Disclaimer - MGM/Gekko/Double Secret own them.
Spoilers for ‘The Enemy Within’, ‘Thor’s Chariot’, ‘A Matter of Time’, ‘Seth’, ‘Fair Game’, ‘Scorched Earth’, ‘Beneath The Surface’, ‘Entity’, ‘The Sentinel’, ‘Meridian’, and ‘Revelations’. Set after season five ends, but before season six begins.
Yet another story I started a long time ago...well February, anyway. Special thanks my assistant: the lovely Vicky.
He missed Carter.
He'd been struggling for the last ten or so hours not to admit it, but had eventually decided there was no point in hiding it, at least to himself. For one thing, it wasn't as if he was telling anyone else about it, and secondly...he did have legitimate, non-regulation breaking reasons for missing her. She was his second in command as well as being one of his best friends.
The number of which had shrunk in the last few months.
Besides, he probably only missed her as much as he did at the moment because he had absolutely nothing to do, while she was off exploring new technologies with SG-7. Since SG-1 were supposedly on downtime, Teal'c had gone on a Jaffa 'retreat' with Bra'tac (whatever that meant), and Carter had volunteered to try out something new she'd been working on.
And as for Jack...
He'd been all set to accompany Carter and SG-7 just for something to do, but unfortunately he'd been a little clumsy earlier. In the process of falling down the stairs that led from the briefing room to the control room - providing Sergeant Davis with much amusement though he vehemently denied it - he'd done something nasty to his right shoulder.
Fraiser assured him it was just some kind of strain - accompanied by some *very* attractive bruising - and though it wouldn't lead to any long term problems, she couldn't clear him as fit to go off world.
So, he'd watched Carter go through the gate without him.
In an effort to cheer himself up after his latest check-up, he'd taken his bandaged shoulder and his bad mood out of the infirmary and into the commissary, where he was currently prodding at a bowl of blue jello with a fork.
Not that he thought they needed one, but it probably would have helped if SG-1 had a fourth member. That would have, at least, given him someone to talk to. Sure, he could talk to other people on base...but it just wasn't the same as hanging out with someone from your own team.
Carter'd been right, he thought bitterly as he stabbed the jello with the edge of a fork prong. They'd been a *team*.
Hell, even if Daniel had still been around in any kind of solid non-floaty way, he probably would have had his head stuck in the middle of some book or up some statue's ass. The truth was, none of them - except for Teal'c - actually took any time off when they were given some time off.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. Given enough downtime he'd gladly be up at his cabin; putting up his feet, chugging back a beer, wishing someone else were there with him...
But they'd been expecting to go back into rotation in two days time, and it hadn't seemed like the long journey there and back would be worth it for so short a stay. Of course, his shoulder being the way it was at the moment...
He thrust his fork into his jello again, and finally realised he hadn't actually eaten any yet.
Lifting a forkful up to his mouth, he paused when someone walked into the commissary, hovering in the doorway.
Or, as Jack had taken to thinking of him, Bogus Grin.
The guy was always, *always* grinning. No one could be *that* happy all the time, and it was seriously getting on Jack's nerves.
It wasn't the only thing about him that was seriously getting on Jack's nerves.
Still in the doorway - *blocking* the doorway, for crying out loud - Jonas' eyes scanned the room, evidently looking for someone to sit with. To his horror, he saw that when Jonas looked at him, he grinned again and raised his hand in greeting.
Preparing to state an entire dictionary of reasons why he couldn't sit with him - ranging from a rare strain of contagious polio to severe flatulence - his diatribe was stopped before it even started by the voices coming from behind him. Turning his head slightly, he saw that it was Siler and Connor who were beckoning Bogus over, and it was them he'd been grinning at all along.
Relieved, he turned back to his jello, keeping his eyes cast downwards just in case Bogus should happen to look in his direction.
Once he had happily bounded by (geez, was the guy a dog?), Jack couldn't help but listen in to their conversation. So...Siler and Connor were pretty friendly with him already, were they? Bogus had barely been there for two months, and already the two of them were treating him like he'd always been there.
He'd have to make a note of that.
Discovering that he'd completely lost his appetite - and it really wasn't the same when someone else wasn't there - he lowered his fork again.
So...what to do now?
Thankfully, the PA system answered his question.
He jogged up the steps into the control room, already having missed the beginning of the conversation. Hammond was standing a foot or so behind Davis, responding to whatever had been said to him from off world.
"-to hear it, Major. Where are you located now?"
"About forty clicks from the gate, sir. We're not far from a river, and we've been watching the indigenous animals drinking from it. It's beautiful here."
Now he wished more than ever that he'd gone. Carter's description was conjuring all kinds of beautiful landscapes and beautiful-
Things he wasn't thinking about.
Teasing mode. Nodding to Hammond, he butted into the conversation. "Sounds great, Carter. Pity we can't see it. If I ask nicely, would you take some footage for us?"
He could hear the humour in her voice. "Consider it done, sir. In fact, if you hang on a few minutes, you should be able to see it for yourself. Captain, have you got the..." She began talking techno-stuff to one of the members of SG-7 she was with, and Jack's brain immediately began filtering out the things he wouldn't understand - which was pretty much everything.
What he *did* know was that she was thrilled with this latest project. Ever since Jonas had brought the naquadriah through, she'd been oohing and aahing about an idea she'd had that had never been feasible - until now. MALP's were big, bulky, and expensive. Apparently, she'd long wanted to design a far more mobile camera image and radio relay device that would be smaller, less bulky, and probably more expensive.
Despite the projected cost, Hammond had given the green light - although Jack was sure it was after some serious arm-twisting of Hammond's superiors. His argument had been that - if this worked - they'd have a much more accurate and complete visual record of the different planets they visited. Also, once a MALP had been used for its initial reconnaissance it could be sent back home faster, and freed up for use with another SG Team.
The finished device had looked distinctly unimpressive to Jack - though he didn't let that slip to Carter. Essentially, it was a microphone headset with a small camera attached to the right hand side. He had no idea how she'd done it, but by playing around with the technology of the naquadah reactor she'd managed to get a sample of the naquadriah 'charged'. It would, as she'd explained it to him in the simplest terms possible, act like a battery source only considerably lighter. Normal naquadah, apparently, wouldn't cut it. The naquadriah was vastly more powerful, and in order to transmit image and radio from such a small device, she needed to use that.
As she continued techno-talking, Jack's gaze flicked down to the monitor to Davis' right. On it he could see the image currently being transmitted from the MALP's camera. Major West and Lieutenant Morton were currently hovering around in front of the MALP, looking distinctly bored. Jack really couldn't blame them, but someone had to wait around the gate to dial home for the test, and in case there was some kind of emergency - as often happened in their line of work, unfortunately.
Besides, West should have been feeling pleased that he was wearing the only other prototype.
"Okay!" Carter announced enthusiastically. "I think we're about ready to try this." The excitement in her voice was telling. He hadn't heard her this pleased about anything since Daniel had...left.
"Ready whenever you are," Hammond responded.
"Great. Major West, do you copy?"
Jack watched on the video feed as West grabbed his radio, kicking a stone a few inches. "I do, Major. Do you want me to send the MALP back through now?"
Nodding, he let go of his radio then pointed at Morton before pointing at the MALP. Morton, apparently holding the controls, angled the MALP away from them and towards the gate. Jack watched as the view shifted, able to see more of the landscape as it moved. The area around the gate seemed pleasant enough and he could imagine how, without much more added to it, it could be quite spectacular.
The Stargate loomed closer, the puddle soon becoming the only thing the camera could see.
West's voice crackled through again. "You should know if this works in oh...ten seconds?"
"Affirmative," Carter responded - and then the MALP was in the Stargate. Moments later it arrived on the ramp in the SGC.
Jack never forgot to think how amazingly cool that was; how at one second you could be billions of light years away and then - BAM! - the next second you're back on Earth.
The video feed and radio signal frizzed out of existence. If nothing happened soon, the gate would shut down and the test - this time, at least - would be scrubbed. And Hammond would be put under further pressure to cut funding.
Hell, if they could afford to send missiles through the gate, surely they could afford a fancy walkie-talkie.
He knew why he was thinking this of course: he was killing time because, so far, there'd been nothing. Okay, so it was only creeping up on the fifteen second mark, but he was beginning to-
"-epeat, this is Major Carter, do you copy?"
At the same moment, the monitor flickered to life, giving a view of Colonel Goddard and Captain Doyle - the other two members of SG-7, who'd accompanied Carter on her forty click hike.
Pleased, Jack found himself grinning, a sentiment that was soon shared by everyone else in the control room. Clapping echoed around the confined space, and Hammond proudly responded to her message.
"We copy, Major. It seems congratulations are in order. We're reading you, and seeing what you see, loud and clear."
From her point of view Goddard and Doyle were smiling, but she was evidently happy herself - the image kept jumping, almost as if she were bouncing up and down. Not that her words betrayed anything other than professionalism, a commitment to her work...and that big cheesy grin she occasionally wore.
"Glad to hear it, sir. Major West?"
And then his voice came.
"Is this thing on?"
Jack grinned as the feed from West's camera appeared on another monitor. West was his kind of guy; they shared largely the same sense of humour, and more than once he found himself discussing the finer points of cartoons with him.
"Confirmed," Hammond was definitely looking pleased. "Your headpiece seems to be working as well as Major Carter's."
Again, Carter began babbling - how exciting this was, the ramifications for the SGC and its off-world teams, how everyone's hard work had finally paid off - and Jack shook his head as he listened. She had every right to be thrilled. Though she wasn't individually responsible for making this happen, it *had* been her idea.
He did decide, however, that she was going to need to draw breath before she asphyxiated. "Well come on, Carter. You promised us a view. Let's see."
He could almost hear her brain shifting gears; out of 'talk' and into 'action'.
"Oh. Right. Okay."
Turning to the left, away from her still-smiling cohorts, she soon showed them what she'd been talking about. It really was one hell of a view - almost picture postcard perfect. There was the river that was barely more than a stream, the sunlight reflecting from it in a way that could *never* be faked by special effects; trees with white blossoms sprouting from them; a few colourful plants growing at various places...and the animals slowly drinking from the edge of the river, that looked like some weird ass cross between a large dog and a small horse.
"Those are the animals, huh?"
The camera panned up and down as she nodded instinctively. She kept her voice low, so not to spook them. "I tried playing catch with them earlier, but they didn't seem interested."
He knew that she hadn't, of course, but the fact that she'd even said it made him smile. Yeah, he was definitely feeling better.
"If you two are quite finished with your zoology lesson," West's voice interrupted, causing everyone in the control room to focus on his monitor. "I'd like to point out that *some* of us haven't even seen this amazing view yet. Or these animals."
Hammond fielded this one. "In that case Major, I suggest that you-"
"Wait, I...sorry to interrupt sir, but I think I can see one of them now. Morton, can you see that? Or are my eyes going?"
There was no need to ask Morton. Everyone else could see where he was looking. "That's definitely the same kind of animal we can see via Major Carte-"
"They're moving," Carter's voice, drawing them back to her point of view, watching as the animals left the river. "Maybe we should move further back. I'm worried we might have-"
One of the animals started running. Then another. And another. All three were running...
Right towards them.
They didn't look happy.
Her voice echoed around the room. "Let's MOVE!"
And the camera *was* moving; jerking as she ran, the radio broadcasting every breath she took. Jack didn't know how sensitive those microphones were, but he swore he could hear those things pounding after her.
There was no way she'd make it. There was no way she'd make it back to the gate without them catching up.
He stepped forward, then back, feeling useless, wanting to run through the gate but knowing it wasn't possible - either scientifically or from a health point of view.
West, meanwhile, was completely out of the loop, but it was obvious enough Carter was in trouble. "What's happening?"
Hammond responded. "Major Carter and the other half of your team are being chased by the indigenous animals of the planet. I suggest extreme caution in your current situation, and that you-"
Now the animal West was looking at started moving.
Jack's gaze zipped back to her screen - why did he look away? Why did he even *consider* looking away? - it was still a mad blur, glimpses of grass and trees and sun and, whenever she looked back, snarling, dripping jaws.
"Carter..." Dammit, he couldn't do anything! Until the gate shut down no one could do a damn thing.
"Sir," Her breath was heavy, her voice barely making it out, jerking with every step. "We're not going to-"
And then she was down.
The camera pitched over, the microphone thudded painfully to the ground, and there was a sound; a sound he'd thankfully heard only a few times in his entire life. An unholy, terrifying, goose-bump forming sound.
And it wasn't coming from the animals. It was coming from her.
Carter was screaming.
And the monitor went black.
"Get that camera feed back NOW!"
Davis' response to Jack's order was typically understanding yet fearful. "We're still getting the signal sir! There's just...nothing there."
He didn't like this. He didn't like this a lot. Carter was suffering God knew what, and Davis was saying stuff he didn't understand. "How is that possible?"
The Sergeant shrugged, continuing to adjust the vast wealth of technology beneath his fingertips, trying to get the image back. "Maybe...maybe something was damaged when she fell, or when..."
Or when those things attacked her.
And that wasn't all they had to worry about.
The sound of continued gunfire and shouting reminded Jack that, unfortunately, Carter wasn't the only person on that planet. She also wasn't the only person under threat.
West was running, the image from his camera shaking violently. From his point of view Morton was just in front of him, and occasionally one of them would turn back to fire pot shots at the animals running after them.
They were heading to the gate.
Hammond gave the order. "Get security in the gate room."
Within moments the personnel were there, taking up positions around the front of the gate; weapons armed, aimed, and ready to do some damage if needed.
Soon the image from that monitor disappeared - or at least was lost temporarily - and then West and Morton came pounding out of the gate, onto the ramp, and nearly slipping over in the process, their momentum carrying them to the end of the gate room.
"Close the iris!" West yelled, panting with his back against the wall, but the order was unnecessary. Davis was already using the palm scanner, and the familiar metal shield began to form.
Only this time, it wasn't fast enough.
The iris had only just begun closing when one of the animals leapt free of the event horizon, thumping onto the ramp. Its momentum should have ensured that it followed the same course as West and Morton, but instead - after a few stumbles - it stopped before coming off the edge of the ramp.
The guards had moved already, surrounding the animal while still trying to keep a safe distance.
Jack inched closer towards the window separating the two rooms, leaning across the top of a monitor. It still hadn't moved: if anything it seemed confused by its sudden change of environment and - although it was still growling occasionally in West’s direction - it appeared to be more interested in the new place it was in rather than the people it found there.
Hammond took a chance, speaking into the PA. "Clear the gate room."
It snorted in reaction to the noise, causing more than one of the guards to look concerned. It caused Jack to feel more concerned than he already was, when its gaze lifted and settled firmly on Hammond.
As the guards slowly began slipping out of the room one by one, weapons trained on the animal until the last possible moment, Jack began to realise; it knew it was Hammond who'd given the order. Who'd spoken.
Eventually the last man was out, and they swiped their pass through the reader, leaving just the animal behind.
Still standing on the ramp.
Still staring up at them.
And Jack was probably imagining things, but it looked like it was smiling.
West was up in the control room already, asking questions.
"We don't know, Colonel. We've lost contact with them. However, the last we saw they were being chased by those..." Hammond gestured towards the thing in the gate room. "...animals."
Animals. Creatures. Monsters.
West's chin tightened. "And Major Carter?"
The General glanced at Jack, before shaking his head. "Before we lost video, we saw the Major being attacked."
Jack began to suspect that he might have been in shock.
He'd seen, quite vividly, what that animal had done to her - even if it was for just a few seconds. Had seen the flesh ripping.
He'd heard, quite vividly, her reaction to what the animal had done to her. And it didn't make any sense.
Carter didn't scream. She could shout, she could cry, she could smile, she could be frustrated, she could be patient, she could confuse the hell out of anyone within a hundred yards...but she didn't scream.
Not like that.
And the anger began to build. The idea that anything, anywhere, thought it could hurt her, try to kill her, and get away with it...was unthinkable.
And unlikely. He would ensure that, if nothing else.
He stared at the thing sitting in the gate room.
It stared back.
Hammond was issuing orders; requesting a tranq gun, hoping that the thing could be studied and give them something - anything - to work on. Some explanation for why it suddenly went after their people.
West frowned. "How do we even know how much tranquiliser will be needed to take a thing like that down?"
Jack moved, brushing by them, looking at no one. "One way to find out."
He shouldn't have been the one to do it, as Doc pointed out. He was still recovering from his shoulder injury. Should something go wrong - as they often did - his reactions would likely be slowed and he might not be able to defend himself as well as possible.
Add on to that, realistically it was West's right. He had more at stake - two members of his team, rather than the one member of SG-1.
But if there was something else that Jack O'Neill and Robert West shared, it was an understanding of the need for vengeance. SG-1 had recently lost its first member, and Carter had been the only one they'd actually seen being attacked before losing the footage.
So no one else had objected. Not even Hammond.
Jack stood ready in the hallway just outside the gate room, weapon poised - despite the pain in his shoulder. Five security personnel formed a semi-circle behind him as an added precaution, and someone accessed the door.
Using it as cover until it had retracted completely, he slowly stepped into the gate room.
It hadn't moved.
It continued sitting on the ramp, it's head cocked to one side almost as if it were examining him, or amused by him.
"Here Kitty," Jack murmured, his finger resting securely against the side of the trigger. He knew from experience that if the thing even thought about making any sudden movements, he could get it before anything happened.
He moved further into the room, the men quietly shifting behind him. He was aware that, just to his left, Hammond was watching from the control room, wondering why he hadn't fired yet.
But Jack had to know. His instincts were usually pretty good, even if his brain wasn't.
He paused eventually, a few feet away from the animal. He heard the collective holding of breath from those who were watching, but it had to be done. He had to get a good look at the thing.
It was maybe four feet tall, but was currently sitting on its hind legs. If it ever managed to walk on those hind legs, it would be huge – they were big and spectacularly muscular. Dark brown in colour, Jack had half-expected it to have red eyes, but they were just as brown as the rest of it.
The mouth was the most disturbing part. The edges of the cheeks - cheeks? Was cheeks the right word? Did this kind of thing *have* cheeks? - were pointing upward and outward, giving the impression that it was constantly smiling.
Or maybe it simply was. Maybe his initial suspicion had been right.
He raised the gun slightly, drawing its attention. "You know what this is for, don't you?"
It cocked its head to the other side, almost as if it were mocking him.
The dart embedded itself in what would have been the chest area on an average dog.
There was no discernable reaction from the creature, and certainly no sign of drowsiness.
Jack fired again, this one hitting the side of its rump.
This time the animal turned its head, looking at the place where the dart had gone in, but there was still no sign of drowsiness.
Jack was mulling over whether or not another shot would be pointless or beneficial, when the animal blinked. Slowly.
Groaning, sighing, it heaved a couple of great breaths before stumbling and falling onto its right side.
Holding up his hand, Jack warned everyone away. "It might be playing dead."
Trying to silently walk forward, he winced as his first step onto the ramp clanged loudly, but there wasn't much he could do about it. Continuing up the ramp, he paused a few inches away from the animal, and slowly poked it in the side with the end of his gun.
In response, all he received was the familiar sound of snoring. "It's out," He announced, figuring that no one was that good an actor - even for a dog.
The team swarmed around the area to be sure, and before long more people had poured into the gate room, to help secure the animal and transfer it someplace safe.
In a surprisingly short amount of time - or maybe not, considering the amount of people involved - it was out of the gate room, leaving Jack standing alone on the ramp, fighting with that part of himself that had wanted to blow its head off.
West approached, standing just to the left of the ramp. "You know...it's not the one that attacked her."
Talk about stating the blindingly obvious. *That* one was some forty clicks away from the gate on P5W 219, with Carter. Doing...God knew what to Carter, who'd been so happy to be out there, to be testing out her new toy.
Finding the will to move, he stepped off the end of the ramp and kept walking, towards the door. "Take off that goddamned headset, will ya?"
He didn't need the reminder.
His shoulder was killing him. He'd been holding the weapon so close, so tight to his body that he'd been scrunching his shoulder muscles up the entire time. He'd been too focused at the time to notice; too busy exacting what little revenge he could to care much about the state of his own body.
Now, his body was forcing him to notice.
And Doc kept eyeing him suspiciously.
Jack kept his own eyes firmly on the dog - which, until they got a better name, he was calling Muttley - that was being dealt with in the isolation room. He, Hammond, Fraiser and West were keeping watch from the observation area, as what seemed like several dozen security officers taking care of Muttley. He/it had been placed on a makeshift bed, not entirely dissimilar from the one Kawalsky had been on when he'd had the Goa'uld inside him. The main difference, of course, was that it was a lot less elegant and a lot more restraints were used, but Jack was confident it would do its job.
There wasn't much else he had reason to be confident about.
Wincing at another shooting pain, he shook his head.
Fraiser - still watching him like a particularly vicious hawk - noticed. "Are you all right, Colonel?"
He didn't look at her, still concentrating on Muttley. "Fine."
"Yes, I'm sure you...are." As she spoke the last word, she threw something at him. He didn't know what it was - wouldn't know what it was until she retrieved it herself later - but his first instinct was to reach out and catch it.
Instead of grabbing it he growled in agony, and whatever it was cluttered to the floor as he clutched at his bad shoulder.
Lifting her eyebrows, Fraiser picked up what turned out to be her own security pass. "Back to the infirmary. Now."
"*Now*. That's an order, Colonel."
He hated it when she got bossy. Glancing towards the General and realising that no reprieve was going to be forthcoming, he sighed, shifted, then finally began to move. "Fine."
Truth be told, he knew he could do with some, well, medical treatment, but right then he'd much rather have spent his time staring at Muttley. Sitting in the infirmary felt too much like doing nothing.
She trotted along next to him as he strode into the corridor, the impractical shoes she wore echoing loudly as she kept up with him. Soon they were in the elevator, then on level twenty-one, then entering the infirmary.
She immediately began issuing what she tried to pass off as suggestions but were obviously in fact orders. "Take a seat, Colonel."
He did, trying to lift himself onto the side of a bed without putting any weight on his bad shoulder. It was easy to forget how much he relied on those particular muscles - but the screaming agony soon reminded him.
Before long she drugged him up, and started poking and prodding. How anything that painful could possibly be good for him he had no idea, but she was the Doc - she didn't need to prove herself for him to know she was doing things properly.
He was just...anxious.
He wanted to get out of there.
He wanted to do something.
Most of their time together in the infirmary was spent quietly, peppered only by the occasional instruction or question from her, and the even less occasional monosyllabic word from him.
She didn't, as he'd feared, reassure him. Didn't tell him that Carter was going to be okay, that she was more than capable of handling herself in any given situation. He knew all of that himself, and it was only the thought that it *was* Carter out there that gave him any hope at all.
She was *Carter*. That was all there was to it.
Yet...there was that small, traitorous, void inside him that wondered if maybe that wasn't enough. That wondered sometimes if any of this was worth it. That was scared shitless by the possibility that one day something might actually happen between them...and it wouldn't work out.
Maybe this time, this planet, this situation, was too much even for her.
He'd seen the way its teeth had ripped into her flesh.
Would always see the way its teeth had ripped into her flesh.
Jack slowly blinked himself out of his self-induced mental hibernation. Fraiser'd been talking to him for the last few minutes and although his ears had heard everything, his brain had been switched off to anything outside his own thoughts. As if the blinking had dislodged the mental blockage, her words/advice/expertise came thundering into his brain: take it easy, still not cleared for full duty, remember you're not a superhero, and no more dramatic clutching of weapons thank you very much.
He shrugged, and it hurt. But not as much as before. "Sure."
"I'd also recommend you get some sleep soon. You've been up for nearly eighteen hours already, coupled with your injury and recent even..t..s..." Her words trailed off as she looked at him, then looked away. "But I doubt that even ordering you to go to sleep would have any affect."
Smart woman. Being forced into the infirmary was bad enough. Falling asleep was out of the question. "Are we done?"
"For now," She nodded. "But please Colonel, seriously. Take it easy. Once we reach a certain age we don't heal as well or as quickly as we used to."
Like he needed to feel any more depressed, now he had the thought of his own mortality hanging over his head. Perfect. "Right." Slipping carefully off the bed, trying not to wince, he would have jogged out of the room if he'd known that the jarring movements wouldn't have hurt him.
Barely restraining a sigh, he paused as he turned back to face her.
She was still next to the bed, but her arms were wrapped tightly across her chest. She seemed...tiny. He knew, physically, that she'd never been particularly tall, but it had never been an issue and he'd never really thought about it.
He'd just never seen her look so small before. "Yeah?"
Her arms tightened. "What you saw of...Sam. Was it bad?"
As CMO she'd soon be receiving a full report - once he wrote it. Once he was able to write it without reliving it.
As Carter's friend, he couldn't give her what she wanted to hear.
So he said nothing.
Wonderful. A crappy addition to an already seriously crappy day. What the hell was he doing there? The words came out before he could stop them - and in all honesty, he hadn't wanted to.
"What are you doing here?"
Bogus was in the observation area, standing next to Hammond. West had apparently disappeared elsewhere, because he was nowhere to be seen.
Turning to see the newcomer, Bogus at least didn't grin which was probably just as well. Had he been smiling for any reason at the moment, Jack probably would have punched him in the face.
"I heard about Major Carter," Bogus told him. "I'm sorry."
"She'll make it back. Takes more than some Alsatian on steroids to take a member of my team down." He had to believe that, but the void was taunting him that something he couldn't even see had done an effective job of getting rid of Daniel.
Jonas nodded, still not smiling. "Of course." Good.
Well, he certainly appeared sincere, and while Jack still didn't like him, anyone who was concerned about Carter couldn't be all bad - even if he was biting into another apple. If Jack's opinion of him didn't quite rise, it wasn't quite as low as it had been.
Hammond spoke. "The situation with Major Carter and SG-7," He had to add that, had to remind them that she wasn't the only one at stake. "Is not our only problem."
Hammond turned his head, meeting his gaze. "We've passed the thirty eight minute window."
Jack's mind processed the information, and the implications. "The gate's still open?" But...he needed it to shut down. They needed it to shut down so they could open it again from their end, and storm through with enough firepower to take out a small moon.
"I'm sorry," Bogus interrupted. "'Thirty eight minute window'?"
Had it been any other time, Jack probably would have been pleased that there was something that Jonas didn't know. Since absorbing pretty much everything Daniel had ever written down - which was a *lot* - he seemed to know just about everything.
As it was Jack simply kept frowning, kept thinking, and let Hammond do the explaining.
"In the normal course of events, the Stargate's wormhole closes within thirty eight minutes. It's only in rare circumstances that it stays open longer - for example, if something were still travelling through the gate."
Jack was still frowning.
Jonas was pondering. "As I understand it from what you told me earlier, the...broadcast?" He waited for confirmation that that was the correct word before continuing. "Major Carter's signal from her equipment is still being broadcast through the Stargate. Is it possible that could be keeping the wormhole open?"
"That's our theory at the moment," Hammond agreed. "In fact, Sergeant Davis has theorised that the naquadriah that's powering the device Major Carter was communicating with could be exacerbating the problem."
Naquadriah...Carter...problem? Carter had screwed up? "What's that?"
"This new technology and the use of a power source as powerful as the naquadriah is ensuring that the radio signal is constant - it never stops. If we could get her to cease the transmission, then that would hopefully let the Stargate shut down and we could send help." He paused, his gaze flicking back to Muttley. "Thus far, all attempts to raise her have had negative results."
So...one of Carter's doohickey's had jumped up and bit her on the ass? How was that fair? She'd just been doing what she did best - trying to figure something out, and this was the result? That she'd effectively signed her own death certificate?
Unacceptable. "We'll hear from her."
He could see the knowing expressions, the expressions that said they didn't believe a damn word he was saying - though neither of them voiced it.
He didn't care.
Instead, he focused back on Muttley, who was undergoing so many tests that Jack wouldn't be surprised if when they gave him some water to drink, it would start leaking out of the needle holes.
Jonas too, was apparently fascinated by him. "Is it just me, or does this...animal, look like one of your dogs? I've only seem them on television, and have yet to see one face to face."
Now that was a much more preferable situation: Jonas and Carter swapping places. Jonas being face to face with another Muttley. Not that he wanted anyone getting hurt, but given the choice...
And he couldn't miss, of course, the subtle dig at the fact that since he'd arrived, Jonas hadn't been able to step one foot off base. So far, Hammond wasn't budging - which made Jack respect the General even more, when it shouldn't have been possible.
“Yeah,” Jack murmured. “They used to be my favourite people.”
He wasn’t so sure anymore.
But the statement had confused Jonas. “Dogs are...people?”
Closing his eyes, Jack sighed. He was *not* in the mood for another stereotypical confused alien moment. In fact, the thought that Jonas had distracted him at all...an idea formed, and he glanced surreptitiously at the man currently bugging him.
He looked innocent. A little too innocent. Had he been *trying* to distract-
The phone, resting on the desk to Hammond’s right, distracted that distraction. Yanking it off the receiver, Hammond spoke brusquely. “Yes?” A moment later... “Excellent. We’ll be right there.” He was speaking again before he’d hung up. “They’ve got the signal back.”
Jack cleared the room before anyone else.
The elevator was moving achingly slow, the level numbers ticking away with all the frequency of Teal'c's smiles. It did, eventually, reach its destination, and Jack was out before the doors had finished opening.
This time he did jog, not really caring if Fraiser forced him back into the infirmary at some point. Along the corridor and up the steps, he was soon in the control room, his eyes immediately locking in on the monitor - not knowing or particularly bothered if Hammond and Jonas were behind him.
There was a picture. That was important enough.
Davis was speaking. "I repeat, we appear to be receiving no audio, just visual. Do you copy?"
No audio? They couldn't hear her?
The image, which had constantly been moving forward, now moved up and down as if the person wearing the camera - and he hoped to God that it was Carter, was counting on it being Carter - was nodding. Made sense. If they really had no audio, then they'd have to find other ways to communicate.
Just as he'd done previously, Jack butted in. "Carter?"
He waited, painfully, until the camera nodded.
"Goddard and Doyle?"
Nothing for a few seconds, and then...she shook her head.
Dammit. Closing his eyes, he hung his own head. "Are you in any immediate danger?" When he opened them again, the camera was moving - she was turning in a circle, showing that there were no Muttley's in the immediate area. Suddenly the camera pitched, stumbling to the right, and kept moving until all it was showing was a view from the ground. She'd fallen over.
The camera moved again, and Jack could virtually hear it/her groaning. It stumbled some more, dipped a few times, but eventually it was back up to its normal height.
He knew what she was trying to do, and he wasn't going to let her get away with it. Covering the microphone with his hand, he spoke quietly to Davis. "Get Fraiser in here." Removing the hand, he spoke to Carter. "How badly are you hurt?"
She was walking again - no doubt towards the gate - and from the looks of things was limping pretty badly. She shook her head.
He wasn't impressed. "Don't lie to me, Carter. I saw some of what...happened to you when you went down earlier, and the way you tried to obscure what the camera saw when you fell over just now. You'll be helping us and yourself by telling the truth." No visible response. Just more walking. He moved closer to the microphone; the second best option when he was unable to move any closer to her. "You don't have to prove anything, Carter. I'm not the jerk I was five years ago, and the people you work with respect and care about you." An idea popped into his head. "Besides, when you do make it back, if you really want to prove how tough you are I'll give you that arm wrestle you've been dying for since we first met."
Now if *that* didn't get her motivated...
Slowly, ever so slowly, the camera tilted down, and her left arm came into view.
That did *not* look good. She'd made a rudimentary bandage, but there was still a lot of blood seeping through. "Bit of a scratch there. I'd get some disinfectant on that."
He badly hoped she was smiling.
Despite the damage to her arm, Jack couldn't help but feel that she'd got off lightly. Those damn things were huge, and there wasn't any external evidence of other major injuries. Some scratches and bruises obviously, and he was pretty sure she'd done something to her right ankle - although hopefully, nothing more than a sprain - but all in all, much less than he'd feared.
Fraiser had arrived, and Jack could see Hammond explaining the situation to her. He turned his attention back to the microphone.
"You're gonna have to make it back Carter because if you don't, as your commanding officer I'd be obligated to come through and retrieve your body for a proper burial. Do you know how much a dead body *weighs*? My knees'll never recover; think of the pain you'll be putting *me* through."
Typical Jack O'Neill black humour was what was required at that moment and he felt he satisfactorily delivered it, even if that last part was more telling than he'd intended it to be.
"Look, Fraiser's here now. She's gonna do her stuff and then we'll see about getting the gate shut down so we can come through and kick mans best friends ass, okay?"
Good. "I'll talk to you later." Stepping away, he gestured towards the mike. "Doc,"
Smiling tightly - relieved but not too happy, just in case - Fraiser sat in the seat soon provided for her by Davis. "Sam? It's Janet. Pretty crappy day so far, huh? I understand that you can hear me but I can't hear you, so let's see what we can do about your injuries. Do you have anything you can write on?"
As she continued advising, Jack stepped back further, the hand from his good arm rubbing over his face as he exhaled heavily. Goddamn, she was lucky. A short bark of laughter escaped as he shook his head. Typical SG-1 luck. They'd inevitably get into trouble that would make your hair turn white, but soon after some loophole, some enviable piece of luck would open up.
Even for Daniel. Though he wasn't really around anymore, he wasn't quite dead, either.
At this moment in time, the void couldn't touch him.
So yeah, it may have sucked that they couldn't communicate verbally, that he couldn't actually hear her voice and make it more real somehow...but this was real enough.
She was living and bleeding. As long as she kept doing both of those - although preferably less of the latter - it was real enough.
Clapping his hands together once, he finally examined the people around him. Noticed earlier but barely acknowledged, Hammond was a few feet to his right, and just to *his* right was Jonas.
Jack decided not to punch him in the face. Instead, he turned his palms upwards as if to say, "See? I *told* you she'd be all right."
Jonas just continued smiling.
The urge to punch him was returning. He looked really self-satisfied about something, and Jack didn't have a clue what it was. It could have just been the fact that Carter was more or less okay, but Jonas hadn't played any part in that at all.
Still, he wasn't about to let Mr Grin get him down. Things were looking up. They just had to get Carter treated as good as possible given the circumstances - her continued health was paramount - and then get that gate shut down.
He was definitely feeling better.
And then West jogged up into the control room.
"I heard..." He paused, panting for breath, obviously having run from wherever it was he'd been. "...you got contact back. That you heard from them." His eyes were moving already, scanning the room, looking for proof.
Seeing the monitor he moved towards it, and watched the image. At that particular moment, Carter was trying to write something down to communicate with Fraiser.
Fraiser herself had looked away from the monitor, at West.
Everyone was looking at West.
He'd turned to face the three of them by that point: him, Hammond and Jonas, looking for an answer they couldn't give. By the time Jack had spoken his name, it was clear that he knew.
Disbelieving, he shook his head and stumbled back a few paces.
Hammond stepped forward. "Major,"
West's gaze was lowered, seemingly finding the floor fascinating. Jack knew better.
"Major," Hammond repeated, and West finally looked up, his eyes wide with grief but not really seeing anything. "They died defending their country, their *planet*. They died bravely."
Returning to his instincts, West stood to attention. "Yes sir."
That he didn't believe it was obvious. Not that they weren't brave, not that given the chance they'd willingly lay down their lives to defend Earth, but the fact remained that they'd been pulled apart by damned alien dogs in what was supposed to be a purely scientific mission.
That wasn't the way anyone was meant to go.
"May I inquire after Major Carter, sir?"
Obviously proud at West's behaviour, Hammond nodded. "I'm pleased to report that, while she is injured, Major Carter is alive and on her way back to the Stargate on P5W 219."
West's responding nod was tight and short. "At least some good news there, sir. Permission to be dismissed?"
No one could deny the man that. "Of course."
Thanking him West quickly left the room, practically leaping down the stairs. Jonas, not understanding, started to go after him.
Jack stopped him before he got that far. "Jonas,"
He paused, looked back, and frowned.
Jack shook his head. "Don't. Not now." It was exactly the way he'd want to be treated, if their situation had been reversed.
Which - thank all the false Gods who had ever or never existed - it wasn't.
Fraiser was talking to Carter again. He was watching the monitor again.
And Jonas was watching him again.
"She was incredibly lucky."
This wasn't news to Jack.
Fraiser kept talking anyway. "Apart from the more obvious damage, all she suffered were minor cuts and contusions."
"And what about the more obvious damage?" He queried. Even though he knew she wasn't in life-threatening danger - from her injuries, anyway - he still hoped there wouldn't be any long-term harm.
The Doc hesitated, glancing between him and Hammond. Jonas had moved away, watching the monitor, and Davis was 'talking' as best he could with Carter. With the two of them being the best experts in the SGC they had on the Stargate, they were banging their metaphorical heads together for ideas to get the gate closed.
Eventually, she spoke. "I am...concerned that there may have been some permanent damage to her arm, or that she might require surgery." She met his gaze, knowing which part of Carter's injuries he'd witnessed. "That animals teeth went through her arm like it didn't even exist. I'm confident that her ankle will heal fully given time, but my immediate concern is that she might slip into shock. I've done what I can, but it's not the same as being able to treat her here. We need her home, soon."
Something else that wasn't news to Jack. "Don't worry Doc," He brushed past her, patting her arm. "She'll be here." Then he was crouching down next to Davis, listening to the one-sided conversation. "How's it going?"
Davis sat back in his seat, having been talking to Carter via his earpiece just for ease of use. "Both Major Carter and myself recommend cutting our power supply to the gate. Sergeant Siler already tried the emergency shut down shortly after the thirty-eight minute window, to no effect. This is our next course of action."
"Okay," Creaking at the knees, Jack hauled himself up and took the second earpiece Davis offered him. Holding onto it he waved at Siler who was still in the gate room, fussing over the Stargate with that huge wrench he was so fond of. When the Sergeant spotted him, Jack beckoned him into the control room.
Problem was, they needed two people to shut down the power properly. He knew without even risking a glance at Doc - though he did anyway and remembered to be nice to her for the rest of the day - that she wasn't gonna let him anywhere near gate power control.
Siler stepped up into the control room, Hammond explained the plan, and Jack searched for a second person.
A second person...
His gaze fell on the new guy. He grinned. Internally. "Jonas,"
New guy looked away from the monitor - he seemed to spend far too much time being fascinated by that thing, in Jack's opinion. It couldn't possibly be good for his eyes.
"Why don't you give Siler a hand?"
That grin formed, but he apparently knew not to push his luck by asking if he was actually serious. "Sure. Thanks, Colonel."
Jack supposed he could understand Jonas' enthusiastic response - it was pretty much the first time Jack had asked him to do something, rather than generally ignoring his presence.
And there was a reason for that. He vividly remembered what happened last time they'd attempted this.
Simply nodding, Jack watched as Jonas said his goodbyes - how could one guy be so polite? - and then stepped down into the corridor.
"Siler," Jack muttered, drawing the Sergeant close to him so no one else could hear him speaking. "Here," He handed him the earpiece. "And you take the switch on the left, okay?"
Confused, Siler nonetheless accepted the order and the earpiece from a superior officer. "Yes sir." Then he was gone too, out of the control room and leading the way, even though Jonas had assured everyone several times over these last couple of months that he'd memorised the layout of the SGC.
When they were out of sight, Jack continued grinning - internally - and turned back towards those still present.
Hammond, apparently pleased that Jack was finally giving Jonas a break, was smiling.
Fraiser, who was far more devious and knew a set up when she saw one, lifted her eyebrows.
Really reminding himself to be nice to her, he turned back to Davis. "We should evacuate the gate room." Even if he hadn't witnessed it personally, he knew how explosive this could be.
Acknowledging, Davis spoke into the gate mike. "Clear the gate room!"
There weren't many people who'd gone back in since Muttley arrived, just a few technicians who'd been working with Siler, and a couple of SF's who were there just for paranoia's sake. Within a few seconds - although a few more seconds on the technicians behalf - they were out of the gate room and closing the door.
Hammond moved closer to Davis. "Lower the blast door."
The button was hit; the giant metal barrier slowly beginning to lower into position. That was something else that always amazed Jack - how something that immense could be lurking, just out of sight, inside the wall.
He'd really have to meet the guy who designed this place some day.
Aesthetically pleasing it wasn't, but extremely cool it was.
Suddenly Davis' hand lifted up to the earpiece hooked over his right ear, as if he were listening to something. He half-swivelled towards Hammond.
"They're in position sir."
The General nodded. "Then by all means, proceed."
Davis' hand moved back to the device, speaking into the small microphone attachment. "Proceed, Sergeant."
Jack backed up a few paces, shoving his hands in his pockets, looking up at one the monitors hanging from the ceiling that had camera feed of the gate room.
No sparks, no overloads.
Davis' hand was still up by his ear. "They've thrown the main breaker sir, and they're both fine." His hand lowered. "No effect."
Fraiser closed her eyes. Jack felt like punching something.
The Sergeant continued. "This wasn't entirely unexpected. The last time this was attempted it was on an out-going wormhole; that's probably part of the reason why the emergency disconnect didn't work, either."
"Yeah fine," Jack stopped him before he could say something he wouldn't understand. "So what's our *next* next course of action?"
Davis nodded towards the gate. "Terminating the power source on the planet."
"Okay," He pulled his hands out of his pockets, taped Davis on the shoulder, and pointed towards the earpiece he was wearing. "Let me talk to Carter."
Carefully extracting the communication device from his ear, Davis held it out to him.
Taking it, Jack held it in both hands and moved it up to his right ear, only to growl in pain as he stubborn shoulder reminded him that it wasn't ready for normal movement just yet.
Tutting, Fraiser barged into his personal space and secured it around his ear for him. "If you're going to do something like this, ask for help."
He waited until she stepped away before responding. "Yes sir." It was only after he said that that he remembered he was trying to be nice to her. "And thanks. So Sergeant," Focus on Davis, and turn away from the scary woman who liked needles. "Let's talk."
Complying, Davis did something technical, and the frequency he was communicating on changed from Siler to Carter. "Go ahead sir."
Good. "Carter, can you hear me?"
The ongoing forward motion was broken only by the nodding of her head.
"Good. As you might have guessed, shutting off the power didn't work. I assume Davis already told you we tried the emergency disconnect with no joy, so it looks like you're going to have to deactivate your new doohickey. Do you copy?"
Again with the nodding of the head.
Of course, the problem now was...he didn't want to lose contact with her. Even if her latest brainchild hadn't shut down completely when she was attacked, they'd already lost audio. What if, by some bizarre twist of SGC fate, they lost visual too? Then what would they do?
He straightened his back. They'd learn to work around it. That was all.
Various orders were issued; the gate room was re-opened, a MALP was put on the ramp, and three SG teams were ordered to report to the gate room, with the intention of going through to P5W 219 should the opportunity arise.
He focused back on the monitor as the first SG team arrived. "Provided this works, the guys and gals'll be coming through to save your ass. Of course," He lowered his voice, as if he were sharing some great secret. "You and I both know *you'll* actually be showing them how it's done, but we've gotta keep their morale up, right?"
In actually, it was keeping *her* morale up that he was focusing on. Helping her stay optimistic and out of shock wasn't going to be easy; it wasn't often she got pessimistic, but when she did she did it in style.
As with everything else.
"Sorry I won't be there with them, but Janet's threatening me with frankly hideous torture methods involving thermometers and orifices I won't go in to." He could practically hear the rolling of eyes behind him, just before receiving a nod of confirmation. "Okay, we're ready whenever you are. Do your stuff."
The forward motion stopped, but the camera shot lifted as she removed the device from her head. They watched as it turned around, and eventually her face came into view.
Her face. It was battered; a very attractive scratch mark (that was a ‘minor cut’?) on her left cheek really added colour to her skin, but it was there. And it finally seemed to hit him then: she was all right.
He'd known it before, but he hadn't really acknowledged it - had tried not to let himself think how deeply he'd been concerned. Under the pretext that he'd been standing up for too long since suffering his injury and his knees weren't particularly cooperative at the best of times, he crouched back down again.
The real reason he knew, but didn't want to think about while Hammond was lurking a few feet behind.
But he did take the opportunity to look at her again from the strange angle; the tight frown of concentration as she fiddled with something, her teeth chewing into her bottom lip as she worked, unaware of how adorable she looked even with a scratch any pirate would be proud of.
Finally she looked straight into the camera and smiled gently - for him, he could have sworn, she knew she was looking just at him - and then did/pressed/switched something.
And she disappeared.
Her image vanished off the screen, replaced by the ominous black square that he'd known would be coming but that he dreaded anyway.
Davis confirmed what he already knew. "She's ceased transmitting sir."
So why was the gate still open? "So why is the gate still open? Shouldn't it shut down immediately? I mean, if it's been more than thirty-eight minutes..." Dammit, he *knew* it wouldn't be this simple!
Nothing ever was.
"We believed it would," Davis began, hesitating. "But nothing with the gate is ever an exact science, sir. It was built by a hugely powerful alien race, and has functions that we still haven't even begun to-"
"All right, all right." Clearly, Davis had been taking Carter lessons. "You sound more like Carter than Carter does. Maybe it takes a little while. We'll just...wait."
Yeah, waiting. It wasn't like he didn't have any experience of that. It wasn't like he didn't have any experience of that *today*.
Three minutes of waiting later, Jack had stood up again and was busy wearing his own trench into the floor of the control room. "It's not gonna work, is it?"
Davis lowered his gaze. "It doesn't look-woah, we're getting the transmission back!"
On cue Carter's face pinged back onto the monitor, frowning into the camera. From her distance she'd have no way of knowing, of course, whether the gate had shut down or not, so there was no guarantee she'd even get a reply.
So, he had to tell her. And he wasn't looking forward to it. "No joy, Carter. The Stargate is still active."
She closed her eyes. She lowered her head.
And he *heard* it.
He paused, disbelieving. "Carter?"
She opened her eyes. She lifted her head. "Colonel?"
"I can hear you!" He was in front of the monitor again, grabbing the sides.
A pleased frown overtook her features. "I don't..." And then it came to her. What it was that came to her he didn't know, but he knew the very instant that it did. "Of course! Deactivating the relay device must have acted like an overall system reset - or it could just be luck," She admitted sheepishly. "Dammit, why didn't I think of this befor-"
"Carter," Damn but it was good to hear from her, good to see her over-excited about something.
He chose not the say the first words that came into his mouth - given that a pleased Hammond was still lurking a few feet behind him. Instead, he elected for a more diplomatic answer. "It's good to hear your voice." Okay, okay - so maybe it wasn't *that* diplomatic...
But he'd never been described as a diplomat, had he?
Right then, Jack O'Neill, The Antagonist, didn't care.
Just over an hour had passed since they'd resumed audio contact, and Jack was starting to panic.
Hammond and Fraiser had shared a few words with Carter before going their separate ways - Hammond to his office (probably to make a report), Fraiser to get an update on Muttley - and Jack was starting to panic.
Davis, Siler, and a whole bunch of technicians had taken over the briefing room with computers and enough paper to start their own rainforest, in an attempt to solve the gate problem - and Jack, downstairs, by himself, was starting to panic.
It wasn't that he was concerned about her, because of course he *was* concerned about her...but she wasn't in immediate danger of anything nasty.
It was just...he was still in the control room, sitting in what was usually Davis' chair, and he was supposed to...talk.
Initially, it hadn't been a problem, especially when the audio had been lost. He'd been operating on instinct; doing what it took to keep her mind busy (like it would ever stop - ha), focusing on keeping her spirits up, and not having to worry about anything she might say in response that would making him think or second guess himself.
Only now, he'd been thinking anyway. Jokes were fine, quips were fine, but actual conversation? How was he going to keep that up for the ten or more hours it would take her to get back to the gate? He didn't really talk. He just reacted.
Not for the first time, he wished that Daniel were still there. He'd know exactly the right thing to say, and he'd be able to keep saying it for well over ten hours - hell, well over *twenty* hours.
It was a talent of his that Jack hadn't really appreciated until he’d gone. In fact, it had generally just irritated him.
Oh for the good old days...
A Daniel, no Jonas, and no giant evil Cujo's gunning for his Major.
Resolving himself to the fact that he was going to have to pull this off, he squirmed in his chair, drummed his fingers on the edge of the desk, and spoke.
"So Carter...how you been doing lately? I mean, apart from dogs with teeth like hunting knives and..." Ah, crap. He almost thumped his head down on the keyboard. "...you know, stuff."
She'd reverted to wearing her communication device, so yet again he got to watch the passing landscape as she hobbled home. "Fine, sir. I'm...fine."
Her voice was anything *but* fine. He leant towards the monitor. "Carter?"
"I'm fine sir. Really."
Uh huh. That explained why it sounded suspiciously like she was trying *not* to sound like she was crying. And he knew why. Any doubts he had about talking to her vanished. "It wasn't your fault, Carter."
"It was my idea," Bingo! "If I hadn't insisted that the new relay be made, none of this would have happened."
"Dammit, I suggested SG-7 for this mission! I knew Doyle hadn't taken any leave for a while, and was desperate for some sunshine."
"Carter!" Man, she could be single-minded when she put her mind to it. Ignoring the fact that that didn't make any sense - there were far more important things to worry about - he continued speaking. "First of all, your new toy wouldn't have even been completed without Hammond's support, or the help of various technicians and geniuses on the base. Secondly, you had no way of knowing the planet would be teaming with Death Dogs - it'd already been screened and no evidence of them was found. It was no one's fault."
Her voice, when she eventually replied, was as quiet as he’d ever heard it. It was probably only because the response went straight into his ear that he heard it at all. "I saw what happened to them. What those animals did to them."
He understood. He did, and replied in a voice almost as quiet as hers. "I know. I saw what they did to *you*." His stomach rolled unpleasantly. Time to stop this. Time to yank her out his depression. Give her something to focus on. "How are you set for supplies?"
There was a determined note to get over this in her words - at least for now. "Good, sir. I put their ammo and flasks in my pack so I won't dehydrate, and I’ll be able to effectively defend myself should any more of those...animals, turn up. It'll be painful trying to balance my P-90, but at least my right arm is in good condition."
He had half a mind to suggest that she try some target practice while she was on the move, just to see how much her injuries had impaired her fighting abilities. Then the *other* half of his mind suggested that maybe loud noises weren't such a good idea when you were on the run.
But 'on the hobble' didn't have quite the same ring to it.
"That's good, Carter. So..." He grasped desperately for something to say. "...come on. Tell me what it's like there."
"You can see what it's like here."
"Yes I can," He admitted, his gaze barely moving from the monitor anymore. "And while it looks very nice, it's not the same as being there personally to experience it. You miss out on all the little elements that make it 'real'."
She was silent for a while, maybe wondering what to say, maybe wondering how to get out of having to say anything. But, slowly... "It's uh, very beautiful. The sun is...God, this is stupid."
Discouraged, he frowned. "No it's not."
"Well I *feel* stupid."
Ha. "I think *you* are the very last person who should ever feel stupid about *anything*."
As usual, she paid no attention to the compliment. "It's just...Daniel was always much better at this stuff, you know? What things felt like, smelt like. Reading one of his mission reports was like reading a novel."
His gaze finally dropped away from the monitor. "I guess,"
"I mean I can tell you, scientifically, what something is and what its components are, but actually vocalising it's beauty..."
By now his eyes were focused on the desk. "It's not easy for you."
"No. It's not."
Shifting in the chair, he lifted his head back up. "Then just try, Carter. You've never been one to give up on a challenge."
"Come on. I promise I won't laugh." Deliberate pause. "Much."
The exasperation in her voice was telling; he'd talked her into it, and she didn't quite know how. "Okay, okay. But when I get back I'm forcing you to do this too, all right?"
*When* she got back. He liked her way of thinking. "Sure. Let's go. Ready whenever you are."
"Okay. I'm doing this." Carter's loud sigh was even heard through the microphone, soon followed by the sound of her throat clearing. "You see that big tree?" Her good arm came into view, holding onto the P-90 and pointing towards what she wanted him to see.
It looked suspiciously like a big oak; but this being an alien planet it could well have been a freaky oak hybrid, or just a tree that bore a remarkable similarity to an oak tree. "Yeah,"
"It's gotta be at least twenty feet high, but it's hard to tell exactly from here." She was still quite a way from it, though she was growing closer with every step. "Pretty soon I'll be close enough that I won't be able to see the sun anymore." She was right. P5W 219's sun was almost behind the tree already, which brought something else to mind: night was going to fall.
He couldn't think about that right now. "And?"
"The colour of the leaves is particularly vibrant; it must be getting a good supply of water through its root system - assuming it has one."
"Carter..." She was getting scientific again.
"Actually...it reminds me of a tree that was in our local park when we were growing up. It's probably still there now...Mark and I loved it. We made a tire swing and hung it from the biggest branch. Dad wasn't around much at the time; I think that made Mom even more paranoid about us hurting ourselves - but there wasn't much she could do that was going to stop us, so she made a deal. For every day that we returned unhurt, we'd get a cookie. Of course, if we ever did get hurt we did our best to cover the evidence - although Mark lost out that day he broke his arm. He actually managed to go four hours without her noticing. She insisted she was a bad mother for the next three months."
He was smiling already: partly at the story, and partly at the image of Carter swinging from a tree with pigtails. Not that he knew for sure that she'd ever had them, but the pictures in her house at least indicated that she'd had long hair. Pigtails were a pretty safe bet.
Jack only realised she was talking again when she pointed it out.
"Colonel? Are you listening?"
Oops. "Yeah, sorry Carter. I was just thinking."
Should he tell her...? Ah, what the heck? "You with pigtails." He couldn't help himself - he grinned, even as he said it.
A chuckle. Faint, but definitely there. "I did actually have a childhood."
"I know." Again with the grin. "That was a good story. Thanks for sharing it."
"I don't think I've ever told anyone that before."
"Then I'm doubly honoured."
As expected, she yet again avoided the compliment. "What about you, sir? Any good stories from your childhood?"
"Well, I..." He didn't really talk about his childhood. He really tried not to think about it. "I, uh," But he needed to keep her occupied. "I guess there's this one story involving me, Bobby Jenkins and Mrs Goodall's dog..."
Night had fallen three hours ago, and his attempts at keeping her spirits up were getting considerably stranger and sillier. Just four minutes ago he'd been doing a very bad impression of a chicken - but at least that had made her smile.
He may not have been able to see it, the camera may still have been pointed forwards, but he knew.
Even so, she continued to grow quieter with each passing hour. The only good news he had to consider was that, so far, there'd been no more Muttley's turning up. Not that he was going to vocalise that thought - even he didn't want to push his luck that far. It'd probably jinx her entire journey home.
Still, at least he wasn't nervous about talking to her anymore. Not really. It was just getting harder and harder to think of something worth saying.
And then a ‘something’ came to mind. "Ask you a question?"
The light from her P-90 briefly lit the ground in front of her, and she avoided the obstacle it revealed. She was using it as infrequently as possible, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible, but she did have to make sure that she didn't trip over everything. She'd been through enough without tripping over her own feet.
It was also, of course, part of the reason she was keeping so quiet. Night had eradicated almost every source of natural light. P5W 219 did have a moon, but it was a lot further away in comparison to Earth's, so reflected the light from that planets sun to a much lesser degree.
So, she was concentrating on not falling over, and also trying to keep an eye out for Muttley's - they'd be much harder to spot in these conditions. Jack did what he could to help through what he could see via the monitor, but felt vaguely stupid for doing so: whatever he was seeing, she was obviously seeing. Nonetheless he continued watching, concentrating, trying to decipher different shades of blackness, half-afraid that a snarling pair of teeth were about to leap from behind some hiding place.
Still, she had her P-90 and plenty of ammunition. She'd fought off three of things earlier - albeit, probably with Doyle and Goddard's help before they...
He'd never been so glad to have his train of thought interrupted. "What's your favourite colour?"
A chuckled composed mostly of breath resounded in his ear. "Grey."
His eyebrows lifted, and his good arm almost did the same, self-consciously checking his hair. It didn't, though. He realised what it was doing, and stopped it. "Really? That's not a very...feminine colour."
"Well what colour did you think I'd pick?" Another flash of light.
Jack had his answer immediately, but made it look like he was thinking about it. "Oh...I'd say...red, I guess."
This time he couldn't stop the answer from coming immediately, and kinda wished he had. "You look good in red."
Well...was that really such a horrible thing to admit? It wasn't like he was admitting he had raunchy, exhausting, sweat-forming dreams about-
He really had to stop this.
In any case, Carter was never, ever stupid. She knew he was attracted to her, just as he knew the same about her. They just didn't talk about it.
And this wasn't actually saying that - this was just saying that, in general, a particular colour made the general public appreciative of her.
Okay, he was even failing to convince *himself* with that one. So much for denial...
Thankfully, she moved right along. "Well what about you? What's your favourite colour?"
An evil part of his brain suggested that he say 'red' just to hear her reaction - but he didn't. In the end, he opted for the truth. "At the moment...blue. Although it varies from time to time. I used to be a big fan of purple."
"Really?" She was humouring him now; it was obvious.
"Sure. Saw all his movies, got his autograph...I have it framed on the wall in my bedroom."
His smile was still in place, but the beginnings of a frown appeared on his forehead. "For what?"
"Just for talking to me. I know it's not something you're comfortable with."
Perceptive little astrophysicist. "Hey, you'd do the same for me."
"In a heartbeat."
She'd answered, in a heartbeat.
And Jack had nothing he could say to that.
As it was, she continued talking. "It's helped. It r-really has." She was getting colder, but she'd never admit it. No doubt she'd inevitably dropped a few degrees when the sun went down, but as the night wore on it was going to get worse.
"Then I'm glad I could be here - even if it meant I'm not there with you now. So," he immediately moved on, clearing his throat. "I don't know about you, but I think the air conditioning in this place has gone nuts. It's freezing in here!"
"Yep; you should see my nipp-" Oh, ah, damn, er, crap "-goosebumps, my goosebumps."
"And you will, when you get home. Now, I am *ordering* you to think of things that'll keep me warm."
"I'm not sure m-my imagination falls under y-your jurisd-diction."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Just do it anyway, okay?"
"Yes-s s-sir," She paused talking but continued walking, Jack still trying to make sense of the monitor as she obeyed his orders. "Hot choc-c-olate."
"I like hot chocolate."
"Me too. With big m-marshmallows. We're s-sitting next to a roaring log f-fire, undern-neath a handmade quilt, d-drinking from a big mug of hot chocolate."
Oh he really, really, really liked that imag-
Best not to ask. If he asked, she'd have to tell him for sure. One response would thrill him a lot more than he was supposed to be thrilled, and the other would shatter his little fantasy world, which - admittedly - got a lot more use than was probably healthy anyway.
It was only after he responded that he realised how incredibly cheesy it sounded: "I feel warmer already."
Man, if that didn't sound like a cheap come on line, he didn't know what did. Time to grab his ass out of the roaring log fire. "I mean - the temperature's gone up a few degrees already." No, that wasn't good either. "I'm practically sweating." Wait, wait. "I'll have to take my top off soon."
And then she responded. "I-I was just t-thinking the same thing."
It was just as well that no one else was around in the control room, because the tips of his ears actually turned red. Did she mean his, or hers? Either way, she'd never normally say that. Must have been some kind of delirium caused by shock or the cold. Must have been.
It wasn't Carter who'd spoken. It was Fraiser, standing at the top of the stairs to the right, smiling at him.
He was concerned about how long she'd been there - not that he'd say anything. "Doc, good to see you. Carter, Fraiser's here."
Not so much smiling as she was grimacing, Fraiser stepped further into the control room. "And she doesn't have good news."
Jack didn't like the sound of that, and his mind was suddenly inundated with images and thoughts of things that could have happened while he wasn't paying attention. Maybe...maybe she'd been wrong about Carter, and she'd only just realised it. Maybe Muttley carried some kind of virus that was going to kill her. Maybe there was something life threate-"What is it?"
She paused three feet away, and fixed him with that steely gaze. "No news on the ‘dog’, but...you need to get some sleep."
Relieved, he closed his eyes. "I don't-"
"You're not arguing with me over this one, Colonel. You have an injury that needs to heal, and a large part of that process is getting a decent amount of rest. You've already been up far longer than I'd normally tolerate, so either you come with me now, or I return in five minutes with enough sedative to take down-"
"-an elephant," He finished, sighing. "I get it, I get it. Just...gimme a minute." Swivelling in the chair, he studied the metal stairs that led up into the briefing room. "DAVIS!"
Ah. "Sorry, Carter." Wincing, he lifted the microphone part of the earpiece up, away from his mouth. "That's gotta hurt."
The familiar sight and sound of Davis' feet clanged into view, and soon he was at the bottom on the stairs. "Colonel? Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine," Jack declared. "I just have a question."
"What is it?"
"Can I get this," He tapped at the earpiece he was still wearing. "to continue broadcasting through the gate from other places on base?"
Approaching, Davis leant towards the keyboard from Jack's left side, and spoke quietly as he began typing. "We're not supposed to because of the extra power that's usually required, but if we boost this..." Tap, tap, tap. "That should do it, sir. As long as you're not planning to be in one of the isolation rooms with heavy shielding you should be fine."
Great. "Thanks, Sergeant."
"Yes sir. If there's nothing else?"
Just... "Make sure someone’s here in five minutes to keep talking to Carter and...no solution yet? *Anything*?"
A negative headshake and a lowering of his eyes were the reply.
Jack sighed. "Then that's all, Sergeant. Dismissed."
Davis left, hiking back up the stairs and into the huddle.
Jack pulled the microphone back down. "I gotta get some sleep, Carter."
"I f-figured that, sir."
Of course. Moving, Jack faced She Who Must Not Be Denied. "I don't *have* to sleep in the infirmary, do I?"
"You don't *have* to, no." Her lips quirked up at the edges. "You can sleep in one of the quarters on base, but I'll be coming to check up on you in thirty minutes."
"Your confidence in me is overwhelming."
She sighed deliberately. "My confidence in *you* Colonel, is borne from many, many years of experience."
Jack wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know what she meant by that. "Okay,"
"I'm serious, Colonel. If I come in and you're still up chatting like Cassie and one of her girlfriends-"
He interrupted, throwing his good hand up into the air. "Carter is *not* my girlfriend!"
That had been rather loud, hadn't it?
And he'd pulled the microphone back down, hadn't he?
Carter had heard everything, hadn't she?
He suspected the tips of his ears had gone red again.
Fraiser, meanwhile, seemed to have swallowed something disgusting and was struggling not to show it. "Well...sir, I-"
He waggled a finger in front of her. "Oh just *don't*. Don't even bother, all right? I do a good enough job of setting myself up." With those as his last words, he stood up and departed from the control room.
Jack murmured inanely the entire time, trying to stop any reaction that may have been coming from Carter. Here was the corridor, here he was turning, the elevator was slow as always, everything was grey, beige or mind-numbingly dull - as if she hadn't made the journey herself a thousand times before.
A couple of times he had to point out the earpiece to an SF to prove he hadn't gone nuts, but eventually he arrived at the guest quarters. The door opened, he stepped into the room, and he had to admit the bed looked damned inviting.
He'd lost count of how much time he'd spent sitting in that chair, but most of it had been hunched over, his shoulder blades scrunched together, the stress stamped all the way from his neck to the bottom of his spine.
Now that he wasn’t focusing on the monitor, he was really, really exhausted.
"You've s-stopped talking."
Jack closed the door, stepping towards the bed. "I'm tired."
"You at the guest quart-ters?"
He hovered next to the bed, wanting to fall flat on his face, wanting to keep talking to her. "Yeah."
"Then lie down."
Obeying, he carefully climbed down, mindful of his arm. Lying on his front with the left side of his face on the pillow, he spoke. "I'm down." Oh, this was comfortable...
"Close your eyes."
"Already have." His words were beginning to slur. "Are you gonna start singing to me?"
A chuckle. That voice was his entire world. "Trust me, that wouldn't put you t-to sleep."
"Don't know unlesssss you try. Carter,"
"I expect you home in a few hours, all right?"
"Is that an order?"
"Just a wish," He snuggled further into the pillow. He was unbelievably tired, near the point of actually falling asleep, and suspected drool was going to start coming out of his mouth soon.
His defences were down. It slipped out.
"I miss you."
The voices had been in his head for a while. He didn't know what they were saying or how long they'd been there; just that they *were*.
They'd invaded his dreams; twisting the images in his head, making him believe the words were part of his dreams, but some area of his brain had known that they weren't.
And now, as he slowly edged his way back to consciousness, he began to listen to them.
"It's a beautiful sunrise."
He smiled automatically, his left cheek expanding against the pillow it was laying on. He was aware of his body now; flat out against the covers, his head almost completely face down against the pillow.
The absolute contentment that came from waking up in bed to the sound of her voice.
He was kinda surprised that Fraiser hadn't pulled the earpiece off, but he certainly wasn't about to complai-
"I can see that, Major. Wish I was there to share it with you."
The contentment fled.
Jack's eyes snapped open, as the familiarity of that voice wormed its way into his brain, like some damn persistent and worse than usual Goa'uld. Jonas.
Jonas that Judas!
What the hell was *he* doing talking to her? Of all the people on base they could have picked, it had to be him.
And they were sharing a sunrise together? All right; so not physically together (and that didn't even bear thinking about), but Jonas wasn't supposed to be there. He was supposed to be off in the tiniest, darkest room the SGC had to offer, learning new and interesting (i.e., old and boring) facts from Daniel's journals.
Not watching the sunrise with Carter.
Hell, that was *his* job.
Jack began to move, but it wasn't easy. His shoulder had definitely stiffened up as he slept, so he tried to put all of his weight on his left side and push over onto his back. He was struggling to turn over as Carter continued speaking.
"How's Colonel O'Neill doing?"
Jack stopped struggling to turn over. She was worried about him?
"I think he's still asleep, but I can check for you if you-"
"Oh no, no. It's all right. He needs his rest."
"I'm sure he must be asleep - by the order of Dr Fraiser. Nothing else would stop him from being here and talking to you."
Ooooo-kay. Now it really was time to move. Obviously neither one of them had any clue that he could hear everything they were saying, and his conscience was actually starting to bug him about that fact.
If his body would just co-operate...
"I know." She did? Of course she did. Did anyone *not* know? "He's always been-"
He was up before he even thought about it with barely a twinge in his shoulder. Unfortunately he'd stood up rather suddenly after all that lying down, and a massive wave of dizziness struck his head, and his world went temporarily black.
This wasn't new; he'd experienced this before. A typical human reaction to suddenly standing up. The drawback was that it rapidly slowed his exit from the room, as he struggled to see anything and keep his footing at the same time.
Something was wrong.
Her voice, barely breaking through the blackness. "Jonas, I think there's some...shit!"
Gunfire. Lots of gunfire.
"Major!? Quick, uh - you! Get General Hammond in here!"
Then the darkness receded, his balance restored, and Jack was out of that room quicker than a mothership at maximum hyperspeed.
"Get out of the way!" He snarled, terrifying some poor new addition to the SGC. He didn't care, hurtling into the elevator just as the doors were closing. "28," He barked at the only other occupant - a spectacularly non-plussed Sergeant Wood who simply pressed the button.
"Colonel?" Jonas' voice, in his ear - clearly having heard the shouting via the earpiece. "Major Carter's in-"
"I know, I'm on my way. Carter?"
"I'm under attack!" More gunfire. "Five of the damn-!" Yet more gunfire.
It was Jonas who responded. "She's all right, Colonel. She's still fighting them off, but I can see her point of view on the monitor. They haven't touched her."
Relief should have been his primary emotion right then, but all he wanted to do was reach her.
Finally, finally the doors opened and Jack bounded out, shouting at anyone who got in his way - although thankfully stopping just short of yelling at the General. And also stopping just short of bumping into him.
It took all his restraint not to brush past his superior officer and reach the control room first. "Sir," He indicated with a swish of his hand.
Thankfully the General didn't need any more incentive because he rapidly stepped up into the control room and spoke immediately. "Report,"
Jack heard and then saw Davis answer (did that guy *ever* sleep?). "Major Carter is under attack by five-"
"Four," Jonas interrupted.
"Four," Davis corrected.
"By some of the alien beings," the Sergeant eventually settled on, actually using that glare on Jonas that was usually only reserved for the likes of Colonel Skank Simmons or Pain In The Ass Kinsey.
And then Jack saw her under attack on the monitor, kicking ass with a P-90 and a shredded arm. In under a minute, the rest of the Muttley's were lying dead on the ground.
Jonas said it: "Wow."
He'd picked up more from the television channels than just weather forecasts, apparently. "Yep." Jack was so proud he was worried his grin was going to take over his entire face. "Carter, you all right?"
She was moving already; jogging as well as she could on that ankle. Her breath was heavy and short when she responded. "I am for now sir, but I used up most of my ammo back there - even the ammo I took from Goddard and Doyle. I'm not sure I'd fare so well in another encounter."
"Well let's try and make sure that doesn't happen, Major," Hammond replied. "I'm relieved you're all right, but did you notice anything at all before you were attacked?"
"No sir," Still breathing heavily. "One of them must have trodden on a fragile piece of wood or something, or it never would have happened. I got lucky. They came at me from behind." And she was still moving fast, knowing as the rest of them did that a prolonged duration of shooting like that would inevitably draw attention from anything with half-decent hearing.
It wouldn't be long now until she was home. He knew from their earlier telemetry of the planet that night on P5W 219 was considerably shorter than it was on Earth; he'd probably only been out for a couple of hours, but by now she was definitely on the last leg of her journey.
The problem was...
She'd reach the gate soon. And they still had no way of shutting it down.
"General," It was Davis who'd spoken.
"Now that Major Carter is no longer in immediate danger, we," He nodded up towards the general area of the briefing room, "Have something we'd like to try. If it proves what we think it does, we may be able to get her home."
Jack's eyes widened, and he stepped towards him. "What is it?"
Davis met his gaze. "We need the second relay device - the one that Major West wore."
"When it became clear that none of our usual 'fixes' were going to make the gate shut down, we started looking at external influences," Davis began, weaving in and out of the corridors of the SGC with a familiarity borne from years of experience.
Jack and Hammond hurried to keep up, having left Jonas behind - much to Jack's chagrin - to keep Carter 'company'. Still, as they weren't likely to be seeing any more sunrises together anytime soon, he really had nothing to be concerned about.
"'External influences'?" Hammond asked, obviously having actually been paying attention to what the Sergeant was saying.
Jack struggled to do the same. He'd been forced to leave the earpiece behind this time, and he was annoyed he couldn't eavesdrop...uh, listen in to Carter and Jonas' conversation.
"Anything that could be considered out of place or out of the ordinary."
Now that Jack *could* respond to. "We don't do 'ordinary' here, Sergeant."
Davis threw a grin his way as he turned a corner. "True enough, Colonel. The point is...what was there? Or...what changed, that could account for not only the gate staying open, but also the sudden change in behaviour in the animals? Before she and SG-7 were originally attacked, Major Carter reported that she tried to communicate with the animals on several occasions and didn't even receive a slight flicker of interest in return. Why the sudden change? What happened between that, and the attack?"
"They dialled home," Hammond volunteered. "And then they sent the MALP back."
Jack frowned. He was obviously no scientist, but he couldn't see how the lack of a MALP could cause the local dogs to go nuts...oh! He stopped walking. "They turned the doohickeys on."
Noticing that Jack and Hammond had paused behind him, Davis turned back. "That's our theory - albeit, our entirely unproven and completely theoretical theory; that the animals have some kind of negative reaction to the naquadriah. Remember; in the telemetry we received from the planet there were no signs of naquadah at all, not even trace levels. That's pretty much unheard of any of the planets connected to the gate system. One of the only exceptions is-"
"Earth," Jack finished.
Davis nodded. "We think that this 'charged' naquadriah is keeping the gate open, at the same time that it's affecting the behaviour of the indigenous animals. What we need to do is expose the animal we have here to the naquadriah in the relay device, and hope for some kind of reaction."
"Of course," Jack mused, hopeful at the prospect of a break through, but aware that it could just be a red herring. "You're gonna have a job finding some sucker willing to go into the isolation room with that dog, holding the relay device."
After a few seconds passed, he realised Davis and Hammond were staring at him.
"I'll do it."
All three men turned to see the forth man who'd appeared from the end of another corridor.
Jack wasn't surprised that he'd volunteered.
Hammond, however, had to ask the question. "Are you sure, Major?"
West shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets - a movement Jack was all too familiar with. "There's no way in hell that Dr Fraiser's going to let Colonel O'Neill go in that room, is there?"
"A fair point," Hammond had to concede.
Pleased, West smiled. Not a real one, of course. He wouldn't be capable of that for some time. "Besides...Colonel O'Neill took it down. I feel I have a right to do this much sir."
It was obvious the General wasn't going to deny the man this chance, but he did have a duty to inform him of all the facts. "Major, I feel I have to point out that we have no kind of clothing on base that would provide you with adequate protection should the animal-"
"General," Jack spoke before the idea had even formed. And then it had. "Sorry to interrupt but...I think I have an idea."
Everyone present stared at him. A SF walking past nearly collided with the wall.
Realising no one was used to those words coming out of his mouth - and surely, that it had to be *her* influence - Jack cleared his throat. "Maybe he won't *need* any protective clothes."
It wasn't quite the fight Jack knew Robert West was looking for. In West's place, Jack would have been wanting to do exactly the same - walk into that isolation room with the relay device as an excuse to take out the dog should it get violent. Even if he got killed himself in the process.
But just like he was doing for West now, someone would have stepped in to prevent Jack from going that far.
Still, West didn't voice any displeasure he felt - merely watching over the isolation room from the observation area. Glaring at Muttley.
It hadn't changed since Jack had seen it last, which was a fair few hours ago now. Still strapped down although vaguely awake, its large wet tongue lolling against the 'bed' it was lying on.
It was alone in the room now, the various scientists and doctors having been herded out for their own safety. In fact, access to the whole section had been cut off - the great metal doors lowered in the surrounding corridors in case some freak of alien nature caused the animal to escape.
Only one point of access remained open, and through that the MALP chugged slowly into the isolation room.
It was a relatively simple plan: attach the relay device to the MALP, and then send it in with the dog. Should anything go wrong, though the MALP and the device may have been damaged, there would be no risk of injury or death to a human being.
Despite how often the bigwigs reminded them of how expensive MALPs were, this was a far more preferential situation.
The man who was literally behind the MALP controls was Major West – although, admittedly, not without some interference.
Four pairs of anxious eyes observed from the observation area as the MALP moved closer to the ‘bed’, but none so anxious as those of the only Sergeant present.
“You just want to turn it a little to the right,”
“I know,” West replied tersely, concentrating on what was effectively a very large remote control. That thing had more knobs and levers than everything in Carter’s lab combined.
“And then station it as *far* away from the animal as possib-”
Jack’s temper, which was easily agitated even in the best of circumstances, flared up. “Davis...”
The Sergeant automatically apologised and stepped back, moving from his previous position of peering over West’s shoulder. “Sorry sir.”
“Look, I know you have a strange attachment to these MALPs of yours, but...this is important.”
“I know Colonel, I do. It’s just...do you have any idea how many of these things you...uh, we’ve trashed over the past five years?”
Davis’ slip didn’t escape Jack’s attention, but he let it slide. This time. There’d be the opportunity for punishment later. Hey, he could dole out Siler’s, Connor’s and Davis’ all at the same time... “You’ve been *counting*?”
“I felt someone had to. Sir.”
Hammond interrupted their little tête-à-tête. “It’s reassuring to know that *someone* is, Sergeant.” As he spoke, he glanced towards Jack deliberately.
Again... “What? It’s not like I did any of those on *purpose*. Besides, they should be made of sturdier material. You know, stuff that doesn’t fall apart the minute you look at it.”
“Woah!” West’s voice easily broke into Jack’s ass covering. “We got something!”
They did, too. The MALP was scant feet from Muttley now, and the dog had reached full awareness – and was struggling against its bonds.
It growled, whined, and snapped its teeth loudly in the direction of the device. The claws on its feet, paws, whatever the proper term was appeared and retracted, its muscles clearly bunching together and trying to find the strength to break free.
From Jack’s point of view it wouldn’t take much longer. “Okay, I think that’s a yes. I say we get the MALP the hell out of there and gas the-”
Somehow, he didn’t know how, Muttley had tipped the bed over – but he was still firmly attached to it. As he watched it stumbled to its feet, paws, whatever the proper term was and bounded towards the MALP as well as it could in its current condition, looking like some over-dressed over-sized turtle.
Hell, given different circumstances this would have been *funny*.
Naturally, Hammond didn’t see it that way, shouting an order into the radio he was holding. “Get the gas in there!”
Somewhere a door opened just far enough to let the canisters in. They clanged across the floor, stopping just short of the open isolation room doorway. Within seconds the smoke poured into the room and obscured the view, causing all four men to lean closer to the glass separating both rooms.
Jack peered through the murkiness, trying to glimpse something clear. There was an occasional beigeness, an occasional brown and sometimes, even movement.
And then suddenly there was movement coming right towards them – big, dark, fast, powerful, terrifying. It hurled itself at the glass and thumped loudly, nearly breaking through it, and the occupants of the observation area were reduced to shrieking and ducking away.
When it became clear after ten seconds had passed that the hound of hell was probably out cold – given the fact that he wasn’t happily munching his way through their intestines – Jack lowered his arm from its protective hold around his face and slowly, ever so slowly, edged towards the glass.
The gas was still there, but it was starting to clear. He caught the outline of Mad Dog Muttley on the floor.
Davis, evidently seeing something else, spoke. “Twelve.”
“Remind me never to suggest anything ever again,” Jack muttered as the elevator doors opened.
West snorted. “Already planning to, sir.”
The four horseman of the near Apocalypse – scared, shit-scared, oh-my-God-I’m-going-to-have-a-heart-attack, and “You’ll get a demotion for this,” – stepped clear of the elevator and onto level twenty-eight.
“All right,” Hammond declared, leading the charge. “It’s obvious Major Carter’s relay device has altered the behaviour of the indigenous life forms on P5W 219, but do we have any way of knowing for certain that it’s also responsible for keeping the gate open?”
“Not for certain, no sir,” Davis replied, just a step behind. “But it seems a safe assumption. The Stargate on P5W 219 was used several times before this incident and there were never any problems with shutting it down. The only thing different this time is that Major Carter’s relay device has been activated.”
“But shutting it off didn’t do anything,” Jack argued.
“No sir,” Davis agreed. “I think the only thing that is going to close the wormhole is to destroy the device completely.”
West spoke, walking next to Jack. “The only way to do *that*, is to-”
“-blow it up,” Jack interrupted, pausing temporarily as he walked. She didn’t have any explosives. They’d expected no trouble whatsoever on this mission, and the guns had been the only precaution they’d taken. Plus, it wasn’t like this ‘device’ was a naquadah reactor. He doubted she’d be able to program it to explode the way she’d been able to program the reactor on the Enkaran planet. “How’s she gonna do that without any C4?”
"Of course, it makes sense," Was her response.
Jack shook his head, having listened to Davis explain the theory and the result of the practical, and then Carter's answer to the new information. Was there anything, in the entire *universe*, that didn't make sense to her?
Though she had claimed, on occasion, that he didn't.
He'd chosen to be flattered by her admission, as if Jack O'Neill was some great secret that even the brilliant Sam Carter couldn't figure out.
Daniel had been present at the time, and had helpfully pointed out that maybe Carter wasn't dumb enough to make sense of him.
Jack, mortally offended, had buried his nose back in his jello.
He had to stop moping over the good old days. While he certainly wasn't going to ignore his memories of Daniel, situations like the present one really should be kept in focus. There'd be time for moping later.
When she was home.
Hey, they could even mope together. He'd been studiously avoiding moping with anyone about Daniel, but given recent events he was already planning on making up for lost time.
Some things were worth making up for.
"The only problem as far as we can see," Davis continued speaking, sitting in his usual chair. "Is how to destroy the relay device with no explosive."
"I think I could do it," She replied. "The problem is, it would be pretty much an instantaneous reaction. It's not like I could set a timer or set off the detonation from somewhere else. I'd have to physically adjust the relay device and once the process started I'd have maybe five seconds to get out of range...ten tops."
The fact that she could even do that was good, but...Jack didn't like that. He didn't like that a *lot*. "Is that far enough away?"
"I can't say, sir. It is a very small amount of naquadriah, but it's an incredibly powerful energy source. If the theory that this tiny amount has been keeping the gate open is true, then it's expending a *lot* of energy. If I had the equipment here I could make the calculations..."
"I can do that, Major," Davis interrupted, tapping at his keyboard and bringing up the what Jack presumed were the relay device specs - purely because it said 'relay device specifications' in the top left hand corner.
Davis and Carter shared techno-talk, as Jack struggled for something to do other than stand there and look helpless. Hammond seemed as lost as he did, and as for Jonas...
Finally, something to concentrate on. He glared at Jonas.
The Kelownan was standing closer to Davis than anyone else.
Not so sub-consciously, Jack edged forward a couple of inches. It was petty, it was pathetic, but he had nothing better to do. He'd be damned if he'd let some food-obsessed weather channel addicted alien cut in on his...
His what, exactly? Territory? The very idea was laughable. Carter belonged to no one but herself.
Still, maybe there was some primal Alpha Male thing at work here. It wasn't like he did a lot of thinking or reasoning - his reaction could have been pure instinct.
Maybe. If he hadn't known what he'd known for the last few years, *maybe* he would have bought that theory.
But, by now, there was at least part of him that wasn't in complete denial.
He knew it was there and that occasionally it showed itself, but for the most part it was buried underneath layers and rules and the *job*. It was easier to pretend it didn't exist although many things - a brief touch, the sound of her voice, the way she smiled in the sunlight - could prove otherwise.
Yeah, and he was definitely getting mushy now. Even a year ago, he wouldn't have let himself get that far.
Things had been so much easier, when he was Jonah.
Stopping himself from falling into that welcoming black pit he shook his head and his mind out of those thoughts. The memories of cold and dark, of warm skin and gentle sighs, of her head resting against his shoulder.
What was happening *now*?
More techno-talk. Great. That'd keep him *fascinated*.
And then there was something that was interesting.
"-to be extremely close, Major."
"I think you're right, Sergeant, but we don't have any other options, now do we?"
Lowering his head, smiling just slightly, Davis nodded. "Not really, Major."
Jack moved a few more inches forward. "Carter?"
"I'm going to try it, sir. It'll be close but we've tried everything else, and we have to get that gate shut down no matter what. We still have several teams - not to mention Teal'c - stuck off world who can't get home until the Stargate closes. We have just as much responsibility to get them home - for all we know, any of them could be under attack and haven't been able to dial Earth."
She was telling him his own damn job. "We're aware of that Carter," He glanced behind to Hammond, and nodded. "And we understand." Even if things didn't go to plan, even if she didn't...
...they had to get the gate closed. No matter what.
"When are you gonna..." Geez, he had a frog, two turtles and a mountain lion stuck in his throat. "...do it?"
"Not yet, sir. We figured we'd wait until I was about five hundred yards from the gate. That way, I won't have far to go to dial home. And there won't be a lot of time for any of the animals that'll inevitably turn up to arrive."
Yeah. Yeah. Given that they were 'irritated' by the naquadriah, a naquadriah explosion was definitely going to draw their interest. A lot.
"And what if..." Oh, now it was a hippo and three elephants. "...it doesn't work? What if the gate doesn't shut down?"
A long silence. Jack could hear the beeps, clicks and mechanical humming of the control room, but most of all he could hear her breathing. "Then I guess it was a honour serving with you, Colonel."
And suddenly he was four years in the past, too exhausted to be cold anymore, too delirious to be worried about anything. All that existed was the woman with the blonde hair, and the words she spoke to him.
He snapped out of it. "You're not dead yet, Major. And it'll be a long time before you are."
"I guess we'll find out," She responded, almost sighing. "I can see the gate."
"May I ask a question?"
Oh, *joy*. Jonas had spoken just after Carter had stopped, and was addressing the room in general. This was just what Jack needed. "Sure. Ask away. Go ahead. What's the question? What do you wanna know?"
Jonas, apparently seeing nothing amiss, asked his question. "I know I'm not as knowledgeable about the Stargate as Major Carter and Sergeant Davis, but...isn't this an *incoming* wormhole? And if that *is* the case, why does she need to blow up anything?"
The hum of machinery was overtaken by the blinking of eyes as the four horsemen of the near Apocalypse studiously avoided looking at Jonas, each other, or even Carter's monitor, as if by some bizarre technological fluke she could suddenly see them.
And the humiliation wasn't complete yet. "I know that when she was first attacked the focus was on shutting down the gate so we could send help, but now that she's so close isn't that unnecessary? Given what I've learnt about the Stargate since I've been here, shouldn't the gate automatically shut down after she comes through, as it will no longer be drawing power from an energy source on the planet? Doesn't she simply need to...step through?"
Jack was even avoiding looking at his reflection at this point. Finding a non-reflective surface, he stubbornly stared at it. "So Carter..."
"I heard, sir."
"And are you feeling as ridiculously foolish as the rest of us?"
"Probably more so,"
That figured. She was their 'expert' on the workings and wonders of the Stargate. Huh. Maybe there *were* times when she should feel dumb about something.
They'd been so focused on getting the gate shut, on doing whatever it took, on getting her *home*, that everyone had failed to realise that by now it was...well, kind of pointless, actually.
Jack cleared his throat. "Then I'll guess we'll see you...in a minute." As embarrassing as this was - and hey: shouldn't they feel more embarrassed? They were the scientists. He was just the soldier - it was also one hell of a relief that she wouldn't be toying with anything dangerously explosive anytime soon.
"Yes sir. The Stargate and the DHD are plainly in view. I'll-"
Snarling. Extremely loud snarling.
Of course. Of *course*.
Her head whipped around to the left. There, sitting a few hundred feet away, were a group of Muttley's. Or was it a pack? Was that the right term? A pack of Muttley's sounded pretty ridiculous-and he really had to stop this avoidance crap.
Everyone stopped averting their eyes and focused on what they could see through the monitor: she was still looking at the Muttley's, but from the way the picture was drifting they could tell she was also slowly walking towards the gate, trying not to use any movements that'd spook them.
It didn't work. Within five seconds, they were running.
One second after that, so was she.
It had to be hell on her ankle, her cursing was unmistakable - not to mention unusual - but it wasn't anything anyone could blame her for.
Jack fidgeted uncontrollably, moving back and forth and not knowing what to do with his hands. Hammond ordered a medical team to the gate room, at the same time that he ordered more guards.
Carter was still running. "Sir! Respectfully-shit, shit- suggest that you not wait for the iris code this one time!"
Jack looked at Hammond. In fact, almost glared at, daring the man to turn down her request.
Luckily, Hammond nodded. "Agreed, Major. Open the iris." They could see through the camera that the dogs were closer to her than the Stargate.
Davis complied, and the metal circle of death became decidedly less threatening, swivelling open to allow access.
She was slow, much too slow, her injuries seriously hindering her progress. On top of that she had to be exhausted, wanting nothing more than to collapse into bed and stay there for a week.
She could do that. He'd *make* her do that. Just as soon as he got her got home.
"Come on Carter, move your ass! I've seen cadets who run better than you! Hell - *Daniel* could run better than you!"
The reactions from the three other men were startled - a few shared looks, a few raised eyebrows - but comprehending.
Heckling was he all could accomplish at the moment, so that was exactly what he'd do. "I knew there was a reason I didn't want you on SG-1 - you'd slow us all down! Keep this up and you'll get *all* of us killed on the next mission!"
She was swearing again, but he had no way of knowing whether it was at him, her ankle, or herself. Frankly he didn't care; she was almost at the gate. "Come on, Carter...you can do it. You gotta."
"Sir?" Jack replied but never taking his eyes off the monitor.
"I believe you'll be needed in the gate room."
As Hammond's words began to sink in through the concern, Jack frowned and turned to him. Understanding had already flooded the older mans features - hell, he'd probably been drenched with it two years ago. "Thank you sir," Jack murmured, then set off towards the steps, pausing when he reached them. "Davis, keep your hand constantly hovering over that palm scanner. I want the iris closed the *second* she steps clear."
The order was unnecessary but Davis responded anyway. "Yes sir,"
And then Jack was gone; down the steps and into the corridor, moments later into the gate room and then the large metal door locked into place behind him. It was just him, the gate, and about five hundred guards.
Well, and the medical team who were following procedure and standing behind the five hundred guards.
Blatantly flouting procedure, Jack stood in front of them at the end of the ramp.
She still wasn't there yet. Why wasn't she there yet? She should be there.
Hating himself for doing so, he turned his head back towards the control room. The mood was serious. Something bad had happened but it wasn't so bad that they had told him that it was pointless waiting by the ramp.
He turned back. She'd make it. She was Carte-
And then she *was* back, exiting the wormhole backwards, expending the last of her ammo, and either landing heavily on her bad ankle or not steady enough with the sudden change of ground, her legs buckled and she started to go down.
He was already up on the ramp; catching her weight, stopping her from impacting on the metal, completely ignoring his own pain and the fact that the demon dogs from Netu could be just a split-second behind.
As it was Davis did his job well - the iris closed as quickly as it was supposed to, and Carter's appearance was followed seconds later by six very loud thumps. A few seconds after that, the gate shut down.
Jack knew none of that; at least, not consciously. He knew that he wasn't dead, which had to be good, but other than that all that warranted thought was Carter. Lowering her down gently, pulling her doohickey off, mentally cataloguing every bruise, scratch and imperfection he could come across; barely restraining his anger at being shoved out of the way while the medical team did their stuff even though he knew it was for her own good.
"I'm here, Carter," He found her good hand somewhere in the throng of white clothes, medical equipment, and personnel, and held on to it, twining their fingers together. "You did it. I knew you would."
She was at the end of a long, heroic, exhausting journey, and he really couldn't blame her when she passed out.
He was lying down.
That was definitely odd. His last memory was striding...okay, walking...okay, *stumbling* along the corridor, after the medical team as they carted Carter (hey - that was funny. He'd have to use that one day) towards the infirmary. And sure, maybe he'd felt a little light headed but nothing that could explain-
A quick wiggle of his ears informed him that it wasn't coming from anything attached to his head and besides, the voices were pretty much flowing equally into each ear. They weren't very loud, though.
Still much too comfortable to consider moving, he kept lying where he was and strained to hear.
Male voice. "-Hammond says I'll probably get given command of the 'new' team."
Female voice. Quieter than the male voice. "That's great, Major. You deserve it."
"Maybe." A sigh. "I just wish it wasn't because they're..."
"I know," A rushed answer, almost emotional. "And I can't tell how *sorry* I am. If I hadn't thought up those damn things, or asked you guys to accompany me, this-"
"We were all involved in this. We all made the choice to go. Major...Sam...you know how risky this job is - we could buy it at any time. Though I wish it wasn't true, this was theirs. Now," a cleared throat, a cleared lump. "I should go. Colonel O'Neill will probably be waking up soon and as he was doing his damndest to make sure this wasn't *your* time, I'm sure he'll want a few words."
Jack's eyes fluttered open.
Her voice raised a pitch. "What do you mean?"
"Nothing, Major." A warm, amused and most definitely entertained response. "I'll see you later. Morton and I have to sort out a few things before the service tomorrow."
A slight sound: maybe moving fabric, and then West's boots walking out of the infirmary.
"Ah, you're awake."
Fraiser, standing just to his left. How long had she been there? "Yes I am. You're quite correct. What happened?"
Those lips pursed together. "You fainted."
Fat chance. "No I didn't."
"Yes you did."
"No I didn't."
Not willing to participate in that cat and mouse game, she changed tactics. "When was the last time you ate something?"
Good question. In fact, great question. "I have a vague recollection of some jello in the commissary..." But that had been before the trouble started, and, he suddenly remembered he hadn't actually eaten any of the jello at all. Just...felt sorry for himself while poking it.
"Uh huh," She nodded as if everything made sense, and scribbled something down on the clipboard she was holding. "It's my own fault - I stupidly thought you'd remember the need to eat."
Did she really need to sound quite so insulting? "I wasn't hungry,"
"Well, you were injured, seriously lacking sleep, suffering emotional distress and hadn't eaten a thing for probably over twenty four hours. It's no wonder you passed out."
He stared at her. "*Emotional* *distress*?"
"What would you call it?"
Those big dark eyes just dared him to contradict her. "Umm...friendly concern? Speaking of which, how *is* Carter?" He was eager to see her now that Fraiser had interrupted his quality lying down time.
Hell, he might as well admit it - he was eager to see her all the damn time. It was quite pathetic, really.
Still, that thought didn't stop him from sitting up and nodding obviously towards the standard green infirmary curtain that separated their beds.
Carter herself responded. "I'm fine, sir."
Knowing he wouldn't let up until she relented, Fraiser gave in and stepped to the other side of his bed, pulling the curtain out of the way.
And there she was. Still lying down with yet more bruises and scratches that he'd failed to notice before, her left arm awash with bandages and what looked like an intricately folded napkin; and a lump under the cover where her bad ankle was - where it had probably received much the same treatment as her arm.
She had her head turned towards him, and she was smiling - though it looked suspiciously like she'd been crying.
"Wow," He announced.
"You look like crap, Carter."
The smile broadened. "Thank you, sir. I'm afraid I can't return the compliment."
She was okay. She was okay. She really was okay. "I'm glad you made it back."
Surprise flickered across her face. Not from the fact that he was glad she was back, but from the fact that he'd actually admit it. "You are?"
"Sure," Here it came. "For a few hours there I was worried I was going to have to write my own reports myself." It wasn't true, of course, but it was fun saying it.
Carter closed her eyes and shook her head. "It is quite a challenge pretending to be you. All the deliberate spelling mistakes, never using words with more than two syllables..."
"Hey!" Wow, she *had* loosened up. He liked it. They never could have had this conversation even six months ago. Jack half-suspected Daniel had something to do with it. "If you're quite finished insulting the man who has a say in your promotion prospects, I have a distinct fascination with how your physical injuries are progressing." Okay, okay - so he may have been using bigger words than usual. He didn't care.
Fraiser intercepted Carter's response before it emerged, telling him in quite scientific detail the state of Carter's injuries. He didn't understand most of it, but it ultimately came down to what it *usually* came down to - time.
It'd take a while, but she'd be back to normal. As was typical with Carter's sense of luck - if not the luck of SG-1 as a whole - the dog had managed to miss anything that would screw her arm and hand mobility permanently.
As pleased as he was that she was going to be all right, he didn't like the idea that she'd be out of action for so long. So far they'd had no joy finding anyone to replace Daniel, and with Carter out of commission they'd be down to half a team.
He could just imagine that - him and Teal'c, toodling out of the Stargate, the two of them striking fear into the hearts of the inevitable group of fifty Jaffa they'd come across.
"Maybe if Jacob turns up soon he could give you a zap with the healing device..."
Jack watched, fascinated as first Carter's eyes widened, soon followed by Fraiser's.
Fraiser spoke. "Would that work?"
"I have no idea," Carter replied. "I couldn't get it to work on Daniel but I was able to use it to heal Cronus."
"Maybe your ability to heal is limited to the 'easiest' fix - normal physical damage."
"Excuse me," Jack interrupted, waving his injured arm around then rapidly deciding that was a bad idea and lowering it. "What are we talking about?"
Carter looked at him. "Using the healing device to heal myself."
Oh. Truth be told, as handy as it was, that thing always kind of freaked him out. "Is that possible?"
"I have no idea," She looked back to Fraiser again. "I've never seen a Tok'ra use one on themselves, but they wouldn't need to - they still have their symbiotes to help heal them."
"And you don't," Janet concluded.
"Right. What do you think, Janet? Should we try it?"
Her friend hesitated. "I don't know, Sam. It's not like your injuries are life threatening..."
"No, they're not, but we don't need a second team out of commission. Besides, SG-1 *is* the flagship team. Shouldn't we be out there..."
"...flagging the ship?" Jack finished, shrugging, and frowning when the women stared at him. "What?"
They'd decided to proceed, eventually, when Hammond had given his consent for the plan. Besides, as Carter had argued, this was an interesting scientific experiment. The information could even come in useful at some point - although for what, Jack couldn't possibly guess.
Maybe the next time she got attacked by small horses with big teeth.
"Don't be nervous,"
"I'm not," She answered sharply.
"Sorry. Just trying to...help."
"I know you are sir, and I appreciate it - really - I just don't need anyone leaning over my shoulder."
He looked down at his body - now sitting on the edge of his bed despite Fraiser's protests and a good five feet from her shoulder. "I'm not leaning over-"
"Ah." Jack shut up, then, and continued observing while trying not to look like he was leaning over her shoulder.
She was sitting up in her bed now, with the healing device firmly slotted over her right hand. She was currently aiming it at her left arm.
Nothing was happening.
She'd always had trouble making it work before but it had started up eventually. Now, she was edging towards five minutes and there was no sign whatsoever of any 'glowing'.
Fraiser, standing on the opposite side of Carter's bed, continued watching with a frown.
He didn't shut up for long. "Maybe you're trying too hard."
"And maybe it's not going to work at all."
"Maybe...look, don't get me wrong Carter, but you have a tendency to over think things. If your frown gets any bigger it's gonna pop off your head. Just relax. It's not the end of the world if this doesn't work," Though the sooner she was cleared for duty, the better. "Here," Not really realising what he was doing, he stood up, leant towards her, and put his hand over the top of her uninjured one.
The healing device suddenly leapt to life, the orange light emanating from it and falling across her arm.
He could...feel it. His hand held on tighter to the back of hers, and even through her hand he could feel a kind of vibration, something barely small enough to make the cells inside his skin move.
And there, underneath the orange light, he could see the wounds disappearing. Flesh slipping back into place and repairing itself, entire rips being eradicated and replaced with pink, perfect, flawless skin.
It was the freakiest, most spectacular thing he had ever experienced.
And then it got even more so.
Carter shifted suddenly, moving the healing device away from her and towards him - holding it towards his shoulder. His eyes focused on the device at first, watching it, trying to comprehend how that little orange light could be responsible for the shifting underneath his skin. And then he was watching her, their hands still clasped together with his arm folded across his chest, not a single frown line etched on her forehead - until she looked at his face.
And then it stopped. And the orange light vanished. And their tiny, infinitesimal world vanished.
He didn't move.
Neither did she.
He understood. It wasn't freaky anymore.
The experience had made her even more exhausted.
So, Jack climbed back into bed and spent the next couple of hours just watching her. She'd said nothing after it happened, slowly pulling her arm away and falling back towards the pillow. Fraiser had plucked the healing device from her hand, and he'd lifted the covers, making use of the rare opportunity to squeeze her shoulder.
Then Fraiser had given him The Look, and despite the fact that he was feeling pretty damn good since Carter had done her Florence Nightingale thing, he scurried back into bed just to keep her happy.
It paid not to piss her off under any circumstances, but especially not when you were under her care.
The problem was he didn't feel tired at all. Either his little 'snooze' earlier or whatever the hell Carter had done had eradicated any lingering drowsiness. He was wide, *wide* awake.
Teal'c paid them a visit - he and the other teams stuck off world had now returned - although he hadn't been there long before Fraiser chased him away, worried their murmured conversation would wake Carter.
Therefore, a majority of Jack's time was spent sitting in his bed, thinking. And as there was nothing else quite so interesting in the infirmary, he also spent most of his time looking at her.
He knew that the fact she could use Goa'uld technology - especially the hand device - had always made her uneasy. Hell, it'd made *him* uneasy too. It was largely the reason why they hadn't harnessed her abilities more frequently in the fight against the Goa'uld: the fallout from what she did to Seth had lasted for several months.
Frankly, he was surprised that the guys upstairs hadn't forced the issue, and had to acknowledge that Hammond was probably stopping Carter from feeling any of the heat that had to be coming down in that area.
Also, her ability to use the healing device had always been something of a hit and miss affair. When it did work it only seemed to work on physical injuries which, while definitely a good thing, wasn't always what needed 'healing'. Daniel's sickness had been beyond her.
Add to that how tired excessive use of it seemed to make her, and he understood why she wasn't in the infirmary healing all those who came her way. Besides, given the amount of injuries that piled up at the SGC, it would be a full time job - and that wasn't why she was here. As noble as working as a doctor or a healer was, it wasn't her responsibility.
Still, there had been a few occasions where regular methods were failing to save a life, and Fraiser had turned to Carter out of desperation - there were no other options. Carter didn't say no, of course; she would never say no. She did what she could, and sometimes succeeded - and sometimes she didn't.
He had a memory from three years ago...Carter unable to save the life of a member of SG-2. He'd found her afterwards, and despite her arguments reassured her as she grieved.
They hadn't done that, after Daniel.
There were a lot of things they didn't do anymore.
Realising how depressed he was getting when he really should have been anything but - she was alive, for crying out loud - he shook his head and muttered to himself. Maybe he had reason to hope. She'd seemed...relaxed, earlier. Joking with him. Like she used to.
Carter. Awake. Smiling.
He hadn't even noticed. "Hey yourself. How are you feeling?"
She yawned, stretching, and probably had no idea of how absolutely adorable she looked.
He decided not to mention it. "Tired I guess."
Nodding, she finished yawning. "Better than I was though." Lifting her arm from beneath the cover, she studied the unmarked flesh with amazement. Her ankle was still injured, but Jack had a suspicion she was going to let that heal naturally. "I guess that...experience really sapped my energy."
"Thanks for that, by the way." He rotated his shoulder deliberately, showing off his mobility. The fact that she'd done that for him was too cool.
Carter's arm went back under the cover. "You're welcome." She was still lying down, her head on the pillow as she studied him – her impressive scratch almost completely concealed.
His gaze moved to his lap. "Kind of weird, though."
Jack forced himself to look back at her. "What do you think happened? Why did it suddenly start up?"
There was no response for a while, as she thought over the answer. He could see the thinking, the realisation, and the confusion over whether or not she should say it before she finally did:
"You made me forget myself."
His gaze moved again, down, to the side, to the ceiling, as he tried to figure out what the hell she was saying. "I'm not sure what that means."
She smiled up one side of her face, and shrugged. "Neither am I."
"It looks smaller than they seemed to be on the planet."
Jack stared at her, agape. The thing was huge! "How big did they look on the planet?"
"Well," She glanced at him. "Given the fact that they were trying to kill me, pretty damn big."
He had to admit she had a point. "I can understand that,"
Smiling, she turned her gaze back towards the gate room. Though not cleared for full duty yet, she had at least been let out of the infirmary to be here. Right now Muttley was being moved, pushed and shifted with fearful trepidation towards the gate. Fraiser had assured everyone that it wouldn't be waking up anytime soon, but three of the four horsemen of the near Apocalypse had learnt their lesson - they were going nowhere near it.
No one was going to manhandle it, either. Instead they were sacrificing a medical trolley (Hammond had assured Fraiser that he'd replace this one out of his own pocket). Muttley had been dumped rather ungracefully on top of it, and at that particular moment it was being lifted up the steps at the bottom of the ramp.
It took six strong guys to do it, though.
Among them was Teal'c - who felt somewhat ashamed that he hadn't been there during the crisis - and Jonas. Who hadn't given a reason.
Jack had been prepared to volunteer when Carter had come up to him quietly, and actually asked him not to. She also hadn't given a reason, and he'd remained rooted to the spot, confused as hell, long after she’d stepped away.
But that was pretty much a given following *any* of his conversations with her.
They were at the top of the ramp now, wheeling the trolley into position. All six men looked at each other, nodded, and together shoved the trolley through the gate with one big push. No one had any idea what would happen on the other side; if Muttley would stay on the trolley, if he'd come flying off, if his doggy friends would give him the warm reception he so *thoroughly* deserved.
Muttley should just be grateful that he was still alive.
The trolley vanished, the gate shut down, and the men began to disperse. The last person to remain on the ramp was also the person who'd been leading this little mission - Major West.
Looking up at the control room, the fourth horseman of the near Apocalypse nodded.
Carter nodded back.
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