidded to a halt.
lying still in the infirmary, hooked up to numerous blinking machines.
the only reason that he was sitting in the commissary, accompanied only by a
rapidly cooling coffee and hand prints on the table, at some god-awful early
hour in the morning.
performed an agile dodge-and-leap as it scrambled to find another, less
tumultuous topic to think about. One that wouldn’t clench his gut in a vice and
make his stomach writhe restlessly within itself and one that didn’t involve
acknowledging, let alone *facing* a dangerous blend of guilt, anger, fear,
relief and something akin to the l-word. Jack was afraid that the cocktail
of feelings would go straight to his head and disable whatever was holding
together the shards of his control.
instead, he resolutely concentrated on his coffee. Steam had long since stopped
rising from the surface; it looked tepid and undrinkable but he gazed blankly at
it, even as he heard cautious footsteps approaching him and the chair opposite
him squeak, protesting, as a figure sat down.
stretched between them – a bleak, empty silence that drove Jack to reckless
this!” he said brightly, placing his hands, fingers outstretched, on the
tabletop. Stubbornly refusing to meet the eyes of the man sitting across from
him, he counted to ten under his breath, and with a flourish, removed his hands
from the tabletop. “See?”
there is a good reason for why this happens -” Jack was babbling and he knew it,
but he couldn’t seem to stop the rush of words. “- I’ll have to ask Carter next
time I see her – I’m sure she’d know -”
Daniel’s voice, louder and more incisive this time, cut through Jack’s blather.
“I understand,” he said simply.
anger and self-recrimination that had been simmering beneath the surface slipped
through Jack’s carefully constructed wall of denial and exploded into blistering
“No, you can’t understand!” he shouted, standing up,
shoving his chair backwards violently. It crashed into another table, and the
vicious sound of metal colliding with metal bounced off the walls of the
commissary, filling the empty room with tension. “*No-one* can understand! She
*died* today, Daniel – SHE DIED, and I couldn’t do ONE –GODDAMN – THING ABOUT
His fist started aching dully; belatedly, he realized that
he had pounded it against the table for emphasis and his coffee had spilt over
the table from the force of the blows. However, the pain couldn’t force the
unwanted images from earlier that day from replaying themselves in his
# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #
“Lucky for us that there are stepping stones, sir.”
Jack looked around the dim cavern in wonder; glistening crystals encrusted the numerous stalactites dripping from the ceiling and their counterparts rising in spires from the floor. A wide, though very shallow stream was seeping through the cave, and the acoustics amplified its tiny trickle, filling the vast cave with the sound of rushing water. It took him a good couple of seconds to notice the five or six flat stones that bridged the water.
“Some of us don’t mind getting our feet wet, Carter,” he answered lazily, looking back up at the ceiling - it was almost close enough to touch, covered with drips of water.
Sam laughed, stepping onto the first stone. “With all due
respect, sir,” she said over her shoulder, as she jumped lightly onto the next,
“I doubt you’ll be saying that after our 10 mile hike h –”
The third stone had proved treacherous and had tilted sharply as she landed on it, and she flailed her arms wildly, fighting to maintain her balance. Jack watched in amusement as she managed to grasp a stalactite, stopping herself from falling into the water by what seemed to be a physical miracle.
Sam resurrected her balance on the stone, and was annoyed to find a hot flush creeping up her cheeks. Damn it! Glad for the covering darkness, she wiped her stinging hands on her BDU’s and flung a glare in her C.O.’s direction.
“Do not laugh,” she said tersely, stepping gingerly onto the
next stone in the line.
Jack blatantly smirked back at her; she was flustered, he could tell, and this was a rarity in itself – he wasn’t about to waste the opportunity! He opened his mouth to begin a smart wisecrack about women and shoes, but it was forgotten as an ominous rumble reverberated though the cave. Both of them looked up instinctively; little rocks started sprinkling into the stream, landing with amplified ‘plinks’ and Jack winced as dirt showered down into his eyes.
“Carter, I think we should get out of here,” he snapped out,
squinting up into the blackness.
“Coming, sir,” she answered swiftly, turning carefully on her stone. Jack
rolled his eyes in frustration. Women!
hell with keeping your feet dry, Carter. I’ll give you my spare pair of socks.
Just – watch out!”
A large rock was plummeting from the ceiling, but his warning was too late; he watched in horror as it struck her on the temple, swiftly banishing all the light and life from her eyes as if some greater power had flicked the switch of her consciousness. She seemed to fall in slow motion and Jack extended his arms involuntarily, helpless as she splashed facedown into the water, and lay unmoving. Before he could move toward her, the ceiling fell with a cloud of dust and a large wall of debris cut him off from her.
“CARTER!” he shouted, his heart in his throat, as he fumbled with his radio. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. Two pairs of running feet cut short his struggles with the buttons, and he instead started a vicious assault on the barrier.
“What is it, O’Neill?” Teal’c asked, halting beside O’Neill, beginning to clear away the wall also.
“Carter – she’s in there – unconscious – facedown in water,” Jack replied
frenziedly, punctuating his sentence with flying rocks. His palms started an
angry stinging as the sharp rubble pierced his skin, and the warm blood oozing
from the cuts made his grip slippery, but uncaring, he continued to pull the
rocks from the wall. Panic was making his heart pound erratically and he gritted
his teeth against the image of Carter lying face down in the water; she was
*not* going to drown, goddamn it!
Even with the combined force of Teal’c, Daniel and Jack, several long minutes had ticked past when a gap big enough for a person appeared at the top. Without a word, Teal’c boosted Jack up and through the wall, and he tumbled roughly down onto the other side, little caring for his smarting elbows and knees.
She was still lying facedown in the water.
splashed to her side, dropping to his knees and turning her in one motion. Her
head lolled awkwardly as his fingers sought her pulse, leaving thick red and
brown streaks on her white skin.
Quickly, he stretched her out flat in the shallow water, and tilted her
head back. Trying not to think about the awful clamminess of her lips, he
covered her mouth securely with his and blew two long warm breaths into her
waterlogged lungs. Her chest rose gently, but there were still no signs of
He swore violently under his breath, and shifted round her body. Stripping her rapidly down to her tank top, all but tearing her jacket off her, he carefully interlocked his fingers and compressed her chest rapidly with the heels of his palms, counting as he did so.
“One, two, three, come ON Sam, five, six…” He reached fifteen, stopped, breathed into her, and started the compressions again. Mechanically, he repeated the process and he was midway through his third repetition of the procedure when he saw her chest rise spontaneously. Hardly daring to hope, he bent over her mouth. A slight breath tickled his hair, and then she coughed, once – and then again. Warm waves of exquisite relief overwhelmed him as he helped her sit up, and he silently thanked every deity he had come across in the galaxy as Sam coughed up what seemed to be a good third of the stream.
“She’s breathing!” Jack’s shout of jubilation echoed throughout the
cavern and he heard Daniel’s answering yell of relief though the rocks.
“What – happened?” Sam said, feebly, still trembling from the vicious coughing fit.
“Shhhhh…” Jack carefully picked her up, and carried her out of the stream
and onto dry ground, where he sat down against the wall, letting her rest
against him. “You’re going to be okay.” His heart swelled almost painfully, and
his arms tightened slightly around her. The temptation to press a kiss into her
hair was almost overpowering.
Sam coughed again, her chest shaking. “My chest hurts,” she said weakly.
“Well, I had to do C.P.R…” His voice trailed off, realizing that it
hadn’t been the most tactful thing to say.
went still in his arms. “I drowned?”
His arms tightened again around her. She didn’t need any other answer.
“Shhh. No more talking,” he said, softly, and was inappropriately pleased
when Sam instantly relaxed in his arms, her head falling heavily on his
shoulder. “Danny and Teal’c will get us out of here in no time, and then *I’m*
going to have to piggy-back you all the way to the gate – wet shoes and
Sam chuckled quietly, and then closed her eyes. She drifted off to sleep almost instantly and Jack was left simply holding her. After so many minutes of fast, almost mechanical physical action, the mental *impact* of what had just occurred had had no time to present itself to Jack, and it did so now with a vengeance, as if making up for lost time. A sickening slideshow flicked through his head, image after image that he was powerless to stop: Sam, lying facedown in water, still, and drowning slowly; Sam, her eyes dulling as the rock pounded into the vulnerable skin of her temple; the icy pallor of her skin, and the clamminess of her lips as he had bent frantically over her, willing life back into her body.
He almost retched, gagging slightly as he breathed in the murky smell of the stream that clung to his skin and clothes, and couldn’t help the tremor that rippled through him with surprising force. He leant his head gently against her still damp hair, and closed his eyes.
The woman in his arms, who had the very ability to stop his heart from beating, had almost been taken from him, slowly and remorselessly by an inch of water while he had been trapped, helpless, close by. It seemed inconceivable that something outwardly so harmless could have the power to take something so unbearably priceless from him…
# # # # # # # # # # # # # # #
Opening his hand, Jack noticed that he had opened one of the many cuts that scored his skin, and blood was dripping onto the clean tabletop.
Jack said faintly, his anger evaporating as swiftly as it had boiled over. “You
can’t understand, Daniel – I nearly lost her and she means –” he grated to a
up, he saw Daniel clench his hands together tightly, and Jack suddenly felt even
worse. Daniel did understand; he understood perfectly.
sorry, Daniel. I didn’t mean –”
waved his hand through the air, foreclosing Jack’s stumbling apology. “Don’t
worry about it, Jack,” he said, pushing his glasses further up onto the bridge
of his nose.
watched as the moisture from Daniel’s hands dissipated into the atmosphere.
Sam’s life had so nearly imitated the water; her very essence had nearly
evaporated into the hot cave air while he had been trapped on the other side,
leaving a life of bleak nothingness behind for him.
you staying here?” Daniel’s voice broke back into Jack’s thoughts.
Oh, yes.” Jack said simply, as he pulled a tissue from his pocket, and set about
wiping the blood and coffee from the table.
nodded, clearly expecting this reply, and stuffed his hands into his pockets.
“Well, I’m going to head home, and try and get some sleep in what is left of
tonight…” He fell into step beside Jack, and they moved towards the exit.
walked in comfortable silence until Daniel went to diverge; he had moved some
few steps down the corridor when Jack called him back. “Daniel?”
turned. Jack was fiddling with the blotched tissues in his hands.
“Thanks,” Jack said, almost shamefacedly.
younger man nodded in reply, and held his gaze just for a moment before walking
away toward his office. Lost in thought, Jack was left standing, absentmindedly
shredding the thin paper in his hands.
Daniel’s voice echoed in the deserted corridor. Jack looked up, startled.
to Sam for me,” Daniel said, walking backward down the corridor, and smiled at
him almost roguishly before spinning on his heel and turning a corner before
Jack could formulate an appropriate reply.
ruefully at Daniel’s perception, Jack continued toward the infirmary. He paused
outside the door – it was slightly ajar, and he could hear voices inside.
Tentatively, he pushed the door open
a little further, and a bright chink of light stretched across the floor
of the dark infirmary. He winced slightly, certain his appearance would be
noted; however, the only occupants of the room didn’t notice, for they seemed to
be having an animated argument. Pressing his eye to the gap, he saw that Sam was
sitting up in bed, glaring at the petite nurse standing next to her bad.
sorry, but I can’t let you leave –” the nurse said, in a placating tone.
feel fine!” Sam all but growled in frustration. “Please, can I just go home?”
sorry, Major, but they are Doctor Frasier’s orders,” the nurse said, her voice
rising slightly. “You have to stay here until she is sure that there will be no
could hear Sam’s sigh of exasperation from the door. “Well, you try sleeping on
one of these pillows, and you’d understand exactly why I am complaining.”
Grinning widely, Jack pushed the door open further and stepped inside the
infirmary. “Not causing trouble, are we, Carter?” he said, as Sam blinked
owlishly at him, squinting slightly as the bright light flooded the room.
“Colonel O’Neill!” the nurse said, discomfited. “I didn’t see you
I speak to Major Carter?” Jack asked, politely, closing the door behind him. The
room relapsed into a blue dimness, lit only by the soft glow of the bed light
next to Sam and the numerous, occasionally blinking machines.
“Certainly, sir,” the nurse told him instantly. “Just don’t let her
leave,” she amended, looking threateningly towards Sam who glowered back at
won’t,” Jack replied cheerfully, earning a glare from Sam. “Why don’t you go and
get yourself a coffee?”
nurse bit her lip. Clearly tempted, she spoke slowly. “Technically sir, I’m not supp-“
take care of things for a couple of minutes. Go – it’s three in the morning, for
crying out loud!”
a suspicious look at Sam, who smiled innocently at her, the brunette looked
surreptitiously into the corridor, and then left the infirmary with quick
let me leave?” Sam asked, but with very little hope.
face Frasier?” Jack grimaced. “No. You are staying here.”
gave an exaggerated sigh, and nearly pouted. “What are you doing here, then,
sir?” she asked, her eyes on the remnant of a tissue which
by now resembled white powder.
Suddenly aware of her scrutiny, he stuffed the mess into his pocket. He
crouched beside her bed, resting his chin on his arms and looked up at her. She
smiled quizzically down at him.
“Couldn’t sleep,” he told her simply, by way of explaining his appearance
at her bedside.
nodded. “Me neither.”
studied her face, his heart swelling as he took in the glow of her hair
and the intelligent sparkle in the depths of her eyes. Thank God he hadn’t
lost her. A large lump, turning slightly purple marred the skin at her
temple, and his eyes changed from tenderness to concern. Noticing his gaze, she
involuntarily reached up and felt the bruise.
winced, and she reached out and
touched his arm lightly.
sorry, sir,” she said softly.
Thinking he hadn’t heard her properly, he inclined his head toward her.
should have moved quicker. I’m sorry –“
– what? Don’t –” Jack stammered in complete bewilderment. Regaining some
coherency, he shook his head. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I should have
dug you out quicker.” He stood up, the guilt a dull ache.
sir, it’s my fault,” Sam told him, pleadingly. “I shouldn’t have worried about
the stepping stones – “
“Carter…” Jack ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “It’s *my*
fault – I’m the responsible for all of SG-1 and so the blame falls on me,” he
told her firmly, leaning over her bed to emphasis the point, and smiling despite
himself at the strangeness of the conversation.
Reaching out, he planted a finger firmly across her lips.
effect of the simple action was unintentional, but immediate – her eyes flew to
his and a long moment stretched between them, the tension quickly arcing from
one to the other. As if mesmerized, Jack traced the outlines of her face with
the tips of his fingers, and Sam’s eyes fluttered shut as he caressed the line
of her cheek, the contact intimate and electric. He felt her clench her jaw slightly as she
pressed one palm tightly against her stomach.
weren’t breathing,” he said hoarsely. “I thought I’d lost you.”
Her eyes flicked open and
something inside him quivered at the look in them.
“You haven’t lost me,” she breathed.
Something flared within Jack, hot and irresistible, brought on the
intoxicating blend of relief and her very presence. Moving slowly, his touch
became more secure and he cupped her face with one hand. His pulse started to hammer
as he leant closer, so close, until her breath was tickling the skin around
his mouth delightfully and nothing but the barest width of air separated
steps coming back along the corridor broke the moment neatly in two, and Jack
just managed to put a respectable distance between them before the nurse
re-entered the room with a streaming mug of coffee.
He heard her blow
out a long, shaky breath and rummaged quickly through what was left of his brain
for anything, however irrelevant, to say. “Daniel said hi,” he said,
did?” Sam squeaked, looking completely sidelined by this surprise attack and he nearly laughed as the nurse
looked over in curiosity. “He did?” she repeated, in a more normal tone.
Jack said, nodding desperately. Nothing in his entire career had prepared him
for this situation.
Feeling satisfied with this reply, Jack sat on her bed and reached for something
metal and shiny lying on the table next to Sam.
He smiled innocently up at her and watched her face tighten as she tried not to laugh.
She lost the battle, and he watched as she covered her mouth with one hand and, she collapsed into a fit of almost silent
Feeling decidedly relieved by the turn of events, Jack bent toward her conspiratorially.
“No giggling,” he hissed at her, which only made Sam laugh harder.
she yelped, rubbing her ribs, and Jack watched her wipe away tears of laughter, grinning broadly.
“Carter?” he asked, when she looked like she had got herself under
Sam folded her hands neatly on her stomach, and looked at him seriously.
know when you put your hands down on something cold, and you count for a while
and then you take them off and there are these little bits of water on the
He watched her
slowly process this rather jumbled explanation of the scientific phenomenon, a smile threatening at the corners of her mouth.
does that happen, Carter?” Jack spelt out, laboriously.
stared at him, completely nonplussed by this sudden turn of conversation.
For once, she failed to cough up the answer to
I don’t know, sir,” she said slowly, an enormous yawn threatening to swallow her
sentence. “I’d have to think about it.”
that.” Somehow, sneakily, his hand laced itself into hers, and her fingers
tightened around his. “Go to sleep, Carter.”
that an order, sir?” she said sleepily.
needs to be,” Jack replied, squeezing her hand lightly.
sir,” she smiled, dozy already.
watched as her eyes fluttered shut and her breathing became slow and regular,
and then settled into a more comfortable position on the bed, carefully
maintaining his grip on her fingers.
would stay and watch her sleep until the morning, but when she woke up, he would
if he had evaporated.